music monday: seconds first

Many of the rules governing music mixes I also apply to albums. First and foremost among these transferred rules is the importance of the first track. Firing an appropriate opening salvo in an auditory assault sets the stage for every song following. To make another reference to High Fidelity, Nick Hornby's Rob Gordon puts forth "Janie Jones" by the Clash and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana; John Cusack's Rob Gordon also includes "White Light/White Heat" by the Velvet Underground. These three are all premiere examples of tracks that define entire albums, introducing a perspective or theme that is, in some way, sustained throughout the rest of the record.

There are records, though, which falter when it comes to felicitous first tracks. This is not to say such records, or the artists/bands producing them, are terrible. It is only that I sometimes disagree with how an artist/band chooses to introduce their work to a willing listener. Minor sins of this nature include a spoken-word track that outright explains the theme of the recording when the album cover already has (Lovage's Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By) and tracks less than a minute in length featuring snippets of unfinished songs (Fugazi's The Argument and the Black Heart Procession's Amore del Tropico).

However, I do not include the Black Heart Procession, Fugazi or Lovage in the following mix because their openers are not actual songs. I wanted to concern myself only with those artists/bands and their respective albums featuring what I heard as questionable introductory selections and put together a mix of their superior second tracks. These songs are more indicative of both the artists/bands themselves as well as the albums from which the tracks come.

Seconds First

1. “Boys Better” – Dandy Warhols

2. “Harnessed in Slums” – Archers of Loaf

3. "God's Gonna Cut You Down" - Johnny Cash

4. "White Winter Hymnal" - Fleet Foxes

5. "Evil" - Interpol

6. "Dear Head On The Wall" - Alejandro Escovedo

7. "Don't Run Our Hearts Around" - Black Mountain

8. "The Way I Feel About You" - The (International) Noise Conspiracy

some words are to someone else

Yesterday, a box of boxes arrived. The intent behind the initial order involved the future organization of the pile of correspondence on the corner table in the office. I have carried this haphazard record of my continuing existence with me to Texas, Ohio and then back to my home state of Michigan. For one reason or another, I was unable to part with any part of this assortment of handwritten letters, old birthday cards and printed emails from an old Hotmail account.

However, when faced with the simple task of putting all into a couple of boxes and then onto a high shelf, I hesitated. Some kind of grouping (family, friends, etc.) or order (chronological, thematic) would be easy to enact, but I began to wonder why I should even bother keeping the pile somehow intact.

The memories tucked away in some greeting cards and letters are not ones I prefer to possess. Some of the authors of those words to me are no longer in my life and I have no desire or idea where to find them. Reading over their words then makes me see how different I am now. The person to whom such letters are addressed no longer exists. The words within feel alien, as if I stumbled upon someone else's secret stash. Keeping such communications just doesn't feel right anymore.

This is not true of my thoughts on everything in the pile, though. The card from my mother with a Far Side cartoon on the cover and a clipping of her mother's obituary inside will be kept. An envelope from an old college buddy featuring a hand-drawn Spider Jerusalem will never be discarded. The same goes for the Christmas card from my beloved brother that concludes, "Mom wouldn't stop nagging at me until I sent this card."

I keep them because the images and words associated with those individuals still matter to me. This is not to say that others are not worth remembering, only that I might prefer a different kind of recollection for different kinds of memories. Still, I may not throw away the other cards and letters. The day before was the first time in two years that I perused the contents of the pile. The next time might be even longer. Will even less of others' words matter to me then?

music monday: transitions

Beyond David Letterman, groceries and wishes, I dislike lists. For the most part, lists constitute a lack of inspiration and originality in terms of content. Rare is the occasion, too, for lists to reveal critical depth of knowledge about any given subject or topic. Far too many use lists as an authoritative endpoint instead of an introduction to further conversation, the latter of which Nick Hornby's High Fidelity does rather well.

However, in both the book and the film adaptation, music mixes have greater importance. For all the talk about all-time desert-island top-five lists, Hornby's Rob Gordon is more eloquent and thoughtful about making a mixtape, likening it to writing a letter as "there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again" (88). Furthermore, Gordon admits:

"A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention...and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artists side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs, and . . . oh, there are loads of rules" (89).

