Wednesday, March 29, 2006

random news and notices

The first sign of spring is here...not the birds, not the 50 degree temperatures...but Smoovies reopens for the season! Tonight! For those of you not familiar with Smoovies, I will provide more detail later.

I have decided to use the blog feature on MySpace to document my experiences with...MySpace. Hardly original, I know.

Anyone know how much I need to spend on job-related stuff in order to make doing the itemized deductions worth my while?

Finally, I have a DC conference coming up in about three weeks, so I have to now start writing the damn presentation. I'm not saying that I will be totally incommunicado untill then, but my appearances and posts might be less frequent. If I don't e-mail or call, that is why. I am, however, still available for beer breaks, particularly for Stimmel's or Howards, in case you're in the area.

Monday, March 27, 2006

a calm place to be?

So I'm thinking about applying for a job for next year (I wasn't
planning on moving, but this job posting was written for me) at
Minnesota State University at Moorhead, and their job posting has the
"Facts about the area" section. Moorhead, it appears, is the "Second
Least Stressful Place to Live"...apparently in spite of the bitter cold.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

MySpace indeed

So I decided to make the leap and get my very own MySpace page. Why? I dunno...I guess the opportunity to quantify just how big of a loser I am seemed irresistable for a second. I have no idea what to do with it, and as things stand now, I have no art mirrors life. This is as much a sociological experiment as anything else, so if anything neat happens, I will let you know.

the sioux are coming to save us


Giago: Oglala Sioux president on state abortion law Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"When Governor Mike Rounds signed HB 1215 into law it effectively banned all abortions in the state with the exception that it did allow saving the mother’s life. There were, however, no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. His actions, and the comments of State Senators like Bill Napoli of Rapid City, SD, set of a maelstrom of protests within the state.

Napoli suggested that if it was a case of “simple rape,” there should be no thoughts of ending a pregnancy. Letters by the hundreds appeared in local newspapers, mostly written by women, challenging Napoli’s description of rape as “simple.” He has yet to explain satisfactorily what he meant by “simple rape.”

The President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Cecilia Fire Thunder, was incensed. A former nurse and healthcare giver she was very angry that a state body made up mostly of white males, would make such a stupid law against women.

“To me, it is now a question of sovereignty,” she said to me last week. “I will personally establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on my own land which is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation where the State of South Dakota has absolutely no jurisdiction.”

Strong words from a very strong lady. I hope Ms. Fire Thunder challenges Gov. Rounds and the state legislators on this law that is an affront to all independent women."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


A number of friends and loyal readers have told me that they now have MySpace pages. So, a query: what exactly will a MySpace page allow me to do which I do not do here? What are the practical/tangilbe benefits, other than the ability to put up a stupid photo of myself?

Teach me, please!

the state of spam names

These just came in today.

Impregnates E. Warships
Aleksandrina Redondo
Wilfred Dorrance
Manish Strope

...and they will only get sillier

best non-obscene graffitti spotted recently

"Jeff Goldblum is watching."

Friday, March 17, 2006

quote of the day...happy holidays!

"If you want to celebrate St Pat's today, eat a raw potato, build a house out of peat and get yourself shot by an Englishman."...Warren Ellis

This is post 150, by the way...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

the book reps are getting scary

I just went to check my mail, and one publisher dropped off a sample textbook...but it was in a gift basket, which included gourmet marmalade, cookies, candy, expensive teas, and so forth. Sheesh.

The part of me that is used to being a nobody wants to scream at them, "don't you know who I am? You're wasting your time on someone with no influence or power!" But who am I to turn down swag?

against the grain

We tried a new bread the other day, a multigrain affair, and it was a hit. So, when I went to the grocery store on Monday, I was going to get another loaf.

My wife wrote down "9 grain bread" on the grocery list. In the bread isle, they had 9 grain, 12 grain, and 15 grain. I picked up the nine, because I trust my wife...but I had suspicions.

When I got home, I checked the empty bag from our last loaf, and, indeed, it was a twelve grain. For at least the next week and a half, we are doomed to have less grains than we got used to with our old bread.

I feel slow, sluggish, and a little ripped off. I'm also curious as to which grains they omitted in order to get the final number down to nine. Were they vital grains? Did they have any dynamic physiological properties? Were they, for example, endorphin releasers?

And what about that 15 grain? Is it a better bread? Will the extra grains give me more vitality? Or is it like a fifteen year Scotch, where the higher number of grains equate to added complexity of taste and aroma?

Will other bakeries try to follow suit? Will we, as a result, suffer grain inflation? Will Wonder, in an attempt to gain lost marketshares, come out with a 20 grain bread? Aunt Millie responding with a 30 grain? Will the grain war escalate?

This raises some vital questions. How many grains, for instance, can one concievably fit into a loaf of bread? What is the maximum grain threshold? Will we put our great scientists to work on constructing an omni-grain bread? Do our enemies have more grains than us? Is there a grain gap? A grain drain?

Will this desire to increas the grains in our bread lead to other scientific advancements? Do genetically modified grains count as a different grain? What about different varieties?

