Small-crowd Mentorship

Monday is our grad program’s “Community Day,” a day of pre-semester conversation to set up the collegial mood that will sustain us throughout the year. I am both happy and sad (not tearfully so): it will be fifth and final such gathering I attend at SU.

I’m slotted in the afternoon for an informal ten-minute spiel concerning “experiences finding and working with mentors and building relationships.” And I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately, especially about the options available given such a specious invitation. I’ve had experiences. I can identify several really terrific influences–a long list of folks, academics and non-, who have shepherded me in various ways through this program of study.

Best to list a few? Name names? Cut straight to anecdotes? I have considered this, thought about zeroing in on three off-site mentors who helped me to think differently about what I was setting out to do back in 2004 when coursework got underway. Maybe begin with John Lovas….

But the list is long, and I expect that there will be a lot of this sort of thing on Monday–naming of names, recounting how thus-and-such has been such a beacon, etc. It’s hard to avoid. We’re largely accustomed, it seems to me, to talking about mentoring relationships at the scale of person-to-person.

Fine, so I will probably do some of it, too. Only a little bit. Because I’m also interested in getting at a larger proposition–that my program of study, because of non-directed networked writing practices, has been shaped tacitly by a large number of people (viz., the blogroll and reciprocal Delicious network). Many of these encounters are fleeting, serendipitous, casual, and gift-like. An aggregated subscription to 20 or so Delicious users’ links, a pseudonymous comment posted to Yellow Dog, a syllabus for a course at Purdue, a blogged call for a conference. None of this is especially directed at me, and yet, at the very same time, much of it is and has been. Is this mentorship? Seems so. It’s a sort of opt-in presencing, a manner of dwelling, of doing stuff not because anyone said you should. And I am tempted to say that those passing characterizations of online narcissism, vanity, or self-aggrandizement (wherever they lurk, usually in “that’s not for me” conversations) tend to dodge, downplay, or under-value this point about tacit, small-crowd mentorship I am trying to develop. I can’t definitively put a finger on what sustains it. Desire? A blend of interests (self-interest among them)? Whatever it is–in terms of mentorship–it has left me with a sure sense that my program of study would have been drastically different without it.

In Action

Just before the fall semester convenes one month from now, my graduate
program will hold its annual Community Day event. The day-long event
includes faculty and grad student symposia, a lunch, a conversation with the new cohort of students,
and, in the evening, a potluck. The theme for this year’s event is
"Scholarship In Action," one of the hinge phrases in SU’s mission
statement. Scholarship In Action, as I understand it, is a positive
designation for scholarly activity undertaken in such a way that it circulates
broadly, intervening in the
world beyond the academy. Community engagement, boundary-spanning
initiatives, and participatory dynamics are entered into play. SIA complicates
traditional models of research. I’ve been asked to talk for ten minutes
about how the research I’m doing matches up with SIA, and so, largely because I
agreed to do it, I’ve been walking the perimeter, getting bearings on the phrase, tracing it back
through some of the references to it in recent campus discourse, keeping on the lookout for a eureka or

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Poco de Pica


During the summer of ’00, I spent six weeks in Xalapa, Veracruzana, studying
language and culture at the Universidad de Veracruzana while on excursion from
UMKC, the institution from which I took my MA in Aughtgust of aught-aught
(language requirement completed). Typical arrangements: in pairs, students were matched with
families. I lived with a family on the south side of Xalapa, maybe two miles from the Universidad’s space near the central district; out the family’s dining
room windows, we looked toward
during most morning and evening meals.

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Meeting of the Job Hunters

We held our first job-seekers meeting yesterday afternoon, spent a couple of
hours going over each other’s CV and talking through how we rank criteria for
the jobs we will soon pursue. I use pursue loosely and with a
string of asterisks, of course, since this year I am only something like
one-tenth on the market and nine-tenths not. I mean that I am going
through the material preparations processes as if I am on the market and
will only apply for positions too sweet to resist, provided, also, that I’m
making progress on the diss. Why? Well, it would take an offer somewhere
in the ball park of a

five-year contract and 27.5 million
a year for us to relocate before Ph.’s
senior year of high school. Make that 30 mil. On top of that, it’s not
especially ethical or wise (in terms of reputation-building) for me to court
jobs I have no genuine interest in filling from the outset. While I would
like to dangle a toe in the waters of interviewing and giving job talks, I won’t
be pitching jobs for that reason alone. The process is too grueling for
candidates and committees to tie up everyone’s time and resources on my
desire for full-on play-acting the year before I go on the market in earnest.
Better to spend those energies building bridges (i.e., writing, conferencing,
etc.) rather than dismantling them.

