Upon Not Panicking and After

The inventory I wrote nearly three months ago proved perspective-setting at the time, so I’m trying something similar here, trying to recover that feeling of checking back again on what the ever-living high tide has happened this summer, especially with work. The August Workshop runs next week–that’s the Composition Program’s week-long seminar that in focused ways anticipates the start of classes on August 26.

Summer has been work-intensive, but it hasn’t been all work. I’ve biked and swam, made several trips to Pickerel Lake, camped in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Ludington, Mich., swam in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, drove to Blacksburg then Nashville, also to Baltimore, also to Lansing for Computers & Writing. I’ve seen a few movies (Last Black Man in San Francisco, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and some TV shows (Euphoria, Barry, Chernobyl, When They See Us, Big Little Lies, probably something I’m forgetting). I flew to Albuquerque for Native Vision, but didn’t fly anywhere else. I got one massage. I will go for a tattoo tomorrow. I cooked my daughter’s birthday dinner on August 1. And I held my granddaughter a few times but not nearly enough, never nearly enough. I made several gallons of fermented vegetables. Ate some of them. Results were mixed. I started drinking coffee again. At neighbors’ request, I stood at a condo association board meeting and read a law about non-profit organizations and about how voter lists must be available at meetings where votes are being recorded, and I was shouted at by a lawyer, also called an asshole. So the summer has had range and depth and balance.

My to-do list remains feral more than tame. I complete things, experience a moment of calm, then get surprised by its biting or clawing or sometimes stinging out of the blue. Here are a few of the things that have been on the list in the last three months. I suppose I should keep track of things differently than I do.

  • Around May 20, I learned that we had sixty-one unstaffed sections of first-year writing for fall. And that set in motion a quickened pace search for thirteen new instructors. The search is still unfinished, so I shouldn’t say a whole lot about it. In terms of workload, it has been a steady and as measured as possible ten weeks. We still, as of today, have six unstaffed sections of first-year writing for fall. Fall semester begins in 20 days.
  • Since May 20, I have received 1154 emails and sent 763 emails. Be the email reduction filter you want to see in the world. But, too, 763 sends is more than I’d prefer for the three months between spring and fall. Notably, not all emails are equal. Some are flits and some are more intricately built. What would it look like to operate in an administrative capacity where email was infrequent, discouraged, altogether abandoned? What, instead, might we use? Are there Slack-only writing programs? Are there in 2019 administrators who decline to use email?
  • I received, read, and returned 42 course equivalency requests since May 20. How does this compare? Who knows. But I’m keeping track of it.
  • I wrote, submitted, and approved edits on an encyclopedia-like entry on heuristics.
  • I presented at Computers & Writing in Lansing and also collected a book award for Network Sense.
  • I attended CWPA in Baltimore, going to a handful of sessions and also participating on the executive board for the first time.
  • I gathered into one place something like 6,000 words toward an article I’d like very much to have sent off yet this fall. But hours dedicated to writing feel both spare and distant at the moment. So this one can sit quietly until early September.
  • I drafted a chapter for a collaborative project (7,000 words plus sixteen figures). Sent that off. And am almost done with revisions on another chapter for that same project (6,000 words plus seven figures). One more chapter is due by the end of the fall semester.
  • I made modest revisions to the chapter I’ve contributed to the Radiant Figures collection. Also mocked up two model chapters and, with co-editors, fine-tuned and submitted that collection’s proposal, which we should be hearing back about before the end of August. With any luck.🍀
  • I worked with VT colleagues on the finishing steps toward compiling a writing programs self-study report that’s gone off to the CWPA evaluator-consultant service and, as well, to the two C-E visitors we’ll have on campus at the end of September. The self-study is maybe 5000 words, but it includes fourteen appendices and thus expanded to something like a 101-page PDF. Next will be scheduling the visit more precisely. Lots of email involved in that.
  • Registered for FemRhet and have continued to shepherd along a process of registering the 10+ graduate students who will be on a roundtable about intersectionality at that conference in November. Submitted a proposal to RSA in Portland next May. I wrote a proposal for a possible lecture at Bland Correctional Facility, though I still don’t quite know if that will be scheduled for fall. And I’m needing very soon to generate a title and blurb for a talk at U Findlay happening in late October. I think it will be a talk drawn from the shadows of the article draft a few bullets back (though the framing is a tad cynical, dissolutionist, endist, accelerationist, fretting with a very particular precariat).
  • Work on Corridors has centimetered along, too, and I’ve just about finished preparation for the talk I’ll share at that event on September 21. It’s something of a follow-up and extension to the argument for visualizing DFWI, grappling with matters of disability, visible, invisible, and otherwise undisclosed.
  • I was elected (unopposed) Treasurer of the Writing Across Virginia Affiliate, what will soon be proposed as a Virginia-specific WPA affiliate chapter.
  • I have a external tenure review due at month’s end; that’s been a letter written by chipping away. Shouldn’t be any problem at all honoring that deadline.
  • If there is more, I can’t think of it.

