Tuesday, May 31, 2005

the ball is still rolling

I am staying on track with 10 minutes a day, although about half my "posts" are simply going to my hard drive. Don't know if splitting posts between two locations will have a negative effect on this experiment--depends on whether or not notes like these are just fuel for the fire of writing, or if they are actual recoverable resources I need to and want to come back to.

Took care of my note-taking today: got Kinneavy and Ross up to date. Started to thread some of those notes into my outline for chapter one, although that material and that set of notes still feels hard to work with. I read Bacon's The Great Instauration from an online source, but I suspect I just got the intro and not the full effect. I will definitely need to take another look at Ulmer's use of "instauration" to see what the heck he was excited about. More generally, I would like to see if I can get the Bacon node into shape within a single week; see how long these kinds of historical nodes will take me to write. When I re-read the Laws of Media, I can could trace the argument the McLuhans are making, although very little of it is tied to actual Bacon texts. Eric says his father consulted Bacon frequently, that Bacon, Vico, Joyce, Eliot and others represent the great "grammatical / rhetorical tradition" of poetic wisdom, of observation without theoretical encumberance, of multi-leveled exegis. Bacon specifically rejected Ramus and scholasticism, the syllogism, returning him to observation and intuition. Vico tried to repare the split between logic and rhetoric, but, according to the McLuhans in Laws of Media, did not see the split between primary nature and secondary nature, the later being the world made and remade by the extensions of humans. I will try to figure out what needs to be said on Bacon this week, Vico next--although my goals may be a little much.

Other things: Ross C for Josh H's committee?
Keep at PharmWriting (good progress today). Contact students.
Probably should look at some vertical curriculum materials.
Report on assessment by June 30, probably the deadline.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

plan your work and work your plan

I was told that "plan your work and work your plan" is one of the seven steps to being a highly successful person. Can't hurt.
Followed through on today's plan to look up authors' guidelines for Computers and Writing Series as well as Utah State. Also organized most of the files for McLuhan for Compositionists project, wrote a table of contents, and worked on first chapter, incorporating the new Jeff Rice article that asks "why was McLuhan ignored in 1963 when composition emerged as Composition--a professional field." I found myself getting bogged down a bit, which I frequently do: how much detail is the right amount of detail? I initially thought I would knock out some of the early occurances of McLuhan, in Deemer's "composition is a happening" and in Macrorie's work, but I suppose I will save that for later.

Also started exploring the Bacon/Vico roots of McLuhan's thinking: definitely a topic in which I will have to be careful not to totally immerse myself in those two as I try to make a point about McLuhan's roots and his distrust of the dialectical, the schoolmen, the specialists. I have been wondering if I need to go back to Cicero--I suppose McLuhan is largely invoking that notion of the need for breadth of knowledge, for wisdom and eloquence, not just one or the other.

Tomorrow's plan: visiting Mark's class in the morning, or for part of the morning, any way. Need to really put the CW presentation together in a way so that I can leave it until I get to SF. Small crowd likely, so don't knock myself out. Gotta figure out whether to pursue a publication or just let it go as is, fold McCloud into McLuhan for Compositonists. Putting it together means finishing off diagrams, scanning in the visual language matrix, CRAP, figuring out how, exactly, to deal with my students' work. Perhaps just go with it as is, not worry, and similarly not worry too much about the publication at this point.

Things to read:
Wysocki's essay on form and content again.
Kinneavy's Theory of Discourse (no small task).
Bacon and Vico, primary and secondary sources.

I should try to do a better job of staying focused on the readings, too; skimmed a few things on Bacon and Vico today, but not sure I took anything useful from them.

10 minutes is too easy--but maybe 15 is too long and keeps me from working my plan. Kinneavy, here I come.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

sticking with it

Back to an evening post, using my home computer, for what that is worth. Hmm, the keyboard seems more suited to my clumsy typing--can't overlook the role of the keyboard in successful / pleasurable writing experience. Can't overlook any of the tools, really: laptop versus desktop versus pen and paper or whatever tools one is drawn to. I have told the story that I wrote my dissertation on a laptop, but I haven't ever really written in that same sustained, focused, what seemed to me under-control-way since then, but I haven't used a laptop extensively since about 1998, either. I now have one, but it is my secondary computer, my office computer still taking on the burden of the typing / working. The keyboard there, however, drives me nuts: kinda sticky, really dirty (despite my feeble efforts to clean it), and, well, there are a variety of factors in my office that probably inhibit productivity. I better not make myself too depressed.

