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Yeah, umm, kind of scary

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I remember a line from graduate school (Bataille, maybe?) that goes something like: the only thing worse than going completely unnoticed is to be noticed. I'm sure I have it wrong, but the gist is something to that effect.

And I recall it here because in a fairly short time, I've learned of three different courses that are using my little book, at Rowan, Central Florida, and Idaho. I'll add the other links when I can. Those are the ones I know of, anyhow.

I'm not sure what else to say, except that it's simultaneously exciting and terrifying to be a book. I asked my 601 students to read a chapter from it this semester, but mainly that was because I also gave them copies of the JAC article that the chapter used to be, as well as the dissertation chapter that was heavily revised into the JAC piece. That was the first time that I myself had read the three versions of that chapter in close proximity--it was an interesting exercise to be sure. Even more than a decade out, it's still difficult for me to read my own work. I'm hyperaware of my quirks as well as my limitations, and in the end, I find myself hoping that there's something of value to take away despite all that. I do think there is, but then I would, wouldn't I?

I've been meaning to add a quick link here to Jim Brown's comments about the book over at the Blogora, both because that was the first public mention of the book that I've seen, and because I appreciate the fact that Jim gets to the heart of one of the themes that still resonates for me, the move from object to interface.

Anyway, on the off-chance that anyone comes looking, I'm going to try to be a little extra accessible online while folks are reading LF, and if I can answer any questions, let me know. Drop me a note, FB comment, Twitter DM, etc.

From Neil Gaiman:

Some writers need a while to charge their batteries, and then write their books very rapidly. Some writers write a page or so every day, rain or shine. Some writers run out of steam, and need to do whatever it is they happen to do until they're ready to write again. Sometimes writers haven't quite got the next book in a series ready in their heads, but they have something else all ready instead, so they write the thing that's ready to go, prompting cries of outrage from people who want to know why the author could possibly write Book X while the fans were waiting for Book Y.

I'm not sure that the "fan letter" is actually real, but Neil Gaiman has a nice post up attempting to debunk some myths about fan entitlement. Martin is notorious in that regard--he's published one of the best fantasy series in recent years, and in part because of its huge, ensemble cast, the books keep getting more and more complex and end up taking longer to emerge. Word on the street a while back was that the latest installment was so long that the press decided to publish it as two, which necessitated even more revision and planning. And when I say "so long," bear in mind that the page count on the four volumes I have handy are 835, 1002, 950, and 750.

The title of this post is Gaiman's elevator version of his own thoughts on the matter. Embedded in the "letter" he's responding to is an interesting point about how social media crank up the attention and pressure on writers like Martin, which is why I thought to mention it here. That, and I think it's important for all of us who write to understand about ourselves what Gaiman discusses in the excerpt above. Having gone through my own patch over the last year where I "worried that I could no longer write," it's oddly comforting to hear someone as prolific as Gaiman talk about the same thing, and to acknowledge that it's not always something that's under our control.

That is all.

Sprint v Marathon

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If late fall and early spring were examinazing! then my late spring and early summer are shaping up to be dissertastic! which should go some distance towards explaining why I seem to be fixated on that particular process as of late.

I wanted to make note of Jim's comparison of dissertation-writing to the baseball season, because I think he's dead-on accurate. The day Jim posted that, I was explaining to someone or other why I'm such a fan of baseball. I like the gradualness of the season, and while every once in a while, you can watch magical things happen (last season's Rays, e.g.), part of the appeal for me is its omnipresence. There's always a game on somewhere, so I can watch if I want. But I can also miss a game or a week as well, without feeling like I've missed too much. It's not a game that readily lends itself to the highlight, and it fits well into the zone of continuous partial attention (CPA) that characterizes my working spaces.

I'm not interested in spinning the allegory out too far here, though, except to note that writing the dissertation is a lot more like going through a season of baseball than it is other sports (and maybe other activities). To use another well-worn sports analogy, it's much more like a marathon than a sprint, and part of the trouble that folks have in making that transition is that, for their entire educational careers, they've been practicing the sprint. And there are some folk who manage, through luck or persistence, to sprint a mile, stop, sprint a mile, stop, sprint a mile, stop, until they've done a marathon's worth of sprints. In a sense, I did that with my own dissertation.

