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.

Resisting “Resisting Entropy”

Quick question: What’s the last “review essay” published in CCC you can name without searching?

I couldn’t come up with a title, much less the names of all of the books in any review essay. I recall reading Kris Blair’s piece (had to look up the title: “New Media Affordances and the Connected Life”) from CCC 63.2, but I could only remember three of the five books covered in that review: Dilger and Rice’s From A to <A>: Keywords for Markup because I already own a copy, and two others because I knew something beforehand about their authors and would claim an interest in their work. Otherwise, working from memory, I can’t come up with much–a vague recollection of another review essay by Schilb and one more by Villanueva on style. After reading the Villanueva review essay, I picked up a copy of Holcomb and Killingsworth’s Performing Prose, but that was as much motivated by a Twitter exchange with a colleague as by the review.

Thus, when I started to see an unusually high level of discussion circulating about Geoff Sirc’s “Resisting Entropy,” a review essay published in the latest issue of CCC (Feb. 2012, 63.3), my first thought was something like, “Well, this sure is an awful lot of activity for a review essay.” People were discussing it on Twitter, but I also received an email message from a student on the same day NCTE circulated the bulk email announcing the issue–an email message bringing up several questions and concerns based on things Sirc wrote. I hadn’t read the then-day-old review yet, but I hurried my pace in getting to it.

As far as I know, review essays covering multiple books began appearing in CCC seven or eight years ago. Before that reviews focused on single titles. The review essay provides readings of and recommendations for a small collection of titles, presumably titles that have come out in the last three or so years and that share a topical thread. And as I understand it, there are a few motives behind the switch to review essays: 1) they are more tightly packed than individual book reviews , 2) they promote a more rigorous appearing scope which in turn justifies known scholars to write them, 3) the known scholar bi-line gets people to read them, and 4) clustering multiple books into one review essay means readers will encounter book reviews at the edge of (and perhaps just beyond) titles they would have otherwise already been likely to check out.

I’ve read Sirc’s review essay, and although I realize it is poor cccarnival mmmanners to sidestep much substantive discussion of the article itself, all I want to say for now is that I appreciated the candor in his definitively recommending (or in not recommending, as the case may be) each of the four titles subject to review. The essay is polemic. Fine. It even toes the line between unapologetic critique and demolition-ball tear-down. But, despite however much or little I agree with Sirc in specific moments (i.e., there are points that resonate, others that trouble and confuse; I may well elaborate on a few in another entry), I know where he stands on these titles, and these titles become more decidable as a result. I want that nudge toward decidability from a review essay, and I suspect Sirc’s “Resisting Entropy” is one CCC readers will remember for awhile–both for the hot stove arguments the essay stokes and for the titles covered in doing so.

Fall Backglance

I turned in grades almost ten days ago. And ten days has left me enough time to defrag what was the Fall 2011 semester (also enough time to see The Muppets, watch Breaking Bad through season 3, and finish Shields’ Vonnegut biography, And So It Goes). The highlights follow, in no particular order.

