Quick entry—it’s late and kale sweet potato soup is bubbling. And I’m still in the late stages of moving, turning in keys and parking passes at the old place this afternoon, scooping expired field mice from the attic of the new place, fetching groceries, hooking up laundry machines, chopping onions, and so on. But a project several years in the works dropped yesterday at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/practice/try/: Try This: Research Methods for Writers, a textbook we hope sees uptake in rhetoric and writing classes. I could say A LOT about this book’s development. Once it was in the hands of Mike Palmquist and the editorial team at WAC Clearinghouse, its shape and timing were never clearer or crisper. I didn’t realize it, but I read today that this book is the 150th free, open access publication of the nearly 25 years WAC Clearinghouse has been operating. So it’s an honor and a wonder and a credit to so many that this book is circulating now, as it is. [N.b., not a ninety, but hope to get back to a few more of those soon, like tomorrowsoon, or the nextdaysoon.]
A few anterior questions for research design: Who—individual, department or program, college, institution, field—needs to research? Why? Do research designs do more than install (strict or suggestive and flexible) rails for procedural fidelity? How much of what shows up later in a methods section is accountable to planning versus zig-zagged execution? Method’s slow way-twining of ‘above’ (meta-) and ‘along’ (-hodos) cannot at every resting beat be comparably discernible. Are research memos, then, only ever generated from a resting beat, casting a perchance motley-at-best crumbtrail?
I’ve held for what months or longer this excerpt from Ram Dass, posted at Revoked some time before they shed space suit for some alternative astral way of being around. On contentment as method:
In yoga, one of the methods is called ‘contentment’. That’s not a goal, that’s a method.“Words of Wisdom,” Ram Dass, Revoked, August 14, 2019
I can be content this moment, and the next moment I’m moving toward something else. When I am here I am content, when I am here I am content, when I am here I am content. So even though you are going to change something the next minute, that doesn’t mean you change it out of discontent. It changes because it changes.
That is the basis that you do everything in yoga.
Contentment as method. Contentment as above-path, quagmire hovercraft; in yoga, yes, I can find this. The good enoughness of a pose right now. The satisfieciency of this, here-now, floor and mat, gravity and breath. With contentment as method, for work (research, teaching, administrating), for non-work and all that it entails, there is in this relief from straining and striving. Go sit on a shelf, goals. Agency is fatiguing and sometimes needs quieted. Contentment says enough, have an exhale and a pause, surrender to the entropy, have a break from so much reaching.
I am teaching a research design class this semester. And too, of course, we’ve been visited by a pandemic, which has meant IRB suspensions, workaround-thinking, making do, resignation to changes that are out of our hands. We shift online. We Zoom. We grant flexibilities such that everyone can to the extent possible adapt and adjust. Lives are different from waking until sleeping again. Yoga intersperses, walking yoga, reading yoga, cooking yoga, Netflixing yoga, and relationship (the most difficult of yogas). And, too, research goes on–wondering and inquiry that sometimes involves others and sometimes involves only writing, processing, sorting things out. I’ve been thinking a lot about the friction (that edge, almost touching) between career and contentment, between inquiry and contentment, between rhetoric (as compositional, making, striving for change) and contentment. About motive(s).
Contentment as method (in yoga) risks hinting at passivity. In one way of approaching this (perhaps too difficult, perhaps needlessly difficult) pose, motive lapses, disperses. Contentment seems to abandon motive, doesn’t it? I’m not interested in sketching an argument with Ram Dass; no jousting at evacuated space suits. Where’d they go? But I am wondering about that something-more, the fire whose heat is felt in yoga as in motive as in inquiry. Contentment, too, draws on some kind of spark that is not exclusively passive. I have enough, yes, and I am enough, yes. This here-now is enough, yes. And then some–always a paradox. Even so, wonder and inquire, reach and breathe.
