Step Back, Again

In basketball parlance, the step back is a move, not a method. If there is “research,” it is immediate—nothing protracted in the decision to make the move. I have never heard anyone refer to practiced, foreseeable basketball actions as methods. Instead: for individuals, moves, techniques, tendencies, styles; for teams, systems, plays, schemes. The step back introduces sufficient space for a shooter to send one up unobstructed (or with reduced interference from a defender who, because of the step, is now a step away). The step back creates a clearing.

For this step back to be effective, one judges by the space it established—usually a small, quickly opened space. Was it sufficient? And was it quickly enough calculated and executed to become indefensible? I want to be careful in suggesting that this step back compares neatly to the other step back. We do not on the hardwoods, say, in a pick-up game, wish to be running with anyone who noodles on, ish-talking about “did you see my step back method?” No. Time we shoot for new teams.

Try This

Figure 1. Try This: Research Methods for Writers book cover.

Quick entry—it’s late and kale sweet potato soup is bubbling. And I’m still in the late stages of moving, turning in keys and parking passes at the old place this afternoon, scooping expired field mice from the attic of the new place, fetching groceries, hooking up laundry machines, chopping onions, and so on. But a project several years in the works dropped yesterday at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/practice/try/: Try This: Research Methods for Writers, a textbook we hope sees uptake in rhetoric and writing classes. I could say A LOT about this book’s development. Once it was in the hands of Mike Palmquist and the editorial team at WAC Clearinghouse, its shape and timing were never clearer or crisper. I didn’t realize it, but I read today that this book is the 150th free, open access publication of the nearly 25 years WAC Clearinghouse has been operating. So it’s an honor and a wonder and a credit to so many that this book is circulating now, as it is. [N.b., not a ninety, but hope to get back to a few more of those soon, like tomorrowsoon, or the nextdaysoon.]

Step Back & Difficult Puzzle

Step back, consider how it’s going. Recline in an overpriced chair. Pause to sit on a bench outside if the weather allows. Walk. The practices of writing research and doing research thread ends into a knot, and the knot’s beginning-point and ending-point conceal themselves, each indistinguishable from the other. What researcher takes the time and care to label writing as writing and doing (otherwise, anything) as doing? Unwinding later will make for a difficult puzzle. Or else with a shrug and carry on attitude it won’t be necessary.

Gorgoylean Methods

Appealing are the sense-making motives in the Berlant-Stewart exchanges, with a nod echoic to Jenny Rice’s variation—gorgoylean methods—in Awful Archives where the generative tenets follow, 1) What is going on? and 2) What accumulates as being rhetorical figuration? and 3) How does it (fail to) add up? Not anchored entirely in story nor narrative, in description, in data nor database/collection, the gorgoylean approach hearkens maybe to positional disruption: What is for me phenomenological is for you empirical is for Earl not even worthy of inquiry.

Memoranda from Lulls

A few anterior questions for research design: Who—individual, department or program, college, institution, field—needs to research? Why? Do research designs do more than install (strict or suggestive and flexible) rails for procedural fidelity? How much of what shows up later in a methods section is accountable to planning versus zig-zagged execution? Method’s slow way-twining of ‘above’ (meta-) and ‘along’ (-hodos) cannot at every resting beat be comparably discernible. Are research memos, then, only ever generated from a resting beat, casting a perchance motley-at-best crumbtrail?

Nineties

Synaptic, the Berlant-Stewart exchanges, base 100 writing, volleys dealt in increments (or multiples thereof). For the spring grad class, maybe 90s or within five words. An 84 word blurb is not a ninety. At 96, it must reach elastic band to 180. Or 175. A ninety can be one sentence. Or up to 90 sentences. It is meant to conduct a tiered practice. At once, measured habit, self-aware; at once, expressing questions as questions or connections as connections. Woe omicron variant whispers, though, What even is teaching now?

Closing

Christiansburg, Va., bungalow, a short gravelly turn from Oak Grove.

