Tuesday, December 22, 2009
So I'm thinking about Christmas traditions, both the ones I do with my fam right now and what I'd like to do when I have my own family. Here are three things I like:
1. St. Nicholas' Day Gift Re-Discovery.
I like celebrating St. Nicholas' Day; in my family, we usually get some nuts and candy in our shoes and a Christmas book to enjoy for the season. But I think that the day BEFORE St. Nicholas Day would be a good opportunity to appreciate all the cool presents we got last year. Here's how I think we would celebrate it: go through the closets and cupboards and see all the neat things you've already received. Then, play with them. We found my sister's old harmonica, my mom's guitar, and some old puzzles and had a great time with them, so why not have a whole day to enjoy all the old gifts? And if you show St. Nick how much you like the stuff he gave you in years past, he'd probably give you better stuff this year!
If you're on a 12-month pay-back schedule, you can redistribute your Kiva money. It might be nice to find some Nicaraguan music or Ukrainian movie or Ghanan food to check out while your family redistributes the microloans to nice people like Filipino rice farmers.
3. New Year's Clean-out.
So you've gotten a lot of cool stuff for Christmas. Now it's time to go through those closets (again, right?) and clean out any old stuff that you don't use anymore. Vast amounts of stuff to bring to DI/goodwill/whatever. You can get rid of the things that nice people gave you to show that they care, but you don't particularly need (I'm thinking endless copies of Richard Paul Evans gift books). You can clear out the old coat to replace with your new coat. And then there's sweet after-Christmas shopping for everyone who goes down to DI.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Yesterday I was released from my calling as Relief Society President and my roommate was was sustained. People keep asking me if I'm relieved or jubilant or sad or whatever. I guess it's the whatever. I know my secretary did a little dance in her seat when she was released from her calling (but I'm sure she learned a lot from it, right?), and I've heard of people having a hard time getting released, but I don't really feel that strongly.
Don't get me wrong: I loved many things about being RS President. I loved getting the burning inspiration of "Jane" over and over until I send Jane a note. I loved being able to look people in the eye in interviews as they recounted the miracles of their lives. I loved being able to ask, "What can I do to make your life easier?" knowing that I had the resources of that whole organization at my disposal, and the support of the Elders Quorum and Bishopric to boot. I loved being able to help sisters.
And I think I did a good job. Here's how I know: I was fasting and praying last week to know I did a good job and my roommate, not generally known for being overly cheerful, came up and gave me a hug and said, "You're a great Relief Society president." What more obvious sign do I need? I don't know that I had a huge influence in everyone's life, but I did my duty and prayed for inspiration and I feel good about what I did.
And now I'm going to be in the Spiritual and Temporal Welfare Council. For those of you not in a BYU student ward, that council picks up most of the duties that the other councils like Service and Temple and Family History don't really cover. We do safety and security (like safewalks or making sure that everyone can lock his or her windows). We do provident living (job placement, budgeting, etc.). We do emergency preparedness (first aid training and 72 hour kits). We do personal spiritual encouragement (scripture reminders, for example). In short, we do whatever the Bishop wants us to (and lately, he's asked us to prepare some dating firesides and activities).
So a lot of people think that this is a bit of a downgrade. Not so. Here's a story, maybe everyone already knows:
Eld. Eyring's dad was a high councilman in charge of the welfare farm, so he assigned himself to go pull weeds. He was almost eighty, and has bone cancer, I think, so he could only pull himself along on his elbows as he pulled weeds at this onion patch. At the end of the long day, someone says to him, "Wait, you didn't pull those weeds over there? Those ones had been sprayed--they were going to die in two days anyway." Brother Eyring thought that was funny and laughed and laughed. His son thought that was terrible and asked why he was laughing. "Hal," he responded. "I wasn't there for the weeds--I was there for the Lord."
I don't know what I'll be asked to for for God through the course of my life. After all, I've been a RS teacher, a Service Council member, a Mia Maid class secretary, a Family History instructor, a missionary, a Friendship Council Chair, a sacrament meeting pianist (somehow...), a senior Primary teacher, a ward newsletter carrier, a RS aesthetic coordinator (that means I brought the tablecloth and centerpiece) and, since I was seventeen, always a visiting teacher. I don't know what callings I'll have in the future--except for visiting teacher--but I do know that as long as I do my duty and pray for inspiration, I'll be able to be there for the Lord.
So I guess it's not a big deal for me to be released from this calling, because it's not like it's the end of my service to my sisters--now I'll just be serving them (and now the brethern as well), in a different capacity. I'm still open to divine direction, just as much in my last calling, and I hope that I'll be able to do whatever the Lord wants me to do. Even if that means just pulling weeds.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Step 2: Breath in and out through my clenched teeth, like a woman in labor, in-and-out.
Step 3: Hunker into coat/hat/scarf muttering, "it's so cold, it's so cold, it's so cold."
Step 4: Begin to enjoy the cheek-pinching weather and wonder how I went 8 months without something like this.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I don't know. No one's done much reproduced, incontrovertible research. But what do we, as practitioners and occasional researchers, generally agree on? I'd love to be able to do a survey at the Conference on College Composition Communication this spring, if I could get IRB-approval (to say nothing of C's approval). Here are the statements I'd like to get a Likert-scale reading on (stacked, of course, because I suspect I'd be able to get a 98% on "agree," "strongly agree," and "very strongly agree"):
1. Creating multiple drafts of assignments improves writing.
2. Peer-review is an effective learning exercise.
3. Direct grammar drills are ineffective for making students better writers.
4. Straight "talk-and-chalk" lectures should not be the only form of writing instruction.
5. Students should be taught to write for discourse communities.
6. Requiring students to reflect on their writing experience improves writing.
7. Collaborative assignments improve student writing.
8. Short, frequent in-class writing (ie, "prompts") improve student writing.
9. Marginal or end-of-paper comments are more effective teaching tools than just assigning a letter or number grade.
10. Pre-writing activities (eg: brainstorming, discussion, lists, clustering, etc.) result in better writing.
11. Students need to write many pages of polished writing to improve: at least 10 pages a semester.
12. Students write better when they read examples of good writing.
13. Students who learn to write well in one genre do not necessarily write well in others.
14. Students need to learn "bottom-up": they must first learn to write sentence before they can write paragraph, paragraphs before pages, etc. [I actually think this will be 90% disagree, but I didn't want it to be an easy survey.]
