Is college wasted on the young?

I teach media studies at a small public university in central Virginia.  My classes are filled with students from the region – we’re a well-kept Virginia secret – and almost all the students are between the ages of 19 and 22.   I do have one older gentleman in one of my classes and he is excited to be in school.  So excited to be learning.  I understand that feeling, having chosen to get my Master’s and PhD as a “non-traditional” student.

Learning can be fun.

On Thursday during class, we left the classroom and walked the campus.  The course is media reporting & writing. The topic of the day was “where do story ideas come from?”  So much of university work is purely intellectual, but media writing is not.  It involves all of a person’s senses, with their curiosity completely engaged, to become an effective media reporter and writer.  So we walked the campus in search of stories.

Found them we did.  We walked into buildings that most of us hadn’t entered before.  Talked about history that predated any of our tenures at Longwood U.   Back in the day, there was no central pedestrian commons uniting the campus – there were streets that locals used to get across town.  Even after the commons was built, at least one older local resident drove down the sidewalks and flowerbeds – he still thought it was a city street.

In the music building, two professors emerged from their offices to talk with us.  More ideas for potential stories.  One eloquently urged us to explore the basement practice area, to talk with music students sequestered there – “for whom the homework is never finished.”

“It’s not like math,”  he said to us, “where there are right and wrong answers.  Music students have to practice again and again.  And to be self-critical.  Did they get the fingering, the feel of the piece?”  A solid feature profile idea from a chance encounter.  It was better than I hoped we’d experience on our walk around campus.

I also had a student disappear from the walk.  He apparently thought that a walk around campus was his chance to escape from class.   He’s the same student who keeps asking me why we’re doing things – “what was the point of that?” is his general approach.  It makes me sad – his youthful arrogance will cause him to miss so much.  And he’ll likely be paying student loans for years on classes he barely attended.

He makes me think college is wasted on the young.

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May I live as long as my grandmother … or maybe not?

This is my grandmother, on a good day! Today she turns 97 years old – in the assisted living center where she has lived for the past 10 or more years. She’s outlived two husbands, a son, and many friends. Isn’t she beautiful?

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Mom says she has many bad days now. I guess it is possible to live too long, to bury too many friends and loved ones.

I’m definitely not ready for the “great adventure” that death might be, but by the time I’m 97 – I might be ready to see what’s next.

May today be a good day for my much-loved grandmother on her 97th birthday!

Snapshot Tuesday: rooster at the Royal Farms

Rooster at the Royal Farms, Fisher's Corner, Feb 9, 2013

Rooster at the Royal Farms, Fisher’s Corner, Feb 9, 2013

Royal Farms is a convenience store chain on the Eastern Shore.  The first time I saw the chickens wandering around this busy store, I thought someone would be upset that their chickens had gotten out and would be killed in this parking lot.   But apparently these chickens visit the Royal Farms all the time.

On the Sunday morning I took this picture, this beautiful rooster was holding forth, crowing next to the parking lot.  Regal.  Most people weren’t paying much attention to him – certainly not giving him the royal treatment he deserves – but I did see a few smiles.

Biewen’s audio documentary: “Little War on the Prairie” – worth a listen.

Minnesota State Seal

I sometimes download podcasts of radio programs to listen to on the drive to and from Longwood.   This American Life: Little War on the Prairie was one I listened to this past week.  This one was a WOW!

John Biewen, who directs the audio program at The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, produced the program.   It ran on This American Life on Nov 23, 2012 – Thanksgiving weekend.  Didn’t hear it then – aren’t podcasts great!

The description from This American Life:
Growing up in Mankato, Minnesota, John Biewen says, nobody ever talked about the most important historical event ever to happen there: in 1862, it was the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Thirty-eight Dakota Indians were hanged after a war with white settlers. John went back to Minnesota to figure out what really happened 150 years ago, and why Minnesotans didn’t talk about it much after.

Besides making me sad, once again, at the way white Americans treated the indigenous peoples of this continent – it also made me rethink my Eastern Shore Stories project – what am I missing in the recounting of recent Eastern Shore history?   What questions have I allowed to go unasked?

And could this be a model for how to put Eastern Shore Stories together as an audio documentary?

Snapshot Tuesday : hot tub angel

photograph from winter storm

The morning after a winter storm in Richmond, Virginia, January 18, 2013.

I’ve decided to revive my tradition of Snapshot Tuesday – posting a photograph or two on Tuesdays.  This is one I took in my neighborhood the morning after a fast-moving January storm.  It was the storm with thundersnow … the weather just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

And now … the rest of my professional life …

Since I started teaching full-time at Longwood University in August, I have had to focus on course preparation, the transition to new job, new routine, new institutional culture, and completing and defending my dissertation, which I did in October over Longwood’s fall break.

No time for blogging.  Not much time for anything really, except the job.  But I was “hooded” in a December graduation ceremony – officially becoming a Doctor of Philosophy in Media, Art, and Text.

Being “hooded” sounds creepy, but I found it to be a cool ritual.  I walked into the ceremony as part of the formal procession of faculty and graduates, carrying my academic hood over my arm like a four-star waiter’s towel.  During the graduation ceremony, my name was called, I walked forward, gave the hood to Dr. Kathy Bassard, chair of VCU’s English Department, and turned around so she could drape it over my neck and arrange it behind me.

Because she’s shorter than I am, I had to kneel down slightly – which added to the ritual of the moment.  Being hooded felt like a sort of soft-cloth knighting ceremony – with roots back into the Middle Ages and the birth of universities within monasteries.

