Hmm… Write or do the dishes?

As I sit here at work, having more than plenty of work to do yet still somehow reading and doodling about my blog (a blog which I have neglected for over a week now), I begin to reflect upon the words of Stephanie Trigg from the University of Melbourne. In her flash-article, “Blogging, Time and Displacement,” she meditates upon her blog, its periods of energy and rest, and upon her academic writing, explaining:

“We are most of us familiar with the fact that our kitchens and bathrooms are cleanest when there is most marking or grading to do, or that the only way to get around to making an appointment with the tax accountant is to wait until a deadline looms over the horizon. Blogging can certainly function in that way, to create the illusion that we do have time to spare, that we are not overwhelmed by the tremendous external pressures on us to complete other forms of reading and writing.” (934)

In other words, blogging is a type of “displacement activity” (934). However, as Trigg is quick to point out, this isn’t a bad thing – this is part of what makes blogging so useful to writers as it doesn’t detour them from writing but, rather, keeps them writing even as they attempt to actively avoid it. In other words, blogging becomes an activity like scratching one’s head or doing the dishes that enables the alleviation of stress by postponing certain tasks or decisions that an individual may simply not be ready to undertake. As Trigg phrases it, blogging enables us to send whatever issue(s) we’re struggling with “to a different part of the brain to percolate while we focus on something else,” something that is less stressful yet still an engaging form of reading, writing, and community-building (935).

Thus, while we may have dirtier kitchens because of blogging, while we may still be procrastinating in certain senses, for many writers, academics, and professionals, the act of engaging in blogging is also an important form of creative displacement and stress relief – a place to go while our inner interns work to put everything else back in a bit of order for us.

 

Stephanie Trigg, “Blogging, Time and Displacement,” Literature Compass 9.12 (2010): 933-937.

Keep It Flashy: 75 Words of the Day

 

Sandra hid in the closet’s dark smile, feeling the intruder’s gaze hot upon its door. The knife squirmed, reveling in the feel of her sweaty palm. The footsteps creaked unbearably loud as they neared her, tickling at the skin of her heels, until, unable to stand it any longer, she turned to peer through the slats in the door – her knee banging into it. The knife slipped from her hand. Lunging for it – too late.

 

 

–Original fiction from K.C. Mead-Brewer

Holy Syntax, Batman!

(Special Shout-Out to the Chryst Writing Center for their awesome youtube video ad!)

If only students and scholars had gigantic spotlights with the WC symbol to cast against the dark night sky whenever they needed to call upon the abilities of a savior, of a Writing Tutor! (After all, it is inevitably in the dark of the night when people are actually beginning to write their papers, articles, essays, and short stories only to realize they need the help of a Writing Center.)

Of course, if you work or attend a school, chances are you don’t need to have a gigantic spotlight — please everyone, as one writer to another, if you have a writing center at your disposal, PUT IT TO GOOD USE!

Reading & Writing Online – A Brief Response to Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Once I read Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s (2012) “Reading (and Writing) Online, Rather Than on the Decline,” I knew I had to respond to it via blog post. It is a terrific article though it’s being published by The Modern Language Association (MLA) of America struck a strange chord given Fitzpatrick’s focus within the article upon the possibilities of scholars publishing their works on blogs and other online forums (and, as far as I can see, this article is not freely available online via blog or academia.edu or any other online forum). That aside, however, she puts forward a truly well-reasoned and articulated argument that scholars must come to accept online reading and writing as instances of actual reading and writing. She begins by explaining that people’s fears/anxieties regarding the putative fall of “the book” or “the novel” is fixed upon two primary misconceptions:

  1. that reading serious literature was ever a major pastime of most individuals in Western societies when, in fact, it “was always an activity dominated by those with time to spend at leisure” (42)
  2. that books are being completely torn from our cultural make-up by media such as television, radio, and the Internet when, in fact, these arguments have been greatly exaggerated for, what Fitzpatrick calls, “clearly ideological purposes” (42)

In this way, she argues, the elite of Western societies were able to not only cast a greater judgement upon Western culture as a whole (i.e. those that do not read books are leading us into a cultural decline) but were able to, in this same vein, cast themselves “as a marginalized population” of enrichment or enlightenment (42). And while I can certainly see the truth in this — there is a fair amount of snobbery and elitism that is becoming further ingrained within the thought of “the book” day by day — she at no point touches on the inherent issue of then suggesting that the Internet and online forms of reading and writing are not also forms of elitism and elite control of and participation in creating information. After all, even if academia as a whole hasn’t embraced online writing and reading as their new Sweetie Pie, she ignores the fact that many Americans still don’t even have access to the necessary technologies to make such an embrace an option for them. Consider that by 2012, 20% of Americans still had no access to the Internet and another 9% only had access via work or public institutions such as libraries.