But when I got to the book, I wised up, I think. I still accomplished it in a very intense stretch of time, but the way I used that time was very different. Instead of bouncing back and forth between front and back burners, I kept my book on the CPA burner, and figured out how to manage different types of activities at different times, all of which kept me focused without burning me out.

But my advice here is not to do what I did, with either project. Rather, I'd say that it's important to be open to the possibility that the "rules" you've constructed for yourself and your writing--composed as they were during a time where your work was much shorter and burstier--might be revised. What I ended up doing was trying really hard not to love my quirks too hard. Use outlines, freewrites, bubblemaps, timed writing, journaling, notetaking systems, everything--in particular, try out those things that you don't think you need. Accept that the dissertation process is different from anything you've done before, and develop new habits and strategies to manage it. Try a different word processor, a new chair, a new workspace, a new workflow, everything. In the process, you'll learn more about what you need to get it done and what you thought you needed but don't.

The major projects that I've done (and there was a long stretch where this blog would count as onesuch) have always changed the way I write, sometimes for a while, sometimes forever. And I'm much more conscious of what I need to write well, which has served me well since then. In some ways, I'm tempted to argue that that's the real affordance of the dissertation--just as exams give you an unparalleled opportunity to learn the field, the dissertation gives you a similar opportunity to really learn who you are and can be as a writer.

I'd like that idea much more if it didn't sound like I was romanticizing the process unnecessarily. I don't mean to--I've both seen and been part of less-than-ideal dissertation situations--but I think that, even when things aren't going well, we can still learn a great deal about our writerly selves, for better or worse.

That's all. I feel like I have maybe 3 or 4 more posts about dissertating in me. We'll see how much time I have over the next few...


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Steve had a nice comment to my last post:

I would add as a slightly different but related truism: there are a lot of different ways to skin the same cat. I think that everyone working on a diss or a book or major project lives in terror of coming across a title that appears to be about the same topic. But there are a lot of ways to take different angles on something. We did a job search this year, and it was interesting to see how many of our top candidates were doing essentially the same thing but doing them just differently enough to be unique.

Every project is a snowflake, I suppose.

What I didn't say in my last post was that, when that conversation started, my first thought was that I was going to have to offer this advice. It's far more common, I think, for writers to come across an essay or book that feels like it's covered the same ground. I'll never forget reading Mark Taylor's The Moment of Complexity the first time--I had just read, over the course of maybe 5 or 6 months, a bunch of the primary sources that Taylor relied on, and that material was percolating in my head. Then I picked up Taylor and all of a sudden, he was saying all the things that had only formed half-baked in my own head. It made it simultaneously exhilarating, deflating, and easy to read.

When it comes to working on the dissertation, though, I think that the terror that Steve describes above is a biggie. And part of that is our attachment to values like Originality--what seems like an original thought or approach in the context of a graduate program may be old news in another discipline, another program, or wherever. I've seen dissertators overhaul their methods because they found someone who had done something similar, and I think that's almost always a mistake.

First, I think that it's more productive to think of one's project in terms of its contribution rather than in terms of its originality. That's tougher than I make it sound. Part of the problem is that our model for designing projects (the old CARS model from Swales) focuses on distinction in a way that can be misread. The fact is that there are many dimensions along which a project can be distinct from another: method, site, background, genealogy, application, approach, etc. What we forget in the humanities sometimes is that small distinctions (applying a particular method to this site instead of that one) can produce important insights. Perhaps a pedagogical approach or curriculum that's worked well in one context does not in another. Maybe an interpretive attitude suited for certain artifacts is less suited for others. And so on.

My second point is related to yesterday's post, and that's that rather than living in terror of someone having been there before, we should think of those instances as opportunities for conversation. I've never read a book that was the absolute final word on something, my own included. There's always lots of room for additional work. And that's the kind of work that 99% of us actually do, connecting this idea to that one, bridging one tradition with another, building upon what's come before. The fantasy of initiating paradigm shifts is all well and good, but when it hangs up our ability to get work done, it's time to set it aside and focus instead on doing good work, making a strong contribution to the discipline.