Both days this week I have been falterning on my writing projects, loosing a sense of direction. What started out as "a paper that I could present from" evolved into a paper that I could try and get published, but it was getting way too detailed to think about as the paper from which to present. I started up a PPT file for the presentation, and that seems to have helped keep me focused on the presentation, but leaves the paper sitting as a lame duck. Now I am starting to think about the paper as a chapter in McLuhan for Compositionists, even though it has a strong McCloud focus. Tentatively thinking about the paper as a chapter on re-visiting "hot and cool."

Also faltered because I started to play around with a drawing program called "Expressions," but after wasting an hour or so, I could see that the learning curve is simply more than I can deal with. Just haven't used enough drawing programs, and just don't have the time to mess with one right now. Not soon. Not till I write a book. Went back into PPT and did some little diagrams--seems about what I need, what I am after. I am absolutely pathetic as a visual compositionists, but luckily I am a teacher, not a visual compositionists ; ) Lucky, or slightly discouraged by that realization.

Tomorrow's plan: take a look at the book prospectus guidelines for CW series and for Utah State--see if doing a prospective will get me on track and keep me there. I realized that if I made the McCloud paper a chapter, it is a long way along, and it will really help me with the chapter on Medium is the Massage. That might give me three pretty substantial chapters, a prospectus, and a solid vision for the other two chapters (or two other chapters) in the book.

Also take some time to keep developing the PPT.

Ahh, ten minutes a day--just what I need to get organized.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Waking up

I have done alot of my writing at night--the last thing of the day, a kind of wrap up of my thinking. Always gives me more than enough to write about. Trying out an early morning post today because I sat down and coulnd't decide: do I keep reading Kress' s Literacy in the New Media Age or do I keep working on my paper. Obviously neither : )

I should probably go with Kress because I probably do need to work him more fullying into my paper / argument if I am going to successfully locate McCloud within the context of ongoing discussions about visual literacy, or literacy, or ...

I can see that writing in the morning results in elipses and short, under-developed thoughts. I definitely feel a little foggy and not quite ready to take on the work of either sustained academic writing or reading.

I woke up realizing just how far my paper has drifted from what I have proposed to present on at Computer and Writing, although I don't think that is going to be a huge problem--my presentation is pretty straight forward and something I should be able to pull together effectively enough. My paper is drifitingn increasingly towards a detailed theoretical argument, and that might be a good thing. I can probably think about shifting the paper away from a pedagogically focused paper and therefore away from needing IRB approval. I might be able to tie my discussion into AFW's ad analaysis, although I McCloud is clearly not the guy to repair the form-content split. He might be the guy to provide a counter to Kress because he enables a broader vision of words and images than Kress.

Okay, go with Kress today, be ready to get fully back into the paper tomorrow. Try an outline, look at the multiple possible arrangements. Try a comic book.

Some old posts

I wasn't sure if I wanted to or needed to post my off-line free writing, but then I convinced myself that I wouldn't mind having all these scribbles in the same place. So here they are:

Ten A Day, May 14, 2005

Lyle Lovett in concert, Fargo Theater, like having three friends play in your basement. Lovett was in conversation with the audience the whole time, knew what was going on in Fargo, and offered up postmodern country with cellist and bongos, mixing country, blues, gospel, and stand-up. Can’t help but think about the power of the arts versus the power of critique, production or hermeneutics. Betsy played the cello as a kid and wished someone had shown her that the cello could be relevant and hip, not just a tool of the classical orchestra machine. And then we (John, Cindy, Betsy) all talked about what a bodily / embodied / dialogic event we had just participated in, no polite sitting on hands and clapping nicely at the end of a monument. I suppose if any of us really knew anything about classical music we might have a different understanding of an orchestral performance, but being as unschooled academics as we are, we prefer the pomo country and the range of emotions: the humor, the sadness, the grooves, the insights.

I was thinking about how to write about this experience, about how not academicize the experience, to capture the feel of the experience, to memorialize the everyday, rather than dissect and critique it. And I was just thinking about concert experiences: Lyle and Greg Brown at the Fargo Theater have been spin-tingling, Jonathan Richman at the now defunct club downtown and at the pub in Ames was brilliantly intimate, the Bare Naked Ladies new years eve 1996 in New York City was other-worldly, on par with the Blasters in 1985, Winnipeg. I haven ‘t gotten to any real rock spectacles—maybe the Dylan concert in about 1990, and the Midnight Oil concert in 1988 or ’89, oh and the Bush concert in Ames about 1996. But stadiums are empty sounding and I have never seen the musicians who really matter to me in the big places. But little venues, under a 1000, many under 500, really create the experience that works for me. Oh yeah, Blue Rodeo in the Burton Cummings theater, Elvis Costelo in Minneapolis. The concert tonight convinced me I have to track down David Bynre, and soon, but it also has to be the right place. The fargo theater would be perfect, of course.

