bio: February 2007 Archives

Chains of love

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It's one of those weeks where my waking moments are filled with thoughts best left unblogged, for any number of reasons. But I've been meaning for the past couple of days to link to an entry over at Tim's joint. He's speaking mostly about the whole Edwards campaign kerfuffle, but for a paragraph, he references a conversation over at Laura's about whether or not she planned to continue blogging. It motivates some reflection on the double standard operating in some folks' conceptions of blogging. On the one hand, they want what happens in blogspace to matter in the larger world; on the other, they don't always seem to want to be held accountable by that larger world. But I was especially interested in the finally paragraph (gently pruned for your consumption):

This is not just about blogging: it’s about history. The more you write, the more your writing is both burden and expectation, a second self whose permission is required before you do something new–or whose betrayal is necessary should you wish to be free of your shadow....When I write it–even in a blog–it has, and ought to have, some greater weight. If that weight becomes like Marley’s chains, forged in life, it’s up to me to do the hard and complicated work of unlocking, not to complain that what I wrote was read.

I mentioned in the comments thread at Laura's that she'd articulated something that I've been experiencing lately as well. And I think that it's that notion of what I write here as a second self. When I'm feeling especially transparent, the blog doesn't feel all that separate from what I do. I don't feel like I have to police it for polysemy, worrying about whether or not what I say will be taken up in unintended ways. Which isn't to say that it's weightless--I hope that there is some weight to what I write, at least on occasion. But when it becomes a second or a third self--if my private and public meat/selves are the first two--it takes me that much more energy to tend to it. And that much self-maintenance can wear me out after a while. Right now, I'm feeling that fatigue. Part of it's the weather, part of it's the time of the year, and part of it's just the junk that happens.

What prompted this entry tonight was a conversation with D about last night's ep of Lost, which didn't jazz me quite as much as the week before. I'm worried that the writers of that show have decided not to "do the hard and complicated work of unlocking" their narrative, opting instead for more plot, more characters, and more distractions (assuming that Jack's tattoo was one of the "big mysteries" solved last night), and hoping that those of us who loved the show through the first two seasons will simply let it slide. Lost is no longer the must-see it was for me those first two seasons, and while I'm willing to ride it out a while longer, I'm beginning to feel a bit betrayed by the fact that I've watched regularly, closely, and with interest. I wonder how much the writers are longing to be free of the shadows of those first two seasons.

That's not to compare my humble blog to a show like Lost. But I had a much more concrete sense after that conversation of how even a labor of love can begin to feel like a unshakeable shadow. That's all.

And that's really all I have to say tonight.

Fire vs. Ice

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This is not exactly a weather entry, and most definitely not another "complain about the blizzard" entry. However, today's entry begins from the premise that it sucks to receive 2 feet of snow, 20-30 mph wind, and temperatures in the single digits.

On the plus side, I live in a building that is steam heated. Which means that I don't pay hundreds of dollars for natural gas every winter.

On the minus side, I have no control over the temperature generated by the giant steam pipe that bisects my apartment along the ceiling. In the winter, when it's particularly cold, the temperature inside can reach into the low 80s.

On the plus side, cozy. Tshirts and shorts.

On the minus side, if you've ever lived with steam heat, you will know that it is not unlike living in an oven. Or underneath a rest room hand drier.

On the plus side, I sleep with a humidifier at one end of the room and often open my window at the other. The window's old, but I have four different items that I wedge in it to let in varying degrees of cold.

On the minus side, I'm a very warm sleeper. Which is fine when the heat goes off at around 4 am, but makes it really hard for me to get to sleep (dry skin, itchy, heat, tossing, turning, insomnia) unless it's decently cool.

On the plus side, I can usually open the window early enough to cool the apartment sufficiently.

On the minus side, my building is next to a big driveway/multi-car garage. Whose owner takes some delight, I've discovered, in trying to bury our building in snow. My apartment extends below ground level, and so my windows are particularly easy to bury.

There is no more plus side. If I open the window enough, as I did last night, I end up with wind, snow, and eventually soaking wet (and cold) carpeting. Also, the books. The books!

All of which is to explain why tonight, when I go to sleep, in the dead of winter, I'm probably going to have to waste money by turning on a fan.

(And that doesn't really help with the whole dry skin thing. Nor with my mood.)

That is all.

Snow day? Really?

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I've been telling folks that the winter here has been a pretty mild one, when my personal metric, the number of times I have to shovel my car free, is applied. Hasn't happened yet.

That's about to change. We're looking at close to 2 feet today, I've heard, and the winds could get up to 30-40 mph later today. For the first time in 6 years, SU declared a snow day, canceling all events (inc. classes) that begin later than noon or so.

I don't expect to make it through the winter up here without a few such days, and today will not disappoint in that regard. So it'll be a hermitty day round these parts, maybe even a couple of them.

And in other news, happy HWP Day...

That is all. Stay indoors.

Home again, home again

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At least for a while, until CCCC in March. Another month, another secret mission, this time to the heart of the midwest. It's no secret, if you read last week's entry on Moretti, that said mission involved the presentation of ideas. A couple of people referenced my blog post in private, but I ended up not leaning on Moretti's work quite as much as I originally expected, so the question would have sounded a little decontextualized.