My parents, my husband and my daughter were in the audience as witnesses, as well as several professors and some MATX’ers I’ve been in seminars with.

Also in attendance was the chair of my dissertation commitee, Dr. Noreen Barnes, who let me wear her academic tam instead of the standard-issue mortarboard VCU had given me.  Not only was the tam more attractive – the fact that she let me borrow it for the ceremony was a nice symbolic gesture. As an Associate Professor in VCU’s Theatre Department, she knows the value of ritual and gesture.

So now that I’ve completed the MATX PhD program, the question becomes –  how do I stay fresh and engaged with my field so my classes in Communication Studies at Longwood stay fresh?  And, given the interdisciplinary nature of the MATX degree, what constitutes my field?  What journals do I follow and what conferences do I attend?  Is that even the path I will take as an academic?

Those questions are why – although I could have spent the day grading the design projects I took in on Wednesday or working on notes for the Communication Theory class I’m teaching – instead I spent the morning investigating professional associations and journals.

The Oral History Association ?

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication ?

One I may join simply because I love the fact that they meet every March in Orlando, Florida, and cover topics like: “Gender and Feminism in Science Fiction”,  “Staging Monstrosity” and “Terrifying Futures: Post-Apocalyptic, Post-Human Dystopias” …  The International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts

Who do I want to become as a writer, media producer, and scholar?

What doesn’t come up in the political debates: “let them eat cake?”

This is the real story – told in Chrystia Freeland’s book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.  

In this video clip, Bill Moyers talks to the author, Chrystia Freeland, and Rolling Stone magazine’s Matt Taibbi. I’m going to vote for Obama – no question – I don’t want anyone as wealthy as Romney entrusted with my democracy. Can you say “let them eat cake” ?

This video was posted on Alternet – an independent source of news that I’m going to return to again.

“AlterNet’s Mission: AlterNet is an award-winning news magazine and online community that creates original journalism and amplifies the best of hundreds of other independent media sources. AlterNet’s aim is to inspire action and advocacy on the environment, human rights and civil liberties, social justice, media, health care issues, and more.”

I can see the forest, but it’s a blur!

You know that moment when you’re riding a roller coaster and you’re poised at the top of the first rise for split second before the coaster releases and barrels forward?

Everest roller coaster, Walt Disney World, November 2009

Click, click, click … those few seconds of anticipation …  excitement and terror threaded together.

I know I’m not going to die, but as I slam through the turns, I feel like I might.

That’s the way I feel right now,  a few days away from the start of the fall semester.

The job search is over.  I accepted a position teaching communications full-time at Longwood University.     This fall, I’m teaching multiple sections of Public Speaking and Media & Society.

Meanwhile, my dissertation has been revised twice and is  ready to go to the full committee, with a defense planned for this fall.

It looks like I might graduate in December.

Oh yeah, and the ESVHS & I were awarded a second grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to continue collecting farm life interviews for the Eastern Shore Stories project.

There’s more, but I’m breathless.

Wheeeeee … here I go !

Does this mean if I look behind me I’ll see the forest now?  I think the answer is yes, but the trees are a blur ’cause I’m moving too fast.

on the US military “going green”

I had no idea that the U.S. military was leading the way on “going green” … there might be some hope for us yet.

The Real Reason the Military is Going Green by Natalie Pompilio — YES! Magazine.

Here’s a snippet from the article:
    …  Climate change simply brings the question of alternative fuel development into sharper focus.   “[Climate change is] a threat multiplier, increasing instability in some of the most volatile regions in the world,” said Lt. Gen. Norman Seif, a retired U.S. Air Force commander who is now active in promoting clean energy. “That can be a threat to us and our own national security.”  …

The military’s initiatives are much broader in scope than simply developing alternative fuels to end dependence on foreign oil.  By 2020, the Army will have 17 bases using “only as much energy and water as they can produce” – part of their “net zero initiative.”

The Marines like solar power for a number of reasons.  There’s more room in their packs for food and supplies if they’re not hauling in batteries.  And solar-power generators are quiet … “Marines start using this, and they believe it scares the bad guys because they can’t hear where we’re at because there’s no generator running” (Marine Col. Bob Charette, director of Expeditionary Energy for the Marine Corps as qtd in the article).

I guess it’s a lucky thing for the planet that the military doesn’t have time for the rhetoric and doublespeak that’s preventing the rest of us from doing what we need to do about climate change.  But I do wish some of that military funding for innovation would be diverted into the private sector.  It’s not good for our democracy if only the military is “green”.

on being plugged in … how much is too much?

This seems important for my dissertation research, as well as my eventual teaching in media studies. Turkle argues that we need to ask ourselves if an obsessive use of social media technologies is taking humanity to a place we’ll want to inhabit.

In my research, I’ve broadened the question to include other forms of technology, like bioengineering and the use of chemicals in agriculture. What if our trust in technology is taking us someplace we don’t want to be? Seems true for farming. For a sense of community and local economies. For freedom and privacy. For civil discourse. For happiness.

Definitely an issue worth talking about. A conversation, perhaps over a meal … with everyone listening and no one texting.

I do think that most people try to strike a balance and unplug themselves occasionally … at least in our sleepy southern city of Richmond. Or maybe I just run with a more contemplative crowd – a crowd that likes to unplug, that dislikes the tether of instant communication. Seems like people I know are asking these questions. I don’t think I know anyone who sleeps with a cell phone … wonder if Turkle’s research took her outside the urban Northeast corridor?