Revisiting my last post as another semester winds down

College is not wasted on the young.  The student who made me sad in the last post has turned out to have the instincts of a reporter.  He’s not my most disciplined writer – so he doesn’t pull the best grades – but he goes out and finds stories that could be published in any news outlet.  Because they’re newsworthy.

I’ve had so much fun teaching media writing this semester.  We have to be generalists at Longwood; some classes feel like more of a stretch than others.  Teaching Media Reporting and Writing feels like breathing – teaching it comes that naturally.

Oh yeah, it’s a lot of work.  Lots of reading articles and giving specific feedback.  Depending on your perspective, I have the luxury and/or the misfortune of teaching 29 people in two class sections how to newsgather and mediawrite.

Of course, it’s the 80 I teach in three other class sections that brings me to the semester I’ve had.  Media & Society – a range-y course in which we struggle with two questions: how does media affect society?  And how does society create and control media?  Like I said – a range-y survey course in which we cover too much.  My goal, however, is not the content as much as teaching critical thinking, particularly media criticism.  This can be a lot of fun, but it means moving beyond multiple-choice tests and into the realm of blogging and small group presentations and writing.

That’s right – more reading of student writing, more feedback on student writing. And that’s time intensive.   Messier than A B C D.

But that’s what these college students need.  They need practice writing and they need my feedback on how to do it better.  And, like the rest of us, they figure out what they want to say be writing it out.  Epiphanies abound.

And I guess that’s why I’m here, teaching at Longwood U, working so hard that I neglect both my personal life and the rest of my professional life … this blog, for example, and my Eastern Shore Stories Project.

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I’m either writing a dissertation or running away from home …

I’ve carved out a few days to write – away from Richmond and my family – hanging out on the Eastern Shore … just me, the dogs, limited access to wifi, and spotty cell reception.

I’m restless … that’s usually the case on the first day I’m here alone with a project.  I can feel momentum building … I’m hoping that an explosion of words, phrases, sentences that make sense will follow.   Right now, ideas and connections are bouncing around just at the edge of articulation.

Solitude is good for this stage of writing – allows stuff to perk without having to explain my not-yet-formed ideas.   Of course, I’ve also been fantasizing about a new career direction in solar panel installation and I took a nap after an early lunch of leftover quiche.

Since yesterday I’ve read most of one book, and skimmed two others. Matthew Crawford’s book Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work is one I’d like to share with everyone I know … as well as future students.  Seems apt reading for someone finishing a doctorate.

His analysis about the value of skilled manual work is useful as I try to parse out the general sense I got from the farm life oral histories I’ve collected about the intrinsic reward in knowing how to do things.   People don’t usually state it directly … but knowing soil and microclimates, plowing straight rows without GPS systems, growing quality vegetables, being self-sufficient … a grounded pride in knowing how to do stuff comes through in the interviews.   That’s what my fourth chapter is about, among other things.

Now I can add writing a blog entry to my list of moodling activities.  All part of the process … luckily I’ve done enough writing to recognize it for what it is – a priming of the pump, so to speak.  Either that, or I’m using the dissertation as an excuse to run away from home for a few days.

on blogging an answer to "why write a novel? Why write a novel now?"

I haven’t been blogging here much, but yesterday I was a guest blogger on the Cabell First Novelist blog.

I’m writing a novel, as part of a year-long writing workshop at VCU.  Most of the other writers in the group are in the MFA fiction grad program, so I’m in great company.

Hard not to get discouraged, since they are concentrating on fiction as a full-time grad degree and their writing submissions frequently blow me away.  I have to remember that my path is different.   I’m getting a PhD in Media, Art, and Text – an interdisciplinary degree with a focus on media and technology.   I’m working on a novel and a dissertation at the same time, as well as an oral history project that is both part of my dissertation and a separate entity.  Three huge projects at one time – hence the title of my guest submission “I might be crazy.”

Cabell First Novelist Blog guest entry

My guest entry is more personal than I usually get in a blog.  That’s one reason I’ve taken a break here – how personal a blogger do I want to be?  But I felt, as a guest blogger for the Cabell First Novelist blog, that the call was to answer the question – why write a novel at all and why write one now?

My answer … I’m in training as a “distance” writer, learning the pace of a longer form.  I’m also getting the social support of the workshop.

