Thursday, October 19, 2006

Un-Blog! An exercise in meta-blogging, brought to you by E398!

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Description: This blog is intended to fulfill the requirements of E398. As an added bonus, it constitutes yet another glistening electronic coil of the World Serpent that is my internet presence.


October 15, 2006
From Tadpole to Butterfly
It suddenly (NB It struck me after I read the prompt.) strikes me that I have no idea where my kids are emotionally. Cognitively, they are present and accounted for. I have a few that are extremely slow to grasp what is being asked of them in terms of production (and yes, we do actually require that they produce something, despite our emphasis on process) but exceptionally quick to grasp concepts in class, etc. Politically, they are all new-born babes. Most of them are realizing that they have no idea what they mean when they say, "I'm conservative," beyond, "I'm like my daddy." (Here's a fer instance: "I am conservative, and that means being compassionate. It is the responsibility of the government to take care of everyone who can't take care of themselves. Otherwise, you are just letting them die, and that's not very compassionate." Or, another gem, "I'm as liberal as the next guy, but the only people on welfare are junkies. Why should we pay junkies to get high?")

Emotionally, though, that's a puzzler.

I had a girl and a boy come in five minutes apart. Both crying. The girl put her head down and occasionally sighed extremely loudly, which would make the boy cringe. The girl eventually came to me and said that she needed to leave because she was sick (ten minutes into class). Then, I got a nasty email from her saying I wasn't at my office hours and I really should have been because, since she missed class, she was really behind and really needed my help. This was, of course, untrue--so untrue that four people from her section and three from the other two sections managed to find me right where I always am. So, what does any of that mean, emotionally?

I don't think it means anything.

At least, I think it means more rhetorically than it does emotionally.

It being all impossible an' all to tell what is going on in this person's head, I can only surmise what she is feeling based on her behavior. And her behavior is sulky--that is, designed to draw attention to her apparent emotional state and inflict pain on any that observe her. She cast a wide net--like a new space cadet laying about with a pain ray. Everyone was imposed upon. This is a rhetorical position that is provocative in its very provocativeness. "My personal issues are way more important than the progress of this discussion section," it says. "And you should all be aware of the intense amounts of soul-searing pain that I am in and share in it to the degree that you are able," it adds, after a thoughtful pause.

So, I don't know precisely what she's feeling, but I do know that a part of what she's feeling is rhetorically motivated/performed.

The email, though, was the best part. As if she could somehow make me feel guilty for being where I said I'd be when I said I'd be there and the very tool she could use to do this was the fact that she was not where she was supposed to be when she was supposed to be there in an incredibly melodramatic manner. Hoisted by my own petard!

Of course, all of this is a ritual. There is a certain charm to watching someone of that age sacrifice dignity on the altar of convenience in order to get one last gasp out of a stand-by tool from childhood: the tantrum.

2 Comments (Most Recent: October 15, 2006)


October 10, 2006
The Power of Metaphor for the Labor-Shunning Personality, Wherein certain references are made to the gnostic and cabalistic traditions via the names, ranks, and dominions of the principal thrones of..
... the host of heaven before the creation of those infernal regions first adequately described by so noble a mind as Miltonius' and preserved by so popular a mind as Mike Carey's, wherein the author's failure to import his writing practices to the classroom is elucidated, and wherein an inappropriate Lockean metaphor for the operation of the mind is put forth...