I have those fantasies too, but they're best combined with a sense of humor and a commitment to the work itself.

That's all.


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I was talking with one of my many dissertators the other day. She was worried because she had read a couple of texts, one article and one book, that purported to do what she herself planned for her dissertation. However, she discovered upon reading them that, in fact, they weren't doing anything like what she wanted to do. I think that she was concerned that she was going to have to conform to their particular approach and that subsequently she'd be doing something that she didn't like.

I relate this little story not to get people guessing about the person in question, although some of you might know who it is, but rather to relay some of the best advice that I received/absorbed whilst in graduate school myself. Namely,

The best thing you can find is someone or something to work against.

I mean "against" here in two different ways, both of which are captured by the supercheesy pick-up line "If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?" I wish I had a better example, but there you go.

One of the things that I've really been emphasizing over the past few years as a graduate instructor is the importance of visualizing (and spatializing) research networks. We speak of the importance of situating one's work, but I've really pushed at that to make it more concrete. In fact, it's been a few years now since I assigned straight-up seminar papers in my graduate courses. Instead I've tried to design courses and assignments that focus on certain elements of the scholarship process. Concept maps are probably my fave, as long-time readers will notice...

Anyhow, against is a word that suggests both opposition/distinction to and contact with someone or something, and for the texts that matter most to the work I do, I work against them in both senses. Most books start out weighted in one direction or the other, and the ones that I value most tend to balance out, as I see the weaknesses of the ones I like and the virtues of the ones I don't.

So yeah, find the stuff that you can work against. If I had rules, that'd be one of em.

That's all.

Debbie has an important post up about the latest issue of CCC, which "amputates" the Re/Visions feature on KB in that issue by publishing snatches of it in the journal and the complete versions online.

If there's one thing to take away from this, it's that the journal has problems, ones that aren't going away any time soon. Anyhow, here's the post length comment that I left there:

I almost blogged about this at the time, but elected not to, given that I was hazy on the confidentiality of the conversations. Although I had no role at all in the decision-making process, I was involved in some of the discussions with Deb about how to handle this problem.

The problem isn't just the ridiculously low acceptance rate--it's that rate combined with the fact that the journal has a colossal backlog right now of accepted essays. Traditionally, the answer to the latter problem has been to lower the acceptance rate--accept fewer essays, and the backlog lifts eventually. But Deb's right, I think, to note that that's not a viable solution. The acceptance rate can't honestly go much lower, and even if it could, the editor would have to start rejecting submissions that had been accepted by the readers.

The problem is one I harp on all the time, and that's scale. Our discipline is much larger than it was 10 or 20 years now, and the size of the journal hasn't accommodated the large influx of TT faculty who would like to publish work in what is arguably the flagship journal. And the problem, in my mind, is only exacerbated by a decision-making and election process that pays no attention to professional qualification. Without putting too fine a point on it, there is no guarantee that, in any given year, the people making decisions about the journal have any editorial experience.

There are several solutions that any of us might imagine for this problem, from publishing an extra issue, to temporarily adding pages, to moving to a hybrid of print and POD, etc. I can guarantee that these were all ideas that I suggested, but I don't know how many of them factored into the actual decision. I also talked with Deb about the option that they eventually chose, although my suggestion was to move review essays online, since they're less often the object of the kind of page citation that Nels raises.

So while I'm sad that this happened to you, and wouldn't have been happy had it happened to my R/V set, I also think that there's a larger problem with the journal that needs to be solved. And so I'm also sympathetic with Deb, who's had to struggle with this for some time now. There are several contributing factors--the acceptance rate, the backlog, the growth of our field and subsequent increase in the number of submissions, the obvious and warranted interest in features like Re/Visions, the fact that the average length of a CCC essay has steadily climbed over the last 20 years, the desire to keep the page count consistent, the desire to keep the price of the journal low and accessible, and so on. It's a huge problem that has very material consequences for all of us, and yet, we don't really have the organizational means to deal with it well.