Contentment as method, it’s qualitatively helpful. But fire as method, too, grasps at something important about how that change happens. Not another definition of agency (we are reading about agentic shift this week, fittingly). Not necessarily fire as raging with destructive force. But a striker strip, a spark, heat and flame and combustion, immolation as method. Fire as method. What does your research turn to ash? What does your research raise up from the embers? Fire as above-path, quagmire hovercraft; in yoga, yes, I can find this. And sometimes in research. The potential and ever-rising heat of a pose right now, in spite of being human.
I’ve asked students to write a semester-capping reflection in-class, today marking the end of the Winter 2018 semester at EMU and, with it, the final session of WRTG121: Composition II: Researching the Public Experience. The prompt occasions a letter noting takeaways in terms of attitudes and habits relating to writing, command of language, and grasp of research processes, although it’s a stacked ask insofar as its privileging ground and anchorage qua affirmations of footing, solidity, presumptions of growth that value lodging over dislodging, mooring over unmooring. Another way: might just as well be asking about attitude-habit upheavals, a churn of language, ungrasp of research processes. Whatever of the teaching-learning paradoxes, here are a few of the takeaways for me:
- Our curriculum moves swiftly from establishing researchable questions and attempting, with the aid of systematic note-keeping, a brief proposal and cursory lit review, next to carrying out a microstudy documented with research memos that adheres to an appropriate research method, and finally to a pair of presentational moves, one in-class (elevator pitch to peers with careful consideration of slidecraft), one at the Celebration of Student Writing. Much of the semester felt to me to be balanced and right-paced, although at the end, two presentational gestures left one (the CSW) lagging secondarily a bit, without enough time to develop it fully.
- That said, the curriculum remains promising in that there surfaced (for most?) a more obvious and followable connection among an evolving researchable question (or series of questions), sources gathered and annotated in association with the question, the enactment of methods chosen as ways of following rigorously the question out into the world, and the variations on presenterly circulation that care for translation of a nuanced research process into something shareable. Obvious and followable: this, according to students who informally related not having especially much experience with being guided to undertake research writing this way.
- Our program’s bundle, Understanding Rhetoric and EasyWriter, primes this approach, introducing key ideas and standing readily by as consultatory resources for reminders and support, though at moments this reminding and support isn’t quite enough due to my assumptions about everyone’s remembering these materials as backdrop. I forget to say, use these books in this way (even after reading selections or pitching and modeling usefulnesses at the semester’s outset). Thus, the consultatory function of these books, this semester, seemed to fade, seemed to follow a declining use-trend, when I’d imagined an increase, expansion, uptick.
- In future semesters, when teaching a class like this one, I may try to do more to poll students before the semester begins, to think together and ahead about thematic orientations. We ventured into environmental justice this semester, but I’m not convinced that the explicit and direct attention we devoted to EJ at the outset sustained as the semester wore on. It felt to me like the most prominent concerns of EJ quieted as our efforts shifted to more tightly tailored research projects; with this is that inevitable tension between the general and the acute, between the frame and the pixel.
- Early-semester one on one conferences continue to be tone-setting for interpersonal rapport that builds as a semester goes. This practice is reasonably enculturated in the FYWP at EMU, carried out section for section for section, but it’s a practice I’d like to extend with focal intention to other classes I teach, doing more with these scheduled conversations while also thinking about how to keep them student-led and only in minor ways repetitive.
That is it. Enough for forty minutes of in-class writing. Enough to say the semester that was, was. Enough to mark even lightly a few of the details I’ll carry for a while hereforward.
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.
It’s only a partial list–titles from Pittsburgh, Southern Illinois, and Parlor–collected into a PDF after gathering them at the most recent CCCC book exhibit. Got me thinking about how it would be nice to have such lists compiled and aggregable, year after year, a kind of time series list amenable to isolating years or small clusters of years just for noticing what was circulating at the time. I’d picked them up in the first place because we have a tiny sliver of funding for supplying rhetoric and composition/writing studies focused books to Halle Library on campus, but when I mentioned this to a colleague, she asked for the complied PDF, too, because it carries over readily to placing more direct requests to libraries for end-of-budget-year acquisitions.
