face-time and the importance of a hug

I met a good friend at a coffee shop this morning. This is the friend who has decided to stop communicating with us via e-mail. She has decided to go back to phone calls and letters / notes written by hand and mailed because she thinks that all the electronic means we have of connecting with each other actually drives us apart. She says we feel like we’re connected because we know what’s going on with each other, so we don’t bother to make a phone call or set up a coffee date because we’re all “too busy.” After a while, she says she feels lonely – is this really friendship?

I’ve been thinking about her luddite stand – I don’t know that I agree with her, but I do think there’s something strange about e-mail and facebook and twitter. Do these really help us connect with other people? Can we nurture close relationships electronically?

The truth is that I need to hear my friends’ voices and have face-time with them and with my family to feel connected with them. Connecting with people through e-mail doesn’t substitute for a hug. It’s like with writing … hand-writing a creative piece and typing one produce pieces with a very different feel to them. I have no idea why, but I’ve observed it in my own work and in other’s. Relationships that are nurtured electronically have a different feel to them.

I’m thankful for email – no question that it simplifies my life. Through facebook, I’m reconnecting with old friends – mostly from college. These are the people that I’ve failed to send holiday letters to for several years, due to teaching pressures and to school pressures. Now I get to see their family photos and keep up with them and they can do the same with us. That’s nice.

But my buddy is right – it’s not quite the same as hearing their voices.


fall 2009 registration – just in time for April Fool’s

I registered for fall classes today – even though I don’t know if I’ll be full-time or part-time – even though I really don’t know what other commitments I’ll have to work around. That’s okay … the one class I know I want regardless is called Reading Comics … yes, a graduate course on Reading Comics. Of all my choices, that’s the one I was immediately interested in and knew I wanted to take. Not because I think it’ll be easy, but because I’m really interested in graphic communication.

There’s another intriguing course … don’t know yet when it’ll meet … it’s on celebrity, looking at celebrity historically – how people have used the media to become celebrities and what a celebrity is.

Ironically, both these slightly wonky sounding courses will stand me in good stead in teaching. In the research & academic writing course I teach, students are very interested in researching both graphic communication and celebrity / media issues. I know there’s some heady theory about this stuff. It’d be nice to have some one introduce me to the best sources and methods for framing scholarly work around contemporary media issues. My guess is that I’ll be reading Mr. Barthes and Mr. Baudrillard, among others.

new website posted

On Saturday I somehow lost the home page of the website that’s been up since December. Whoops! It wasn’t an identifiable file lost – I’m sure I did something … rather than spend a lot of time fixing a home page I don’t plan to keep, I took the whole thing off the server and posted the website I’ve been working on, even though I’m not thrilled with it. my new website

It does feel good to have a website with fewer unfinished pages and dead links … and with finished writing and about me/contact pages. I cleaned up the audio files, converting .wav files to .mp3s so they’re compressed and easier to download. I gave an attribution to the Georgia O’Keeffe quote that’s been running in a Flash experiment for a month. And I took down Patchwork – a video piece I wasn’t happy with. I love the audio mix I did for it, however, so I’ll add that to the Thirty-Second Audio Experiments page. I want to spend any time I have between now and Thursday’s lab workshop on audio. Adding clips. Fixing clips. Working on the oral history page.

For today, however, I need to shift gears and move on to Monday’s deadline – reading for the seminar class, followed closely by Tuesday’s deadline – all student artist statements read and feedback finished – and Wednesday’s deadline – move into the Annex Studio. Thankfully, in about a month, the deadlines will evaporate. I’ll be able to relax. Maybe.

Meanwhile, the recovering dog sleeps.

the injured dog still sleeps

Ruby’s getting better – the doggie Advil and rest are doing the trick. That’s especially good because the last month of the semester is a lousy time for distractions like dog surgery or broken limbs or spousal crises … really, everyone should just chill out and not demand a lot of attention until I’m done with the semester, Okay?!

I’m waiting to hear from scholarships / fellowships and other funding-related stuff for next year. Only one fellowship is substantial enough for me to only go to school. The MATX director is still looking for an appropriate GTA placement for next year – otherwise my funding runs out in September. Too bad the economy’s so poor; otherwise I’d probably have funding from the University by now.

I did, however, get funding from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to do my Eastern Shore oral history project. Huzzah, Huzzah! More on that in a later post.

Meanwhile, I’m redesigning my website and moving deadline by deadline through assignments. First, there’s the Sunday deadline to post something for Thursday’s workshop. (hence the work on my website) Then … there’s a substantial amount of reading to finish for Monday’s seminar, plus the final artist statements for a Tuesday morning meeting.

Ruby just got up from her nap in the comfy chair in my room and has raided my daughter’s bedroom for something to chew. She must be feeling better – she grabs stuff to chew and runs when she wants us to play with her. She didn’t bolt down the stairs, however … that’s what she would do if she were feeling 100 percent. Instead, she’s settled back down for a nap in the hallway. Back to work I go.

the injured dog sleeps

Yesterday, when the vet said that my dog might have a torn ACL – I thought I was going to become hysterical. A torn ACL … as a friend in the MATX program said later, “what, from too much tennis?” Apparently dogs can separate the ligaments away from their knee-equivalent just like we can. By twisting the wrong way when they’re leaping after a squirrel?

And yes, when a dog tears its ACL, it needs surgery just like we do.

After a closer examination, the vet’s conclusion for now was that Ruby had probably just pulled something and she sent us home with the doggy equivalent of Advil and the admonition to keep Ruby quiet for the next week. No running, no dog park, no Pets at Play … we’re not even supposed to let her loose in the backyard lest she get excited by a squirrel. So I’m working downstairs so she can sleep beside me on the couch and not have to climb the stairs. I made arrangements to work from home today – partly for my mental health and partly to take care of Ruby.

