“I’d like to thank the academy…”

One of the people I’m studying for our “Online Identity Analysis” project in my Digital Self course is very excited about  web texts. These aren’t necessarily a fascinating source of study for me personally, but I’ve liked a lot of the things she’s linked to. The interplay of visuals, words, and the interactivity available through different programs online creates some very interesting ways of sharing information.

With this in mind, I thought I would share this link about the Academy Awards. I’m not sure if this really qualifies as a “web text,” as my definition of this is still fuzzy. But it’s interesting nonetheless. It analyzes the acceptance speeches throughout the years of the Oscars, focusing on who was thanked, and even gestures used by the people doing the thanking. You can even choose one of the winners and compare his or her speech to others. (There are even links to speech transcripts and videos)

An interesting study in language, presented in a fun, interactive way. Check it out!

The New Old Model of Work

On my way home today, I heard this story on NPR, about the CEO of Yahoo reinstating a no-working-from-home policy. In the audio version, which is not available online as of my posting, since All Things Considered hasn’t aired across the country yet, Elise Hu noted the Marissa Mayer, the CEO in question, left Google for Yahoo a short time ago.

I recall that Yahoo has had several CEO changes in the recent past (I found this interesting post on ReadWrite claiming that it was the machinations of an “activist investor” that *really* led to Scott Thompson being sacked), and Hu (or one of her interviewees) noted that Mayer is likely reacting to pressure from investors to turn the company around.

Apparently, Google encourages people to stay at work by having all kinds of awesome stuff there, like food and recreation and camaraderie. The implication was that Mayer was looking to the example of her previous country, and to data on employee productivity in general, in deciding to make the new rule. It seems to me that “forcing” people to change their work habits in a more restrictive and autocratic manner is not going to change the company culture.

There are a lot of other interesting points in the piece, and I could muse on those, but I want to focus for the moment on the idea of context. Acting on data divorced from context seems unwise to me. I would be willing to bet that when you really get down to it, most people do their jobs better, collaborate better, show more company loyalty, don’t steal from work, yada yada yada, if they feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, valued, and respected. What they (typically) don’t want is to be micromanaged, mistrusted, faceless. I can see how either set of feelings could be fostered in a variety of models of employment, including teleworking/commuting.

As the audio piece indicates, sending people to work from home requires support, perhaps even education, in working effectively from home. Working collaboratively requires support and education in working collaboratively. Working with new technologies requires support and education in working with new technologies. Ad nauseum. I would argue that all of this learning and support requires people at every level, from hourly wage workers to the CEO, from to be trusted to do their jobs and to trust each other in kind.



Hate Online

In class this past week, we were talking about the concept of “fractured identities” – or “multiple selves” or…<insert metaphor here> (we couldn’t quite agree what to call it!). It’s this concept that you are many different versions of yourself in many different places. The author we were reading, Nancy Baym, made the claim that this is a result of anonymity online; however, many of us declared that this “fracturing” was occurring before online existence. In some cases, the internet makes it worse – creating more opportunities for more “selves” – and in others it creates the risk of many of those worlds crashing together. This blog post is evidence of the latter.

One of my “selves” is “pastor’s wife.” I claim that label instead of simply “Christian” for two reasons: (1) I really, really dislike the face of Christianity that most often comes to mind nowadays thanks to the actions of churches like Westboro Baptist, and (2) there’s a lot more baggage that goes along with being a pastor’s wife. That baggage isn’t quite as potent for me as it has been in the past since Don is not currently in an official pastoral role; however, there’s a “fish bowl” effect to being part of a minister’s family that is quite…interesting. But honestly, this is beside the point (for now).

So, when fully participating in this part of my fractured self, I enjoy – among other things – reading the blog of Rachel Held Evans. She is an author, speaker, and blogger who tries to engage in a view of Christianity that is quite different from the mainstream evangelical view. She challenges a lot of fundamentalist thought, and usually does so in a very respectful, reasonable manner. Unfortunately, the responses to these challenges are often anything but reasonable, and often downright hateful. I’ve been amazed over the past few months as I watched people react to the release of her newest book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (which one Christian bookstore refused to carry because she uses the word “vagina” in it). It is understandable that some in the more conservative corners of Christianity would disagree with her view; what was striking was how they handled that disagreement.