The truth is, I can go the distance – write a full-length, unified work – I already have a great deal of discipline and stamina.  I wrote a successful collection of lyric essays for my master’s thesis.  I’m plugging through this PhD.  If I have to write 1500 words a day, I can.

It’s my inner life that’s unruly.  How I feel about my work.   How I deal with the demon self-doubt.  It helps to talk with other writers, who say they also feel an emotional backlash when a submission goes out or a workshop rotation comes due.  The validation helps – it’s as if I’m building immunity to a disease.  

on blogs, farming, heart and voice

Just posted a new story on my Eastern Shore Stories blog.  I titled it on turkeys, eggs, and afternoon naps – the question that Ruth asks by the time she finishes her musing is about what children are missing today.  The more I work on this oral history, the more I want to move back to the Eastern Shore … and work on the small farm where my parents and brother and his family currently live … spend my days in a rhythm that’s more connected to animals and land and weather than the life I currently lead.

My parents don’t farm, but we could.  It’s a small farm – less than 50 acres –  I’m sure we’d do an orchard, some strawberries and vegetables, and have some pasture for goats.

I haven’t been posting here because I’m rethinking this blog.  I like the interactivity of Facebook … and certainly have a different “persona” there – one that’s more intimate and connected with my family life than I allow myself on this blog.  I think of this as my “professional face”so I try and keep this MATX- focused.  The closer I get to finishing coursework, however, and the more I work on my dissertation-connected research – the more integrated I want all the pieces to be.  So, I’m playing with another blog idea – one that would be a hybrid between the voice I tend to use on Facebook and this “professional” blog … one that would integrate all my musings in one place.

blogging on blogging and social media

I’ve been experimenting with Facebook, with Twitter, with blogging on this site and on my Eastern Shore Stories site.  I’m forming opinions about how to use them effectively and how they differ as publishing platforms.   Because that’s what they are – using written communication with photos/scans/videos salted in – personal publishing platforms for anyone who has a computer and access to the internet.  Publishing has never been easier.

I didn’t expect to enjoy Facebook, but I really do and I’ve decided to keep my Facebook page a personal blog / family & friend focused communication vehicle.  That means my goal is not to have thousands of friends nor to use it as a marketing vehicle, but to enjoy the freedom of connecting and reconnecting with people who are friends and family.  I love the interaction, the photo albums, the randomness.

Twitter still seems like an odd bird to me … and I thought that the Cool Librarian’s blog about what teenagers in her library are saying about Facebook, Twitter, blogging made sense.

Here’s an excerpt from her April 18 2009 entry:
We were talking about advertising the next teen movie on Facebook – which works well for reaching the high school kids, but is not as effective at reaching the middle school kids – and I asked how I could get more kids to read the Teen page of the (new) library website. The answer: “We don’t look at websites. Kids do Facebook, and that’s about it. We’ll Google if we have to for a school paper, and maybe check out Wikipedia, but, really, don’t bother with the teen page.”

Now, I’m not sure how surprised I was by that. One look at my stats tells me that no one looks at the teen page that I slaved away on for days – in spite of all the PR I have done – but I guess I was surprised to learn that high school students don’t seem interested in surfing the web at all (gaming sites not withstanding). Oooookaaayyy….

Next up:
“So, I was thinking of having a workshop on blogging – would there be any interest in that?”
“Nah, we say everything we need to say on Facebook.”
“Ok, what about Twitter?”
“Twitter is for old people. My mom is on Twitter. Which is cool, I guess, because I didn’t know she even knew what Twitter is, but really, what’s the point of Twitter?”
Well, I can’t fault this question, since many people find no use for Twitter, and those that do are usually connected to a network of other like-minded adults. But again, I guess I was just surprised by the total lack of interest.

This conversation nailed it, I think … websites are for information … they’re static and, unless something like a blog is happening there, why would I return once I’ve got the information I need.  I say most of what I want to say about my private and family life on Facebook, but, as a writer, find I need more space, so I blog.  This blog is also where I explore my professional interests in more depth than I ever will on Facebook.