I’ll begin teaching a section of ENGL5454: Studies in Theory, what’s a temporary placeholder name for the composition theory and practice class. We have nineteen new GTAs who need to take it, and so we’ve split the section into two, doing what all we can (and should) to honor its functioning more like a graduate seminar than an undergraduate class.

And the week-long August Workshop takes motion next week, though at the moment it has wobbled a bit for miscoordination of dates. Whatever of it, it’s nothing a panic will resolve, so we’re trying other problem-solving tactics. It will all happen, and then it will be fall.

Comfort Inventory 8

I started a comfort inventory this morning, but, not finding it comforting, I postponed.

  • For the first time this summer, the heat and humidity on the eighth (a.k.a., “magma”) floor of Hoyt Hall forced me to vacate. I dropped Ph. at The Ride stop near the Ypsi water tower, went directly to my office, hurriedly packed two bags of books, my third-year review binder-in-progress, my auxiliary monitor and its stand, and returned home to work in the quasi-air-conditioned upstairs space otherwise known as the office-bedroom. Hoyt and humidity, you win.
  • A couple of strange emails lately. One from my credit union with the subject line, “We’re Friends, Aren’t We?” The body message, of course, suggests I friend the union on Facebook (apparently they do not realize that Facebook is passé, that Google+ is now social media boss). Annoying. Yet emails like this one remind me that the key difference among these platforms is how they verb things together. I might follow the credit union or even draw them into a circle, but friending is not quite right. I could go on and on about this, but that goes against the list-logic of the inventory. The point is, if Google+ thrives, it could be because it managed to shed some of the peculiarity in friending and following as the default association-making verbs in Facebook and Twitter. I have seen attempts to assign verbs to Google+ (encircling, plusing), and maybe one of these will garner some mass appeal over the next several months. But I like about Google+ that the linking gesture does not too easily come down to one verb.
  • The other email of note came from the University of Michigan ticket marketing group. I got on the mailing list because I went to a preseason basketball game last fall between UM and SVSU. Many UM sport-promotional emails have followed. The most recent showed up the other day with “Brady Hoke” as the named sender (a cryptic email address reassured me this was not, in fact, the new coach himself sending me a personal email…to my great disappointment!). Subject line: Your Exclusive Individual Ticket Presale Code Has Arrived! I read on, knowing EMU plays at UM this fall. Reading it through, I was tempted to answer the email, even though I know it won’t go to Hoke, to say “Your Exclusive Individual No Thank-you Has Arrived!” because what I found surprised me: individual tickets to the UM-EMU football game on Sept. 17 are available for the special price of $70. To put this into perspective, home ticket prices for EMU are $9. Michigan Stadium is 5.6 miles away. Last time these two gridiron giants squared off, the EMU contingent was offered free tickets the week before the game. So, I am considering attending, but I may press my cheap luck and hold out for a better deal than $70 per ticket. And if it sells out, I’ll just have to listen to it on the radio.
  • I’ve been fiddling around with the Google+ photo combination that includes 1) the Android app’s automatic upload of photos to a G+ folder, 2) the duplication of that folder in Picasa, and 3) weighing the merits of Picasa over Flickr, where I continue to hold an shamefully underused Pro account. Consequently, here is a photo I took of an enormous moth just before eight this morning as I left Hoyt with my desk essentials in a couple of reusable grocery bags. But this inventory item is as much about Picasa’s linking and embedding functions as it is about the moth. By now perhaps they are one and the same, inseparable.
    From Blog

Inbox

I currently keep three email addresses (emich.edu, gmail.com, and earthwidemoth.com). The first two are open to everyday email; the third is for some online ordering and a handful of other likely-to-sp8m sign-ups (i.e., the third is a zombie account, in effect). I suspect I am not alone in keeping multiple accounts, and yet I have made changes to these accounts recently that have substantially redrawn how they work for me.

