Things are moving, plodding along surely and steadily.
Thesis officially accepted by the grad college, meaning I’m guaranteed to be allowed to wear a robe and shake someone’s hand awkwardly in a few weeks. Also means I don’t want to think about that project again for quite a while.
Another book review published, this time Shane Jones’s Crystal Eaters. Good, weird book. Cool publisher. One of the most entertaining author Twitter accounts around (hey, we can’t all be Elizabeth McCracken).
I’ve found gainful part-time employment for the summer (continuing work in the writing center) and for the fall (teaching two sections of first-year composition). The latter is vaguely terrifying. Not the actual teaching; I’m comfortable and confident with that. However, the fact that someone would entrust me with a room full of people expecting me to be able to impart some kind of knowledge to them is fairly disconcerting. I’m kind of pumped up about it. After all, the primary reason I went into graduate school was because I knew I wanted to teach writing as I tried to make it as a writer. It’s exciting to see a plan come together/fruition.
Also this fall, I begin the MFA program at Texas State. I’ll be taking Ben Fountain‘s workshop, which I’m amazingly pumped about. It’s crazy that the guy got called a late blooming genius by Malcolm Gladwell and ended up living up to that reputation with his book (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). I went ahead and read his novel and will go through his short stories soon. I don’t think reading someone you’re going to be taking a class from is really that important (I definitely don’t think it made a difference when I took a workshop from David Lipsky [who is about to be played by Jesse Eisenberg, what the hell?]), but to me it’s the equivalent of Googling
everyone you interact with people on your panel at a conference or something. A combination of curiosity and wanting to know what to expect. I’ll also be taking a lit class about James Joyce and a Form and Theory class from the fantastic Debra Monroe, who is pretty much the reason Texas State made it onto my radar in the first place. I’ve read every book she’s published; you should too (especially her memoir).
New tangent. It’s kind of funny: I feel pretty guilty about this blog entry being so unfocused, but the guilt of not having updated in a month has outweighed the crime of not having much to say. When I started this blog, I told myself that in order to be successful and garner readers I needed to focus on things outside of myself. Doesn’t quite seem like I’m ready for that. Sometimes there’s a lot of external stimuli that give me things to ramble on about, sometimes there’s not. Most weeks I write a little bit, read a little bit, submit a little bit, get rejected a little bit. Figuring out the balance of what interesting things to keep in the work I hope to get published versus this blog is not easy.
Current projects: A recurring column pitch about writing mixtapes for literary characters. An essay about the unbelievable integration of advertising into NASCAR. A journalistic look at “get paid to” sites like Swagbucks and using it as a launching point to talk about our relationship with free stuff in the digital world. I’m not sure about anything.
I was really disappointed in the Latin Times for throwing up two prewritten clickbait articles with Gabo’s writings within a half hour of the announcement of his death. I don’t have a link to go with that besides the link to the clickbait, and that would kind of defeat the point of whining about it.
Real life often steals good plot ideas from fiction. See rival college A&M planting maroon flowers in Austin and a professor getting suspended over his daughter’s Game of Thrones t-shirt,
To go on about Shane Jones and workshops for a minute, I loved his essay about taking a workshop with Lydia Davis.
Maybe it’s not really applicable since I don’t have any looming deadlines, but it feels like I’ve been procrastinating some these past couple of weeks, even though ultimately what I’ve been doing will contribute to my work (I hope).
Attending a NASCAR race as a sort of participatory journalist.
Spending a couple of hours documenting a graveyard near my house.
Reading a book of 50 years worth of stories about animals by a World War II vet.
Replaying Kentucky Route Zero.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the best lessons I’ve learned from grad school is to constantly be thinking about how to use the things you do for fun, or to relax, as part of my work/writing. This has already paid off – I picked up a copy of Homage to Catalonia a couple of months ago because I’ve always wanted to read more Orwell, and that slowly led to writing a review of the book, which will be published soon! Kind of exciting.
My thesis has been approved by my advisor and the university’s Institutional Review Board, which is the impetus for actually having some free time. With the frequent discussions about theses among my cohort, I’m curious to see how much it will help me, assuming I never go into a PhD program. In our RhetComp program, you have the option of instead creating a portfolio, taking a timed (72 hour) exam, and an extra class in the place of a thesis. This seems more practical – pieces in a portfolio are way more likely to get published than a 60-80 page thesis. Best case scenario from a thesis, you’ll have 2-3 articles published. Sure, books happen, but not often. I guess the reason I’m going with a thesis is that it seems like it will look better as I apply for teaching jobs. Who knows if that’s true. Maybe I’ll be regretting the decision soon.
I’ve also been using some of the “free” time to start in on some good old fashioned worrying about my career post-graduation. I knew going back to school that my paycheck would be a long way away from getting back to what it was in my IT career pre-college degree, so I’m not filled with despair about the job market. I fully expect to work 2-3 part-time jobs doing some teaching, some freelance writing/editing/grantwriting, and who knows what else. I’m also looking into more unorthodox choices, like the possibility of doing a residence at a high school in New Hampshire. Which would be an awesome experience, assuming I have a shot at getting in.