Along with several other colleagues in my department, I was invited late last fall to be posterized as a faculty researcher at EMU. It’s part of a banner campaign devised to connect campus and Ypsilanti, and to make abstract-seeming faculty more real-seeming, I guess. And it is an honor to be invited. Humbling, really. Like others, I had a couple of photos taken in late November. The email arrived yesterday asking us to choose the best one. I let D., Is., and Ph. weigh in; two-thirds of them agreed on #122. I think I look slouchy, tired, and over-stressed (i.e., like a first-year WPA!) in most of them and so didn’t quibble with the rec. #122 it is.
Next comes the harder part: along with formalizing a preference for a photo, we’re supposed to send in a one-liner–five words or less and must begin with ‘I’–that will function as a public research profile. Officially, it’s called an “integrated power statement”–but I’ll think of it as a bumper sticker-sized CV.
I’ll be the first to admit that my 4.5 years at EMU in research terms has been spasmodic at best–due in large part to a constantly challenging orchestration of service responsibilities, institutional and departmental dynamics, and herky-jerky, stop-start bursts of writing with more change of speed and more spills than bad Olympic figure skating. Whoosh! Whoa! Oh sure, I get it: that’s the nature of this work in many places.
But how does such a pattern of activity translate into four or five words of banner material? And what’s a more appropriate gesture–something with a university-ambivalent public in mind, something true to the specifics of a research agenda, or something attuned to undergraduates, prospective students, and their families? Fun to think about from a university outreach standpoint, but not especially helpful for settling on the best four or five-word string.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- I create clouds, graphs, and maps.
- I visualize discourse networks.
- I trace disciplinary networks.
- I make scholarly networks visible.
- I make rhetorical connections visible.
- I map scholarly networks.
- I practice digital rhetorics.
- I strengthen weaker arguments.
- I write in code and light.
I’m open to other suggestions and will wait for a few days before sending in my power statement. Comment away if you’re so inclined. Give me a better five words, starting with I. I’d considered tipping the statement toward directing first-year writing, but I have yet to root that work in what I think of as my research (so much heft in getting some Venns to overlap, you know?), so the power statements would be things like, “I fight the textbook-industrial complex” (five words?) or “I dream of budget” or “I large-scale assess.” Nothing especially powerful or integrated or researcherly in these statements. Of course, maybe if I come up with something really catching, really, really inspiring, they’ll invite me to be on another poster in a few years, just about the time I get the hang of more research oriented WPAing.
I am 70-percent committed to a plan for ENGL326: Research Writing this fall revolving around research networks. I’ve been reading over the syllabus and materials Geof Carter generously shared with me from a similar class he taught at SVSU recently. The basic idea here is to begin with a key (or keyless, as circumstances warrant) scholarly article in a given field of study (i.e., the student’s declared major, probably) and then trace linkages from the article to/through the various places (inc. schools of thought), times, affinities (inspirational sources, pedigree/halo re: terminal degree), and semantic fields (inc. contested terms) out of which it was written. We will probably adopt a workshop model, maybe use CMap Tools for representing these research yarns, develop reading and research logs in something semi-private, such as Penzu, and, if things go well, lay some groundwork for a relatively focused going over of what entails “research” in their respective areas while also doing a lot of reading and writing, including some sort of an update or response to the first article. We could even write those in Etherpad for the way it lets us present a document’s evolution as video (video which invites a layer of commentary and reflection, as I imagine it possibly working out). If this sounds like June thinking for a class that starts in September, well, it is. Anyway, what good is early summer if not for breezily mulling things over?