I knew she was feeling poorly yesterday when she barely noticed the mailman. Usually she vigorously protests when the mailman walks onto our front porch, but yesterday she snarled from the couch without raising her head.

I’m working on the redesign of my website this morning. I’ve got a lot of reading to do for Monday’s seminar and the final artist statements to review, as well as all the video essay submissions we’ve received so far to watch / re-watch. The production team decided on Wednesday that I should vet the submissions and place the most interesting ones in a thread on Blackboard. I want to make sure that my spreadsheets are totally accurate so far, too … before the deadline hits next Friday.

waiting for the rain

It’s an overcast day … not raining yet … a heavy rain is supposed to settle in this afternoon. The dog has a hurt back leg. I lost my favorite hat yesterday. glad I have nowhere to be until I take the dog to the vet in late afternoon.

On Neil Gaiman’s blog he’s posted this video clip on Prague’s Franz Kafka International Airport from the Onion News Network. It’s brilliant – perfect for today.

on daffodils, artist statements, and taking a break

English field of daffodils from Big Picture.com

I’m taking a break from reading student artist statements and journals. One of my GTA responsibilities is to work as a writing instructor for a senior seminar in the VCU Sculpture and Extended Media department. I really enjoy working on these, but giving feedback also takes a long time. My job is to help them write about their art in a way that will make other people want to see their art. In many ways, the goal in an artist statement is to tease out the most authentic statements they can make about their work, often giving it a narrative thread or cohesion so that grant-makers and scholarship committees and galleries will see their potential as artists and give them a chance. Wish that artists / scholars / writers were valued as highly as bankers and lawyers in our economy.

One of my favorite ways to take a break is to listen to the radio program Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, streaming through my computer. They do news the way I prefer to get my news, with a dose of humor. Outside my window – it’s finally spring.

on bumper stickers and Emily’s fascicles

On my way in to teach my final spring Playing with Words class at the Visual Arts Center, I saw this bumper sticker on the back of someone’s truck: “It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.” Albert Einstein
I felt sad, immediately. I suppose I believe it might be true.

Had a wonderful final class, however, and plan to teach the course again in June as a one-day workshop.

After lunch, I’m gong to finalize the presentation I’m giving tonight on Emily Dickinson’s manuscript practices … specifically the implications of reading her poetry in the handwritten form she left it. I didn’t expect to be so moved reading the facsimiles of her fascicle pages, but there really is a difference reading the manuscript version and reading them in print. Here’s one that made me “feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off” when I stumbled across it. I’m not sure a jpeg scan of a facsimile page via a blog space is going to do justice to her poem, but at least it will give you an idea if you’ve never seen her original work.

The name – of it – is “Autumn”

on my expedition to the UVA graduate english conference

Spent yesterday at UVA attending and preparing to present at the UVA Graduate English Conference. One of my cohorts from the MATX program was also presenting a paper. I practiced reading my paper to her over the lunch break, sitting on the steps of the Rotunda on a beautiful sunny day. (Later I returned the favor – she had a great presentation on cyborg narratives.)

After the break we walked along the Lawn in the Academical Village back to the building where the panels were being held. I always wish that the building opposite the Rotunda had never been added. Thomas Jefferson intended the Lawn to open to a view of the mountains … of course, the view hasn’t remained what it was in the early 1800’s.

Listening to traditional academic papers from the discipline of English was interesting for me in that it reinforced my decision to seek an nontraditional, interdisciplinary PhD. Having an interdisciplinary experience is both a strength and a weakness. I like the transgression of academic disciplinary boundaries, but it also leaves me less sure of where to stand theoretically.

I can’t speak authoritatively about academic conferences, but it seemed like an arcane process to me. People reading academic papers to each other and then challenging each other, almost like a law school review. It was also very stimulating … and I can see where the exchange of ideas could be exhilarating, especially if you’re presenting something that you’ve spent significant time researching and you’re surrounded by others who’ve spent years researching similar issues.

The building was an old one at the end of the lawn – with huge windows and creaky wooden floors. It houses the Philosophy Department – possibly the oldest traditional discipline in western academia. The panels were held at opposite ends of the building, in rooms with fifteen foot ceilings (or higher) and huge windows on three sides. Of course, to show our slides we had to lower the blinds – otherwise the rooms were flooded with natural light.

My own panel was quite interdisciplinary, one of my panelmates was from the archeology department, the other, getting an English PhD, was presenting on Kara Walker’s silhouettes. It was also relatively well attended, probably because one of the members of our panel is going to school at UVA and her friends showed up. But there were at least three faculty members in the room, I think, who asked challenging questions which will help me expand and deepen my research if I decide to take it further. I left there knowing that I’d shared prematurely, but that I’d also gotten the first experience of presenting behind me. Now I know better what to expect and how to prepare.

cool web portfolio & prepping presentations

In class tonight we looked at some choices for e-portfolios. I’d forgotten about this one – but it’s definitely worth browsing through: Dave Werner’s e-portfolio He’s got a blog too: Okay Samurai Multimedia.

I’ve spent most of today preparing to present a paper at the UVA Department of English Graduate Student Conference this weekend. My paper is called “Reading Images of Violence: The Saigon Execution and the Sonderkommando Photographs.” Because it’s about images, I prepared a slide show to go along with the paper. I’m working on a second presentation on Emily DIckinson’s manuscript practices and I’m doing a visual presentation to go along with that one too. I’ve never been a fan of powerpoint, but it’s the simplest architecture I’ve found to make a clean, portable presentation. Definitely something I’ll be using again in my teaching.