Ah, but this was Step #3 in my (toast)master plan to wean myself away from scripting my presentations, and it was perhaps my most successful step to date. I had a clock facing me from the back of the room, an hour for my session, and I started ten minutes late, due to some tech snafulery. I think I raced a little bit, but I ended up at 35 minutes, leaving a good 15 for questions, and it went pretty well from my perspective.

This time round, in part due to my own procrastination, I had to be briefer in the notes I was using. There were several spots where I just wrote down stuff like "Anderson - Long Tail - explain," trusting myself to say what I needed to. And what do you know? I think I did. You may think this a small triumph, but bear in mind that I've been doing this for more than ten years, and I have serious stage fright. To be able to tell myself to just explain something, in front of a group of mostly strangers, is a huge step for me.

The other thing that I noticed was that, rather than slipping off into the reading zone (where I start a paper and then don't notice anything until after I'm done), I was able to respond in some ways to facial expressions, so that if I needed an extra sentence to make something clear, I could do that. If no one seemed perplexed, I could move on. I'm definitely not perfect at it, but hey, actually remaining conscious and responsive during the presentation was a step in the right direction, methinks.

I had the chance to chat about the question of reading vs. speaking with someone there who's in a field where speaking is the norm. I tried out a little theory about why I at least have had to work hard at moving away from reading. I can't really speak for others in my discipline nor for other disciplines, but I began my graduate study at a time when there was a lot of emphasis on decentering teacherly authority in the writing classroom. The focus, we were told, should be less on direct instruction and lecture, and more on peer work and discussion. As someone who was pretty introverted already, this was an emphasis I could easily embrace. I don't really prefer to be the center of attention anyway, and so I was more than happy to decenter me. Of course, it's not that simple when there's grading involved, but that form of authority governed individual interactions rather than the classroom.

The point is that this kind of training, while it lent itself to my teaching style just fine, also left me rather underprepared to venture forth to conferences and speak confidently in a room full of colleagues without a script. I'd never argue that we should return to those halcyon days of yellowed lecture notes, but at the same time, I'm convinced that the shift away from "sage on the stage" styles has left us less able to perform well when we are on stages. I really admire those of my colleagues for whom this is not a problem, but I am most definitely not one of them.

Here's what I've done:

  • I track a few sites (Presentation Zen is my fave) that often contain advice for presentations, whether it's tips for engaging audiences, how not to prepare a Powerpoint/Keynote deck, or what have you.
  • I bought the Keyspan remote on PZ's recommendation, and so took some advantage of my gadget fetish to convince myself to try this.
  • I've been composing more in Keynote (and as I've given multiple talks, recycling slides from multiple sources has become easier), which helps split attention between me and screen (which helps me psychologically). Having roughly a slide for every 1-2 minutes also helps me pace myself.
  • I've tried to visualize speaking situations as I compose, which seems to help as well.
  • And maybe most importantly, I've tried to build up what I think of as a repertoire of 5-10 minute, modular talks, out of which I then compose longer presentations. Not only does that make signposting a breeze, but it keeps me from feeling like I'm relying too heavily on a long series of points that are tough to keep in mind as I work towards a conclusion. I start with an overview that explains how it's all going to fit together, and then I work through the pieces.

One compliment I got last week was that, each time a question was raised in this person's mind, the next slide or step in my talk answered it. This made me quite happy, as you might imagine. I don't think of myself as any great speaker, believe me, but I feel like I am improving visibly from one talk to the next. Confidence will do that for you, apparently. And I say all this not in an attempt to shame others in my field to weaning off of the script, but in the hopes that it might be helpful. As much as anyone, I understand the feeling of security that a script brings, not to mention the fact that you can "finish" a script, while I tend to tweak and tweak and tweak right up until the presentation without one. That's my next step, I think, to try and trust myself, keeping the tweaks to a minimum.

We'll see how it goes. In fact, we'll see how it goes come March.

That's all.

The Raw and the Cooked

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I've been awake now for about 20 hours today. Had to be up early, with a couple of 2-hour sessions spread somewhat inconveniently across the day, and somehow, I missed my window of opportunity for healthy sleep-when-you're-tired sleep, and now, I'm cruising on the fumes of bleary-eyed, zone-out exhaustion. Rats.

One by-product of today's energy level was that my normally cooked self was a little raw in places, and when that happens, I don't filter my reactions nearly as much as normal. Without getting into specifics, I made a comment today in conversation that was one of those off-hand remarks, putting words together in a slightly different way, that both resonated in a foundational, soul-deep way and was probably borderline clinically depressed.

Yes, lovely. I don't feel any real regret over it--I certainly don't want to take it back--but I'm thinking that it would be easier to get to sleep tonight had I not forced myself to look at things differently today with that stupid crack. I'm not worried what anyone else thinks--in fact, I'm relatively certain that those who heard this remark didn't really notice it for what it was. But like a self-imposed earworm, it's returned to me over and over ever since.

Ah well. Maybe I can read a bit and push it to the side long enough to get some sleep. On the plus side, it's been a fair spell since I endured the full-blown, wheel-spinning insomnia, so maybe tonight will stay an exception.

And no, don't ask. The point isn't what I said so much as the fact that sometimes a thought gets lodged in between me and sleep, and sometimes a good navel-gaze is part of my strategy for dislodging it. That's all.

Good night.



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This page is a archive of entries in the bio category from February 2007.

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