Sigh. So I'm sorry, not in the it's-my-fault way, but in the damn-that-sucks way.


Soapboxy enough? If D's post accomplishes one thing, I hope that it sparks some sort of open and frank discussion, beyond the walls of the EC meeting, of the role that the journal plays and should be playing in our field. And how the journal might adapt to a changing economy of scale that is obvious to anyone who cares to look.

We'll see.

Any APA gurus available?

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On a more serious note, I have a question for anyone who has better knowledge of APA style than I (this is a very large category of people, I suspect).

For reasons that will remain mysterious, my book was copyedited into APA style, and rather than have it turned back into MLA, I just went with it. But I'm coming across occasional issues in my MS, given my unfamiliarity with APA. For example, there are several points in the manuscript where I mention someone's reference of other work. For example, I might say that Scholar X builds on Scholar Y's idea of Z, where Z is a perspective or term that has been elaborated over a series of publications. I'm quoting Scholar X, and thus I need to include her in my bibliography and include the pub date in the text itself. I understand that.

But when it's a secondhand reference not to a specific text in the case of Scholar Y, but to one of their ideas that is being applied, adopted, transformed, or whatever in Scholar X's text, do I also need to include the inline parenthetical date for Scholar Y, and include their work in my bib as well?

I have to admit that this feels counter-intuitive to me, and yet, my copyeditor has entered the dreaded (xxxx) after each time I reference a proper name, without (it seems to me, at least) much sensitivity to the context of that proper name. But I'm hesitant to reject it out of hand, given the fact that I don't really know APA style at all, and my forays into the Publication Manual haven't yielded an answer.

Bottom line is that I can suck it up, and just track down the handful of citations that I'd need and include them in my bib--I may just do that anyway to reduce friction. But I am curious, because it's an element of my writing style that I don't think about often--I'm used to casually citing "common knowledge" sorts of ideas without imagining that I need to detail them formally.

Thanks ahead of time if you have an answer.


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the page proofs for my book arrive

I have a couple of posts* brewing, but I'll let them simmer for a while longer. Today is a day of long awaited celebration:

My page proofs arrived today!

In the world of Collin, this is a VeryGoodSign™. The only cloud to this silver lining is that, of course, it adds a whole new section to my already over-burdened to-do list, as I will be indexing it myself (with some help from one of the grad students here) and of course, proofreading it.

But you'll allow me the requisite evening of relief and joy before reminding me of all the work that remains, I hope. And no jokes about how lucky I was that the Cubs infielders weren't responsible for catching or delivering it.

That is all.

(* Onesuch is in reply to StevenB over at ACRLog, who picked up last month's discussion about CCCC, and had some interesting things to say about the politics of that conversation...)

Blogging Conferential

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It's been a remarkably unconferential spring for me--I bailed on CCCC this year, am not going next year, and currently, RSA and C&W are happening without me, and doing just fine, I imagine. But over round Blogora way, Rosa asks, "who is livebloggin RSA in Seattle?" and the answer would appear to be no one. I've seen a couple of entries, and a handful of tweets, about C&W, but nothing steady. So I'm breaking prose silence to offer up a modest proposal, one I think I may have talked about before...

If I were hosting a conference, I think I'd see about raising money in order to have a bunch of folk blog the sessions. I know that there used to be something similar for CCCC, but I think that that was strictly a volunteer effort. So here's my proposal:

Offer 5 travel stipends to graduate students at $1000 apiece. To earn that money, they must commit to blogging at least one panel during the majority of sessions during the conference. (I can't be more specific, because it would depend greatly on the conference format, breaks between sessions, keynotes, etc.) For the sake of argument, let's say that that number is 10. So $100 per session.

In an ideal world, the organization would provide the laptops. That is coming closer and closer to becoming a reality, financially. My ultra set-up cost less than $300, and the prices on these things will only drop as Intel gets further into the game. But for the sake of argument, I'm going to assume that most would have their own or one they can borrow.