Closed on this place Monday. And then had satellite internet installed, tested the landline service, scoped the attic, uncorked and drained the pond taking much notice of the cold-bloodeds contentedly murked in the early December slurry, chatted under light rain showers with the neighbor, and then on the way home—wherever after all really is home—ate Due South BBQ, the “trough” with sides of fried okra and banana pudding. These next two weeks are peak moving chaos between managing to keep pace with work and managing to transition so that bills aren’t piling up at the new place and the Blacksburg apartment for too long. It’s a welcomed change, moving to this address, what I think is the 26th place I’ll have received USPS mail in now going on 48 earth years. And it’s more rural than most for being at the end of a dirt road, not a cell signal in ping’s reach. Of those 25 other addresses, one was seven years (in high school); two trailers on Winn Road were five years apiece (when I was a tot and then early elementary school-aged). Seven years is the longest anywhere. But this hollow, if I can befriend the watercourse, the insect kin, and the reptile kin, I do like to imagine being here for a while.

Discomfort Inventory

Catching singedwhiff of burnout or year-end case of the enough-alreadies (it’s like the slows but more existentially introspective), I was looking ahead to February 1’s deadline for Faculty Activity Reports, trying to reconcile Virginia’s 60+F temperatures with December, and regrouping after an unusually challenging writing program administrative week. Sometimes you take a hard look, you know?, and remember these orbits are few, the lifting not entirely yours to heft. I keyed in the neighborhood of eight “comfort inventories” from 2004-2011, but then a decade passed and for those ten years, none. Wonder why. Today, in the spirit of FAR anticipation (FARticipation would be a whizpopper portmanteau but risks poor poor taste), keen on the feelings a’coursing through the great resignation, a discomfort inventory for 2021.

  • Chaired 2 faculty searches that brought 9 new colleagues (4 TT, 5 instructors). In the last 2.5 years, that brings it to 4 searches for 25 new colleagues.
  • Completed 2 external reviews for tenure and/or promotion. I could’ve said yes to 2 more, but I just couldn’t. In a balanced year, 3 are possible; this year, only 2.
  • Reviewed 1 book manuscript. A terrific book which I cannot wait to teach, but I wrote to the publisher this week and learned it won’t be out until September 2022.
  • Reviewed 4 articles (Enculturation, CCC x 2, Intermezzo)
  • Co-led a workshop on daily drawing for the Lifelong Learning Institute
  • Gave an artist’s talk about the pandemic bestiary
  • Prepped the pandemic bestiary for the Squires gallery, and then submitted 1 piece, which sold for $225, to the Artful Lawyer show in downtown Blacksburg. With this, I’ve made more cash from illustrations than from writing in this life.
  • Did 44 illustrations. I think? Could be more. But at least 44.
  • Gave an invited talk and teaching workshop at U Virginia in January (virtually)
  • Sent Radiant Figures into the world (i.e., published chapter and co-edited collection)
  • Taught 1 section of Technical Writing
  • Wrote 9 letters of recommendation
  • Bought a 70-year old house in a bona fide hollow and a used car (Honda Civic).
  • Drove the Michigan-Virginia roundtrip 6.5 times
  • Interim co-directed the Center for Rhetoric in Society
  • Committees: 7. Served on Comp, Ex Comm, RW, Professorial Personnel, ad hoc Teaching Evaluations, CID Advisory, and LVE Community Engagement Committee, chairing or co-chairing two of these. Must give up 2 in the year ahead.
  • Coordinated 4 Writing Program Dialogues sessions (WAVA and/or UVa)
  • Highlight of highlights: presented at the CID, “Lines Drawn Home,” with Ph. and Is.
  • Published a co-authored chapter in Composition as Big Data
  • Co-developed/co-piloted SSWPI placement system, but breakdowns have us redrawing things (generative failure, in effect). This included receiving 300 emails from first-year students in June alone.
  • Served on 10 dissertation committees; 3 who graduated in 2021; 2 new ones; chairing 2
  • Co-authored or co-sponsored 2 course proposals: 1) Food Writing and 2) Advanced Writing and Research.
  • To date, I’ve done exactly 200 transfer equivalency reviews; in all of 2020, there were 182. Up is up!
  • There’s more: promotion to professor, serving on various boards, including CWPA and WAVA, again negotiating and executing a program textbook, illustrating its cover, and so on, but this is a pretty thick-cut slice of what the year has held, and I know for casting it as I have that the volume, it’s nope not sustainable.

J-E-L

Hello hot dog olive and celery savory jello.

A quick jot. An unset jello as metaphor. It was this or take a walk. The sun is setting and it’s colder than I like for walking plus I am out of the habit plus I’d rather reheat homemade chicken noodle soup and entertainlie the possibilitylie that I will walk after eating. In the dark. Prolly won’t.