Now, had I to begin again, I might create a different version of Research Writing tied in with the Quantified Self stuff. Monday’s entry on Seth Roberts’ work reminded me about this. Here is a small slice of Roberts’ article abstract, which is posted on The QS blog:
My subject-matter knowledge and methodological skills (e.g., in data analysis) improved the distribution from which I sampled (i.e., increased the average amount of progress per sample). Self-experimentation allowed me to sample from it much more often than conventional research. Another reason my self-experimentation was unusually effective is that, unlike professional science, it resembled the exploration of our ancestors, including foragers, hobbyists, and artisans.
Although the QS projects are rooted in quantification, they are not exactly bound to traditional science or notions of experimentation and measurement for public good. Instead, they assume a useful blend between quantitative tracking and personal knowledge. I don’t have in mind a QS-based research writing class concerned so much with “optimal living” or with diet and exercise, although I guess there’s no good reasons these things should be excluded from possibilities. I’m thinking more along the lines of Quantified Self meets McLuhan’s media inventories meets Macrorie’s I-Search. The class would inquire into data tracking, narrating spreadsheets, rhetorics/design of data visualization, and the epistemological bases of the sciences, while it “grabs hold of the word ‘authority’ and shakes it to find out what it means” (Macrorie, “Preface”). Again, just thinking aloud, June thinking for a class that, depending upon how things turn out this fall, starts in September 2011 or 2012.
I watched Larry Lessig’s “#Wireside Chat” live last Thursday evening, viewing it from Halle Library at EMU along with Steve and a few graduate students in his winter C&W course. I took a few notes during the talk; thought I’d translate them into something more coherent.
Lessig opened with an allegory: an extended narrative linking a dilemma facing cigarette smokers of yesteryear with a dilemma facing users of mobile devices and wireless internet, an allegory inspired by Christopher Ketcham’s recent article in GQ. Just as early reports on the cancerous effects of smoking tobacco were speculative and contested, so are today’s investigations into the insidious effects of wireless signals murky and tentative. Lessig cited Henry Lai, whose research on non-ionizing radiation has clarified a troubling pattern of self-interest: industry-funded research finds wireless to be harmless, while non-industry-funded research finds wireless to be harmful. The basic idea here is that research of this sort reflects the bias of its funding source. And this builds toward a crisis because 1) everyday people cannot know which research to trust and 2) the binaristic “debate” creates doubt such that reasonable people can think either way about the issue, rendering it undecidable.
From this, Lessig shifted to Part Two, a different debate concerning free culture. He credited a graduate student who “fed him” ideas from Aldous Huxley and John Philip Sousa about technologies threatening creative culture. Huxley worried about the ways broadcast media cemented audiences in read-only passivity. Sousa lamented similarly that the phonograph would hobble music creation. He expected that read-only (or listen-only) would thwart production and result in conditioned passive consumption. In the free culture debate, Lessig locates 2004 as a key shift: read-write culture was revived that year, with Wikipedia as its poster child. Lessig says “remix” is the best name to describe this shift.
In 2006, via YouTube, we witnessed another key shift, this time tied to video: the remix technique is further democratized. In numerous examples, we can see read-write in action. According to Lessig, “This begins to be precisely what Sousa romantisized.” At this point in his talk, Lessig rehearsed the legal developments around copyright, albeit in fairly sweeping terms (Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act to courts more recently “getting it right”). Lessig was obviously quite wrapped up in efforts to persuade the Supreme Court to the merits of free culture, but he described the results as an utter defeat. Lessig went on in his talk to discuss the way Disney invokes copyright law and uses their copyright extension lobby to block efforts by others to do as they did to Brothers Grimm. His discussion of Disney included a thoughtful aside about the remix premise of Little Einsteins–a program I’ve gotten to know well in the last 18 months. Finally, Lessig tried to create some fusion between his work on free culture and his interests, more recently, in congressional reform. He explained that the read/write movement does not have in Congress a receptive audience, but that we must continue to imagine YouTube as a powerful platform for forcing these issues. Emphasizing repeatedly the value in fair and free codecs and fair and free use, Lessig concluded his talk, urging his audience to “Continue the work to build the tools to make this culture free.”
