Have Some Soup

A friend whose dad died not too long ago just the other day statused about how the loss of a parent ((((stuns)))) you with new base time, increments reset. If it had a sound, it would be the kind of droning low-tonal yawp-hum that would make clockfaces crack, gears melt, springs and innerworkings wrench and bend, digital and analog both, no matter. How long has it been since they died? How many week-months? How many day-years? Nevermind BCE, nevermind Christ’s West.

Apropos for a Monday, today makes twenty-one years since my mom died. It’s nothing to cake about. Seven-thousand-and-some days. 183,960 hours. An e-annotation+8 in seconds. Googling these figures, I learnt too there’s a country song about this duree, “Twenty One Years Is A Mighty Long Time,” but I didn’t listen to it. The Earth flips axes (re-begin your geocoding, GISers!), but you can figure out how to walk it right-side up, footfalls alternating, gravity adequate again. Even if it takes a defiant while. There are mysteries without shits to give about them. Like, I don’t know why I mark deathday this year. Who even cares! Mother’s Day was okay. Some years you really feel it on a birthday or Mother’s Day. Some years, deathday. Probably because of the moon. Wounds long-healing have good days, good hours, bad days, bad hours. For twenty-one years and probably for longer than that.

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As Sabbaticals End

I return to campus tomorrow, May 2, following a research leave that relieved me teaching and service responsibilities at EMU during Winter 2016. The four month leave allowed me to put the finishing touches on a collaborative monograph and to get the other book I have contracted with the WAC Clearinghouse #writing series substantially closer to a full draft. At the start of the sabbatical, the introduction and first chapter were already sent off, in the editor’s hands (these amount to 57 ms. pages). Over the past four months, I submitted three more chapters, which amounts to 129 ms. pages. I still have some work to do on Chapter Five, which I plan to send by the end of May, and Chapter Six, which I’ll turn over by the end of June. With that, a full draft of the monograph and then on to other things. I just turned off my email autoreply, and I’ll be in Pray-Harrold 613M tomorrow for most of the day, doling out numerous emails related to scheduling for this year’s first-year writing sections. Before the leave officially officially concludes, I wanted to capture a few impressions about the sabbatical, its accomplishments, and its occasional struggles.

  • Winter 2016 was only the second semester in 18 years that I didn’t teach a class. And the summer ahead, which is filled with administrative responsibilities, will be only the second summer in 16 years that I won’t be teaching a class. These patterns crept up on me; as I counted them and as I write them here, it seems like too much. I understand better than ever before the risks of burnout (or call it boredom, disinterest, complacency, checking out, whatever), and I have realized this winter how precariously close I have been to shrugging off many of the priorities I held when I started began down this career path during doctoral work.
  • As this was my first sabbatical, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect about work rhythms. The nearest I’ve come to having this kind of time to devote entirely to scholarship was all the way back in 2008 when I was working on the dissertation. A sabbatical takes some getting used to, and I suspect this is especially true when the leave is taken from a quasi-administrative post, such as directing a first-year writing program. The interim director and associate director did a fine job, as far as I can tell, but the hand off involved a fair amount of leading communication, pointers to where various documents were stored, how to handle everyday operations, and so on. Likewise, as the return from sabbatical approaches, there has been in uptick in email, requests for scheduling various things for the first half of May. I’m not sure I was especially well prepared for the fuzziness of transitioning onto sabbatical and back off again, particularly as relates to this administrative work. And the lessons about how to transition on and off more gracefully, although they are fresh with me now, probably won’t be especially helpful when my next sabbatical comes around.
  • I’m reasonably pleased with my productivity on sabbatical. I didn’t travel much–only a couple of out of town trips, primarily for conferences and an invited talk and workshop. I asked around, and some colleagues said things like, “don’t expect to get anything done during the first month” and “remember to rest.” These were helpful reminders, and now looking back, I suppose I could have worked harder and gotten more done, but I am more or less still on track with the timeline for the book, and I don’t at all have the sense that I squandered huge chunks of time.
  • Sabbaticals are isolating and on some days very strange. This much free time? I worked out. I read a few books that don’t have anything to do with my writing. I shitted around. Watched TV. Cooked. Dabbled at home improvement stuff. I regard most of this as run of the mill and routine–nothing here I would describe as radically transformative. The bouts of isolation got me thinking a lot more about social balance, about how much of my social world is constituted by work interactions, conversations with colleagues who are also friends. But sabbaticals are socially bizarre in that people want to leave you alone and respect your time, which is at the same time, of course, estranging from familiar routines and conversations that can prove supportive or generative. At one point I considered trying to convene some kind of writer’s group, but after talking to another colleague who was sabbaticalling at the same time as me, I decided better of it. No need to attempt to be a social leader at the same time my purest focus should be on the book’s development.
  • I can’t say yet whether I am fully restored, recharged, rested, and ready for what’s ahead. I jump back into the directorship of the first-year writing program, and while I was away there were a handful of institutional changes that make my return cautious insofar as I can’t quite tell how some of these questions will settle out (most of them relate to labor; who teaches composition as well as how composition sections are weighted for equivalencies). I thought long and hard beforehand about extending the sabbatical for four months through September 1, the start of Fall 2016, and while I could have chosen this alternative, by returning early I am able to earn additional pay in the summer months and continue as director.