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A mighty smiley hi and hello to you, February. I successfully defended my
comprehensive exams this morning, gathering around with my committee for an
hour-and-a-half as we wound our way through the exam answers and associated
quandaries. About those associated quandaries: holy smokes. I started to
wonder if the climate controls for the much-trafficked Gilyard Seminar Room
(where it all happens) were accidentally bumped to 80-degrees, because,
for more than a few minutes, phew. Can I simply explain it that way? Phew.
To stay focused and to humor myself regarding focus, I brought in one of those
pinkish kiwi-something A-lutein Vitamin Waters, the kind with "focus" on its
label. But during one stretch I must’ve forgotten to take a sip because I
might have approached a record for the longest answer-avoiding utterance (I’m
still talking?) in the history of oral defenses.

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X-timing Parataxis

I first thought I would call this entry "Two-timing Parataxis" so I could get
at the different relationships parataxis enjoys–simultaneously!–with
, on the one hand (cheek?), and hypotaxis, on the other.
But as I try to get a better handle on parataxis in anticipation of Thursday’s
defense, I’m starting to think parataxis is more than two-timing. Patsy Cline: "Your
cheating heart will make you weep." Heh, weep. Only I’m the one in
a fix because of parataxis’s scandal and infidelity.

Thus far, I’m finding a couple of more or less common distinctions, one
grammatical, in which parataxis is positioned as a dance partner with
, and one rhetorical, in which parataxis is paired with
. The tabloids will be all over this.

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Cloudifying Exams

Because I have a hearing/defense coming up Thursday morning for my qualifying exams, I figured why not run the answers for the most frequent nouns and noun phrases? And then I figured, why not post each answer as a tagcloud?

I’ve re-read my exam answers to prepare for each of the meetings with members of my committee over the past few days. Re-connecting with the answers has been unsurprising; I mean that the answers were what I remembered them to be. Their arguments, for better and worse, are still fresh with me. Still, the tagcloud gives me another perspective. A different bi-product.

I don’t have a whole lot more to say about the questions I anticipate or the steps I’m taking to defend myself my answers. Just saying that because I have the CSS built to handle it, I’m enamored of posting more vaporous gatherings, beginning with these.

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An Account

Latour, in ch. 5 of Reassembling, writes this of "slowciological"

What is an account? It is typically a text, a small ream of paper a few
millimeters thick that is darkened by a laser beam. It may contain 10,000
words and be read by very few people, often only a dozen or a few hundred if
we are really fortunate. A 50,000 word thesis might be read by a half a
dozen people (if you are lucky, even your PhD advisor would have read parts
of it!) and when I say ‘read’, it does not mean ‘understood’, ‘put to use’,
‘quoted’, ‘shelved somewhere in a pile’. At best we add an account to all
those which are simultaneously launched in the domain we have been studying.
Of course, this study is never complete. We start in the middle of things,
in medias res, pressed by our colleagues, pushed by fellowships,
starved for money, strangled by deadlines. And most of the things we have
been studying, we have ignored or misunderstood. (122)

Even if I don’t choose this as the epigraph to the preface to the rough draft
of my dissertation prospectus, I find it to be an encouraging and humorous
characterization of the phase that lies ahead. And this is to say nothing of
seeming one of the more important (read smart, even riveting)
books I’ve picked up in recent months. Well, right, I am being sort of pokey in
crawling through it, the way an aspiring slowciologist of associations should.

That Question

So-so: that’s how it’s gone preparing for writing an answer Thursday morning
to the exam question I’ve had since this past Thursday. Just so-so.
Throughout most of the day on Saturday, I was thinking about matching select
chapters from Heskett’s Toothpicks & Logos (which is built into the
question) with a few of the ecology pieces on my reading list. I’d match
the chapter on communications with Cooper’s "Ecology of Writing" and the chapter
on systems with Spinuzzi’s stuff on tracing genres and the evolution of ALAS.
But what about the chapter on objects?


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