15. An important element of good writing is good content.
16. Students need more positive responses to their writing than negative to improve.
17. Teachers should show students how writing skills apply lives outside of the class.
18. Writing can be taught.
19. Writing develops critical thinking skills.
20. Composition classes should teach more skills than writing (eg: speech, visual rhetoric, etc.)
21. Plagiarism is morally wrong.
Any other suggestions?
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I only learned to play tennis this summer. My awesome roommate Danger taught me. We'd practice together, play a little, and sometimes we'd play with her brother, and sometimes he'd bring his roommate. I'm not great at racket sports: I run fast for the ball, but never stretch my arms out.
My dad played tennis in high school--there are pictures, so there's proof--but I don't remember watching him play ever. My across-the-street neighbor played. I was best friends with his son "Davey", and sometimes he'd take Davey to play tennis in the park. Mostly, though, I remember getting yelled at with Davey for being too loud during a match on TV. Davey's dad got flesh-eating bacteria (really) and they almost had to amputate his arm, but he pulled through by a miracle. A few years later, he left the Church and his family anyway.
Track and Field/X-Country
Easily one of the things I'm most ashamed of. It was an open-team, so I decided to run track in high school instead of taking PE (in jr high I had dealt with a bully in PE, so it seemed reasonable to avoid the class later). I was lousy. Not only was I dead-last in most heats, but I didn't even practice that hard. It was the last period of the day and, regularly, when the bell rang I would just go home. I was pretty awful. This is even worse because my entire paternal cousin side are track stars. I think track was the worst grade I got my entire high school experience. I don't think I redeemed myself until a couple of years ago when I ran my first 5K and did pretty good. Really pretty good. Running is probably the sport I do with the most frequency now, although if running is a sport, couldn't elliptical also be one?
Ah, heavens, football is also kind of shameful. I played in the powderpuff game as a junior in high school. "Played" is to strong a word. I sat on the bench and read a book about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don't remember why I signed up if I didn't care. I have been to my first live college football game recently. It was actually pretty great, but mostly because I had someone to explain what was going on to me. Games are just so long.
I feel a lot better about my experiences with basketball. I was actually in the top six or so of players in my basketball class at BYU. It was kind of a surprise, but not too much. Basketball plays to my strengths (running around quickly, invading people's personal space) and I had a little experience with it. I used to fool around with "Davey" from across the street on his basketball hoop, but it wasn't until I was at the MTC that I really learned to play and like basketball. I was in the MTC in winter, and so it was either basketball or volleyball...
I am really, really bad at volleyball. I never know when to "call" for the ball. I'm timid about running into people. I have no idea when to hit the ball with the spike or the set or whatever. You do not want me on your picnic volleyball team.
Soccer is probably the sport that I most enjoy, playing and watching. It helps that it's a short game--I have the attention span of a 4th-grade chipmunk--and I admit that I have the "Stuff White People Like" satisfaction of liking a sport that everyone in the world but Americans love. I played soccer against some young hooligans in Russia and --let me remind you that in Russia (and most places) soccer is not a girl sport--thoroughly impressed them. I took a soccer class and played intermural soccer, but I don't just like to play. I've been to a handful of Real games and have a Real sticker on my car. I watch European championships and follow the conference games and know who Donovan and Mathis and Beckerman are and their playing history. However, during the MLS championships, one of my roommates asked me about how many players are on the field at a time and I had to stop and count off positions. Lame.
My grandpa and Tiger Woods play golf. Not together--that's just about all I know about golf.
The sport I can never spell correctly on the first go. Also, I never thought that I could play racquetball, but Boy taught me how. Our second date was racquetball--he bought me my own racket! We played a lot, actually as percentage of dates. It was fun, he discovered that I'm a backsweater, and I never, ever, tried to do worse than I actually could. Racquetball is still kind of associated with Boy. I went yesterday to practice by myself and I thought of him.
I still don't like baseball. Or get baseball. I'm willing to have my mind changed, people, but am still flummoxed by this sport.
There is a special place in my heart for hockey. I watched the Women's Olympic Hockey semi-finals just a mile away from my high school. I followed the Capitals (still my favorite hockey team) as part of a statistics-gathering project my freshman year. I even took a hockey class at BYU (at which I was definitely in the bottom third, but it was a class of mixed skill-levels). I like to think that I could be a hockey fan, but it hasn't blossomed because I don't know anyone else who follows it.
I'm not hip enough to surf.
(see surfing )
I had long had the idea that I'd like to be a snowboarder, but it turns out that I'm too cheap. It's just so dang expensive. Still, I like snowboarding, and felt like I was getting better at it by the end of the season when I had a pass. If I had a sugardaddy, I'd probably still snowboard. Skiiing, though, is a disaster for me--I'm always crossing my skis, which reminds me...