Now having listed these few notes, they re-read to me as banalities, though not as too banal to post, if only so I can return to them in a few years when I put in for another research leave. And I think I will. That is, I know people who swear they don’t want or need a sabbatical, but as I have been reflecting on this time for the past ten days or so (the reprieve window of repatriation and conserving effortfully to make the most of what remained), I regard this time as invaluable to my well-being, to my research and scholarship, and to my sense of reinvigorated responsibility as a tenured professor. It surprises me a little bit that I am both excited to return to campus and that I got as much done as I did. I suppose that in itself is as much conviction as anyone can have about a sabbatical’s worth.

Keywords in Threshold Concepts, #4c15 Poster Presentation

I’m in Tampa this week for the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication–an event I’ve been attending every year (except one) since 1999. This year I proposed (and was accepted to present) a poster, and after several hours of finessing for more white space, shifting elements around, and tinkering in Illustrator, here’s what I’ll be standing next to for 75 minutes this afternoon.

Keywords in Threshold Concepts: Time-Binding and Methodologizing Disciplinary Lexicon by DerekMueller

In Full Bloom

Somewhere along the way, even though I did not mean to, I lost track of how many Mother’s Days have piled up too-many-one, too-many-two, too-many-thirteen since June 1997, the month and year my mom died. I could run the numbers wicked-quickly through the tenth year or so, not that anyone ever asked, “So how many years has it been for you, without your mom?” There are years when reminiscences (reminen-siezes?) laced with grief dulls the which-year math and other years when the exact count blazes brightplain again. This time the year-count is a Mother’s Day whatever. Someone abacus-else can bother with it.

Ruth Margalit’s “The Unmothered” made its deserved rounds yesterday. I grabbed the link and dropped it into Pocket, retrieved it this morning and read on my phone through no-really-my-eyes-are-tearing-from-allergies while the morning’s water heated toward boiling. The article offers a reflection on Mother’s Days for the unmothered, those whose mothers have died, those who experience faint and sometimes gripping pangs of absence through this tribute-holiday’s memory work. Read the article if you want to. Or put it in Pocket for later. Either way.

These are among the gem passages–a small bouquet of excerpts I want to press into the blog the way my grandmother used to press violets into the binding-folds of thick books for preserving. They’ll save here, so I (or you and I, anyone) can re-read them around this time next year or the year after that:

Trust me, I’m too aware of the fact that my mother is gone to wish her here in any serious way on Mother’s Day. But does the holiday have to be in May, when the lilacs are in full bloom? When a gentle breeze stirs–the kind of breeze that reminds me of days when she would recline on a deck chair on our Jerusalem porch, head tilted back, urging me to “sit a while”?

They say time heals. It’s true that the pain wears off, slightly, around the edge, like a knife in need of whetting. But here’s what they’re missing: It gets harder to explain to myself why I haven’t seen her. A month can make sense. (I took a trip; she was busy with work.) Even six months is excusable. (I moved; she’s on sabbatical.) But how to make sense of more than three years worth of distance? How to comprehend that time will only drive my mother and me farther and farther apart?