The good news is that people of my program and other similar programs that I’ve been in touch with have not had a hard time finding employment, it seems, even if that employment is not quite what they were hoping for. Beyond a paycheck, moving forward and continuing to keep a good work ethic regardless of your employment situation seems to be extraordinarily important for my writing.
Your outside content for today:
My thesis, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. My-the-sis: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at two, on the teeth. My. The. Sis.
Does not work as well as the original, but close enough.
I sat down to write a blog entry two or three weeks ago, and it turned into a 2,000 word screed on the ridiculousness of the tropes within academic writing, specifically the premise-setting (My topic has been around longer than man’s use of fire but I’m the first person to approach it from this angle) and the overwhelming use of subtitles. Also included was a rant about the unnatural divide/false binary between academic and creative writing. Naturally I’m going to try to get it published and ruin my chances at a serious academic career.
That said, the premise above feeds into my thesis for two reasons. As a reminder, my thesis topic is the use of personal writing (I-writing, to borrow from Karen Surman Paley) as a rhetorical device within (within meaning the personal writing is not the topic/prompt) essays of first-year composition students.
Reason 1) Part of the question I’m asking within this thesis is whether or not personal writing has become an accepted rhetorical maneuver to use within the academic tool/trope box. Stated otherwise, can personal writing coexist with academic work for the professors who actually teach first-year composition (not just the ones who write about first-year composition)?
Reason 2) A lot of the things I’m making fun of in academic writing? Yeah, they’re in my thesis. Coloned subtitle? It’s there. Overt repetition of self? Oh yeah. Subtly implying that my work is a unique shining star? Well, I haven’t made myself do that yet, but it’s probably coming.
I think everyone goes through moments like these, especially with jobs and sometimes with social groups, where they think the rituals of that group are a little ridiculous/overly esoteric but you end up doing them anyway because membership within that group is more important than defiance against the rituals. One of my professors talks about this a lot, about how he believes strongly in allowing people the right to use their home language as their dominant language within the classroom and society at large, and yet he still requires his essays to be turned in in English, or if they include other languages, with English translations. I don’t mean to imply that me thinking coloned subtitles are a little silly is on par with the linguistic oppression carried out in pedagogy, but rather that we all make small sacrifices to be where we want to be, I think.
Tell me your stories about the divides between the academic and the creative, or the esotericism of your groups. And while you’re doing that, watch this animated interview with David Foster Wallace, as well as the other amazing interviews on the Blank on Blank website.
The second week of classes ended today, and in a shocking twist of events, I’m learning a lot. Ultimately this looks like it’s going to be a front-loaded semester for me: both my internship and my thesis have a lot more things that need to be done before November than after. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on if I make it to November!
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from graduate school is how to channel what is holding my interest into what I am working on. As an example, I read a lot, and I’m currently interning for two publications that focus on Texas/Southwest literature. So, if I focus my reading list toward those topics, I have a good chance of using some of my pleasure reading to develop a publishable essay or book review. It might seem obvious, but for me at least, it’s sometimes very difficult to remember that my work and fun are NOT completely separate. Similar examples: My wife loves “Family Feud.” I grew up watching the show with Richard Dawson and Ray Combs hosting, and it’s very interesting to see the almost-20-years-later version with Steve Harvey hosting in comparison. Now, I’m taking a class about Cultural Rhetoric, and it would be very easy to imagine an essay that uses my knowledge from having watched the show extensively to build a comparison of the racial/sexual interactions on the show with Harvey as compared to the show with previous hosts. I did similar things with my love for the movie The Big Chill and the Bob Dylan album Blood on the Tracks last year, in the form of gender/feminist critiques of those works. All three of the aforementioned topics will work as proposals for the Southwestern Popular Culture Association conference, which it just so happens a deadline is approaching for! Additionally, I just received the good news that I’ll be presenting at the Rhetoric Society of America’s 2014 conference. My paper title is “A Supposedly Rhetorical Thing: David Foster Wallace, Burke’s Identification, and Television.” The first iteration of the paper was born out of thinking a lot about DFW while taking my first semester of Rhetoric classes.
Another one I’m still working on tying in is my work/interest on genealogy. There’s material for discussing why genealogy has experienced a resurgence in the digital world, and discussing how the same technology that is putting distance between us and our contemporaries via social networks is bringing us closer to our ancestors, but I haven’t wrapped my head around a solid topic yet. Soon! Potential title: “Disconnect, Reconnect: Digital Distance and the Reigniting of Genealogy.”
Other things I’ve learned or have had reinforced for me recently:
Trying to sort through submissions to a publication is almost as depressing as submitting to them. You know some good stuff is going to get cut, and some good stuff is not going to get the attention it deserves, but that’s just the nature of the beast.
Professors have wildly, shockingly different opinions on what the writing center’s role is / should be. Given that I’m going into my 4th academic year of working with writing centers, this should not be a surprise, but after meeting with a number of professors last week my mouth was hanging open a little.