In other words, while I don’t have a problem with Fitzpatrick’s arguments that academics ought to really get over their anxieties regarding online forms of reading, writing, and scholarly collaboration (I especially enjoyed her defense of Twitter by comparing its length restrictions to those of the sonnet (47)), I disagree with her that the Internet is a more democratized form of scholarship than books and journal articles. This is not to say that all of our public libraries are as well stocked, funded, centrally located, and/or appreciated as they ought to be or that books are somehow more available to many people (especially those in rural areas) than Internet access; this is simply to say that the fact that Fitzpatrick doesn’t mention this obstacle or disparity at all within her article is a significant oversight. The fact of the matter is, if I weren’t putting myself into thousands of dollars of debt to take graduate courses at the George Washington University, despite my internet connection and undergraduate degrees, I wouldn’t know this article existed or have access to it.

Before we begin to harangue the rest of academia into fully embracing the arenas of online reading, writing, publishing and peer reviewing, perhaps we ought to focus more upon making our work and our scholarship truly available to everyone — why not focus on making sure everyone had access to a public library or a personal computer before attempting to more fully integrate these hugely expensive technologies within our universities that are already too expensive for many to participate in? After all, as Fitzpatrick herself states in her article,

“If we’re brave enough to engage directly with the voting public, we might have the opportunity to demonstrate a bit more about what it is that we do and why what we do matters.” (50)

So, why don’t we make what we do matter and first work to make sure it’s available to the entirety of “the voting public” before trekking back down the ill-fated path of all those who once proclaimed the Internet was “the Great Equalizer”?

Creative Writing & MFAs

Image

A short blog today for a quick question — as I’ve been ruminating on my feelings of higher education and the academy, I’ve been coming back to this question again and again with mixed results every time; so I want to extend it to you:

Are MFAs worth their cost in time and money to writers or are writers better served by working on their own with a daily regimen of reading, writing, and editing?

 

Why’s that computer lookin’ at me funny?

Is anyone else here a Murder, She Wrote fan? Because I’m definitely and unashamedly in love with Jessica B. Fletcher — I’m pretty sure her life is supposed to be my life (though maybe with less murder) and maybe that’s why I’ve always been so averse to driving. But I digress… If you didn’t grow up watching Angela Lansbury write her way to the top while solving murder mysteries, then you likely won’t know that about 2/3 of the way through the series, the credits — which normally feature Jessica Fletcher typing on her typewriter — change to Jessica typing on her brand new computer.

And really, when we think about it, the e-book craze and all of the debates surrounding it are really missing a lot of the larger points that computerization and digitization can, have, and are bringing to the literary world. Consider, after all, not simply how computers have transformed our books and materials, but how computers have changed the way we write, read, reexamine, and create those materials — what does a book consist of anyhow?

Folgers is certainly creating new ways to think about Shakespeare and related texts with their new Digital Library:

“This database offers access to tens of thousands of high resolution images from the Folger Shakespeare Library, including books, theater memorabilia, manuscripts, and art. Users can show multiple images side-by-side, zoom in and out, view cataloging information when available, export thumbnails, and construct persistent URLs linking back to items or searches.”

Then there are authors like Jeff Gomez who are working to take the concept of “the novel” and see how far this term can be stretched without losing its “true” identity — begging the question of, what constitutes a novel? How do we define “book”? And he asks these questions through the presentation of his new “book”: Beside Myself. In this, what Gomez calls an “interactive novel,” he draws on the idea of being able to let readers “choose” their own endings — a stylistic choice I’ve always associated with the Goosebumps series in my mind (must’ve been that cat-monster themed book of their’s that I read as a youngster). But beyond this, there are also web links embedded in the text that lead the readers to fake sites, working character email addresses, other interactive menus, music, and even connections to Twitter and Facebook. And, while I feel compelled to ask, when does it cease to be a novel and begin to be an RPG or a video game — these sorts of questions are the entire point!

But presentation isn’t the only thing that’s changing — as I mentioned earlier, processes are also transforming. Not only are writers changing the way they approach writing and readers changing the way they approach reading, but scholars are beginning to change the way they approach and study both. As Thomas Rommel explains in his “Literary Studies” chapter of A Companion to Digital Humanities (edited by Susan Schriebman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth): “Computers are not used for the sake of using new tools, but computers can supplement the critic’s work with information that would normally be unavailable to a human reader. Speed, accuracy, unlimited memory, and the instantaneous access to virtually all textual features constitute the strength of the electronic tool.”

However, while studies are beginning to demonstrate just how useful computers can be in providing critics with empirical data that would have otherwise been unavailable to them, this style of readership and critique remains on the fringes of today’s mainstream humanities scholarship. There are many reasons for this but the primary one is simply and undoubtedly the deep aversion that most humanities scholars feel toward this nod to the digital. And while I cannot say that I am immune to this, it does make me wonder why I often cannot more accurately explain why I feel this way — perhaps it’s only natural to feel this way when moving through the liminal realm between the virtual and the physical, the digital and the natural. But as we begin to venture deeper into these studies and into what it means to write, read, and be read, we must begin to ask  ourselves yet again: how different are these planes to begin with?