Perhaps these rules, along with lack of real time, discourage some from making mixes instead of throwing together sloppy lists of the top ten most trite love songs from the 1980's. Some might view such rules as limitations because no music mix can be the essential of anything; space requirements are very effective in preventing this. No top-ten list can be the essential of anything either, though that doesn't stop some from being so audacious as to suggest otherwise.

Regarding mixes, the musical elitism held or professed by any one person is limited by their chosen method of distribution. If making a mix by tape or CD, the 80-minute mark is the cut-off point. If making a mix through an online format, such as 8tracks, there is an eight-track maximum. Much can and should be done within these limitations, though, including the reconciliation of stellar opening and closing tracks by way of transitions. In other words, the songs must work together as a cohesive unit, which is an additional rule not as often required of any list.

Because of such limitations, music mixes are a greater invitation to deeper debate and discussion. While one might argue with some ease that the Strokes deserve inclusion on some top-ten list, it could be much more difficult applied to a music mix. Such an argument would have to account for subject matter, theme and transitions. In other words, would any song by the Strokes fit with the rest? Would the amended mix serve a purpose similar to the original? As a way of inspiring discussions about music, mixes have potential greater than that of some superficial top-ten list.

There will never be any kind of top-ten list taking up space in this particular place. Instead, I plan to offer up a quick mix of music every week (on Mondays, more often than not). However, my first offering has no theme beyond good transitions. It is a point of pride in every mix I make that transitions are strong. If a track fades out, the next one fades in. If a live track ends with audience applause, the next track begins with audience applause. If a track meets an abrupt end, the next track has an abrupt beginning. The following meets this standard and still manages to feature some all-time favorites. Enjoy, dear reader, enjoy...


Transitions

  1. “(I Hope U) Don’t Survive” – Silkworm
  2. "She Took A Lot Of Pills (And Died)" - Robbie Fulks

  3. "There She Goes, My Beautiful World" - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

  4. “Holland, 1945” – Neutral Milk Hotel
  5. “I Don’t Know” – Beastie Boys

  6. “Far Away” – Clearlake

  7. “3rd Planet” – Modest Mouse

  8. “-” – Pelican

reviewing professions: major media representations

In A Guide to Composition Pedagogy, Susan C. Jarratt's chapter "Feminist Pedagogy" encourages the design and implementation of assignments that invite students to reflect on their own gendered ways, bringing them "out of invisibility so that their sources and effects in the context of a sexist culture can be examined" (120). A constructive way to get at this might involve an invitation for students to think about how various media represent their intended majors/professions. The following assignment turns students to cultural analysis for the purposes of greater comprehension regarding the ways in which a particular profession is viewed through various forms of media. Over a four-week period, students attend to the gender, power and authority in their intended majors/professions, their expectations and perspectives on how such issues influence future endeavors.

Major Media Representations

The following asks you to think about, reflect on and write a piece on representations of your major/intended profession. Of major focus will be attention paid to the gendered ways your major/intended profession is represented in the media, but take some time to reflect on questions of age, class and ethnicity, too.

Movies, television shows and even video games can be rather influential in portraying certain jobs. In the field of education, for example, we have Robin Williams
(Dead Poet’s Society), Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski (The Wire) and Dewey Finn (School of Rock), Michelle Pfeiffer (Dangerous Minds), Hilary Swank (Freedom Writers) and Jeri Ryan (Boston Public) as well as the teaching faculty in Bully and Grim Grimoire. From such examples, what sort of precedent do various media set regarding male and female positions in a particular profession?

Therefore, take in at least five
different movies, television shows and/or video games somehow related to your major/intended profession. The relationship can be direct (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for law, Black Hawk Down for military, Grey's Anatomy for medicine), peripheral (The Shining for creative writing, High Fidelity for small business) or even absurd (Harvey Birdman for law). Also, keep selections timely; of major concern should be the more current representations of a major/intended profession. Be sure to either take notes while viewing or engage in reflective free-writing as the end credits roll.