Doozy workdays, mélange of administrativa and planning, picking off to-dos before they have ripened into urgencies after the holiday week. That’s the sickness and the flame, to always be working onto some mythical horizon whereupon by doubling fevers today, there is presumed to be some lighter relief in sight for sweet tea on the porch of a new house, a nap, or where to string a hammock for pretending to read in afternoon daylight. My favorite word in this paragraph is mélange but I’m dulldim as can be with accents because lazy Anglophone and tonally clumsy. Can’t win ’em all with languaging; I’ll try to do better.

That photo is meant to be suspenseful, suspended and tottering on the question of is this serious or is this playful? Is this dessert or is this supper? Is this savory or is this sweet? Department holiday party is coming up; we were pink sludged with an email about it the other day. Sign up! Declare your dish! I’ve been wanting to make a jello mold, but then some friends joked that I should make a savory jello, and I thought what better way to transform a small-time joke into an unforgettable big top laugh riot than to actually make the savory jello. Pictured here. Weiners reinforced. Medley of green pimento-stuffed olives and celery for textural offset and palate cleansing. And then some kind of jello in the middle, but what kind is it. Bone broth? Pickle juice? Apple cider?

I wrote to Ph. and Is. and asked if they would indulge me a trial run. That’s where I make something for them to learn how to make it for others. Keeps the shortcomings in the family, quasi-private, and among the most trusteds. They’ll tell me if it’s good or if it isn’t. Their palates are refined and rangy, reflective of their disparate ages and experiences. But in this case, they responded with vomit emoji and that lurching stomach churn animated GIF from Dumb and Dumber. I am listening. I haven’t taken the next step on this one. Not yet. Anyway, celery was sold out at Kroger the other day. But I still have to come up with something for the holiday party, and it’s less than two weeks away. Gelatins have a way of calling you, beckoning, blinkering into a day, reminding you that they have congealing to do. So this is more like a beginning than an end.

Perimeters

A few clicks south along a gravel road and you’re there, a property serendipity or dumb luck or the Fates queued up for a look last Wednesday, just as I was giving up on the ridiculous Montgomery County, Va., housing market. Figured I would be renting indefinitely because who can spend all that time online sifting for leads, then schedule and go for a showing, only to find “pending” by the end of the day. Escalation clauses to 50k over asking. Same day cash offers. Waived inspections. But against the grain of improbabilities, then there’s one, and you only need one.

At 5.8 acres in an unincorporated part of the county, I thought it was a long shot. Right-priced. Low taxes. House plus a small guest cottage in back. Pair of workshop-studios. Went to see it. Another prospective buyer crowding in behind us, arriving early as we walked the perimeter, much of it across angular inclines then declines of as much as 200 feet, what in this region is, if you’re talking about the landform, known as a hollow, and if you’re talking about the auditory call-across-a-distance, then it’s a holler. Hollow or holler, it’s always only pronounced holler. Neither a valley nor a cove, a holler comes with a watercourse and little to no flat land. So I put in a good faith bid and waited. Extenuating circumstances had me waiting an extra day and then part of another. On Friday night, a decision: there was a second matching bid, but if we’d waive inspection, it was ours.

Aerial (drone) photograph with approximate property boundary added for southside Christiansburg house now under contract.

The waived inspection doesn’t worry me too too much.

Offer accepted and heaps of paperwork in motion, we went again this evening, a week later, to walk the perimeter again—having also done so on Saturday when we met the sellers who spend 2.5 hours generously going over the finer features, in addition to some idiosyncrasies I’m going to need reminded about. The water pump especially. For the creek or the pond. The electrical configurations for the two wired garages. The quality of HughesNet versus HollerNet. The spigot buried in the front yard. The location of the septic and drain field. Dwelling sorts it out one way or another.

But bears! This evening while walking the perimeter, there a mossy shelf, maybe 15×30-feet, there a knuckled ledge overlooking the holler, there a place for chickens, there a hoop house and garden, there a series of hooks for ladder storage, and there a dispatch of bear scat. And another. I think? I mean, what else? And it’s not like there is a cell signal available to Google bear isht til you get back to the apartment later on. No apps for identifying it definitively. Seller said they’d had a bear pull a trash barrel better than three-quarters of the way up the embankment. Presence of a bear or two accentuates a holler with special caution ahead of moving and planning. But they’re no more worrying than a waived inspection, and obviously they aren’t especially concerned about the location of the septic or drain field.