  • I taught three classes, 50+ students altogether: a new (for me) grad class, ENGL505: Rhetoric of Science and Technology, and two sections of ENGL328: Writing, Style, and Technology. 505 went well for the most part; I’ll probably return to Metaphors We Live By and Science in Action when I teach it again in Fall 2012. But I’ll replace The Social Life of Information with Kuhn, Polanyi (lectures), or Darwin. Or Mol, if I can ever get around to reading Body Multiple. Maybe add some of the “rhetoric as epistemic” conversation.
  • The two sections of ENGL328 ran back to back on Mondays and Wednesdays. One section was in a preferable lab; the other section was in one of the worst teaching labs I’ve ever set foot in. A horrible space. And this was an improvement–an upgrade–from the space into which it was originally scheduled. Consequently I had more conversations than I can count with IT folks about why certain lab configurations work differently than others for teaching. This was one of the most nagging and unavoidable frustrations of the semester.
  • These two classes were as night and day as any two I can remember teaching. Same projects. Same readings. But drastically different personalities.
  • My teaching was observed three times in the second week of the semester, and the timing, while somewhat less than ideal in my opinion, had everything to do with the October 15 deadline for my third-year review materials. Why less than ideal? Well, it’s plain to me that my classes are stronger, move lively, and more representative as a scene of teaching and learning in the last one-third of the semester than in the first two weeks. Semesters follow arcs; relationships develop. The observations were overall fairly favorable nevertheless.
  • Other than teaching, the first half of the semester was consumed with preparing the third-year review binders (which went in without incident and, by all appearances have been well received at the various stop-offs they’ve reached thus far) and planning and organizing the WIDE-EMU Conference.
  • The conference went well, especially considering it was an experiment in conference-hosting with no costs to anyone, but had I to do it over again, I don’t think I’d both plan a conference and give a talk at that conference–on the same day third-year review materials are due. Too much. Everything went fine, but it left me sapped for the second half of the semester.
  • In the second half of the semester, I gave a “Tech Talk” to our Art Department on “A Quick Rhetoric of QR Codes.” Basically it was 30 minutes of examples, how-to, and a plea for more discriminating uses. I also carried a digital-installation-qua-“poster” into the HASTAC Conference in Ann Arbor in early December.
  • I attended commencement, heard George Gervin’s address and saw a half dozen students I’d had in class recently accept their diplomas.
  • I helped the Honors College revamp its Presidential Scholars essay prompts and assessment tool (as a member of the HC Advisory Council). I also interviewed Presidential Scholar candidates in early December.
  • I touched up the Masters Degree Consortium site, added a map, and more importantly, collaborated on a survey and all of the required IRB solicitations so we can proceed with circulating the survey in early-mid January.
  • We released two issues of EM-Journal, one on the first day of the semester, and the second on December 1 at the Celebration of Student Writing.
  • At our symposium on pursuing graduate education in written communication, I gave a short spiel titled, “Graduate School in Ten Understatements.” Tricky to offer one-size-fits-most advice that avoids 1) being discouraging and 2) meaningless platitudes.
  • Nudged along a proposal for an online version of ENGL326 I’ll likely teach in the spring term. I think it’s finally, officially approved, and I spent a couple of hours this morning on the course materials.
  • And then there were a small handful of proposals and ms. submissions at various stages that crossed my desk, that waggled through my in and outbox–one ms. revised and accepted, another conditionally accepted, and two different chapter proposals (one accepted; the other in the eds.’ hands).
  • For the first time in a long time, I didn’t submit any proposals for a spring conference. No C&W. No RSA. And that’s in small part because travel funds will have long since dried up by then, I have a busy CCCC docket in March, and I’m usually too fatigued by May to feel all Let’s Go! about academic conferences. Might keep an eye out for the WPA Albuquerque CFP though. Or, if there’s a Great Lakes THATCamp this spring, might check it out.

Bolt Fix

While driving to the grocery store last evening, I heard a sudden, distinct drumming of one tire against asphalt–an instantly deflating sound-report of a crisis likely needing repair. I pulled over, walked a circle around the Element, checked the tires, found nothing, drove a bit farther, heard it again: a pronounced clack synced with each tire’s full orbit.

When I reached the Meijer parking lot, I walked the perimeter once more, and this time spotted the thumb-tip sized head of a bolt protruding from the face of the right-rear tire. Just after 7 p.m. on a Monday, so I guessed the odds of finding a repair shop open and accepting new jobs was very low. But this was a big bolt, and even though the tire appeared to be maintaining its full pressure, I wasn’t all too keen on driving more than necessary before arranging a repair. I don’t own a fancy Internet phone (might pick up an iPhone later this month…maybe), so I dialed D. and asked her to search out a tire shop proximate to Carpenter and Ellsworth. Belle Tire was closest.  I called, told a rep. named Mike about the desperate condition this poor tire was in, and he said, “Bring it over.”
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