I actually love X-country skiing. My sister took it up out of desperation while her husband was at medical school in Wisconsin, but I find it very pleasant. All of the swish, swish of skiing without the lift passes and major bodily harm. Most of the major bodily harm, I should say, because I once fell and had to get stitches. The doctor who stitched me up asked, "so how'd you hurt yourself?"
"Cool--I was a nationally-ranked skier in high school and skied by helicopter in the depths of the Alaskan wilderness." (I'm paraphrasing here.) "Where were you skiing?"
"Er, Aspen Grove..."
"Aspen Grove? Isn't that just a cross-country skiing place?"
The doctor proceeds to laugh at me while jabbing a needle through my bloody chin.
Now naturally you could say, "What about your experiences with sailing? And kayaking? and hiking? and roller-skating?" I'm sorry, but I've got to be a little selective here. This post is already too long. Maybe I'll hit some of these other sports later. Until then, though, it's amazing how much sports are a part of my life despite around 20 years of efforts to the contrary. I guess it's all around us, then...
Friday, November 20, 2009
When were you happiest?
A few times when I looked forward to a happy moment or remembered it - never when it was happening.
What is your greatest fear?
To awaken after death - that's why I want to be burned immediately.
What is your earliest memory?
My mother naked. Disgusting.
Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the twice-deposed president of Haiti. He is a model of what can be done for the people even in a desperate situation.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Indifference to the plights of others.
Aside from a property, what's the most expensive thing you've bought?
The new German edition of the collected works of Hegel.
What is your most treasured possession?
See the previous answer.
What makes you depressed?
Seeing stupid people happy.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
That it makes me appear the way I really am.
What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
A mask of myself on my face, so people would think I am not myself but someone pretending to be me.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching embarrassingly pathetic movies such as The Sound Of Music.
What do you owe your parents?
Nothing, I hope. I didn't spend a minute bemoaning their death.
To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
To my sons, for not being a good enough father.
What does love feel like?
Like a great misfortune, a monstrous parasite, a permanent state of emergency that ruins all small pleasures.
What or who is the love of your life?
Philosophy. I secretly think reality exists so we can speculate about it.
What is your favourite smell?
Nature in decay, like rotten trees.
What is the worst job you've done?
Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.
If you could edit your past, what would you change?
My birth. I agree with Sophocles: the greatest luck is not to have been born - but, as the joke goes on, very few people succeed in it.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To Germany in the early 19th century, to follow a university course by Hegel.
How do you relax?
Listening again and again to Wagner.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The chapters where I develop what I think is a good interpretation of Hegel.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That life is a stupid, meaningless thing that has nothing to teach you.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
I walk out, holding my umbrella in one hand, trying to put my money in my wallet with the other, and clutching my magazine under my arm, when I see this woman pushing a baby carriage, a man besides her holding on to the stroller with one hand, his other hand loosely holding one of those red-and-white canes. You know, the kind blind people use? The woman, passing me, says, "Excuse me, can you help us?" With my wallet now in my back pocket, but still navigating my umbrella and magazine, I lean over. It's drizzling and I might as well share my umbrella a little.
"Yes?" I ask, expecting her to ask where something is located.
"We're raising money for our baby's surgery tomorrow--would you like to buy a hair clip or a hair-tie or a key chain?" Ordinarily, of course, this is a hoax. But things are different here. For one thing, her blind husband is right there, keeping silent and just kind of staring around. It's probably for the best that he didn't address me first--not that I'm discriminatory, but it's dark, it's night, it's 7/11...I'd really rather a woman made first contact, you know? Secondly, she has the baby with her. I look into the baby carriage. Who can blame me? Everyone likes to take a look at babies, and the baby for whom the surgery was intended was right in front of me, so what if I looked over to check out the baby? It's not like I was judging the veracity of her story or anything.
I don't know exactly what's wrong with the baby, but something is wrong. She has a tube up her nose, helping her breathe, but that's not what I first notice. Her eyes are protruding out, staring around wildly with an intensity that I'm not used to seeing on a little baby, max, max, 10 months old. Every so often, she arches her baby back and flops her head to the other side.
I don't know if the mom knows I'm checking out her baby. I don't think she'd be mad; everyone likes to look at babies, right? Besides, I think she isn't under any delusions that everything is okay with her daughter.
Psychology aside, she probably isn't worried about what I'm doing, because she's pulling out these gallon-sized Ziplocs with the things she's selling. The hair clips are one dollar each, the hair-ties are two dollars. I think I say something encouraging like, "Oh, those are cute." Cute is an okay description, but I think the most accurate word might be pathetic, in the sweetest, saddest sense of that word. She's taken artificial flowers, artificial leaves, and connected them to bobby pins and elastic ties--maybe she's hot-glued them; it's hard to tell in the dark and the rain.
I had gotten out one dollar when she started her pitch, which I hadn't been able to put in my wallet easily anyway, but as she shows me the most expensive items, the keychains, I decide what I want to buy. "That one," I say, pointing to the first one that I can easily make out, a chain of randomly-colored pony beads on a metal ring.
"That's a special one," she explains appreciatively, helping me hold my umbrella as I negotiate my magazine to get out my wallet and remove three dollars. "My husband made that one." I look over to him, with his one hand on the stroller, but he doesn't seem to be paying much attention to either of us.
I think I say something like, "It's nice," and give her the money, sticking the keychain in the same pocket where my apartment key is. I could have given her 5 dollars, but what would I have said? "Here's a two-dollar tip?" "I hope these two dollars help you pay for your baby's surgery?" "These are going to make a big difference, I'm sure?" Anyway, she wasn't begging; she was selling useful items. I don't know if she would have accepted my lousy two dollars more. Still, when you're nickle-and-diming your way into medical procedures, don't the collection jars always say every little bit helps.