Furthermore, the following questions are intended to provide guidance in the writing process:

  • Are those of your major/intended profession predominantly male/female, young/old, upper/middle/working class, African/Asian/European/Mexican American?
  • How do you compare/relate to the media’s representation(s) of your major/intended profession? Do you see yourself as part of the majority/minority? How/why?
  • In the media viewed, are representations of your major/intended profession more glamorized, romanticized, satirized or criticized?
  • How accurate are these representations? In other words, are they quality portrayals? If so, what makes them quality? If not, what needs revision?

"We All Stray From Our Paths Sometimes"

The following is a chapter proposal I submitted for Network Apocalypse: Visions of the End in an Age of Internet Media. Regardless of acceptance for publication, I will use this space to expand and explore the ideas introduced below:

"We All Stray From Our Paths Sometimes": Morality and Survival in Fallout 3

200 years after a nuclear war devastated the world in an alternate, post-World War II timeline, Fallout 3 places the player as an inhabitant of a survival shelter designed to protect humans from nuclear radiation. When the player's father leaves without prior notice, the player does as well, traversing the Capital Wasteland that was once Washington, D.C., in pursuit. While combat is the game's primary emphasis, Fallout 3 has an important feature in its Karma system. Player actions affect status within the game world and how well non-player characters (NPCs) receive the player. With consequences to most every action, the player is able to earn significant in-game rewards. However, evil as well as good deeds can garner positive NPC reactions, though excessive evil or goodness prompts Regulators to exact vigilante justice upon the player or Talon Company Mercs to put down "another holier-than-thou white-knight." As such, Fallout 3 is a video game that offers a provocative perspective on a particular post-apocalyptic scenario, revealing the sustained prevalence of war. Though on a scale more personal than political, more intimate than global, war in Fallout 3 focuses on simple survival and associated moral choices. Because of this, religious concerns as well as gender, ethnic and racial divisions appear as either unimportant or nonexistent. With individual morality and survival at the forefront, Fallout 3 provides perhaps a more honest view of humanity at the end of history.

rethinking research as engagement: pop up scholarship

In A Guide to Composition Pedagogy, Rebecca Moore Howard's chapter "Collaborative Pedagogy" explains writer/text collaboration as when "a writer overtly collaborates with a written text" (66). Howard uses the term (re)formative collaboration to further describe such pedagogy as the facilitation of exercises in which students have more freedom to play with language without regard for singular ownership. While evident in online communicative technologies like Facebook and YouTube, VH1's Pop Up Video was an even earlier example of (re)formative collaboration. Presenting music videos from various genres and offering up little windows of information, Pop Up Video was a kind of writer/text collaboration that involved more than one kind of text and more than one kind of author. The show itself was also rather
light-hearted and all about linguistic play.

It is from Pop Up Video and Howard that I drew inspiration for "Pop Up Scholarship," a three-part writing and speaking sequence that asks students to engage in a dialogue with a particular text. "Pop Up Scholarship" suggests students not only make note of discursive features but also amend and comment on their selected text(s). Doing so emphasizes Bakhtin's work on dialogism and that, as Helen Rothschild Ewald paraphrases in her chapter contribution to Landmark Essays on Advanced Composition, "all discourse is a response" (88). It also stresses reader creativity in the act of meaning making, encouraging abandonment of "the notion that the text is the sole, even primary, repository of meaning in written discourse" (88). As a past student explained in their reflective essay, "By doing this assignment, not only did we learn about different types of articles, but we also learned about our own writing in general."