Twitter is good if you want to stay current in a fast-moving field or if you’re trying to communicate during a revolution, but how plugged in do most people need or want to be?   I went to a Social Media meeting at VCU – they had a huge screen set up behind the panel and published the tweets in real time while people were speaking.   It was distracting, slightly bizarre, and cool all at the same time.  People in the audience were tweeting about the event while we were in the event and those of us in the event were reading the tweets, usually at the expense of the presentation.

I have to tweet as part of my GTA appointment in communications, but I do wonder about our audience, about what we have to say that’s worth anyone’s time.  This morning I tweeted about today’s deadline to withdraw from a class … an important deadline for undergrads, especially.  So that’s a public service.  It only works if we’re being followed, however, which takes something more interesting than bureaucratic deadlines.  

Blogging is more interesting to me than tweeting. Maybe it’s just that haiku has never been a strength of mine and that 140 characters forces the English language into strange mutations.  In a blog I can ramble on … just like I’m doing now.

My Eastern Shore Stories blog is a very different animal – it’s an occasional blog with interview excerpts and historical photos, reflective of the project.  I want to be able to blog for months, at least through the lecture that’s scheduled in April, posting only one entry per interview even though they’re hours long – so I’m only posting a new entry every two weeks.  The challenge is to add an rss feed or some way for people to follow it easily – some means beyond a bookmark.  I think I’m going to set up a separate Facebook Fan page for the project and publicize it on the blog so that I can post to the Fan page whenever there’s a new entry.

With my personal entries on Facebook I know people are listening and I even know who they are, so conversations will and do happen.   I haven’t seen that happen much on blogs unless it’s a celebrity blog or a blog where the blogger is shooting for controversy … sort of pulling a “Rush” if you will.  That’s not my style.  I’m a quiet blogger.  My husband tells me it’s hard to leave a comment on this blog, too … told me months ago that I should “get that fixed.”  I’ve done nothing because I don’t know how to fix it … it may be a weakness of this particular blog interface.

Being in a PhD program with a strong digital media focus has certainly forced me to ask questions I wouldn’t have asked otherwise … go places I wouldn’t have otherwise gone … all good.  And now it’s time to finish my last book for PAPR 591 (a grad seminar in bookmaking).  Time to get out the glue and the fabric and the transfer material and make something by hand.  Time to unplug.

on living the "unblogged life"

To steal a phrase from Neil Gaiman’s blog, I’ve been living the “unblogged life”.

It’s not that I don’t have stuff to blog about. I actually left our house renovation project for about 24 hours and took myself to the Eastern Shore to work on the oral history project. I’d been trying to get there for weeks – between my husband’s surgery, my mother’s surgery, the end-of-the-year-stress in a household of students & teachers, and now the house itself in the turmoil of plastering and scraping and caulking and painting and the displacing of furniture – phew, it’s been hard to pull away.


Isn’t this photo great? This is my grandmother’s brother Tom as a teenager – looking proud, and young, behind the wheel of what is probably a Model T Ford. Our guess is that he’s about 18 years old here – so this would be about 1919 – but it could be earlier. I’m working on another blog for the oral history project. Sometime in July I’ll start posting an excerpt a week from the interviews, hopefully full of pictures like this one. This guy didn’t want to be a farmer – can you tell? He wanted to “go places, to live in town.” His father told him he’d be hungry … his son says that sometimes they were, especially during the Depression.

What do I want this blog to be? That’s the question – it started out as a professional blog, but I don’t know if that’s what it will remain. I’d like to write more about my life as PirateMom – the writer, the mother and wife, the teacher, the country-girl-turned-city-dweller – the one who careens around Richmond, Virginia, in her aging Saturn station wagon with an 80-pound lab/hound mix riding shotgun and a precocious 8-year-old emoting in the back seat. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

even closer to "done"

I decided to put my e-portfolio on a WordPress blog interface … that way I can password protect it, but still link through my public webpage. I like the way it looks and the way it works! Maybe I’ll make it public next fall when I’m ready to present to the committee for a formal review. Not yet though – still in raw draft form, especially my discussion of the “theory that undergirds my work.”

Does my work really boil down to the two word statement: “stories matter” ?

My Eastern Shore Stories blog is also looking great – the plan right now is to go live June 1. I want to take / collect some photos and do a few more interviews before I publicize it … and want to give myself some time at the end of May to let everyone know it exists.