The money, though, isn't the half of it. She's a stranger. I'm a stranger. Her blind husband is a stranger. The baby's a stranger. I have nothing I can really give to these people. I can't hug them in the dark and the rain outside the 7/11 with my umbrella and my wallet and my $3.99 fashion magazine; besides, I'm not her Relief Society president. So I just say something sincere and ineffective like, "good luck." "Good luck," incidentally, is my default sign-out when I write email, a more than dozen email a day, to my students and acquaintances, "Good luck," or else "Best wishes". I meant it more when I said it in front of the 7/11, but that's all I can say. So I go home.
I don't end up taking my bubble bath. But it's not like I start taking up a collection, either. I don't know her name; I don't know her husband's name; I don't know her baby's name. I am a completely insufficient stranger. I don't even use my keychain.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
English is both rest-home and nursery of the liberal arts. Whether a liberal art is fading from the general education (public speaking, applied civics, ethics and philosophy), or nascent (visual rhetoric, podcasting, webdesign), there is space for it at CCCC’s, in experimental First-Year Composition classes, in writing prompts. Sometimes we justify this broad interpretation of our discipline by adding the word “literacy” to the end of the field: studying music and the spoken word becomes “aural literacy” while a study of art and design is “visual literacy.” While this practice may stretch the literal (no pun intended) interpretation of “literacy,” it becomes the link that gives us the right to dabble in the specializations rightfully belonging to experts of both ebbing and flooding disciplines.
Despite our forays into oration and technology, we still base ourselves in the discipline of writing. Cindy Selfe rightly identifies in her chapter of Writing New Media that writing teachers are highly “invested” in alphabetic literacy (72). Yes, we are. We have invested in literacy through hours and hours of training and specialization and experimentation. We have become invested financially through paying a lot of money for advanced degrees in composition and writing, and joining professional organizations. We are also invested in alphabetic literacy through our academic practice in writing articles, book reviews, marginalia, and peer responses. We have become writing teachers in part because of some personal conviction that the written word matters and in part because our education has honed our capacities to identify methods and patterns of effective written communication. It is natural that we would feel comfortable coming back to teaching written text; this is what our job description and course description asks of us.
So if we are trained practitioners and pedagogues in word-literacy, what are we doing teaching outside of our specializations? Surely no one expects the biology faculty to stray into economics, or the business school to delve into natal development, so why is it “natural” for FYC instructors to wander so far afield of teaching writing?
One explanation may be in how FYC classes are situated: these classes are aimed at first-year students, and often these students are in their first semester at the institution. In this situation, FYC continues on the work started in first-year orientation week. We show them how to use to use the library and online databases; we expose them to research and writing resources across campus; we introduce them to practices of study groups, peer review, and, in many cases, orient them to the higher standards in collegiate work. In this setting, we are general education’s general education the way chauvinists used to refer to a “man’s man.” If our colleagues in Biology 100 and Economics 110 expect their students to know how to navigate the general facilities (library, academic counseling, writing center, etc.) and expectations of our institution, it’s because FYC has provided that general information.
Another reason why FYC picks up so many other disciplines could be that these too-old or too-new fields lack the institutional clout that “composition” enjoys. While no administrator, parent, or member of the board of trustees would object to a GE course on “composition,” requiring students to take a class just on visual rhetoric or civics may seem a wasteful drain on institutional resources as well as families’ meager college funds. These fringe fields are unlikely to receive the funds and support to become a GE. Without the administrative imperative to require a specialized class in these types of literacy, composition teachers (almost eagerly, without objection or call of exploitation) embrace all orphaned liberal arts into our discipline.
I don’t think we are jealous pedagogues. I think that we really do love the written word, in all its forms, more than InDesign, more than the categorical imperative, more, even, than the image. But we think that these types of “literacies” are important for our students. Some of what we teach is going to be applicable in combination with other fields. It’s true: our students are going to have to apply the stases to podcasts; they’re going to have to understand the kairotic moments of brochures; they need to apply principles of introduction and organization to the online communication in which they participate. However, these examples don’t require that we teach technology or design in FYC any more than our (ever great) hope that our students are applying principles of written composition to their other classes requires that we become specialists in nursing, theater, gender studies, or engineering. If we could rest in our cubicles over stacks of persuasive essays with the complete assurance that somewhere on campus there were diligent, well-trained, and well-educated instructors giving our students the background they need in ethics, visual design, civic responsibility, video production and every other new and old field we have sought to incorporate, I think that we would sigh a sigh of contentment and go back to evaluating thesis statements.
But, alas, we can’t. Most institutions can’t spare the money for extensive general education requirements. Most students resent every class peripheral to their declared major. Most parents and donors would like to see students graduating in, at most, four year, with plenty of “real world” skills to recommend them to the institution’s high job/graduate school acceptance rates. So while the title on the business card says “composition” or “English,” we must keep teaching all the fields that are either too grey or too green to be granted their own GE course.
And what does this mean to BYU in specific? We’re lucky, at least, in two respects: (1) We have an extensive list of GE requirements which successfully (mostly) frees us of teaching religion, civics, and civilization. The large number of GE’s (including classes in fine arts, oral communication, and technology) also takes off some of the pressure of providing “cultural induction” into the academic world. (2) Not only are we blessed with many GE’s in general, but we are lucky to have two required composition courses, while many institutions struggle under the pressure to teach students “everything writing” in only one semester course. We get to check-up on our freshmen writers as they advance in their fields and enroll in our Advanced Writing courses.
Still, with this relative good luck, teaching multi-modal assignments presents a challenge to BYU composition instructors. In deciding what assignments to teach, and how to teach them, instructors must, in a sense, perform triage of other disciplinary knowledge. It may be useful to ask a few questions while designing a multi-modal assignment:
- Is this assignment worthwhile?