May 16, 2005

Just finished Kurt Spellmeyer’s Arts of Living: Reinventing the Humanities for the Twenty-first century, a book somewhat sympathetic to the notion of memorializing the everyday because it is so critical of academic professionalism, although in the end Spellmeyer seems to want students (and academics) to focus on global / environmental / social issues, and not so much the everyday. I always get pulled both ways, because I want to do both. I feel guilt for not being more politically active personally, for not “politicizing” my classes more thoroughly or in sophisticated ways, but I also think that in part everyone needs to get to that level of engagement when they can, and one thing they might need to do is get right with themselves, understand themselves and their beliefs, before they can understand the larger pictures.

Spellmeyer definitely finds value in students making knowledge and making connections, which ten minutes of writing a day can potentially facilitate. What the omni-presence of the writing task seems to do for me is to keep me thinking all day, what am I going to reflect on? What is significant today, or how does the lack of significance in a day like today, in which I started to clean up my hard drive and finished off my grading for the semester, connect to my life as a whole, to the (in)significance of my existence. Well, I definitely feel a change in the rhythm of my life at the end of each semester, a relief and a weight is being lifted, but I haven’t figured out yet if that is good or bad. If teaching is indeed my profession, should I feel more sadness than relief at the end of each semester? Should I move through each semester more in tune with the rhythm of the machine, and move up and down less frequently during and after each semester? Is this rhythm likely to count off my mortality in alarming regular patterns (another year older and deeper in depth) or will I find re-birth and re-newal each fall, each year?

Ten minutes a day should improve my typing.

May 18, 2005

So, here is the rub. I can make 10 minutes to write at the end of the day, but I didn’t get my writing done during the day. I am working on a paper about Scott McCloud’s big triangle as a heuristic guide to understanding and producing pieces of visual communication, but I spent the day reading, cleaning up my hard drive, getting my hair cut, then coming home to get ready for a dinner party. On the one hand I shouldn’t be too hard on myself—I have just finished the spring semester, and should be willing to give myself a little breathing time. But on the other hand, I really need to get this paper written, I more or less have the paper figured out, yet I sputter and stop, never really getting into the project today.

I suppose I need a good old-fashioned “night-before” approach. I should probably just set an arbitrary deadline (my birthday on the 22nd might be a good one), and really stick to it. Work late, work hard, stay focused, get lost in the project. If I had to guess at one major change in my working habits, I seem to have lost the ability to get lost in a project.

I have just been writing for 5 minutes, and I could easily stop here. I don’t know what else I want to write about, but I suppose this is also part of the discipline of 10 a day. Being able to push through, and perhaps being able to discover an idea, a phrase, a theme that I haven’t been able to draw out from my unconscious. Something about “engagement” would be good—most of the reading I did today was pretty critical of Scott McCloud’s idea that icons lead to involvement on the part of the viewer, while reaslistic images present a particular representation of a person, place or thing, an image that we might take pleasure in viewing, but not one that draws us in. Most of McCloud’s critics don’t seem to see or take much stock in the way that McCloud is drawing on McLuhan’s hot and cool but they also have some good points. Griffin is as thoroughly involved in Harry Potter as he is in Pokemon and Yugioh. All three are the kinds of stories that allow for fairly easy insertion of self: the school environment for HP, the battling and dueling in the others. The iconic Pokemon is most clearly directed at younger viewers, with Yugi becoming more realistic, and finally HP being “hot” in terms of media—print novel to film.
My inclination is to talk about the demands these types of representations place on viewers, but that demand does not necessarily result in involvement. Clearly personal history, background knowledge, all sorts of non-textual elements influence the level of investment and involvement. Time is a factor. Adults generally lose this ability to become significantly involved because our lives fill up, but we probably seek it through things like following sports, pornography, playing games, or simply watching TV. TV is really brilliant in terms of not demanding a lot of viewers (in most cases), yet (or therefore) resulting in high levels of involvement, in a fairly ongoing, rhythmic way (the Thursday night or Sunday night ritual).

Ritual is significant here, but I went from struggling to read 10 to writing for 15. Better save my energy.

May 22, 2005
Thirty-seven today: better get to work. I am at the statistical half way point (or something close to it).

