Anti-Credential and Boredom

There is no promise of love and light or visions of any kind–no angels, no devils. Nothing happens: it is absolutely boring. Sometimes you feel silly. One often asks the question: “Who is kidding whom? Am I on to something or not?” You are not on to something. Travelling the path means you get off everything, there is no place to perch. Sit and feel your breath, be with it. Then you begin to realize that actually the slitting of the artery did not take place when you were introduced to the practice. The actual slitting takes place when you begin to feel the boredom of the practice–real boredom. “I’m supposed to get something out of Buddhism and meditation. I’m supposed to attain different levels of realization. I haven’t. I’m bored stiff.” Even your watcher is unsympathetic to you, begins to mock you. Boredom is important because boredom is anti-credential. Credentials are entertaining, always bringing you something new, something lively, something fantastic, all kinds of solutions. When you take away the idea of credentials, then there is boredom. (53)

Trungpa, Chögyam. The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation. Boston: Shambhala, 1988.

From yesterday’s reading, a few lines on anti-credential and boredom, related are concerns for non-aggression, for what discourse brings or fails to bring to sadhana’s privacy, elsewhere Trungpa noting that practice needs only the earth as its witness. Boredom here instates non-magical thinking, reduces expectations, appeases the incommunicability of source work. Consider with this, the credential-pursuing verification expressions for writing in parallel, socializing about writing goals, about writing discipline and ritual, several days in a row, timed sessions, testimonials about doing the work, when really there is no promise of light and love or visions of any kind in writing, also.


  • How is the resolution to blog every day in 2011 going? Not too shabby. Not too shabby, at all.
  • Shabby or shabbily? Shab. Shabulous.
  • IHE today reports that distance ed critic David Noble died last week at the age of 65. I read an article or two by Noble in 2004, but I never did get around to picking up his book, Digital Diploma Mills. I should, though. In fact, it undoubtedly connects with work I’m doing lately (and in the semester to come) to shift EMU’s UWC into online consultation. Also, for that matter, stuff like power adjuncting (a topic of fascination for me more than anything else) and, too, the dissoi logoi that for all of our belly-aching about automaticity in higher ed (in the humanities, particularly), there are a whole lot of ways in which we could better adopt and apply automation to some aspects of our work, especially where long-term data-keeping is at issue. Anyway, I live in an Automation Alley county, surely indicative of something.
  • Winter semester begins Wednesday. I am teaching a Tuesday night grad class, ENGL516: Computers and Writing: Theory and Practice (the titular colonpede tempts me to add another segment: 011000010111011101100101011100110110111101101101011001010000110100001010).
  • That we meet on Tuesday the 11th for the first session leaves me no other choice than to assign two articles for the first class. Right? Right! I am mildly concerned the articles will be met with a chorus of “Shabulous!” Besides the grad class, I have a faculty consulting appointment in the UWC (mentioned that earlier) and then a course release carried over from last semester from an internal research grant. My plan is to make this the hardest working semester ever and actually get a couple, maybe three, of these two-thirds finished projects sent off by May.
  • Ph. flies back to Kansas City on Saturday, ending his month-long visit. I guess this can only mean I owe him a day snowboarding at Alpine Valley, probably tomorrow.
  • Will put together a slow-cooker lentil soup so that everybody has something hot and good to come home to. They might be thinking this tastes shabulous, but their mouths will be too full to say it.
  • Last thing: Weird about the fallen birds in Arkansas, right? I mean, 1,000 birds within one square mile? The question I can’t put down is to what extent this is rhetorical–a rhetorical happening, perhaps purely of nature’s precarious course. We don’t know a cause. But then! A school of fish were found belly up in the Arkansas River a few days later, and, according to one report, “Investigators said there is no connection between the dead fish and the dead birds.” No connection? If these are rare events whose cause(s) remain(s) unknown(s) and they are geographically proximate, why assert that they are disconnected? Even if it is too early to identify a causal connection, their coincidence does foist upon them at least a choral connection. Then again, what better than “no connection” and “this happens all the time” to suppress panic. (Reminds me of this entry on dropping paper messenger “birds” during wartime)

    Saw a clever tweet linking this curious event with taking Angy Birds too seriously. I’m inclined to relate it to Twitter, though, more along the lines of subjecting my own Twitter account to “lightning or high-altitude hail.” To be continued.

    More: a turn to labs for answers. Though still no speculation about zombie scarecrows.

Another List

Last time I ended by asking about Elbow’s believing/doubting-game, “Do absurdity and hyperbole gain traction in the predominance of a doubting manner?” I think what I meant was, Do absurdity and hyperbole function most powerfully when we hold a doubting mindset? If believing goes along with things, grants ideas a chance, then absurdity and hyperbole must lose some of their shock effect under those conditions. Believers wouldn’t find them unbelievable; believers would assent (temporarily) in these moments when critique is on hold.

Later in the article, there comes another list even more ramshackle seeming than the basketball-themed chunk I worked through the other day.