One of Rachel Held Evans’ pieces of origami hate mail. (Pic from her blog)

This week, Rachel blogged about how she is turning hate mail into origami. While I think this is a lovely and interestingly healing way of dealing with it, I was shocked at the images she posted including some of this hate mail. And it got me to thinking again about how this screen (computers, internet, online communication) somehow makes some of us lose our humanity. My guess is that a lot of the people who sent her hate email, tweeted negative things, or left hateful comments on news stories and blogs wouldn’t dare to be this rude in person. Okay, maybe some would. But what is it about this screen that makes us forget that we’re talking to other humans, that our words can still land like daggers? Would these “online haters” have taken the time to write (or type) a letter and send it?

What do you think? Is online discourse participating in the degradation of public discourse as a whole, or is it just simply another environment in which it happens?

Digital Interactions and (Shared) Identity

This blog is very self-absorbed so far, and this post is no exception. My apologies. I’m in a moment of questioning and investigating, in great part inspired by the challenges presented by The Digital Self.

In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy K. Baym argues that online interactions form (speech) communities, inasmuch as groups have a shared “sense of space, shared practice, shared resources and support, shared identities, and interpersonal relationships” (75). She highlights a few types support systems established by members of online groups, those that provide “emotional,” “esteem,” and “informational”  support (85-86). Members’ sense of community, support, and general in-group-ness, from Baym’s research, range with their level of activity in the group. Lurkers, as we might suspect, tend to derive the least from their (lack of) interactions online.

So, my resistance to online interactions would seem to be self-perpetuating. Of course, it makes sense, and it’s really pretty obvious. By resisting participation in online groups, I miss out on opportunities to find others in my field, as well as others who share my hobbies and interests, with whom I can establish meaningful relationships through writing. Even if I’m “there,” in that space, I’m not a presence, because I haven’t participated in the discourse of the groups, or contributed in any way to shaping the genres or agenda of the groups.

Take, for example, my membership to a professional listserv. Like the lurkers in Preece, Nonnecke and Andrews’ 2004 study, cited by Baym (87), on a per-situation basis, I feel like I get the information I need from the WPA listserv by lurking, I feel shy about contributing to conversations, and/or feel like I contribute by remaining silent. However, I frequently share the conversations and links with colleagues and friends off-list (many of whom are members of the listserv as well, but have the messages filtered out of their inboxes). So, I was the first to read the ongoing conversations about the 2013 Conference on College Composition and Communication: Bedbugs at the Riviera, Humbugs about Las Vegas in General, Bugs in the Proverbial Ear about What Vegas has to Offer, and I have shared these conversations with my colleagues a both through digital and away from screen interactions.

I think I own my WPA listserv membership more than the typical lurker. But, since I never post or respond, few of the group members know who I am or what I have to offer. And that’s pretty typical of me. And, honestly, it is a little bit lonely. And it worries me that somehow I need to be a presence in this and more online spaces by three years from now, when I’m on the job market.

I’m just not into the idea of strategizing my identity and network, though. I like to say that I like relationships to develop organically. So when I feel like I have something to say, I’ll say it. But, if Baym’s observations and resulting assertions are spot on, I’m never going to feel safe, a member of the group, until I put myself out there and say it.

Search Return

So you know (my ex says) they have this new search function on Facebook.

Yeah, I say sage to the phone.

So! he says. I wonder. Will people start living their lives so that they match the search norms on Facebook? Like, would you go to the beach just so that you can write a post about it and then show up in the search results for “beach trip”? Would you tailor your life so that you appeared at the top of certain searches, so that you were the most visible person planning a BBQ or choosing a preschool or going skiing or whatever?

Wow, I say. There’s a short story there. Or even a novel. Huh. I may have to quote you on that. But if I do, I’ll give you credit.

Ok, he says, uncertain. How would you cite me? As your ex?

There’s a pause, filled for me by the little cat gnawing on my knee.

Actually, he says, yeah. That’d be good. ‘Wisdom from my ex.’

It’s a very cool idea, I say. You should write a poem about it.

Eh, he says, breezy. Maybe. We’ll see.

MOOCs – a step backwards?

This is an interesting take on MOOCs. Usually I hear people go on and on about how “revolutionary” MOOCs are, and how they will fundamentally change the face of education. This takes a different view. A part I thought was interesting:

The pedagogical justification for MOOCs derives from a misunderstood belief in the surety and fixidity of current academic knowledge when, in fact, the entire point of the academy is discovery and dialogue. That is: the MOOC assumes we know what there is for us to know, and the only question now is how to package that knowledge in its best possible form for widest dissemination. So we must locate the “most charismatic” professors — but really, why not hire actors? — and have them lecture “deliver content” for huge Internet audiences of 10,000 or more.