Done a lot of work in two 24-hour days. Of course, the kid barely got fed last night – and I’m short some sleep – but it feels great to be this close … this close with work I’m actually pleased to share.

By tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be finished with my first year of the MATX PhD program. Just have to clean out my cubbie corner in the “bullpen” office they give us – I assume I keep the keys to the studio over the summer. I think I’ll move my photos / lamp / other personal stuff from my office down there.

Not that the work ends. Tomorrow at 2:30 – whenever our last class ends – the video I want to make moves to the head of the queue.

wuthering heights of interdisciplinarity

Tonight my mom’s book group is talking about the classic Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Mom didn’t like it – says she doesn’t like gothic horror. I told her that I remember loving Wuthering Heights, but I also read it a long time ago. Maybe in high school, but I think as an undergraduate at Wellesley. I read it for school, like most people do. How many people pick up a classic novel to read for fun?

In a few minutes I have to finish reading chapter four from Moran’s Interdisciplinarity. Not a bad book, but not a novel either. I’m not doing much reading for pleasure these days … too much required reading and writing and making instead.

I am following a few blogs … the most consistent bloggers I’ve found so far are the genre writers. To promote his horror novel Afraid, J A Konrath is doing a month-long blog tour. Every day this month, he’s “appearing” on another writer’s blog … sometimes he’s interviewed and sometimes he writes a guest blog. I discovered him as a guest blogger on Murderati, a mystery / horror writers’ group blog and followed his link back to his home blog where he posts his itinerary. All in the name of marketing.

Took a break to watch Rachel Ray today and learned of a new women’s news / blog site backed by some powerful and wealthy women in the entertainment / news field. wowOwow which stands for women on web, I think. Candice Bergen is involved, as is Whoopi Goldberg. An interesting and varied site of stuff. That’s why they were on Rachel Ray … more marketing.

I find information flow a fascinating phenomenon to watch. How do we know / learn what we know? What writers / information purveyors do we trust and why? Flow … a good word for it. Seems tidal and organic in the web-world we’re in now. No wonder most people aren’t worried about the death of newspapers. Should they be?

more thoughts about blogging

I spent time yesterday adding links to my blog, rather than blogging. Still thinking about the “why blog” question – then read this Murderati blog about blogging. Made me think – I love that – and I may write a comment if I have time … Pari Noskin Taichert (writer/blogger) says that “I doubt that Poe or Christie considered direct reader input nearly as much as we do.” I don’t know about Christie, but I think Poe would have embraced the internet and the chance to connect with more people. In fact, he probably would be using Flash to create mini-movies … suspense-filled, of course … or publishing all kinds of e-zines.

The novelists in the 1800’s certainly paid attention to their base … didn’t Dickens change the ending to some of his stories based on reader feedback? I think some of the assumptions we make about earlier, non-internet days aren’t accurate. Although the technology – what it allows – is profoundly different from what they had access to. And the speed, the immediacy – that is something they didn’t have to contend with. Writers today have to guard time away from the technology in order to get anything of quality written. And, as Taichert points out, it might be better if more writers ignored the feedback.

VCU Prof Les Harrison’s blog has some interesting posts re: Edgar Allen Poe and about blogging / facebook / twitter. His blog: Machine Readable. I especially like the posting re: slow blogging and the role of RSS feeds.

finding a voice

I’ve been blogging for two months now. And I’m still working on an answer to the question: why am I blogging?

I told a friend in the MATX program tonight that I think of a blog like a daily column. And my goal right now is to figure out my columnist persona – my voice. Also my subject material … what do I want to write about.

I generally work on these little snippets of writing – I revise them – I’m a writer – I can’t help myself. He told me I was going against the flow in blogging … that the reason people blog is so they talk out loud as spontaneously as they want (emphasize blah when you pronounce blog as in “blaog, blaog, blaog.”)

Okay, that sounds unkind … and the point of a blog is to reveal something of myself as I’m blogging. This dovetails with what I was told recently about my essays … that I don’t reveal enough of myself, that more vulnerability within the writing would make for a more compelling piece/voice. Of course, sometimes that’s fiction … I could also be fictionally revealing. Many writers do that one very well.

I think the question I really want to answer is: what do I want to write about? Why am I blogging? That’s what I’m exploring through this. No answer yet, of course, the figuring out is in the doing.