It’s not fair to create a multi-modal assignment for the sake of having a multi-modal assignment on the syllabus; make certain the assignment fits into the general objectives of the course.
- Is this assignment useful for the student’s academic/professional/personal goals?
In Advanced Writing, you can have more direction in answering this question than in a general FYC course. For example, since many students in the Writing for Arts and Humanities Majors course may aspire to be independently-employed wedding photographers, theater actors, and documentary filmmakers, learning to design a self-promoting website portfolio may be more useful than it would be for the business and engineering students in a technical writing class.
- Is this assignment likely to be reproduced in GE or major classes?
No need to reinvent the wheel; if you know that the Bio 100 class requires students to participate a poster conference, then you may decide this particular assignment isn’t necessary, or at least that you will be reinforcing, rather than teaching, principles the students may already have. This is especially important for “linked” classes, such as Freshman Academy. If you don’t know what instructors in other fields are requiring in terms of multi-modal assignments, this is important enough that it may warrant sending out a couple of email to other instructors or, if your institution is lucky enough to have one, a Writing Across the Curriculum/Writing In the Disciplines coordinator.
- Does this assignment require students to do significant “prep work” with a specific program? Are they any alternatives that can teach the principle without the technical work?
Do you want to teach students visual design or do you want to teach them Photoshop? If you’re requiring them to educate themselves outside of class to complete an assignment or if you will spend a significant portion of time in class teaching technical navigation of specific program that may or may not change significantly by next year, you may consider finding alternatives that teach the same principles (say, using crayons and paper to design a website, or recording a “podcast” on a cassette tape). If you have to do intensive research and experimentation to manage a certain program, don’t assume that your students will, by benefit of their generation, have it any easier. If you really are intent that you want your students to be familiar a certain program, you might consider scheduling a professional to come into your class or have a “tech night out” to a Photoshop or Quark class. BYU’s Multi-media Lab has classes on specific programs offered at regular intervals, often in the evenings, in both large- and small-group formats. I’m willing to bet that they would be thrilled if you even told them about the specific project that your class seeks to accomplish.
In short, there’s no “multi-modal assignment fits all”; each class must create assignments that fulfill the literacy requirements for those students situated in that class, at that institution. Sometimes trying teaching all types of literacies to a class feels a little like turning on the firehose and having everyone line up for a drink. Be thoughtful and considerate of your students, and remember that even if your students don’t learn everything about every mode you find important, there are many resources available to them. Other GE or major classes, roommates, library classes, personal experimentation, workplace training, and a hundred other sources can aid your students to navigate the accumulating literacies for which they, like you, are increasing responsible.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
This year...less so.
So, if I were to organize my Halloween party in, say, less than two weeks, what kind of suggestions would you have for me? My place or my parents'? Food? Costumes? How do I get invites out aside from just Facebook and email? Oh, what a conundrum.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
This incident caused me to reflect on what the appeal is to me of a really good prank. It occurs to me that pranks are just like gifts, except for the fact that they are irritating. Spencer's signaling theory says that sometimes the worth of something isn't intrinsic (like getting a rhinestone-encrusted blender), it's more what that thing signifies (that the person knew you always wanted a rhinestone-encrusted blender). Just as this works for gifts, I think this theory can be applied to pranks. I'm flattered that my roommates knew me well enough to wallpaper my room with pictures of conservative pundits. I'm thrilled that they knew I hate touching cotton balls. I'm still finding puffs in my sheets or in the toes of my shoes or in my pencil jar, but I remain thrilled. It's the little irritations that really mean so much in a relationship.
It's the thought that counts.
Monday, September 14, 2009
This is, of course, disgusting. What could be a worse topic on conversation than the moribund nail of one's foot? And yet.
I'm fascinated by this process, inspecting my toe nightly, thinking of it flapping slightly when I swim, choosing my footwear judiciously. I'm like my own science project. I haven't had a piece of me defect of its own will since I lost my twelve-year-old molars. And what's more, not only is the dead drying out and yellowing and flaking (in that last description, I'm certain I lost any readers I might have had, so can comfortably write for myself), but my old nail is also being pushed up by the regenerative forces of my own body. I am losing by my unconscious body's volition, and am being replenished by the same natural force. Somewhere beyond my scope of discovery, there is a nascent nail coming up from the nail bed, scaling and forming. Within the duly prescribed time (sadly, it will probably be 18 months, if WebMD can be trusted), a new nail will sit on my right toe, just as bright and lacquered and cheerful as any other piggy in the row. And who will know that I had another, perfidious, perhaps, toenail that has gone the way of the earth and nail clippings?
Restorative powers of my own body, I salute you!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I don't think Stephanie Meyer is a bad writer.
Now this isn't to say that I think her prose merits inclusion in the next Norton's anthology or that a world of Twilight would usher in the literary revolution we've been waiting for, but I've had enough of people calling her a talentless hack. Sure, maybe some lines of teenage angst strike the reader as perhaps overly melodramatic, or crudely hewn, but that doesn't make her talentless. In fact, if she's talentless, then may God bless me with the talentlessness to make the New York Times Bestseller Lists for seemingly marathon numbers of weeks. May God bless me with the talentlessness to create a public mania with more fan-allegiance, more marketing power, and more imitators than (dare I say it?) even Harry Potter. May God bless me with the talentlessness to inspire hundreds of thousands, and I might suggest millions, of "non-readers" to pick up a book, read it straight through, get to the end and then start it again. That seems like a nice kind of talentless.