Yes, I remember thinking. Yes, yes, yes. This wasn’t delayed grief, after all. It was simply this: grief keeps odd hours, the most painful moment at the most abstract moment. Strangely, I began to think of Barthes (whose relationship with his mother famously bordered on the Oedipal) as my grief buddy. Largely preferring books to people around that time, I discovered that he wasn’t the only one.

I started to italicize, add emphases-mine, and then ended up italicizing the mother-loaded hell out of these few lines, so back-tracked and thought better of it. An almost of italicizing, done and reversed back to nothing special. All of it equally special.

And this is all just to say–as if I have anything left, much less grand-culminating and insightful to say about this Mother’s Day or “The Unmothered,” that these sentiments operate with unpredictable, potent acuity over a life. I suppose I might have been dreaming just such an idea when this photo from April 1975, me not quite a year old and lost in The Big Nap, when this photo of her–so impressively alive, happy, and mothering as to make it unthinkable that it would ever be otherwise–was click! taken.

#E17, Polymorphic Frames of Pre-Tenure WPAs, #4c14

Our CCCC roundtable wrapped up a few minutes ago (exactly :05, according to the entry-scheduler’s timestamp). Eight of us planned and proposed this as a session that would be delivered simultaneously in Indianapolis, live, and also via Twitter, using scheduled tweets with the #4c14 hashtag with links to YouTube versions of the presentations, complete with closed-captioning. I finished setting up the scheduled tweets a few minutes ago–on Monday the 17th–and thought I may as well embed the full playlist into a blog entry, too, both to capture the event here and to circulate it yet again for anyone who might have missed it.

I’m sure there is more to say about it–both about the mix of pre-tenure WPA perspectives collected here and also about the production process involved with planning and putting together the slidedecks, audio files, and transcripts. I’m also interested in when this is delivered and circulated in time. How many nows? With any luck, there will be time enough for thinking through this more and considering the value in session-wide durable artifacts (hyper-deictic time capsules) after we’re all tick-tocking on the other side of this busy week.

Clocking Composition

The WIDE-EMU 2012 countdown widget ticked to single digits earlier today, which means I’m past due–delinquent!–with the Phase II teaser for a session called “Clocking Composition: Exploring Chronography with Timeline JS.” My co-presenters, Joe and Jana, have written smartly about what we have planned, and when we met a couple of weeks ago, we decided the Phase II piece may as well be a timelinear representation of the conference program, which is what we’ve created, since I would be working on the ordinary program, anyway.

I’m more or less pleased with the result. I suppose I’ve tempered my enthusiasm because I’m still learning quite a bit about Timeline JS, figuring out whether it’s better to tune style in-line or adjust it in the CSS files. Earlier today, for example, I asked a colleague to check out the time-lined version of the program and much of the text on the landing page was clipped, unreadable. I adjusted, and the new version should scale more elegantly to smaller screens, but, well, these are the nuances that take more time to get to know. I plan to continue experimenting with Timeline JS this fall in part because we”ll be using it for a project in ENGL505 soon.

Before next Saturday’s conference, I need to duplicate enough copies of the Timeline JS sandbox files (basically create about 10-12 .html pages and create the openly editable Google spreadsheets that will feed into each of them) and figure out the best way to make these accessible during the session. I doubt we’ll dig too deeply into how to set this up on a server or why to consider abandoning Google spreadsheets for JSON, but I suppose we can drift in these or other directions as suits all who attend next week.