After months of build-up, in November I realized I was spending too much time labeling, tagging, or sorting email messages into folders–a glut of folders, certainly more than 50. I read around briefly about various efficiency techniques, settled on one, and set about moving messages and deleting the excess. It was cathartic, soul-cleansing (though only about as rapturous as shelving books or vacuuming, to be honest). I ended up with the inbox plus four folders: Act, Hold, Archive, and Lists. All of the emails that arrive easily fit into one of these four folders with most going to Archive. Everything that goes into Lists is automatically routed there by a filtering algorithm. Suddenly Inbox Zero was commonplace: my email practices were significantly improved. And, in fact, this morning I deleted the Act folder because I don’t need it. The general inbox has, for almost three months, functioned as an Act folder. Again, the two motives here are ease of retrieving a message and improved classificatory efficiency.

In addition to the four three folders, I apply seven tags (in Thunderbird): 1 Teaching, 2 Scholarly Activity, 3 Service, 4 Administrativa, 5 Personal, 6 Calendar, and 7 Accounts. Category 4 came along after I realized that a number of emails were communicating various university business that didn’t quite fit into Category 3. I assign Category 7 to various password resets, membership renewals, and account information. Category 6 applies to items requiring an entry on Google Calendar. The others are fairly self-explanatory.

In effect, all emails I receive are categorized twice, once by folder and once by tag. Some receive two tags; few receive three. Often I search the Archive folder by sender, keyword, or date, but I can also separate the emails for any category. The other folders are never full enough that I need to search them. Hold, for example, has maybe ten items in it related to conference travel or meetings next week.

I realize this is a fairly mundane exercise, writing an entry about techniques for managing the inbox, but since November I have had two or three occasions to explain how this works, and I have been told it sounds either risky or brave to abandon a glut of folders for this new (to me) configuration. It’s neither risky nor brave. This is no hero narrative (at most, I can get a high-five from Is.: “You did what to your inbox?! Awesome!”). Yeah, I was nervous for 30 minutes deleting all of those folders, but the change has turned out to be a remarkable improvement.

Consulting by Discontinous Email

In preparation for a Writing Center mini-seminar this Friday, I just finished reading the Yergeau et al. article, “Expanding the Space of f2f,” from the latest Kairos (13.1). In this nodal hypertext, Yergeau, Wozniak, and Vandenberg suggest a few of the ways AVT (audio-visual-textual) platforms productively complicate face-to-face or “discontinuous email”: two default modes of interaction in writing centers. They include several video clips from consulting sessions using Sight Speed, a cross-platform (and bandwidth heavy?) AVT application.

This is a pro-AVT account, with lots of examples to illustrate some of the
challenges students and consultants faced. The authors offset the positive
tenor of the article with grounding and caveats, noting, for example, that while
"[they] revel in the recomposition of f2f via AVT, [they] want to avoid an
attitude of naive nostalgia." Most accept that face-to-face consulting
allows for communicative dimensions not neatly duplicated via distances,
interfaces, and so on. But AVT consulting refreshes the debates between
synchronous and asynchronous, conversation and response, f2f and online.
The piece goes on to deal with the haunting of f2f genealogies of interaction,
Bolter and Grusin’s remediation (i.e., matters of transparency and opacity), the
(unavoidable?) regulatory role writing centers play, the degree to which
discontinuous email consulting undercuts much of what has motivated the growth
of writing centers over the past 25 years, and the bricoleur spirit of
online consulting initiatives. (I would link to the specific locations in the
piece where this stuff comes up, but the nodes-as-frames presentation
unfortunately does not provide identifiable URLs for any of the sub-content).