Some people will claim that a novel can be "popular" without being "good." Usually what people mean by "good" is that some sentence-level eloquence or clever plot construction is present. I have in my mind some of the rules that "good" writing employs: varying your sentence length, creating meaningful characters, be consistent in your details, avoid the cliche or obvious, etc. These rules do, more often than not, create a pleasurable reading experience for someone who expects reading already to be a pleasure, but it seems like there are another set of rules at hand for mad, feverish popular success. It may have something to do with reading the zeitgeist. It may have something to do with fulfilling a psychological or socialogical need. But while "good" fiction adheres to some academic standard floating around among people who have read Moby Dick all the way through and a sufficient amount of the Latin American prose poems, popular fiction is good because people enjoy reading it. In fact, I'd venture that it's easier to teaching someone (or yourself) to write "good" fiction, than it is to teach them to write something that will be popular.
I don't think there's a magic formula to Twilight, or The DaVinci Code (and I admit that I'm not fond of the DaVinci Code, but I will say that"The Truth about DaVinci's Codes" lecture series filled our humble art museum to fire-marshal capacity, when actual DaVinci's had not had the same effect), or any other other imensely popular book that causes literary types to scrunch up their eyebrows and frown. If there was a formula, I'm certain publishers and editors and agents would put it on the back of their business cards. Still, though you may wince your way through Bella and Edward's dialogue, something about it causes a sudden bout of irresponsibility to other tasks and you inexplicably find yourself in the bathtub at 3:00 am wondering if Bella's going to become a vampire this time. This doesn't happen to everyone, but I'll admit that it happened to me.
And, finally (and this is the last refuge of the literary apologist) if you think Stephanie Meyer's written a bad novel, then I heartily welcome you to write a better one yourself. Having just finished my first novel(la), I can testify that it's a mighty hard thing to string together a beginning, middle, and an end, especially over the course of 300, 400 pages. Everyone who completes the task in the most primitive way deserves a gold star. If you write a better novel than Twilight, you may enjoy the same successes. It broke my heart to hear of Stephen King's denunciation of Stephanie Meyer; it broke my heart enough for me to cry out in spite, "yeah, well, Stephen King, the 1980s called--they miss you."
And if your novel doesn't break to the same wild acclaim, it won't be because the hegemony of Twilight has ensnared all your adolescent readers in zombie-like rituals of re-reading; there was once a book that was written precisely as the world of young adult fiction was caught up in adoration of a fantasy world that extended into bookstore release parties, clothing, movies, action figures, music, bedspreads, posters, themed birthdays, and seemed to hold the literary world in its iron, serial grip. It was the year 2005. The hegemony was Harry Potter and the underdog was a first novel by a housewife--you know it as Twilight.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Poems for Shark Week
Where the fin of the shark cuts like a black chip out of the water...
—from "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman
In honor of Shark Week, the Discovery Channel's annual weeklong series of television programs devoted to sharks, Poets.org has compiled 35 Poems about Sharks, and examined how the animals have been represented in classic and contemporary poetry.
Described by poets as "death-scenting," with "lipless jaws" and "eyes that stare at nothing, like the dead," sharks have long served as a cultural symbol of mortality and looming danger. Despite the fact that sharks kill fewer than 20 people a year, their reputation as the ocean's most allusive and deadly predator continues to inspire fear and fascination in audiences throughout the world.
Included are poems by Carl Sandburg, Robert Graves, Martín Espada, Denise Levertov, Joel Brouwer, Walt Whitman, Tomasz Rózycki, Herman Melville, Alan Dugan, James Dickey, Vivian Shipley, Jamey Dunham, Nancy Willard, and many others.
On the web at: www.poets.org/sharks
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Last night I saw the war movie Hurt Locker at the Towne Centre in Provo, and if you live in Provo and you weren't in the theater with me, you probably missed your chance--independent movies with no big names, this is probably a one-weekend-only deal.
This movie, as far as I can tell, realistically depicts not just the fear and moral indecisiveness of war, but something also of the tedium and boy-stupidity (as illustrated when the company gets sloshed on whiskey and compete to see who can punch whom in the stomach the hardest). There were a couple of instances where I think the soldiers probably would have shot first and give warnings later--when a taxi breaks the perimeter of a IED scene at 50 mph, you can probably assume that he's not just a bad driver--but other than that, this film was remarkably true to life.
Because, you know, I haven't been to war. Not this war, not any war. I'm not particularly signing up at my local recruiter's either, because I'm pretty sure that I would be bad at war; heck, I'm bad at laser tag. I don't even know what a realistic depiction of war is, aside from what I can cobble together of my own generalizations on life, magazine articles, and the scenery in Call of Duty IV.
I do this thing, Soldier's Angels (yes, that's the correct position of apostrophe, though it drives me mad), which is all kinds of awkward for me; you're supposed to write encouraging letters to a complete stranger in the armed forces. I remember this kind of exercise in embarrassment from my Young Women's days, but sub "missionary" for "soldier." What do you say encouraging to someone you don't know? "Hope things are going well," "We're rooting for you," "Let me know if there's anything I can do." Then add to that the fact that, generally speaking, I have no idea what soldiers need to hear. "Don't get yourself killed." "Don't feel bad if you shoot a civilian terrorist." "Please don't commit any autracities that will reflect poorly on America."
But they tell me that things like this, giving support to soldiers, is one of the most important detirminants on a soldier's deployment and post-deployment mental health. And even though I'm not a big fan on the wars, I still think that the fewer really psychologically messed-up folk out there, the better. So mostly, I just send chipper postcards and packages filled with peanut butter and gaterade packets. Because, I can guess, as someone who's been in a foreign contry away from her family, that sometimes it's nice just to get a pile of mail from headquarters.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
It's called White Man's Burden and its author, William Easterly, probably is getting used to receiving death threats from Peace Corp types. His premise is this: our good intentions to save the poor are often the exact same colonial impulses that messed up these countries in the first place. In fact, instead of doing good, throwing gobs of money at countries probably hurts them far more than it helps them.