Hot and cool media revisited. I am still working on the McCloud paper, and having a bit of trouble working through his definition of realistic images received, iconic images perceived. I really hit the wall when I realized that what he is saying about icons is that we fill in the blank icons, the smiley faces, and he suggests that high level of closure makes them more universal. He has been taken to task for this definition because of course what people want from icons is not “universal subjectivity” but universal agreed upon meanings. Washroom icons need to be agreed upon, not subjectively determined, at least in our cultures that want to keep men and women separate when it comes to private matters. McCloud is trying to figure out “why are we so involved, and he uses essentially the McLuhan hot and cool distinction to suggest that we get involved with these simple cartoons because they are open (cool) to our involvement, but as I have been writing and thinking about this, I just don’t see the observation holding up very well. There are too many examples of hot media that people become too involved with: Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, pornography. And more generally, as I was working on my analysis of the Gap ad, or if we think about the Beneton ads, those realistic images, when un-anchored by text, become abstract, open, unattached from constraints, provide many affordances. Anne Wysoki’s reflection on the Kinsey ad also seems to show how a viewer brings so much more to an image that just what that image seems to invoke. In other words, that ad is really hot—realistic image, fairly specific text, anchored, transactional—but she brings to bear her experiences, her background, her feminism, her politics. High definition visual-verbal communication may not invite closure, may try to limit closure, but it cannot entirely prevent a reading against the grain. Wysoki goes on to call for a different aesthetic, a new approach to design, but such a result seems somewhat arhetorical. Will changing design really change attitudes? Really change patriarchy? What if a Cindy Sherman show had used the same design but inserted the dismembered dolls and garbage where the Kinsey model currently resides? We definitely need to thinking about gender, race, class representations in our visual-verbal texts, and we can / should explore new designs and relationships that might upset the easy associations, but we also probably need to realize that those new designs will be difficult to perceive, to make sense of, the indexical relationships will be stretched and challenged.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

One of the great things about journaling, blogging, scribbling, whatever, is the freedom. The invitation to just write, and not cite, not work out every detail of the argument, not worry so much about how others are going to read what you write. I worked on my Scott McCloud big triangle paper for about two hours this morning, and I added material, but as I started adding I immediately started wondering--am I going to deep? Will my readers get lost in the detail.

Then I thought about pulling back, and all I could imagine is all the readers / listeners saying, "what about X, what about y"? Tricky stuff, this writing. It seems to me that eventually I get locked in--I figure out the right amount of detail, I settle on a dominant or likely audience, and then I stick to a game plan. Not always easy, and I often switch my game plan too frequently. I have gotten better at saying to myself, "well, those are just two different papers, both equally good, both do-able."

I actually had a few moments this morning wondering just how big the McCloud project could be. His critics have complained about his theory or description of "involvement," and that topic alone could be worth a chapter in a book. I was writing about that last night in my non-posted 10 minute spew. I keep thinking about Kurt Spellmeyer's little phrase that art calls us and media feeds us--that seems like a chapter or full blown essay that he condensed into a single pithy phrase. I keep thinking about "taste," too: high art and low art used to be so clearly(?!) or at least vigorously defended, but that distinction is increasingly fuzzy. The modern invention of rhetoric, in one version of its history, offered up the cultivation of taste as an appropriate and necessary antidote to the emergence of the modern market / capitalist system. The father of modern economics, Adam Smith, was also a modern rhetorician/philsopher who developed a whole treatise on "moral sentiments". http://www.lucidcafe.com/library/96jun/smith.html

McLuhan is an interesting example of one of the first modern scholars, despite his Cambridge PhD, to not openly reject the bad taste of popular culture in the way that his contemporary Northrop Frye did. What the heck does that have to do with McCloud? Comics, I guess, are still trying to get out from under the bad taste label.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The writing, not the posting, is what's important

I seem to make it on to blogger every 2 or 3 days, but I continue to plug away other places: 10 a day. Sounds like fruits and vegetables--similar positive results, I hope.

My most sustained blogging effort failed largely because of the many steps involved: opening Tinderbox (available only on my Mac at home), writing, saving exporting, dialing in, FTPing, checking, adjusting, etc. Any notion of 10 a day became more like an hour. I also concentrated on filter blogging: finding relevant and interesting websites, and writing about those. I found great material, and really enjoyed the processs for the most part, but sometimes would find myself getting frustrated because I couldn't find a site worth filtering, or I would find too many and couldn't decide what to filter.

