Getting my hands dirty with Illustrator, sketching a fuzzy vision for a someday course on Rhetorico-geographical Positioning Systems (RPS). I never do this, but I’ve missed self-set deadline for proposing the course at least twice in 2011, which suggests the only felt urgency for such a creation is my own. Now–and publicly–setting a third deadline for real-izing this proposal by, oh, the 8th of Wheneveruary, 2012.
Ph. is taking an online class this summer: LS211: Introduction to the Humanities. It’s a class I know well. I first developed the online version several years ago2002 and taught it a handful of times, including every summer during my tour de PhD. I was the course developer for, I don’t know, seven years right up until I landed in Ypsilanti.
Now two years later, I encouraged him to enroll in this particular course because he needs it for his major, and I thought there was a chance the main textbook might still be in use and a few crumbs of the course I’d designed might be lingering in the new version. All this amounts to is a faint hunch that we could have some conversations about the course materials–in-family supplemental instruction.
You can imagine my surprise–and horror–when Ph. received as a welcome email an message I wrote many years ago as a template for other instructors to adapt when welcoming student into the course. What a peculiar turn, this message in a bottle, from me to students in the early oughts, then with details removed as a template from me to instructors of the course, then minimally modified from an instructor to Ph. late last week.
The class begins for Ph. today. In fact, he just shared with me a Google Doc with the major project assignment (because I was curious; plus he is working in my office today), and, indeed, it is the very assignment prompt I created a half decade ago. I’m baffled, conflicted. I mean, I know it was work-for-hire. I know the other school “owns” these course materials. I know they are entitled by contract law to redistribute and make money on every scrap of material I put into that course. And even though this situation hints at odd and unsettling pedagogical practices (for a course–ironically–we paid tuition for), and even though I am not crazy about the idea that Ph. would be taking a course dependent upon such an aging bundle, I am nevertheless reassured by what feels like stepping through a wormhole, i.e., that the course is solidly enough developed that materials I wrote and assembled several years ago could still be sound today. It’s a principle to teach by, I suppose: create classes you would like for your children to take one day (and understand that if you sign a contract releasing work-for-hire, you just might end up paying tuition for them to take it).
RePresentations of Ypsilanti are fraught (does it matter whether these are “representations” or “presentations”? I don’t think so). By “fraught,” I mean they are piled high, brimming even, with hints of foreboding about crime and poverty endemic to the city and the nearby township, both of which bear the name Ypsilanti. That this is so turns out not to be an insight worth bothering to share with anyone who has lived on the east side of Washtenaw County for more than a few months.
Nevertheless, I am thinking about this locale because I am developing a course for now conceived as a rhetorico-geographic study of EMU’s surrounds. Yes, of course, it will be writing focused, as it will attend to questions of routes, distances, and enframings with a particular investment in producing variations: re-composing the local. I aim to have the proposal submitted by the end of the semester. Right now I am gathering ideas, storing them in such a way that they will, in time, assume the shape of a provisional syllabus and schedule.
And this means I am taking stock of local coverage of local events, conditions, or problems, as the case may be. For example, a series of articles have appeared in Annarbor.com about Ypsilanti Mobile Village, an abandoned mobile home park on Michigan Ave. just east of the intersection with Prospect. In late December came news that the owner filed bankruptcy. By early January, there was a story about the owner expressing his intentions to clean up the site, and on Friday, word that a judge ordered the cleanup to proceed. I don’t want to suggest that this series of stories is particularly representative of Annarbor.com’s coverage of Ypsilanti, and certainly there is much water under the bridge, so to speak, about how Annarbor.com depicts Ypsilanti, how the “paper” writes Ypsilanti, that is. The series on Ypsilanti Mobile Village is simply an example–perhaps an example I am all the more interested in because I have driven by the park a couple of times, because it is as close to campus (to the west) as it is to where I live (to the north). To give you some sense of the mobile home park’s condition, an employee provided this video footage to Annarbor.com with the first report:
That the initial complaint is reprinted in full in each of the follow-up stories strikes me as introducing a curious but distinctive echo: “Raw sewage continues to leak from several residences.” “Raw sewage continues to leak from several residences.” “Raw sewage continues to leak from several residences.” Reading it over yet again, the image becomes more deeply seated. It cements an impression that these grim conditions are permanent, that they are woven into the landscape in such a way that no bureaucratic or legalistic action will change any time soon.