Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Basketball Jones

It's almost time to fill out your 2009 NCAA bracket, Buster. Now 1-2-3-4-5-6! years running, the EWM Yahoo! NCAA men's basketball tournament pick'em welcomes all who dare to pick against the the savviest basketball futurologists in blogland. Do you tremble at the thought? Then sign up! At no cost to you, join this year's group on Yahoo!, Emarchinal Picktelligence (ID#35873).  If you have questions, dish me a behind-the-back email: dmueller at earthwidemoth.com. Invite your friends. Invite your arch-nemeses. The group holds the next forty-nine who sign up. What's at stake is more valuable than money: hoops ethos.

Yahoo! Tournament Pick'em
Group: Emarchinal Picktelligence (ID# 35873)
Password: ewm
Firm up your picks after the selection show on Sunday, March 15. The latest you can sign up is five minutes before the round of 64 tips off on Thursday, March 19.

Vervous Blogging

I have been preoccupied lately with wrapping my head around the question of "professional ethos" concerning graduate students who blog (e.g., me). 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 principles (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 education.

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...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

And Adult

Ph. turns 18 today. Among my many feelings on this day: That was fast.

I've blogged most of his teenage birthdays. You'll see those entries listed over at the right, in the Yesterblog (the On This Day in EWM History feature). And I suppose this entry marks the conclusion of Ph. birthday-blogging, enjoyable though the practice has been. I mean, adult children can blog their own birthdays.

To make this celebratory entry stand tall among the others, I had to dig for a few minutes in the photo album, dredge up a couple of photos that, for me anyway, span (or somehow thematically encapsulate) Ph.'s childhood. Chose two:

1.) Giddy-up: this one is from when Ph. was about four years old, when my mom took him to ride the ponies at some ranch near Raytown, Mo. Apparently they made a fine time of it. Yes, those are leather chaps.

2.) Scorching the Tiffany Springs nets: here, Ph. is drilling a ball past me on one of the many, many extended shoot-arounds we enjoyed at the Tiffany Springs fields just north of Kansas City (bordering on the south edge of MCI airport). I'd guess he was eight or nine in this photo--the days when we'd hang around at the field until long after everyone else had (sensibly) gone home.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reason #7

Local sports columnist Bud Poliquin shared his "20 Reasons Syracuse Will Make The Sweet 16" in yesterday's Post-Standard. I'd already picked the Orange to win their first couple of games in this year's tournament: no surprise, then, that I was nodding along with Poliquin's twenty reasons.

I paused on No. 7, however:

7.It's been 1,825 days since SU has won an NCAA Tournament game, which was on March 20, 2004. Or before anybody heard of Hannah Montana, before Alex Rodriguez played a single regular-season contest for the New York Yankees, before that airplane on "Lost" crashed in the South Pacific. That's a long time.

A long time, indeed. In fact, it's exactly five years ago, and it's just about the time (within a couple of weeks, anyway) I committed to SU for a doctoral program of study, just about the time I said "Yes" to Syracuse. A long, long time. Long. Time.

Of course, the latest developments on Lost throw a wrench into this; that Jack et al. are now on the island in 1977 tinkers with time-space decorum ever so slightly, but, alas, it does not change the fact that the Orange have gone 0-for-the-NCAAs since I moved to town.

That will change later today, right?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


The tournament pool is up to a record 20 participants. Over the past five years, participation has gone from 7 to 7 to 11 to 17 to 18. Now 20. It's still your option to fill out a bracket through noon tomorrow.

I have listened to the ESPN gurus tell me who they like: #13 Cleveland State over #4 Wake Forest, #13 Mississippi State over #4 Washington, #11 Utah State over #6 Marquette. Surprises, upsets, these. In years past, I let this chatter seep into my thinking about who to pick. Wake Forest was awful late in the season; Washington...the only thing I know about Washington is that they wear purple and yellow; and Marquette is down a senior guard. In other words, these are upset picks that seem reasonable to me, which means they'll probably be wrong.

So, I look for other unexpected teams to advance to the Sweet Sixteen because 1.) I have not noticed them and 2.) I am not picking them in my bracket: #10 USC, #14 American, #11 Temple. These teams are invisible to me. Are they in the tournament? Seems so. Thus, even though I have not picked them, I have come to expect that one such team will arrive in the Sweet Sixteen. Why not American?

I have eight first-round upset picks and two second-round upset picks. My hunch is that it would be cowardly to have fewer and reckless to have more.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Beware the Red-Ides

Following last night's red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York, here I sit in JFK, awaiting a-w-a-i-t-i-n-g my connecting flight to the travel destination nightmare better known as Syracuse. I only chose this flight on jetBlue because I had a voucher from last year's CCCC in New Orleans. On the way home a year ago I had no choice but to stay over an extra night (put up on the airline's dime at a divey Days Inn). I also accepted a credit for the full value of that trip, good for one year. The short (and miserable) of it is that I've been sitting in JFK since 7 a.m. this morning, holding out for an 11 a.m. hop upstate: home again (for a few more months, anyway). Only: delayed! I'm trying not to look at the monitor over gate G9 because every time I look the staffBlues bump the boarding time ahead another 15 minutes. 12:00 p.m. 12:15 p.m. 12:30 p.m. I'm afraid that if I look again it will roll over to 12:45 p.m.

No, I can't really complain about the free wireless in the fancy new jetBlue terminal. It's nice, very nice. But I can say, plaintive though it it sure to sound, that these hours of waiting are intensely uncomfortable, time slowed to a creeping pace, after flying through the night for the first leg of the return trip.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Today is Monday of Spring Break.