Will we further our astronomical searches in order to find extraterrestrial grains? Can we fit so many grains into a bread that it would, in its infinite denseness, collapse into itself, thus ripping the time-space fabric? Would it cause our universe to collapse into a single granule of grain?

Maybe the universe that we're in now is just some prior race's multigrain bread, which itself collapsed into a singularity, which then exploded at the "big (grain) bang." It's possible we could be living on what some prior beings considered to be a mere speck of bulghar wheat.

I think that must be the truth...I feel it in every grain of my existence.

Monday, March 13, 2006

spring break part two, or, stranger in a strange land

While I fully intended to spend all of spring break either sleeping, writing, or reading (okay, also drinking), I got called back into the world of composition, somewhere I wasn't really planning on venturing. I wanted to have a whole week where I didn't think of school at all, where the thought of student writing never crossed my mind. Of course, it didn't work out that way.

The week before break, I got an e-mail from a book representative wanting to know if I was interested in attending a symposium of college composition instructors. Apparently, my boss couldn't make it, my assistant boss couldn't make it, and they somehow worked their way down to me.

It is one of the strangest elements of my life that, now that I have a full-time position, I am continually courted by book representatives. When they heard that I was on a composition textbook subcommittee, they came out of the woodwork. I have had piles of texts sent my way, I have been interviewed at length about my teaching practices, I have had reps offer to take me out to lunch on them.

College textbooks is a major business, particularly when you're getting into the realm of anthologies, which can average around $75 a book. When you throw in the fact that courses like comp are required of every single student, a company can gain a whole lot of income by convincing a department to use their text. So it's not surprising that they try to latch on to every possible lead.

It does, however, feel weird to be the beneficiary of such behavior. It fits into my fully ambiguous feelings toward my class status. On one hand, I'm very much still very low on the totem pole within this university, this department...but these reps treat me like some tyrant who can change their lives with a nod of the head.

So when they asked me to go to this symposium, I expected either a sprawling "time-share sales pitch" or a pleading "how can we make ourselves worthy of you?" day of fawning. Personally, the prospect looked as promising as a root canal...but it was a line on the vita, they were covering all expenses, and they were paying me...which is always a tempting combination, hard to I went.

The symposium was at a hotel in Livonia MI...which is, as far as I can tell, a land of strip malls, chain restaurants, and subdivisions, sort of a Edward Sissorhands setting, only outside Detroit. The only other thing I know about the area is that the area UPN channel carries these really goofy ads for some big jewelry warehouse, where every single employee gathers for the closing shot and waves in perfect unison.

The perks of the trip were, on whole, not bad. We ate at a really good chain top-end Chinese restaurant, where I had several drinks and a kickin' lamb stir-fry on them. Afterward, we went to the hotel bar, and I got several Irish whiskeys on them. I then went to my relatively nice hotel room. The free hotel breakfast was so-so, but I guess you can't win them all.

The funny thing is that when the symposium started, the book reps made it quite clear that they were not going to try to sell us anything, and they in fact didn't want us to refer to any textbook or product by name...not even if it was theirs. They were, instead, very interested in getting a "state of the art" of comp teaching from us.

So we talked about composition, the struggles we face in teaching it, our approaches, preconceptions we face, and all that. I met some really nice and interesting people, including the heads of several writing there was in fact networking.

As much as I learned about composition teachers, I realized that I am not one of them...and I do not really think like they do, for the most part. For me, the main value to the symposium was the chance to look inside their heads, see how they think, see how they view the world. I started to try to formulate how I saw these people, how they say themselves...and I realized it was a pretty big project. I'm thinking that my second big academic project might have to be a full cultural study of the world of composition instruction.

It could be a synthesis of my personal experiences/biography and the full cultural study/serious academic endeavor angle...thus, it would combine the "fun" factor of personal writing along with serious inquiry...which would make it a blast to write. It could be a good bridge between school and the mass market...which might actually give me a name in the publishing biz. Of course, it might also make me unemployable in the comp field, but it could bring me admirers from the teaching ranks.

Who knows? I might end up using a lot of space on this blog to further explore this issue. I might recycle many of these posts. I might solicit more personal stories and research tips. I will eventually find a way to use this blog for actual work instead of the avoidance of...

Now I just need to finish my first book...

post-Spring Break wrap-up 1, or, working in the coal mine

One of these days, I need to actually take a break during spring break...y'know, go to somewhere warm, drink too much, generally be hedonistic. However, when you're a "teaching" academic, any break from school is more about catching up than relaxing. While I did get caught up on sleep, I mostly worked.

The major project of spring break was to get my book revision plan done. Way back in late 2003, I submitted a sample chapter of my dissertation to a good university press, who contacted me at that year's American Studies Association conference. They liked it enough to ask for a book proposal.

So, over the next summer, I banged one out and sent it, along with the full diss manuscript, to their editors. They then asked for some changes...y'see, I wrote a proposal which addressed specifically how I would change the diss in light of them actually having read the diss. But they only read the proposal (which I can understand, being time-strapped myself) I had to take another stab at the proposal.