He divides his book into two sub-topics: Aid and Military Intervention. Both methods do equally miserably. The top-down approach of what he calls "Planners" create these utopian ideals of changing poor, oppressed countries into beacons of democracy and prosperity. In reality, these sudden, major overhauls, be they military or humanitarian, seldom work and often create corruption, famine, and discord. And this from a guy who was career World Bank most of his life.
So it seems like it's a case of "starved if we do, starved if we don't." What, then, shall we do? Easterly, in his Q&A at BYU said, "Nothing. Get a job, work hard, don't worry about it." In his book, though, he's a lot more optimistic.
In opposition to "Planners" (top-down outsiders with grandiose plans for transforming countries about which they know little), Easterly says that the fate of poor countries is best served by "Searchers" (bottom-up locals who want to change something that they need). Here's the thing about Searchers--one size doesn't necessarily fit all. While microloans was an idea that a Searcher came up with for his own Indian home, it may not necessarily be the pancea that it's been toted as. Or even the PROGRESA pay-families-if-their-kids-go-to-school program that Mexico and some other South American countries have adopted. The point is that we have to search-- come up with an idea, experiment with it (literally, like with controls and double blind analysis, etc), and then keep doing what works and drops what doesn't.
Ideally, Church humanitarian aid should work this way. (1) Bishops and Releif Society presidents see a need. (2) Service missionaries + Church humanitarian officials provide technical knowledge/resources and (3) lay members in the church provide the funds through fast offerings and donations. I didn't come up with these numbers; they correspond to Easterly's "(1) Social enterpreneurs close to the poor [...] propose projects to meet their needs; (2) individuals with technical and practical knowledge, and (3) donors who have funds they want to give away." I realize this is best-case scenerio, because the Church still moves like a beaurocracy, but I think the Church's humanitarian move away from growth towards disaster aid has either been influenced by or codeveloped with this growth criticism.
Information is a big part of this theory. We need information about the projects/places where aid is needed (if West African farmers are growing short-fiber cotton because it's easier on the soil and allows them to rotate in food crops, for heaven's sake, don't force them to grow long-fiber cotton). We need information about what the people want (is it more healthcare or more education?) and how they want it (year-round schools or only after the harvest season?). Once we have a project or an organization, we need to follow up with the people we're helping (were the teachers kind or abusive? were they diligent or lazy? were they qualified professionals or sinecured beneficiaries of nepotism?), and then, even if it hurts, adjust our projects based on what works or doesn't work. It's a lot harder than just playing a benefit concert to throw gops of money at some country already plauged with information failures (Bono's next aid concert should be "Another Mercades for Every Warlord," bless his soul).
One place to start implimenting this sort of thing (if you're not, you know, on the spiritual and temperal welfare council for your ward, or a Church leader), is locally. Create surveys and find out what resources are needed. I remember that my (now title 1) high school had plenty of money coming in for cheesy "self-esteem" banners and mirrors ("Look at a Winner--You!"), but no money to buy enough copies of "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" for the 35-odd students in honors English to be able to read them at home, or mixers for the home ec class. If someone had asked me what resources I wanted for my school, I'd have told them to buy us some paperback plays and nix the corny banners. But, then, no one ever asked me.
If you don't have time to become an activist (and that's okay, too), you can research where you give more. Ask for numbers. Find out what their aims are--is it to decrease landminds in Mozambique or is it to erradicate crime, hunger, and ignorance in Africa? (I have to admit, I'm beginning to sour on Heifer International as they begin to add ecological responsiblity, women's liberation, and national pride to what was once a pretty straightforward "fewer malnurished families" agenda.) You can also shop before you buy. Check out Kiva or Global Giving to find a project that you can fund like an investor-- giving to something that you think will yeild significant pay-offs in helping the poor.
Anyway, I'm willing to take suggestions if anyone else has a "searcher" idea. Man, I wish they'd put me on Service Council...
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I finished my novel (hurray!), at least a first draft.
My sister told me that she thought I was pretty.
I hosted a writing party that was surprisingly delightsome.
I met up with some old friends and had good chats.
TODAY, can you believe it:
I beat my personal best 5k time. It's an unofficial 26.07, but even unofficial, that's two minutes off my last time.
I got to go to the temple.
My reimbursement check finally cleared and I have a little money! (Until I pay first and last months' rent. Boo.)
I feel a little bad, though, when I know people who are having lousy weeks. I'm just living a dream
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Kolbert points out that while there had been a gradual weight gain of the average american since the 1960s, the biggest jump took place since the 1980s. In the 1994 Journal of the AMA, Flegal et. al found that whereas 25.4% of Americans had been overweight in the 70s, by the early nineties that percentage was now 33%. Whoa, Nelly!
Among some of the familiar explanations (evolutionary "fat genes," dangerous urban centers), it seems like the 80s took their toll in a number of ways:
1. In Eric Finkelstein's "The Fattening of America," the eighties marked a time of cheap fats and sugars. Economically speaking, the real price (adjusting for things like inflation) of fats and oils decreased by 16% between 1983 and 2005. Soda pop alone got 20% cheaper. Since food expenses are income normal (meaning the more money you have, the more money you spend on food), the poorest people are eating the cheapest/least healthy foods. This is one reason why cities with more low-income residents (like Detroit and Philadelphia) have the highest obesity rates while cities with higher-income residents on average (like Denver and Portland, OR), have the lowest rates. ((Not that it's necessarily related, but I'd like to point out that Provo-Orem UT is in the lowest 5 cities for obesity! WOO!)) The eighties revolution in cheap fats and oils made it frugal to get fat.