In past courses, this assignment occurred later in the semester, often marking the point at which students were more familiar with the discursive practices associated with their major fields of interest and study. While this made it easier for students to articulate such practices to colleagues, I now think it might be more beneficial to introduce "Pop Up Scholarship" earlier and sustain such engagement throughout the semester. Rather than suggesting students follow some formulaic method of annotation, I think this assignment has the potential for greater worth, advocating instead a more individual and unique way of interacting and understanding sources academic and otherwise. I also plan to make various and sundry amendments to "Pop Up Scholarship," tailoring it more or less to first-year, advanced and technical writing students as I think all could benefit from this kind of reflective research engagement. To eliminate any confusion, though, I present an overview of the assignment as it existed for my ENG 112 Critical Writing & Reading course at the University of Michigan-Flint:


Pop Up Scholarship

By engaging in “Pop Up Scholarship,” students will:
• work in greater detail with a major piece of writing in their field of study
• showcase awareness of discursive practices within that field of study
• present knowledge to an audience of colleagues
• reflect on these discursive practices (perhaps even draw some comparisons)

Part 1
At this point in the semester, you should have some knowledge of the discursive practices associated your major field of study. In order to demonstrate this to your instructor and to your colleagues, choose a recent article from a journal/magazine oriented to your major field of study. After conversion from .pdf to .doc (or a simple cut & paste action), go under the Tools menu in Microsoft Word and select “Track Changes.” Go through the entire document as you would in peer review. In other words, make observations on format/style, ask questions oriented to the text/field of study, delete unnecessary sentences, insert new sentences and be sure to give justification for all changes. Track/insert at least 3-5 changes/comments per page and insert a brief end comment after the concluding paragraph.

Part 2
Upon completion of Part 1, use it as a basis for developing a presentation on particular discursive practices within your major field of study. How you present the information is up to you. Possibilities include a walkthrough of the “track-changed” document or a more conventional collection of bulleted points. Make sure to have some conclusions about the nature of the discursive practices in your major field of study, if you see any problems or if you think all disciplines should adopt them (and why).

Part 3
Having finished your PowerPoint presentation and been an audience for others, compose a piece of writing in which you reflect further on not only the discursive practices within your own major field of study but also the discursive practices of others. Ask yourself about similarities and/or differences and what this might reveal about the very nature of academic discourse. Think as well about whether or not you look forward to writing in such a style/format and if/how this will change the way you currently compose.

initial official

More than two years ago, I submitted a book chapter for The Computer Culture Reader, an edited collection to be published by Cambridge Scholars Press. Entitled "The Personal as Public: Identity Construction/Fragmentation Online," my chapter addressed Kenneth Gergen's concept of multiphrenia, a new pattern of self-consciousness itensified by the increasing “number and variety of relationships in which we are engaged, potential frequency of contact, and expressed intensity of a relationship” (The Saturated Self 61). Part of my argument involved taking as fact that we are all the more engaged in multiphrenia because of the multiplication of computer-assisted modes of communication. Because of this, self-awareness is not so much necessary as it is inseparable from the very formation of online identity.

Furthermore, the wide variety of interactive possibilities afforded by online communicative technologies make the creation and maintenance of identity a kind of lens through which we may sharpen focus upon particular aspects of our selves. As Sherry Turkle in Life on the Screen observes, all online activities are embodied by personal beings engaged in "our cultural work in progress" (177). Any genre-specific online act is a continual exercise in identity construction, a consistent, perhaps even repetitive, creation of boundaries both real and virtual.

Blogging, the ultimate focus of my chapter, constitutes such an act. It is an opportunity for simple self-expression and a context for discovering who we are and wish to be (Turkle 184). My ultimate aim, then, was to illuminate and complicate this act by emphasizing how blogging fragments and even limits identity construction, and also how such fragmentation holds the potential for greater honesty in our online endeavors. In other words, the fragmentary aspects of constructing and maintaining online identity was something to be embraced rather than feared. This is because the many opportunities afforded by various online communicative technologies like blogging involve the externalization of multiple selves on the screen.

With near-infinite amount of space in which to do so, we can put as much or as little of our selves online as we desire and in as many different ways as we need or want. The Internet encourages identity multiplication, making for the sort of society in which the very concept of multi-identities is valorized (Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World, Madan Sarup, 142). Blogging, and other online communicative technologies, is therefore more than "a space for growth" (Turkle, 263) and, instead, a vital part of the continual exercise in identity construction online and offline.

