Student Center

EMU Student Center

I am enjoying a few minutes of light computing in the Student Center at Eastern Michigan University right now: coffee, sunlight, email, Google Reader, Fantasy Football results. I try to spend an hour in the Student Center every Tuesday. The weekly, non-essential outing contributes to my New Faculty Continuing Orientation Plan. Basically, the NFCOP goes like this: leave your office every so often, develop a feel for the place. Frequently I run into students or colleagues as I make my way across campus, and we talk. Also, I walk alternative routes, get to know the landscape, the distances. These semi-strategic excursions are refreshingly ordinary, far less in the vein of anthropological scrutiny (a la Marc Augé) than in slow, deep, you-are-here mapping (a la William Least Heat-Moon). Walks less motivated by ground-truthing this "rhetorical country" than in walking, being here.

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Ways of Working

Saturday morning I was lounging around the living room, looking after Is.,
and flipping channels on the television for a few minutes, when I stopped on
C-SPAN2’s Book TV. They were running a three-hour

interview with Nell Irvin Painter
, the historian who wrote, among other
things, Standing At Armageddon, a book I read a few years ago during
coursework.

I don’t watch much Book TV, it turns out, so I don’t know whether it is
typical for them to break from the interviews to give quick little documentary
segments on the processual nuances for the featured writer. But they did
so for Painter, and it happened to come at the very moment when I was checking
out the program. The up-close look at the way Painter works comes between
1:01:18 and 1:15:16 if you are inclined to check it out via the Real Media file
provided by CSPAN.

Painter talks about the way her meandering process picks up late in the day.
She talks about how she creates, names, and saves her computer files (a new one
for each day, recently), how kayaking "helps" as part of her methodology, how
she writes in books she owns, and how she senses that her home in the
Adirondacks affords greater concentration. There is more: on her
dissertation, on cut and paste, on her use of a thesaurus, on working with
editors through revisions, on Row ("Roe"?), the friendly cat who crashes the
interview, and on how she keeps her library. It is a fifteen-minute
segment with a long list of writerly insights; Painter begins by saying, "I
would not recommend my way of working to others." Who would?

I was also interested in the moment when she talks about how she reads books,
how she develops personal indexes on a separate sheet of paper.
Productive, indexical thinking is something I have tried to make more tangible for
students in recent semesters. I like to hear people talk about it, and, in
fact, even though Painter’s way of working seems like what you would expect of a
historian academic (i.e., there is nothing shocking here), I wish we had more
documentary segments like this. Fifteen minutes on how I work (most of the
time): I’d love to see these for a long list of people. Maybe I am alone in this
fascination.

Whether or not I am, it suggests to me an alternative the longer,
multi-voiced documentaries of composition we have seen recently in Take 20
(emph. pedagogy) and Remembering Composition (emph. digitality). And I
understand the slim chance of seeing documentary film (or video) shorts become a
more regular feature of any journal (whether online or distributed as DVD with
the paper copy)–low odds because its dissymmetry with ten(ur)able scholarship
at many institutions. Without loosening the lid on that argument, this is
just to say that I’d like to see more of it–more writerly documentaries, that
is.