2. David Kessler's book "The End of Overeating" is evidently far more sinister; he claims that big business goes into make food equal fun, and adding additive combinations of fats and oils becomes sort of a holy grail among junk food companies. Kolbert shares a quote from a products-developer who says that they try to "cram as much hedonics as you can in one dish." And when did these eatertainment companies start to fight each other to create the most novel junk? The eighties. (Remember Pop Rocks? And Push Pops? and all those new flavors of chips)
3.Marion Nestle and Lisa Young of NYU discovered that the amount of food that's "one serving" has jumped in supermarket packages and also in old cookbooks (like Betty Crocker or "the Joy of Cooking")--what used to be sixteen servings is now twelve, or ten, or eight. And when did the number of slices per cake go up? You guessed it--the eighties.
So, thank you, Elizabeth Kolbert for explaining to us how the eighties not only gave us electro-pop and crimped hair, but also expanding waistlines. It might take more than Olivia Newton John's "Let get Physical" to get our nation back on track.
Read the full article at
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
In the Journal of Exercise Physiology, Larry Birnbaum reported that when he made three groups of subjects (fast music, slow music, and no music) run at 5.5 mph for fifteen minutes, the fast music group showed a marked difference: their oxygen consumption (VO2s), cardiac output, number of breaths and other indicators were much higher than those in in slow and no music groups. That means that fast music actual may make you /less/ efficient than slow or no music. On one hand, being less efficient is bad, because then your body can't handle longer or harder workouts, but on the other hand, being less efficient is precisely why we do things like switch up our exercise ruitenes every couple of weeks--we don't want our bodies to be too comfortable with what we're making them do.
Speaking of shaking things up, the International Journal of Sports Medicine recently published a study called "Effects of Differentiated Music on Cycling Time Trial." This study, conducted mostly by H. B. D. Lim, also looked at three groups (but this time of 10-K cyclists): a no-music control group, a group that listened to music during the /last/ half of the 10-K workout, and a group that got to listen to music for the /first/ half of the workout. The scientists didn't find any huge differences between the groups in general, but they did notice that the group that had music introduced at the halfway mark started to bike faster, even 1 km/sec faster at the introduction of the music. Lim et al point out that this, "illustrates the behavioural influences that music can engender during self-paced exercise." In other words, a song can make me kick it up at the beginning.
Finally, the Journal of Sports Behavior challenged college students to ride a stationary bike for 45 minutes or to exhaustion (which ever comes first, right?). This test had four groups: one control group who got nothing, one group that was rewarded with listening to their favorite music, one group was reward with $0.15 for every forty pedal rotations, and one group of lucky dogs who got both music and money. Wanna guess what they found? Turns out money is all that mattered. The two groups that got money worked harder and longer than those who didn't, and the group that got money and music didn't do any better than the group that only got the money. In the immortal words of Puff Daddy, "It's all about the benjamins, baby."
Would I run faster, then, if instead of sweat tunes, I gave myself a quarter for every quarter mile I ran? Maybe, but if I get a dollar a mile, what if I spend that dollar a mile on a new iTunes song? Sounds good to me.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
I don't know what it is, but this trip to DC, I can't stop myself from going to every invertebrate zoo and exhibit--they're loose like a jellyfish!
Don't these look like evil geniuses?
This is a cuttlefish. It has such good eyesight that it can see you as well as you see it.
I went to the butterfly house at the Smithsonian, where they feed butterflies rotten fruit. You do not want to mess their fruit; the butterflies will kill you.
I saw some other things (art, monuments, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fireworks) but the invertebrates win this trip! Hurrah for invertebrates! Let's celebrate by not stepping on them today... too often.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
So now I'm trying to figure out how formal I want to make this crisis. Right now, I'm kind of even thinking about throwing a quarter-life crisis party in August (everyone wears businesswear and we watch My Dinner with Andre?). Right now, though, I'm still taking suggestions. One suggestion comes from watching How I Met Your Mother with Jen B. By which I mean The Murtaugh List.
Those of you unfamiliar with the episode/Lethal Weapon movies may not be aware of the catch phrase "I'm too old for this [stuff]" that the grizzled old Danny Glover character mutters through waaay too many sequels. So here's the beginning of my "I'm Too Old for This" list.
The Murtaugh List:
-Wearing backpacks to school on a regular basis
-Complaining about people not doing the dishes
-Leaving the house disheveled and in sweats
- Blowing bubbles/snapping gum in public
- Junk food binges
- novelty pens
- watching the Disney channel/Cartoon Network (adult swim excluded)
- passing notes in church
Please feel free to argue, suggest additional items or otherwise give me direction, but think about it before you make a knee-jerk "But Rainbow Bride dolls are totally workforce appropriate."
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Having always wanted, but never read Philip Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I shuffled off to my local Amazon.com and ordered
book. Oh, what a fool I was! Six weeks later, I open it up and say, "Wow! This is a lot shorter than I remembered. Oh well." and started flipping through it. "Neat! Pictures!" How cool and graphic-novel-y and post-modern. After the first chapter it dawned on me.
Nuts! I ordered the junior-high progressing-readers adaption! That's not to say, however, that I stopped reading. Something satisfying in reading a book in 2 hours. Still, I feel like I got the cliffnotes version. It probably lost a lot in dumbing it down (oh PLEASE tell me it was dumbed down), but it's a nice engaging story. In fact, this is probably a nice middle ground between cliffnotes and actually reading the thing. Junior high rocks!