I want to mention two things I was thinking of as the talk wrapped up and during the Q&A. The first is that this talk had all the markings of Lessig-in-intellectual-transition. It was abundantly clear that he is in a cross-over period, moving from his many years of hard work on free culture and Creative Commons, to something more directly concerned with Washington D.C. lobbying practices and corrupt politics. The appearance of this transition is not necessarily bad, but I think it created a muddle for a couple of key points, which brings me to the second thing I was thinking about. Lessig argued for the cultural force of YouTube, but it almost sounded like he envisioned in remixing practices a great political force, as well. In a fairly abstract way, I buy the premise that remixing can effect change, but I didn’t find in Lessig’s examples anything impressive enough to make an impact on the scale he seemed more genuinely interested in reaching (national government). I guess the question of impact circles back around to this: What are the most impressive or memorable examples of remix, and for whom are they impactful? Or else these: What exactly is the difference they are making in, say, political processes? How are they consequential? Other than something like a YouTube presidential debate (which isn’t exactly remix), what is an example of YouTube impacting a political process? Then again, maybe I am looking for consequences too much in the remixes themselves and not enough in the slow rise of cultural creation by these means. In other words, perhaps their impact lies in their collective affirmation of free speech.
There’s much more to say about the Wireside Chat, but these notes will do for now. I will be interested in revisiting this periodically to rethink the power of remix and whether we have in the months and years to come realized a different degree of impact in it than we have seen in YouTube’s first five years.
Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean the Yoki series has been discontinued.
It’s just a blip in my plan.
Yesterday, I was watching Is. in the late afternoon. Ph. had an away
soccer match and so needed a ride to the school around 4 p.m.; D. was off on an
errand. I was sapped out, dragging. I’ve been off caffeine since
mid-August, but yesterday I suffered an ever so slight hankering and succumbed
to it, stopping off at the
local quick mart for a cold Dr. Pepper. Is. asked, where are we going? I said,
inside for a soda. She said, huh? And I said a soda, a pop. Growing
up in Michigan, it was always "pop." Is. thought I was talking about a
"fruit pop"–the name she uses somewhat interchangeably for 100% juice popsicles
and also for lollipops or suckers, which I’ve learned lately are shoved in kids
faces at every turn from the physician to the post office (today at the post
office in Fayetteville, a chocolate Dum-Dum). It’s constant.
Anyway, the two of us went into the mart, and, of course, all of the candy was lined up
at Is.’s eye level, a galleria of pops and things. She picked out a pomegranate
(?) Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, and we were out the door again, me with my soda
and Is. with the candy. Indulged and temporarily satisfied.
The deal with the pop was that she had to eat a decent dinner before she
could have it. No problemo, said the look she gave me. And she did so, happily
working through the nutritional foodstuff before reminding me that the junk was
all-the-while hailing her.
And then we had a conversation about how, when I was a kid, the Country
Corner at the intersection of Remus and Winn Roads would redeem Tootsie Roll
wrappers if they had a star on them. Seems like I ate quite a few of
I also told Is. about the commercial with the dippy kid who sought out a
partner for his "how many licks?" research study: the one where the turtle
admits his inability to resist devouring the thing before completing the
investigation and then passes the kid off to the overconfident and disastrously
lazy owl who gives it two licks before crunching down on the thing. Fade
to shrinking fruit pops with voiceover: "How many licks does it take to get to
the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop? The world may never know." Is.
was far more interested in hearing about the boy, the turtle, and the owl, than
in hearing me describe that commercial as my first exposure to flawed research
(that sort of sham inquiry that made it seem like the owl already knew the
answer he would give and instead performed the part only so he could consume the
object of inquiry, take it as his own, and so on).
Later, we checked it out on YouTube.
No shortage of innuendos here about research ethics and
consuming inquiry (either way: of too much fondness for the objects or of destructive partnerships),
but suffice it to say that Is. did not ask me what the answer was (how should I
know?) and neither did I let on whether I thought the question from the commercial was any good in the first place.