Computer technology’s rapid half-life aside, we also realize that
individual writing centers have their own specific needs, and any discussion
concerning potential AVT technologies must consider that center’s available
resources, as well as its student requests.

This point about reckoning AVT possibilities with local considerations is,
among other things, the purpose of Friday’s meeting. We have been piloting
online consulting sessions this summer, both by IM and by discontinuous email. I
tend to cautiously embrace consulting by IM because I experience the
conversational quality that makes writing center work worth doing. I have
many concerns about the way our email model is set up right now, and I suppose I
shouldn’t air those out here.

Along with Yergeau et al., we’re reading Ted Remington’s
"Reading,
Writing, and the Role of the Online Tutor," (PDF)
which argues that email
consulting is potentially promising because it makes for a more
text-focused experience. Interpersonal dynamics and conversation don’t
detract from the text-as-written in quite the same way as in f2f sessions.
Also, he emphasizes that consultants, by writing, respond in kind, modeling the
textual qualities they value by virtue of the response itself. I’m not
convinced, at least not from this summer’s pilot, that students regard the
comments I make on their emailed drafts as any sort of model. But perhaps
this is because our current set-up doesn’t give us any way of knowing whether
students ever even read the comments at all, much less whether they regard the
writing the consultant does as exemplary. The time constraints (i.e.,
consultants are still paid hourly when responding via discontinuous email) also
throw a wrench in the works: there is only so much fine-tuning the
writer-consultant can do when dedicating one hour to a five-page draft.

Yergeau, Melanie, Kathryn Wozniak, and Peter Vandenberg. “Expanding the Space of f2f: Writing Centers and Audio-Visual-Textual Conferencing.” Kairos 13.1 (Fall 2008). 17 Aug. 2008. <http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/13.1/topoi/ yergeau-et-al/index.html>.

Harbinger: The Imminence of Failsafe Memory

A failure to retain email records is the basis of
Wednesday’s $1.45 billion
ruling
against investing giant Morgan Stanley (via).   Apparently, the judge
in the case regarded Morgan Stanley’s failure to produce records of email
correspondence to be conspiratorial. 

Banks and broker-dealers are obliged to retain e-mail and instant messaging
documents for three years under U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules.
But similar requirements will apply to all public companies from July 2006
under the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform measures.

At the same time, U.S. courts are imposing increasingly harsh punishments on
corporations that fail to comply with orders to produce e-mail documents, the
experts said.

Where judges once were more likely to accept that incompetence or computer
problems might be to blame, they are now apt to rule that noncompliance is an
indication a company has something to hide.

I don’t know how these policies generalize to academic institutions–public
or private.  In various work situations (no need to name institutions), I
was within earshot of a few cases of email mishandling–events where this or
that person deleted email messages with certain implications, instances where
people claimed never to have received a message (even when the sender had
receipt confirming delivery), and problems with systems deletions that kick out
old messages because of limited capacities on local servers.  I suppose
we’re all familiar with cases like these, situations where the mysterious email
gnomes trick on our records systems.  If nothing else, it does call to mind
the efforts I’ve seen recently–especially in my teaching–to hear "I never
received it" or "I have no record of it," as a justification for being
uninformed.  So it’s interesting to me that in a broader, systemic way,
"incompetence or computer problems" are waning as viable excuses.  Lest I
be made accountable for reading too much into this, I’ll just say I find it
interesting because–in one example–it suggests still-shifting sensibilities
about the reliability of email.  $1.45 billion: quite a pile of chips.

Notably,
the Reuters story quotes the executive officer of a "provider of records
retention software systems" who said he anticipates this case will be viewed by
others as–in the hyperbolic blend of the week–"legal Chernobyl."  What the
heck does that mean?  Forced abandonment of email systems because of their
disastrous high-level toxicity to corporations that can’t manage fluid texts? Seems like
just the thing a provider of records retention software systems would want people
to believe.  Anything to avoid another Chernobyl.  And, sure, coupled
with the $1.45 billion ruling, a ruling that will certainly come under appeal,
many companies will be forced to rethink their records-retention processes.