The problem was, I got side-tracked by the thrills of adjuncting. When you're teaching five classes in four disciplines at three different institutions, it's very hard to think about anything other than grading and class prep. Summer 2004, I got 1/2way through a draft. Summer 2005, I worked at the zoo. When I did have free time, it was spent mentally recuperating from the workload. I barely had/have time to stay an active thinker, let alone be a scholar...and this continues to be the case even now that I have a job...because I teach and grade so much.

(okay, I often avoid grading...mostly by writing this blog)

Every so often, I get an e-mail from the very kind, very patient editors, wondering if I'm still working on the proposal. I tell them, quite honestly, that I still care about the project and will get it knocked out as soon as I have the time, which is even the truth...but I rarely have time.

So, task one over the break was to actually get the book proposal knocked out. Reading my diss again was a very strange experience...I had to spend an awful lot of time unpacking stupidly dense language, as well as trying to get back into the same theoretical head I occupied while an ABD. It was a difficult read, and that amazed me, because I've always prided myself on not succumming to academic-speak...I guess I was fooling myself just a little.

I realized that most of my problems in the diss came from following a dissertation format. I was spelling out everything in the beginning, going through the analysis, and just dying off. There was no mystery to the writing, and my diss, as it stands, doesn't lead anywhere...which is par for the course, because you can't really treat that type of writing as an act of discovery.

The questions that the university press had mostly related to "what questions are driving this?" Instead, the diss was driven by issues rather than questions, because I couldn't write using the "and we'll work our way to the answers" format, which would've been preferable. Now that I can do that, I can actually justify the purpose/point to my project and communicate that to my reader.

Realizing all this made everything about the dissertation make sense. I know where the thing needs to go in order to be a book. I know how to get there with minimal pain. So, over spring break, I got 90% of the proposal knocked out. I've got some polish, got to add two chapter descriptions, need to make sure I'm not in academic-speak in the proposal, but it's doable. I plan to have the revision plan done by the end of this week, and I can then solicit opinions from a few friends and my kick-ass diss chair.

It has been a strange trip moving from grad student to full-time teacher, but I think I'm starting to turn it back towards "scholar"...and that feels really good.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"a has-been at a mere thirty five"

Funny enough, the subject line quote (from a Jayhawks song) has been going through my head for a large part of the day. Yes, I turn thirty five today. I'm not normally one for pontificating on such matters, and birthdays generally don't mean much, but I've been thinking about this one.

I thought thirty would be monumental, but nothing (panic, hysteria, the like) really came up. Thirty three was only notable because I could tell people I was "the age of Rolling Rock." I thought about having a 1/3rd of a century party four months after my birthday (when I hit 33 1/3rd years old), but I never got around to it.

A number of years ago, my father said that he was shooting for 70. I thought this needlessly pessimistic at the time, especially when medical science is pushing the age barrier upward. Now that I am halfway to that age myself, however, I can't help but feel a little freaked out at the thought.

What makes the "aging of Mike" all the more surreal is that I don't feel or think of age that much during my normal life. I remember talking to my old Little Caesar boss, and he told me, "Mike, I still feel like I'm in my twenties." Well, I do to...although I am much less of a moron, have more social skills (which isn't hard), and am more confident. I have no real creaks of old age, and my bones don't ache yet. I can't sleep as long as I used to, and I can't metabolize as much sugar as before, but that's about it. I still feel, mentally, like a youngster, and the only real difference is a wider body of experience to guide my actions.

I think part of my good mental age/outlook is that I'm in an occupation which requires being able to relate to those younger than myself. Granted, this does take a conscious effort. When I did pizza, I always noticed how "the kids" listened to different music than I, and at one point, I forced myself to catch up. I found out that by listening to what they did, by watching the same shows and movies, I gained a little common ground, and that made conversations easier...and this also yields positive benefits as a teacher. Plus, I had the added advantage of not being the guy who still only listens to the same stuff he did in high school.

While doing a student conference this week, though, I got the great insight that my student, although I had a trememdous amount in common with him, saw me as an "adult" as surely as he saw himself as a kid. No surprise...some of my younger students/coworkers/friends seem to want to go out of their way to make me feel old. I won't let them, however. I refuse to be defined as "old" by any young whippersnapper. But the conference suggested to me that most of what we define as "old" is defined by other people...we only get old if we play along.

What we need to do is stop using age as an excuse not to change. I only feel old when I feel stagnant. I've been specifically battling this age-stagnation combo this year by branching out...making better friends with some youngsters, listening to different new music, watching some new programs. My parents have finally got internet connected, and I couldn't be prouder...and I think it will be good for them.

Granted, I can say these things in part because I'm still in a relatively transient state. I don't own a house; drive a really beater car; am in a job that, while I like, is not a career position; and I don't have a kid...I have, in other words, avoided a lot of the markers of maturity. But I don't think that any of these things need to necessarily stop me, as long as I keep trying to change, to grow, to improve.

Change is good. Old is a state of mind that can be avoided. Life is good.

Now, I need to make plans to is, after all, my birthday!