It begins: Calling something a "writing practice" implies that it is something one practices. That is to say, it is making it seem as though there was some kind of continuity between writing something at one moment and writing something else at another moment. This does not seem to be the case for me--if, indeed it is the case for anyone beyond the most superficial similarities of routine. There is an almost infinite slippage/breakage/separation between papers, between drafts of papers, and between modes of writing. I mean by "routine" all those things that are behaviors that surround writing that are not writing themselves. Some (I think the idea is most) professional creative writers write at the same time every day. Those who do not write for about the same amount of time every day. I understand this practice of reinforcement helps them. Similarly, when I write, I have a routine. I avoid writing. I find this very helpful. Nothing is written until it absolutely must be written or the entire free world will drown in a tide of fire--the clear consequence of my continued negligence. I stress about writing. Then, I don't do it with every fiber of my being. Eventually, I begin to talk. [NB: I have had recourse to speak to my fiancee about this process as it is as opaque to me as is the UI of the Writing Studio. The description in so far as it actually describes what an eyewitness reports of my writing practices is hers. The purple prose, of course, is mine.] I apparently talk ceaselessly about the central nexus of ideas that are forming the kernel of the paper that is yet to be written. [NB: Incidentally, one of the worst things about the Writing Studio is the irregular boundaries in text windows that make it impossible for one to view all of one's work at the same time, which leads the writer to avoid re-reading for grammar/spelling and organization because of the constant irritation of messing with scroll-bars.] Imagine, if you will, that I steal TS Eliot's infamous metaphor about poetic imagination. Imagine that I put it in here. Imagine, then, this bullshit session as me forming that platinum filament by sheer force of will. If I had to liken this part of the writing process to any one thing, it would be to the power demiourgos given by Yahweh to his son Michael. Of course, Lucifer's power is needed, too. The lightbringer, among the Sons of Man, has a very important role to play. Once the filament is formed, it must be heated in order to cast forth the light of reason! Poesis, is after all, a making and a raising of a lamp! No, but seriously. I talk it out first. Sometimes I write it out, if, say, I'm broody that day. Then I write for about ten hours. I then read what I have written and determine if it actually has a point. I spend an hour reconfiguring what is there around the absent or present point. Then I make my fiancee read it. She says something like, "Mongooses fighting over the corpse of a cobra make more sense with their gibbering clicks and high-pitched yips than you, sir, manage to make in twenty-five pages of so-called Academic English." Then, she gives me a few suggestions for organization. These usually include telling me to move the last paragraph to the front. Then I print it and turn it in. Last Spring, she, being a behaviorist by both training and inclination added positive reinforcement to the mix. For every ten pages of rough-draft or rewrite I produced I received a reward. Common decency requires me to refrain from spelling that out. Rest assured, the reward scheme reduced my writing time to an average of 6 hours a paper and improved the response received from my instructors. Now. How can I bring this into the classroom? I cannot. I cannot tell people to wait until the night before. I cannot explain to them the reward system that has brought me such paroxysms of bliss. I cannot tell them to write first and to think of a thesis last. Or, if I do, I go against the entire motto of process over product. For we explain process as a series of re-writes, but graduate school is without the possibility of rewriting. Or, to be more precise, grad school is about the constant deferral of re-writing to some future epoch where everything is time and wine flows like slightly less viscous wine. In conclusion, I can think of no metaphor that would adequately describe the process of writing. I can, however, think of one that describes what I have already described. My mind, when engaged with the threat of imminent deadlines, is a member of the species dionaea muscipula. Slowly, slowly, slowly the ideas begin to leave my lips with the delicacy of drosophilia pullipes or musca domestica alighting on my mind's sensory hairs. Mechano-sensory response is initiated by the stimulation of those hairs, and the mind begins to close around the spoken idea, slowly, at first, until hairs in both hemispheres sense the same increasingly benighted idea. Then, swift as the adult swift-footed crab, the mind slams shut and begins to digest the idea. Of course, it all breaks down because what is produced is not a chemical sludge that powers the mind, but printed wood pulp with my ideas smeared all over it.

1 Comment (October 10, 2006)


September 29, 2006
On the first day of classes, my teacher gave to me:
One lesson on the formal characteristics of haiku. This turns out not to be as ridiculous as it sounds. It took place after an in-class attempt to write about a moment that involved the exertion of power. The haiku served to narrow focus, alert them to what was essential about their moment, and think very carefully about word choice and sensory description. It was a wild success. The model haiku I wrote for them was about returning from a party--I showed it undergoing revision. Remember, kids! It's all about process:

Walking home after,

the sprinklers dampened my pants,

under the new moon.

This became:

Stumbling home after,

sprinklers wetted my pants, a

heavy autumn dew.

I explained to my kids the reasons for the changes, stronger verbs. Association with "wet" and "pants" to allude to another reason why my pants might have been wet despite the claim about sprinklers. Replace "the new moon" which is very specific, yet recurring, with the more formalistically appropriate, but heavy-handed "autumn." "Dew" allows another opportunity for humor, as in other areas of the country, there would be actual autumn dew, not water from sprinklers. Of course, heavy speaks to that as well as to the physical feel of denim soaked with water. Their mouths dropped open as they gradually realized that you had to choose each word for a reason. Then they got started. There were some gems, but not as many of them went for the comedy, and that was unfortunate. They have a tendency to think that "My mother takes my power" is an understandable seven syllable line when removed from all context.

The other two classes went great. There was 100% participation in all sections--even from the frat kid who said "I hate writing because it takes too much reading. I don't read. That's why I like math. Because you don't have to read. You just look at numbers and see what they tell you." When I said that that sounded an awful lot like reading to me, he actually blushed.

My first office hours were a little strange. I brought a Zola novel, all set to do some reading for fun, as everybody assured me that no one ever made use of the office hours. I had seven people show up, and this meant that I didn't really have time to get into any kind of detail with any of them.

One of my students had a really sophisticated moment for her paper draft--they were supposed to write about a significant moment in their lives that concerned communication. She picked a moment where an apparent crush had picked a song out of his playlist for her to listen to. She tried to navigate the differently mediated levels of what was being communicated by a) the selection of the song as a demonstration of taste, b) the lyrics in the song as they applied to her, and c) the implication of those lyrics beyond the communication of listening preferences. This seemed to me ambitious in a way that reminded me of 398. Asking people to perform rhetorically in a space that purports to be about the instruction of the instruction of rhetoric is like painting a self-portrait in which you are teaching a class on self-portraiture with several competing portraits occupying the frame.