While I still agree with the above ideas in principle, the passage of time and certain experiences within the last two years caused some changes in my perspective. More and more, the title of one of Flannery O'Connor's short-story collections comes to my mind: Everything That Rises Must Converge. What were once diverse interests are now closer together, and my intent with this blog is to reveal that closeness, that convergence. I cannot separate the different aspects of my life into different Moleskine journals, preferring (if not needing) instead to maintain one comprehensive offline space; this blog will serve a similar function, acting as a repository for ideas and observations related to select interests.

I created this blog more than six months before writing for that chapter for The Computer Culture Reader, as evidenced by earlier entries, most of which were part of a graduate-level course with Dr. Kris Blair at Bowling Green State University. Rather than delete them, I decided to keep them in this space as a reminder of where I was and just what I want to do here in the future, writing not only about composition pedagogy, rhetoric and technology but also about music mixes and video games. You, dear reader, are more than welcome to come along for the ride.

On Social Bookmarking

The following is the text of a podcast given for Mike Lewis' JRN 350 Online Journalism course:

The first place I go for online news and information isn't Google or the New York Times. Instead, I go to Reddit, an online space for the sharing of news articles, op ed pieces, blog posts, videos and anything else others frequenting the site might find intriguing, hilarious or useful. Built on particular aspects of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, Reddit is a social bookmarking website, relying on user-generated and user-submitted content for its continued existence. There are many other similar social news sites, like del.i.cio.us, Mixx, Newsvine, Propeller, Stumble.upon and Yahoo!Buzz, but Reddit, and its dominant competitor, Digg, draw the most users and, thus, the most attention and influence.

In essence, such sites exist as a way for interested parties to share content and exchange information. But there are additional, valued elements of interactivity here. On Digg, this takes the form of digging and burying links; on Reddit, it involves voting up or down particular submissions. Positive and negative votes impact not only the visibility of a submission, increasing or decreasing the likelihood of hitting the front page, but also the user's overall standing on the site, in the form of particular stats on Digg and in the form of karma on Reddit. These stats and karma reveal to others a particular user's reputation, if they are simply a partisan spammer or someone honestly interested in providing good-quality material. In other words, Digg's stats and Reddit's karma are the direct results of active participation in the community, acquired through the submission of links and/or the offering of substantive observations on the submissions of others.

All content submitted to Digg and Reddit is organized according to subject. On Digg, predetermined subject headings include Technology, World & Business, Science, Gaming, Lifestyle, Entertainment, Sports and Offbeat, all of which include 3-5 more specific subheadings. With the exception of Gaming, such headings mirror how stories are organized on mainstream media websites, like that of the New York Times. On Reddit, however, there is one main heading and an incredible variety of what are called "subreddits." These subheadings range from the more familiar and general, like Music, Politics and Technology, to the more specific, like Apple, Beer and Cognitive Science. Created and moderated by users, each subreddit becomes a community as others subscribe to it. The most popular subreddits reveal what the Reddit community values overall, including Politics, Pictures and Images, Funny, Technology, Programming and Science.

The many choices presented by the likes of Reddit, Digg and other forms of social bookmarking are a large part of their appeal and success. As a Redditor, I choose only those subreddits which matter most to me. And while I could, for example, bookmark or set up an RSS feed for the Technology section of the New York Times, there's a greater diversity of news, information and commentary submitted to the Technology subreddit. These submissions are quite diverse, but I also have some say in their worth and usefulness. I could, as another example, provide a critical comment on a news item posted to the New York Times website, but there's little chance it would ever be removed. However, as a Redditor, I help in determining what others see on Reddit's front page. This greater participatory element is an additional value to me as a critical reader of information. For me, then, the value of Reddit, and social bookmarking in general, concerns not only the personal tailoring of news and information to my own needs and interests, but also the opportunity to exert some influence over what others read.