There are more personal emotional fears that reinforce the monopoly of the doubting game and which must therefore be explored here. I think we all fear, to a greater or lesser extent, being taken over, infected, or controlled by a bad or wrong idea. The believing game asks us, as it were, to sleep with any idea that comes down the road. To be promiscuous. We will turn into the girl who just can’t say no. A yes-man. A flunky. A slave. Someone who can be made to believe anything. A large opening that anything can be poured into. Force-fed. Raped. (185)

Reading the essay (again, reading to decide its fit in a class I will soon teach), I hovered on this paragraph slightly longer than most because I found it difficult to play the believing game with it. Promiscuity, slavery, rape: here as tropes these are excessively blunt for explaining the risks in preferring one intellectual manner over another.  Because Elbow’s list-work deals out these references in quick succession, I attempted to read it as a dare–a lure configured deliberately to remind readers that our believing has its limitations and that such limitations are often due for direct contemplation (e.g., attending to how hyperbole works on us). The paragraphs that follow confirm Elbow’s concern for believing as an inroads to dangerous ideas–dangerous ideas that the doubting game’s overeager critical impulse would shield from us: “What is needed is practice in learning to immerse the self gradually in the element perceived as dangerous–and it is just such a process that is constituted by the believing game” (186-187).  

Public Displays of Attendance

For the past year or so I have taken attendance in the face-to-face classes I teach by LED-projecting a Google Docs Spreadsheet into which I enter ‘x’ for present and ‘1’ for absent. The absences tabulate (i.e., it is a spreadsheet with wizardly formulas coursing through it: equations, maths of consequence, etc.), and everybody in the room can observe this act of record-keeping. Within the class, it is public: the record of who is present and who is absent is transparently kept, obvious. It’s rather like attendance crowd-sourcing in that the crowd is the source of the record; being in the room creates the account.

When we (me+ENGL328ers) were observed a week or so ago, the question came up again: What if somebody doesn’t want the record put on display? And the only answer I know relates to the option I offer on the first day of class. You can opt out. A student must let me know their wishes, and I will keep their attendance stealthily and in a secret ledger.

Among the positives, this practice helps me learn everyone’s names by the end of the third week of classes. It also reduces the number of conversations that start “but I was present that day”–conversations that leverage a teacher’s likely forgetting and that all the more likely when record keeping is hazy or erratic. With the projection method, students know attendance is logged during the first minute of class, so they show up on time, or, when they are late, they know they must check in with me at the end of the class session to make sure I have an ‘x’ rather than a ‘1’ next to their name.

The observation I took two weeks ago was exceedingly positive, so I don’t want to make this too much of a direct response to the question that arose in its follow-up conversation. It has come up in other moments: To what extent does this practice tread on student privacy? And are absences even private, really? Anyone in the class, after all, could keep track of who is there, who isn’t, and who arrives late, provided they knew names.

I suppose it is clear by my continuation of this practice that I understand attendance to be class-public. I wouldn’t put the record on display outside of the classroom (e.g., posting it as a web site or a public Google Doc), but I find the opt-out option to be a reasonable solution and a passable justification for continuing the practice. Without sounding too much like ProfHacker, I suppose I’m blogging all of this toward the invitation for input: What am I forgetting? Overlooking? And, How do you keep everyone up on a running attendance record?

Vervous Blogging

I have been preoccupied lately with wrapping my head around the question of
"professional ethos" concerning graduate students who blog (e.g.,
Questions: Does the blogging graduate student assume risks that the non-blogging
graduate student avoids? Are there greater risks or rewards in either
choice? What, then, are the payoffs? And are they immediate and tangible,
delayed and abstract?

The puzzler has been, "Why should a professional ethos for blogging graduate
students be any different than it is for non-blogging graduate students?" This
is a puzzler because every response I can come up with demands qualification:
whether A.) it’s no different or B.) it’s the blog.

Take the first response: "It’s not all that different." Professional
ethos is, after all, performed.
It is performed in the more long-lasting snapshot of the CV and in the fleeting
here-now moments when we, say, utter something in a class we are teaching or
taking (any venue, really, where we have a chance to say something insightful
and smart or irrevocable and humiliating). Professional ethos for graduate
students leaks into all of these activities; it is performed at nearly every
turn. Graduate students who perform their professional ethos well
in all its aspects will not be harmed by blogging; graduate students who perform
their professional ethos egregiously
(which is almost to say unethically or unawares in this regard) may find that
blogging makes the quality all the more conspicuous, that it makes ethical
recklessness, to say nothing of the lessons learned from mistakes, somewhat more
transparent and lasting. Already I can see that this tentative response is
beginning to buckle under the possibility that a blog may serve as a record of
the messy lessons where professional decorum gets tested (see Tribble).
Then again, that’s what I’m trying to get at: testing professional decorum,
whether blogger or not, bears consequences, and how we anticipate those
consequences and work through them when we’ve messed up seems thickly entangled
with the very idea of professional ethos, whatever the stage of the game.

At least that much is settled.