Time Travel

Painted Desert's Edge

Another week in the desert would have been nice. Three days wasn’t enough even though I spent it well: keeping the time and announcing substitution intervals for 15-minute basketball games, noshing on Veggie Navajo tacos from Tuuvi Cafe, catching up with some of my oldest friends (also best-kept, considering I see them almost every year), and generally just soaking in Native Vision. I played basketball for the first time in eighteen months, first in Thursday’s “All-Star Game” and again the next day when Tuba City HS cafeteria lines were so long following the group photo at the football field that rather than wait and wait and wait in the crowd, I took to the gym next door, rebounded for shooters until they invited me to play 2-on-2. Telling time during the camp was its own puzzle: Tuba City doesn’t heed daylight savings, while Moenkopi (across the street) does. Suffice it to say that following the paper itinerary or arranging casual meet-ups (e.g., Let’s meet at 8) proved confounding. I still don’t know what time it was. Lost. And I wasn’t alone in this time warp, which was comforting but also added to the confusion. I went for a short run on Saturday morning. Aimed for just three miles round trip, but I turned back after I found myself attempting the third or fourth shoulderless curve along a canyon edge. Nah, not going out making a decision between the grill of an F-150 and a dive down a steep cliff. Such a slow jog, too. New shoes. Hills. Mile-high oxygen. Stopping to remember the views. But I picked up the pace when, on the return trip, Aggressive Alpha of the three scruffy dogs fenced in only by two strands of barbed wire slipped his loose yard and appeared genuinely interested in chewing whichever is the slower of my two legs (or claiming one of my fancy shoes as a new toy). Yeah, I ran faster then, ran into the road a bit, too. Dodged (“Don’t make me kick at you!”). And back in the hotel lobby, another time warp: mistimed breakfast, a bus driver asking me and only me if we were going to be ready at 8TubaCity when it was only 8Moenkopi. I might’ve felt reassured by a nearby wall clock, but there were who cares two of them side-by-side reporting different hours, a bi-temporal crevasse in spacetime.

Back in Phoenix, or Scottsdale, later Saturday watched the Heat top Boston in the ECF, again with friends who, before we witnessed a shouting match at the bar and went our separate ways for the next day’s early a.m. flights, reminded me that I have to go back again next year. For being, as always, energized and humbled by the event, I can’t wait to go back again next year. And the year after that.

Another week–another hour–in the desert would have been nice.

Appointment Slots

I saw the announcement about Google Calendar’s appointment slots feature a little more than a week ago, and the various reports of its availability reassured me it was being rolled out gradually. Until yesterday’s CNET report, though, I didn’t realize the reason I wasn’t seeing the feature had to do with viewing my calendar as four weeks at a time. The appointment slots feature showed up when I switched to the weekly view.

The spring term is winding down such that I don’t have much occasion right now to use this for scheduling office hours, but I will definitely give it a try in the fall. Just in tinkering around with it for a few minutes yesterday, I learned that the appointments are exceedingly easy to schedule, that the notifications are prompt, and that appointments, once scheduled, show up on the Mozilla calendar I use offline (and for keeping multiple calendars in one place). That it’s built into a system I already use for my calendar makes it a better option than Tungle.me, which I tried this spring term. Trouble with Tungle.me is that I don’t think to update it, and I don’t do enough to push students in its direction for appointment-making. Selecting one of Google’s appointment slots requires the scheduler to have a Google account, though, whereas Tungle.me’s appointments can be booked without signing up for an account. I remain undecided about the magnitude of this difference and will have to watch whether it makes any difference in the fall.

The appointment slots feature also gets me thinking about integrations for our University Writing Center, which has not yet adopted a booking system for writing consultations. We’re not there yet, but it would be ideal if we could create a scheduling system built on the Google Calendar API that would rival WCOnline.

Where is he? Where is he? Where is he?

Concerned with drift-states and their ends, Ramin Bahrani’s short movie Plastic Bag traces one tote’s voyage along currents, circuits, and snags as it makes its way home to the Trash Vortex, the whirling gyre of rubbish accumulating in the Pacific, which I was reminded of by Timothy Morton’s blog yesterday. Drift logics are not monolithic, then. “Adrift” is not a baggy, inclusive state, no generic circum-stance. Consider precious< - >toxic differences between drifting glass (e.g., messages in a bottle), driftwood, and drift plastics. The film’s synthetic protagonist (plastagonist?) reminds us, when hitched eternally on the reef, about a condition, for better or worse, of drift logics: they stick-unstick and thus sever (or otherwise obfuscate) and also momentarily verify trace-correlations between consequences and preconditions. And this must pose a methodological quandary for tracing the “adrift.”


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.