A Third Path

in reading sally miller gearhart, i found myself in a perpetual state of deja vu. i kept wondering, as i moved through her words on change and rhetoric, fantasy and common ground, just where i'd read these words before. only upon finishing the reading did i realize the similarities between gearhart and wayne booth and bell hooks (might have a final project idea finally!). for example, when gearhart writes of how "communication can be a deliberate creation or co-creation of an an atmosphere in which people or things...may change themselves" (244), i see this echoing passages written by bell hooks concerning an acknowledgement of the academy not being a paradise, but that "learning is a place where paradise can be created" (teaching to transgress 207). furthermore, while paramount for gearhart is the discovery of a third path (more on that in relation to booth later), hooks similarly seeks the creation of community in the classroom. of course, this is also a difference between gearhart and hooks, as the former appears to seek this on an individual level while the latter works toward this with many at once. then again, i could be wrong about this because, right now, my reading of gearhart's rather limited.

about this third path, though, i have to wonder if anyone else saw connections to booth's listening rhetoric, that searching for common ground. i think gearhart goes further than booth, though, taking the conversation outside the realm of even civilized debate as she looks for "the joining point, the place where we are the same, where we can meet each other as beings who share the experience of living together on this planet" (267). and she gives many examples of her search, including a logging experience (interesting to note here her, i would argue, greater understanding than some other feminists of just what they're asking men to give up) and conversations with a homeless man and a shoeshiner. within each of these experiences, there is a great range of topic discussion, from "hints on flea control" to favorite bible verses (269). and what does all of this reveal to me? the enactment of listening rhetoric, the search for that third path, the establishment of common ground, requires a great deal of effort, incorporating not only a rhetorical education and audience awareness, but the ability to recognize sameness as much as difference. it can be an exhausting endeavor, but perhaps less so than acting/reacting out of anger and surely more rewarding.

The Force Is Strong With This One

once again, i'm afraid i cannot get away from comparisons to star wars. of course, the other comparison i made this semester was in advanced pedagogy, and this current one doesn't involve yoda, but instead obi-wan. responding to luke skywalker's confusion about what happened to his father, obi-wan ultimately says, "luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." the comparison i seek to make here is from sonia johnson's "who's afraid of the supreme court?" in which she says much the same thing, observing that "much depends on how we view the nature of reality" (282). she explains further:

..reality is what people expect to see in the harbor or on the front of their neighbor's house. Reality is what we believe we will see when we look there, what we think is possible, what we have been told to believe is true, very strong, inevitable, unchangeable, irrevocable. Reality is what we are conditioned to value, and therefore what we pay attention to. Reality is what we are taught to think god plunked down in front of us and we have no choice but to learn to live with the best we can. It is what is called "natural" (283).

in a sense then, the act of learning is as much about conditioning as it is actual learning. while luke skywalker's taking his first steps into a larger world (another obi-wan paraphrase, but from episode iv), sonia johnson's explaining a process of her first steps into a different world. and perhaps it is larger and more expansive than patriarchy, if only because of what this women's world allows for.

out of such observations, though, johnson ultimately says that resistance to patriarchy doesn't work. well, let me clarify that. outright, visible, public resistance to patriarchy doesn't work, at least in her mind, and so she opts to not be part of it anymore. but this leaves me wondering, for while sonia's resistant to resistance, she's also resistant to patriarchy. where does this put her? well, if we take bakhtin's notions of monoglossia and heteroglossia, sonia johnson exists outside of each; perhaps she's x-glossic, moving beyond not only patriarchy, but the more mainstream kind of resistance to patriarchy.

also, i came across an article earlier this morning. here's an excerpt:

Alan Moldawer's adopted twins, Matt and Andrew, had always thought of themselves as white. But when it came time for them to apply to college last year, Mr. Moldawer thought it might be worth investigating the origins of their slightly tan-tinted skin, with a new DNA
kit that he had heard could determine an individual's genetic ancestry.

The results, designating the boys 9 percent Native American and 11 percent northern African, arrived too late for the admissions process. But Mr. Moldawer, a business executive in Silver Spring, Md., says they could be useful in obtaining financial aid.

"Naturally when you're applying to college you're looking at how your genetic status might help you," said Mr. Moldawer, who knows that the twins' birth parents are white, but has little information about their extended family. "I have three kids going now, and you can bet that any advantage we can take we will."

i mention this article because it relates to another observation by sonia: "Men use the laws we get them to pass as daggers to stab us in the back" (287). the above article concerns how people, visually identified as white, are using dna tests to acquire affirmative action scholarships for college. perhaps this is just another instance of co-optation...