Finding sources that have to do with methodology is hard. I have had no problems finding a wealth of sources about narratology, narrative inquiry, personal narrative, or whatever you want to call it. I’ve found articles about its role in the classroom, in research, in scholarship. However, finding articles that will help me decide and justify my research route for my thesis has been a challenge. Recommendations on tackling this would be welcome!
Outside content for today: A discussion about the Spanish Civil War, primarily by people from Spain. I recently read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and realized just how little I knew about this war, and how distorted the summaries of it in American history books were. I was curious to know how contemporary Spain treated the war, and thanks to Reddit/the internet, I was able to ask and get an accurate answer. I kind of sat in awe after reading all the responses, because it’s crazy to think how impossible finding this information out would’ve been twenty years ago. What would I have done, write letters to random people in Spain?
With summer drawing to a close, it’s time to get back into the mindset of school and projects and whatnot. I’ll be graduating next May, assuming I can complete a THESIS. As such, I’d like to do a little description as to what I have planned so far, but first I wanted to get some meta-blog stuff (or blog meta-stuff?) off my mind.
I’ve been hesitant to update my blog lately because the subject constraints I’ve laid out for myself here are based on the confluence of gifted education and my academic subject matter, Rhetoric and Composition, along with the idea that connects them: storytelling as persuasion/informer. However, over the summer, I’ve strayed quite a bit in my work and interests, and I wasn’t sure if I should write about that or not. I think, given the fact that most readers come here not because of the subject matter but because of their social (media or otherwise) connection to me, that it would be fine, but we’ll see how the future goes. Lots of people say the biggest pitfall for a new blogger is to jump around in topics. Although, it’s definitely possible my recent work projects are connected slightly more than tangentially. For one, I’ve been wanting to talk a lot about Infinite Jest, which I just finished, and which might be the greatest book I’ve ever read. There’s a lot of “gifted” youth content in that book, and I think there’s room for a discussion there. Additionally, I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about the South, for several reasons. I’ve been semi-obsessed with genealogy in the past year, and am writing a good deal about it, both in terms of legacy, family connections, and the impact of the neo-digital world on what the aforementioned things will look like going forward. I spent some time this summer taking pictures of graveyards in Kentucky. I also played the new indie video game Kentucky Route Zero and am pitching an article on it to a few places (it’s a great storytelling experience, very southern-inspired, and not at all like a typical video game). There’s storytelling and rhetoric and composition all over the place, really, now that I’m sounding it out. Maybe I had no reason to be scared? A handful of possible topics: Video games as a composed text, and separation of storytelling-experience-based games like Kentucky Route Zero from the typical video game text. Kentucky Route Zero as a simultaneous narrative/counternarrative about the Southern experience. Storytelling as part of genealogy, and the relationship between the two (check out the argument on Wikipedia about whether genealogy and family history are the same thing, for more on that). The rhetoric of legacy, in terms of previous/old-fashioned memorials and digital/future memorials.
SO, maybe more on that later?
Back to my thesis. As this blog shows, I’m interested in the power of narrative, whether personal or otherwise, within argument/persuasion. As someone in the academic+composition world, I know that this is a popular topic for discussion. Lots of scholars argue that students should be allowed to use their own experience in academic papers (despite lots of professors still insisting on “No first person!”). In addition, there are a good deal of scholarly texts that include personal experience, including Victor Villanueva’s Bootstraps and Joseph Trimmer’s collection Narration as Knowledge which were assigned in one of my classes last semester, but even more iconic omni-discipline texts like Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera use authorial experience to make their case. So, given this scholarly atmosphere where we approve of and supposedly encourage this implementation of personal narrative as rhetoric, the question my thesis asks is whether this approval/expectation carries over to “novice” writers, specifically those sitting in a freshman-level composition class. I’ll do this by conducting a small experiment looking at the reactions of freshman composition instructors to texts which use personal experience versus those which do not. Don’t worry – I have no intention of making an argument one way or another as to how we should value personal experience in relation to “academic research.” Instead, I’ll allude vaguely to it and let my reader project themselves onto the page.
Outside content: A few things. Below is a track listing for a mix CD I made entitled Home(Sick) which grew out of my mind being so focused around home/the South lately. In addition, here are a few YouTube videos with music from Kentucky Route Zero: 1, 2. Compare them with their more “traditional” counterparts: 1, 2.
1. Long Journey Home – The Bedquilt Ramblers
2. God’s Country – Ani Difranco
3. Feather Lungs – Laura Gibson
4. Classic Cars – Bright Eyes
5. Paradise – John Prine
6. Fire It Up – Modest Mouse
7. Drifting – Pearl JAm
8. Whiskey in My Whiskey – The Felice Brothers
9. Merry Go ‘Round – Kacey Musgraves
10. Laundry Room – The Avett Brothers
11. Rockin’ Chair – The Band
12. Dear Believer – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
13. History of Lovers – Iron & Wine w/ Calexico
14. Giving Up – Ingrid Michaelson
15. To Just Grow Away – The Tallest Man On Earth
16. I Can’t Take It – Tegan & Sara
17. Mother, I’m Here – Darren Korb
18. 24 Hours A Day – Todd Snider
19. Sunday Morning Sidewalk – Johnny Cash