I started the day at the YMCA.  D. took Is. to "Short Sports," where Coach Tina yelled out colors and then everyone ran to the hula hoop of that color and put one foot inside the circle. The hula hoops were lying flat on the floor, like big Os:

O    O    O    O
    O    O    O  
O    O    O    O 

Meanwhile, I went to the fitness room and ran on the treadmill until I fell. You're probably thinking I ran 10 or 11 miles, was tired, stumbled from fatigue.  Not so.  And in case you are worried about me, I'm fine, although I later realized the skin-matter from the full length of my left shin must still be pasted to the conveyor belt.  That, or some poor soul fresh off a jog has it stuck to the soles of their tennis shoes at this very moment.

I don't even like running.

Tomorrow, it will be Tuesday of Spring Break. Time to pack!

Because later this week I will jet to San Francisco for the annual CCCC convention, making it the second consecutive "break" I'll spend at a conference in SF. I'm counting on a powerful wave of enthusiasm to sweep over me, oh, sometime late Wednesday.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Power Adjuncting

The Chronicle published a piece this week by Douglas W. Texter, "No Tenure? No Problem." Part-timers, it goes, can now make a pile of money (in the neighborhood of $100k annually) by stacking teaching gigs at a couple of different institutions. Texter offers ten principles useful for adjusting one's thinking while taking the plunge into the pot of gold that is "entrepreneurial adjuncting." Among the guiding tenets: care, assume a mercenary attitude, change what you read, change the company you keep, watch Risky Business, and so on.

I learned about the column not because I pay all that much attention to CHE but because it drifted across WPA-L, a listserv I am subscribed to, albeit in digest mode. Texter's column stirred a fair amount of discussion, something like 32 list messages on the day it appeared. And without pointing too directly at any of the comments or naming names, the responses included variations of:

  • CHE is link-baiting (flashing a glimpse of the shocking and grotesque, tabloid-style);
  • it can't be done: no multi-part-timers are making $100,000;
  • skepticism followed by mathematical improbabilities (viz., it would take 98 bowls of Captain Crunch to get the nutritional value in one bowl of Total);
  • $100,000 isn't all that much money, especially considering benefits are nowhere a part of the picture;
  • Texter's column is satire (or the obverse: no it's not);
  • What could possibly be CHE's motive in publishing this?;
  • irrelevant;
  • inside word has it that D. W. Texter is seeking a tenure-track position now that he has made his great fortune.

Sure, I'm having a little bit of fun with these characterizations, but I mean to capture the spirit of the dialogue more in the interest of marking it for a future return rather than summing it perfectly for those who didn't watch as it unfolded. Clearly there is a lot of interest in the proposition that part-timers, especially online part-timers, can make a load of dough simply by teaching several moderate loads. The perennial problem of mileage is, in the 100K part-part-part-timer model, solved by an internet connection. And I don't mean "solved" with respect to professional-ethical considerations; I mean "solved" in the sense that online, a body can be linked in with many different institutional scenes as there are tabs open in Firefox. So, this happens, and yet we don't understand it all that well because it is only partially visible from any single institutional perspective (i.e., it doesn't happen at any one place).

For the past couple of years, I've had a hand in mentoring new online instructors at another university, checking in every week or so by email or phone with those who are teaching an online course for the first time. While in this role, I've had the chance to meet a couple of entrepreneurial types who are doing a heckuva lot of teaching online for multiple institutions (note: many are teaching in fields other than Composition or even English Studies). Are some making 100k? I imagine so. Okay, maybe 90k. And collecting income by working at, say, three institutions without ever leaving their in-home offices. Once I called a new instructor I'd talked to a couple of times before and heard, "Now which university are you with?" And more recently, a part-timer told me about teaching experiences with Axia, Heald, and Baker before mentioning that the most s.he'd ever taught was 18 sections in one semester--all FYC at four different institutions (none of this was online, btw). We didn't talk gross income. But that's less my point. Instead, I've been thinking about how this sort of load passes unnoticed because it is distributed, decentralized. There is no large-scale accounting system in place that would give anyone insights into just how prevalent a practice this is, although it wouldn't surprise me at all to see institutions and accrediting bodies coordinate some means of calling these practices into check, perhaps by creating some sort of regional clearinghouse or something. I'm not all that well versed in how accrediting bodies address contingent labor in higher ed (or, for that matter, how those involved in accreditation audits come and go, how they become familiar with the interests they serve, and so on), but I continue to have an interest in the growing tension between part-time labor as it is typically conceived and how these new work categories that fall outside prevalent mythologies. I'm curious whether and to what degree these new work categories will change the shape of ongoing conversations about part-time labor, for better or worse, in the next five or ten or fifty years.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Crunchy Sweet

Because 1.) dissertation jokes are funnier to me these days than they will ever again be for the rest of my life and because 2.) I had a floaty-full bowl of whole grain Cheerios for lunch today, check this from McSweeney's, "From My Unfinished Doctoral Dissertation on Breakfast Cereals," by Dave Frye:

In Linnaeus's rudimentary typology, all cereals were divided into two broad categories: those that float and spill all over the place when you pour the milk in and those that sink and harden into something like cement if you forget to rinse the bowl. Linnaeus's work was greeted with broad enthusiasm in the 18th century, particularly in England, where Dr. Johnson adjudged his work "crunchy sweet," and Gibbon was inspired to begin work on his magisterial Sinking and Floating of the Roman Empire.

Plus, who doesn't feel overjoyed at the prospect of reading from an unfinished dissertation?