Also, lap desks. They don't need to be from Levenger or anything. You can get a good one at B&N for $30. It's worth it.

Also, a lounge/room set aside for them to store coats, bags, gear, laptops, with Wifi, cable hookups if they need, and bottles of water and bagels/muffins. Also, if they prefer to type up handwritten notes, they could do that here as well.

Someone from the organization would coordinate with them, so that all 5 aren't blogging the same panel during a given session, of course. But otherwise, they'd just be turned loose on the conference.

The upside? It'd be awfully nice for the majority of people in any organization who don't come to the conference, yes. But it would also provide a means of archiving what is now our #1 source of almost completely disposable scholarship. I've given some interesting papers now and then, and the only record of them outside of my hard drive is the paper title in the program. It would give all of us access to a largely untapped area of our disciplinary scholarship.

I'm not talking about posting the papers themselves, although I sometimes will do that for myself, so it wouldn't be an issue of a pre-print threatening those who want to publish longer versions later on. But a good blog summary of a panel would be enough to let researchers know if they'd like to follow up and email a presenter for a copy of the paper.

Or, imagine that you're putting together a panel on X for a future conference. It'd be nice to be able to do a search for folks working on that topic. Or to gather some ideas about possible folk for an edited collection. Or to get some idea about whose work you might want to follow up on for an article of your own about X.

Right now, the scholarship we do for conferences vanishes into the ether for the most part. Blogging the conference in a semi-systematic fashion would mitigate against that, and it would make all of us who don't attend every single conference feel a lot more connected. That wouldn't be a horrible thing, either.

Let's say that we have 1000 people in an organization, which is probably an overestimate for some and under for others. But given 1000 dues-paying members, it would take and extra $5 a year to pull this off, and the result would be access to a cumulative database of 150 presentations per conference (5 bloggers x 10 panels x 3 presenters/panel).

Finally, it would be a nice way to support our graduate students and it would be, I imagine, a really valuable introduction to the breadth of our discipline for those who participated. At conferences like RSA and C&W, the majority of the panels could be blogged. It would be a little more of a drop in the bucket at a conference like Cs, but that's the organization most capable of scaling this up beyond just 5 bloggers, too.

Seriously, I'd pay $5 or $10 more a year if a database from each year of the conference was the result. If someone could get on that for me...heh.

That is all.


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Acknowledgments are one of those occluded genres in our writing. It's rare for us to have the opportunity to issue public expressions of gratitude, although if the general session at CCCC were more like the Oscars, maybe that would change. Not that I'm suggesting, mind you.

Anyhow, a couple of months ago, I contacted my press to see if they would mind if I changed my acknowledgments. The original was a fairly standard set of thank yous to friends, family, colleagues. With my dad's passing, I felt like I needed to spend a little more time thinking and writing about his influence on my life. My intention, once they agreed (which they did), was to spend that weekend drafting a new couple of pages to sub for the ones they currently had.

Well, that was two months ago. I've intended to work on those two pages every weekend since then, and every weekend, I put it off. And off. And off. Here's the thing: I don't really write from pain. I talk it through. It's partly why this space has been as silent as it has for the past six months. I want to write something, but nothing that I can imagine writing is really enough for what I want to say. I talked about this problem with a couple of different friends today--talking about it is easy. Writing? Not so much.

And the fact of the matter is that, if I hadn't written a draft the other night, I would have continued to not write about it some more. It's been an odd experience that way. I have things I want to write--there's a couple of articles in me itching to get out--but I haven't really wanted to write. The connection is obvious, of course, but there's a little more to it, because while I know my dad was proud of me and what I was doing, there wasn't that much of a direct connection between the me who was his son and the me who writes articles, chapters, or books for the discipline. Not blogging makes more sense, because I know that he read this site.

Ah well. Like I said. I have a draft, and an idea or two about revising it. My guess is that getting this done will make it more likely that I'll come round here a little more. And maybe I'll finally get around to giving myself permission to write again. Here's hoping.

That's all.



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