I think this approach has a lot of potential for sustainability. Writers need to be writing. I need to think of myself as a writer. Sometimes I need an audience, but mainly I need discipline and a routine. How will I know if the writing pays off? If I produce finished products, for sure--I can't let the "notes" get in the way of the end product. I noticed myself the other day starting with a vague phrase about "stuff and things" or something like that, and I replaced my vague word choice with something more concrete. Little things--those might be important. Voice: I want to write my academic finished prose with an engage voice, perhaps more formal than what I am using here, but not much. Geoff Sirc, who got this ball rolling for me, has voice, and knows how to use it (hear the ZZ top in the background?).

Music, music, music: I do keep writing about music, I do keep thinking about collecting it, thinking about drawing on it for my own creativity, but also for my students. Possible assignment: find interviews with your favorite musician (or director, or actor, or whatever), and find out what they say about their creative process and their work ethic. In other words, find out how your favorite "compositionist" works. Oh, that reminds me: read Laboratory Life by Latour and Woolgar. Rename: The Composition of Scientific Facts.

I did just finish Kurt Spellmeyer's Arts of Living--he is willing to see the artistry in all professions and our daily lives. Times up.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sure, it looks like I fell getting out of the blocks...

but in fact, I have just done my ten minutes a day in word, saved on hard drive. Maybe I'll upload, maybe I won't. The point of the blog is to get me writing ten minutes a day, not necessarily to blog ten minutes a day, but the blog is a nice public, visible, memorable reminder. Friday I couldn't access blogger, yesterday I couldn't grab my neighbor's wireless signal. tonight I am free loading.

i wrote about the lyle lovett concert yesterday in the post I didn't post, and I started listing other great concerts I have attended. This morning, concerts from 15+ years ago started coming back to me--Deja Voodoo at the U of M when I was still in high school ( a great trip into winnipeg and i danced my face off), Deja Voodoo a couple of other times, but never as much fun, Cowboy Junkies in the U of W coffee shop 4th floor--or whatever we called that thing. Oooh, now I am starting to think of a lot of great shows (and a good number of mediocre shows) I checked out when I was in college--that was a pretty big and important part of my life when I was 16-22. I remember saying to people afterwards, after I started graduate school, that I no longer had money for music and books, and books won out. That might have been a huge mistake!

I just remembered a concert that I went to at the U of Calgary though--at a time when I was starting to pull back from the music scene. The Boot Hill Foot Tappers opened, I remember that, and then it was another roots rock Canadian alternative band, but I am forgetting which one! I don't think it was Blue Rodeo, but maybe. Seems to me that it was somebody I had seen in Winnipeg at least once. Like all my favorite concerts then, it was standing room only because there were not chairs and tables--we couldn't help but dance. I do remember being inappropriately attracted to a friend of my wife at the time, which you might think is the reason why she is no longer my wife, but that is not the reason. And who are you, who I am imagining reading this?

Memorializing the everyday--I should have done more of it! I can also see the value in recoveing those moments of passion, excitement, extro-version on my part. I need more of those, I need to let go more often, and music seems to have been a bit part of those moments.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Getting started might be the hardest part

I've been floating this idea of a blog for a while, but it has probably taken me close to a year to actually make the committment. I just read Geoff Sirc's essay “Composition’s Eye/Orpheus’s Gaze/Cobain’s Journals” (Composition Studies 33 (Spring 2005): 11-30) and couldn't put off the project any longer. He makes his usual compelling, unsettling argument for writing about the everyday, for journaling, for shaking off the pretentiousness and strained style of academic reading and writing. I've been reading Ulmer on the value of notebooks and journals too, so push has come to shove.

What Composition needs most, perhaps, is a bad attitude. . . . Compositionists need to feel fucked, too; they need to sit around their living rooms, rip up about 250 shitty “classic” essays in our complimentary copies of reader-based textbooks, and move on, cleansed and revitalized. (23)

I feel like a colossal failure everytime I read Sirc, but I think, "someday I will get it figured out." I wonder how much he is pushing my buttons, our buttons, because I have heard him say he does teach something like academic discourse, he does want his students to suceed in college, to develop some necessary skills. But he also comes across, in person and on the page, as genuine, sincere, a little frustrated, a little tired of Composition as Ways of Reading.

Ten minutes a day is going to take some stamina. I've been writing for seven--the last three probably lead to the break-throughs ; )

So, why am I drawn to the Sircs, the McLuhans, the Ulmers, yet teach The Call to Write, generic conventions, academic discourse, research and citation. Why do I assign what I assign? Betsy just walked into my office to show me FLW's falling water on the new cover of the new edition of "Writing Analytically" and she opened the page to "Doing the method on the poem" and I just had to / have to shake my head--WTF are we doing in Composition?

I think I will go throw out the 55 complimentary copies of Writing Analytically that just arrived in our department.