To reiterate and to put it more plainly, many aspects of professional ethos
(as performance) pertain to blogging graduate students and to non-blogging
graduate students alike. And yet, as a blogging graduate student (as one, that
is, who has blogged through a near-complete program of study), my own practices
rather tip my hand
(a Euchre reference, not Go Fish) and give away my clear preference. Keeping
mind that many aspects of professional ethos are shared by bloggers and non-bloggers,
what about blogging makes it different? How does blogging add dimension to
what it is we are trying to do while we are in graduate school? I’m not
all that keen on the fast switch to personal, anecdotal experience as evidence,
but maybe I can frame this as a series of professional-ethical convictions or
(as performed ethics) that have loosely guided
Earth Wide Moth since its first entry, just a few months before I moved from
Kansas City to Syracuse in 2004.

1. An ethics of experimentation. Participating in the RSA panel last May on
the ethics of amateuring greatly pushed my thinking in this area (I even read
Booth’s For The Love of It on Jenny’s recommendation). The blog
understood as an experimental space does not always need to explain itself in
terms of "professional efficiency" or productivity drive. This does not make it
unprofessional. Instead it (re)establishes the necessary and delicate
orchestration of "for pay" and "for love": professional and amateur.
Experimentation, like inquiry, favors the side of wonderment, mystery, and
intrigue, the side of "I do not know, but I can’t resist the delight in finding
out, the delight in toying around with possibilities, with unknowns." Now,
this commitment to experimentation does not always come off well. Often,
it fails or rather is about failure, interruption, digression. Yet, in a blog,
it plays out in the midst of others and in such a way that it lays a skein of
re-discoverable pathways for the future. Re: professional ethos, this principle
seems to underscore the vitality in networked experimentation.

2. A second principle involves an ethics of engagement, stale commonplace
though it risks seeming. This is, rather, a point about the outward blog ethos
as one that conveys investment, conviction, and panache for a professional
trajectory, in a disciplinary orientation, in a research specialization, in a
body of work: I am going to make my living doing this, and, thus, I am going to
put my greatest possible effort into it. So: in the blog (as a collection) and
in specific entries, I have sought all along to be genuinely engaged. It
has not always worked this way, and this principle, perhaps like all principles,
grows weaker as I describe it in more idealistic terms. Nevertheless,
where professional ethos is concerned, blogging affords graduate students a
venue for engagement appropriate (arguably) to the rhythms of graduate

3. An ethics of lifework harmony. When I started blogging, I was a
professional, but I wasn’t a graduate student. Thus, when I became a graduate
student, I didn’t experience any remarkable change in how I thought about myself
as a professional or as a professional-in-becoming. Sure, I was leaving
behind a livable salary, a private office, home ownership, and certain daytime
schedule constraints to become a "student." But I had already trampled on
the faux-dyad of work and home or personal and professional for seven years, and
I find in blogging (granting that this is a privilege) a healthy and rewarding
breach in the hemispheric division that would separate life from work.

More to come…

Comfort Inventory 6

In typical C.I. fashion, a list:

  • Is. asked to play this song over and over and over today.  And at
    lunch she kept saying, "Tee-ka-lee."
  • Grades. Check.
  • To cap the semester, a meeting tomorrow and a mock in-person interview
    on Friday. Mock: I am to sport a turtleneck and then all of my questioners
    heckle me about the answers when it’s over. Kidding aside, I’m grateful for
    the simulations.
  • In the spring I will be teaching an online section of WRT205 associated
    with University College.  I have some decisions to make.  Today
    I’ve been thinking about a focus on attitude: worldview, manner (a
    split of Burkean agency), and so on.  I saw something about Carol
    Dweck’s Mindset, but it also could tie in with a whole range of stuff:
    cool studies, believing/doubting, standpoint theory, perspective. 
    Due to my insufferable pre-course-configuring nomadism, tomorrow I will be thinking something else, no doubt. The semester begins
    January 12, which means I have until 11:30 p.m. on January 11th to make up
    my mind.
  • WRT195ers finished last week with Pecha Kucha presentations–re-makes of
    their six week sustained research projects.  The switch from the
    textually intensive "paper" to the visually intensive and improvised
    presentational-performance: a hit, and something I’d definitely like to do
  • One of the presentations included the uncanny (and unintended)
    substitution of "digital naives" for "digital natives" (on a slide). I know
    Weinberger has mentioned "digital naives" before, but it was sort of a
    surprise fit here in that the point was made in the context of the adeptness
    of "digital natives."
  • My bags are packed and ready for MLA later this month.
  • No, no they’re not.  That’s a joke (a real side-splitter, I’m sure,
    for anyone both type A and on the market).  But I do have the itinerary
    for a trip embedded in another trip: first to Detroit by car, then to SF by
    plane, then back to Detroit by plane, and "home" to Syracuse by car.
  • Is. has been busy at the whiteboard sketching humanoids.


Spitting Images

A passing tribute to having wrapped up Dan Roam’s
The Back of the Napkin
night, I figured why not throw down a few images in the spirit of keeping things
carnivalesque. Roam is a marker-carrying whiteboarder whose core premise is that
we spark insights into complex problems by treating them to a simplified and
illustrated version. I doubt that I have played strictly by the heuristics
he introduces in the book; nevertheless, I do find some of the stark
oversimplifications in these first four images helpful for thinking through some
of what Kopelson sets up in the article.

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