Monday, March 06, 2017

Let's Talk About What We Talk About When We Talk About Teaching Let's Talk About Love


Although this essay is Part Three of “Let’s Talk About . . .”,
“A Time To Be So Small” was designed to be read separately.
If you're new you may skip to the "Extra Credit.

Part Eight of an ongoing series.
Catch up with the first and second parts of the essay.
Catch up with Part One of the series.
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Part Three – A Time To Be So Small

To you.


Obama has staked his candidacy on union—on bringing together two halves of America that are profoundly divided, and by associating himself with Lincoln—and he knows what both of those things mean. He calls America’s founding a “grand compromise”: compromise, for him, is not an eroding of principle for the sake of getting something done but a principle in itself—the certainty of uncertainty, the fundament of union. (MacFarquhar)

It was early. My wife left for work ten minutes earlier. I was trying to fall back asleep when the phone rang. It was her. The manager of the station had just interrupted programming and come on air to announce that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

We lived in a barren suburb of Tulsa named Owasso and volunteered at a college radio station over the hill in Claremore. It was a dance music show, the main attraction of which was my wife’s DJing. After she lost her job in Tulsa and had to get contract work out of town – first in Norman, and later in Memphis – I took over the show, Saturday nights from 10PM-3AM. I was left alone in Owasso for weeks and months at a time, working a part-time job at the Kohl’s next to the Wal-Mart, an early morning receiving shift that involved processing and distributing merchandise throughout the stockroom and floor. Oklahoma can be a very lonely place. I took to wandering the all-night Wal-Mart early Sunday mornings, doing grocery shopping for the following week on my way home from the station.

I didn’t think anything of it at first. Odd, sure. Probably a small private plane, some kind of air traffic mistake. I put the phone down and rolled over.

Another five minutes and the phone rang again. “You should turn on the TV.” 


Thursday, March 02, 2017

Let's Talk About What We Talk About When We Talk About Teaching Let's Talk About Love


Part Seven of an ongoing series.  
Catch up with the previous section of this essay here
Catch up with Part One of the series here.
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Part Two - Slow Decay

With thanks to Matthew Perpetua, although he probably doesn't remember why

In Chapter 12, Wilson states that “there’s so much cultural capital invested in the muscular aesthetic judgment: we restrict our approval to what we can love, and sever ties with any less certain constituencies.” This is one of the overarching ideas of Wilson’s book, and of this class in general. When Wilson says we invest “cultural capital” in our aesthetic judgment (taste), he is saying we put a great deal of ourselves into what we choose to like: what we like is a function of the person we want to be, as well as a project of the kind of people we don’t want to be. Do you think he’s right? Explain your answer.

A good drummer elevates a mediocre band, and a great drummer transforms good musicians into something more. R.E.M. will serve as example. 1983’s Murmur is hailed as one of the great debut albums, a record that managed to sound both impressive at its genesis and prophetic in hindsight regarding many future directions the band would explore. Murmur captures the band at a very interesting moment in their genesis. To put it bluntly, out of four musicians only one of them has any idea what he’s doing – Bill Berry, the drummer. The other three are all quite enthusiastic, and already developing the chops that will carry them forward as a more balanced four-piece. But that first album is all about Bill Berry: he can play fast and he can play subtle, but mostly he can just play.

The presence of a competent drummer inspires other musicians to follow, and in little time the rest of the band caught up – 1984’s Reckoning is confident in every way that Murmur was tentative, the work of a band who may not have completely caught their drummer but who are working hard to stay in the cut. The same dynamic can be seen on Turn on the Bright Lights­ – an album that, like Murmur, masks any deficiencies of technique with atmosphere and hooks. It’s a murky album, a late night album. It’s also an urban album, and not just because songs like “NYC” are explicitly about, well, New York City. It’s claustrophobic and paranoid music about cities for people who look upwards expecting to see not the reflected light of the sun shining across concrete and glass skyscrapers but tall buildings crumbling to the ground. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Let's Talk About What We Talk About When We Talk About Teaching Let's Talk About Love


Part Six of an ongoing series. Catch up with part One here. 
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Part One - The Modern Age 

With deep appreciation to Carl Wilson, who wrote the book
This is an intensive writing course. You will have writing homework every night and reading homework many nights. The theme of this course is taste – what you like, what other people like, how we define ourselves according to our likes and dislikes, and how we articulate these preferences. We will be examining the rhetoric of taste, as well as writing about how tastes are shaped by environment and culture. By investigating issues surrounding taste – good taste, bad taste and everything in between – we will be able to explore ideas of genre, audience, and persuasion that are central to the writing you will be expected to perform in this class as well as throughout your college career.

I taught college composition from the Fall of 2012 to the Summer of 2014. Freshman comp, compulsory general education requirement. My time teaching the subject was split between two courses, UWP 1 and ENL 3. UWP stands for University Writing Program, the department that administers the bulk of writing education on campus. ENL stands for English.

The two courses teach the same thing. My lesson plans in terms of writing education remained largely unchanged between them. UWP isn’t a “literature” course in the way most students are expecting – there’s still reading, but the course description specifically excludes fiction, plays, and poetry. Some degree of self-selection is anticipated, with students migrating to their preference. In reality the requirement is impacted to the degree that students land in one or the other class by virtue of scheduling. Everyone needs it – most students need very badly to become better writers – but freshman composition is nobody’s favorite. I accept that and try to make the topic interesting for students who may have very good reasons to dislike writing. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thirteen Years of Terror





Always practice proper care and storage of your valuable comic books.

  • Ten years ago, it was cold. It was bitter cold. I was living in a shack on the outskirts of Rutland, Massachusetts - and I say shack because that's what it was, really. The cabin was sixty or so years old. It didn't have any heat or insulation. It broiled in the summer (central Massachusetts can be very humid and there was a swamp in the backyard) and froze in the winter. We didn't have a bathroom - just a toilet on a bare wood floor. All the other bathroom fixtures had been torn out because they were rotten. We bought a gym membership in Worcester so we could drive 20-25 minutes to bathe. A wing of the house was closed off because it had been destroyed by water damage. (Link)
I wrote those words three years ago, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of this site. At the time ten years seemed like an immense amount of time. But the days keep tumbling down. Now we’re a teenager.

I am happy to report that in the year since I last contemplated this site’s birthday, not a lot has really happened. It’s been a very quiet year, not much to report.

Yeah, about that. 


Friday, November 18, 2016

Trifles, Light As Air


Part Five of an ongoing series. Catch up with part One here. 
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It is necessary to fail gracefully. We fail more often than we succeed. Despite ample opportunities for practice, it never gets easier.

Donald Duck is his own worst enemy. He rarely wins, and when he does it’s usually accompanied by a poison pill, a humiliation or setback. He fails not because he’s incapable but because he can’t overcome his worst impulses: wrath, envy, pride, greed, sloth. He looks for shortcuts and hamstrings himself out of spite.