But this bears no relationship to what actually goes on in classrooms, at least in the humanities fields in which I’ve spent the last fifteen years. The vitality of our teaching derives not from the recitation of what is certain but from the explorations of questions that are still unsettled and raw. MOOCs presume that nothing new will be produced in research — the entire point is to freeze established “content” in its perfected form — but also that nothing new or worthwhile is produced in the two-way encounter between teacher and student. Neither assumption reflects any college classroom I’ve ever sat in or how we in the humanities teach and learn.


Hospitality Online

In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym argues that online communities are often self-policing; if you are participating in the community and engage in a behavior that isn’t the “norm,” you will be corrected. This is, I suppose, somewhat good and to be expected. But what of communities where you are new and unfamiliar with the rules? Some communities have a guidelines page for this purpose; however, my experience has been that there are many more unwritten rules for these communities.

What I’m particularly concerned with here is how we correct unwelcome behaviors. I have seen situations where someone breaks one of the unwritten rules, resulting in one or more people smacking them down with extreme force.

This hurts way more when it isn’t scripted.

This is incredibly unwelcoming. So, I guess my question is: how can communities become more welcoming to new participants and help them assimilate to the expectations in a way that is truly hospitable? Do they even want to do that?


The Genre of Suck


I’m struggling to revise an academic essay right now, a fanwank-y piece about the American TV show Supernatural [what else?]. However, unlike my usual SPN stuff, this essay centers not on feminist readings of fan practice but on the narrative tic-tock of the show itself.

That is, I’m struggling to say something useful (gods please) or even interesting about the canon side of things; specifically, about the angel Castiel’s shenanigans in season six and brief foray into godhood–via a postmodern critical lens, no less.

Sigh. And it sounded so cool as an abstract.

But man! do I suck at it, this kind of writing.

It’s not the mechanics of revision that are troubling me now. To the contrary, the editors of the maybe-collection in which said essay would appear have been kind, providing very thoughtful comments, suggestions, exhortations on the first drafty-as-fuck draft. So I know how to hack the thing into some kind of shape.


But re-reading [foundational rhetorical critic] Carolyn Miller this week has helped me to nail this sucker down, the thing that’s driven my confusion about the essay from the get-go: I don’t understand what the thing is supposed to do, in the end.

Miller argues that a genre is defined in large part by the “action it is used [by writers and readers] to accomplish” (151). So, ok, who cares if I can talk about a fictional avenging angel in terms of contemporary rhetorical theory and a Foucaultian analysis of power? Fundamentally, what action might such an essay be used to accomplish? And by whom?

Right! I don’t know!

That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, that there’s no action in play here. No. I just have no fucking clue what it might be because–when you get down to it–canon-centered fandom essays are not a genre I tend to hang out with, frankly.

Here’s Miller again:

A genre [she asserts] is a rhetorical means for mediating private intentions and social exigence; it motivates by connecting the private with the public, the singular with the recurrent (163).

That is, a genre offers a socially acceptable way for a writer/speaker to publicly express an individual intention in a manner that can be recognized by others.

So slash fic, for example–you know, just for instance–offers a genre through which writers can express a private intention to revel in, uh–

–within a generic form that’s socially acceptable [at least within particular communities of readers]. And the genre also provides sufficient constraints as to make an individual writer’s public expression recognizable to an audience, to someone other than the writer herself.

I suppose what I’ve discovered, then, in the process of battling with this essay is that I’m lacking a goddamn private intention here: I’m crafting a public expression that’s not grounded in me, necessarily, in a burning recognition of exigence to which I feel my scholarship must speak.

Maybe it’s the rhetorician in me talking [duh], but this experience has reminded me that I’m much more interested in what texts do, or what we do with texts, than in the content of the texts themselves. I mean, the content matters, dude; indeed, it was the content of one particular SPN episode [that I will be hatefucking in perpetuity, as my ex puts it] that put me on the road to fandom-centered scholarship.

Which is all well and good. But given that I agreed to play in a generic sandbox of another color, it might have behooved me to get a little dirty first.

Who are you looking forward to seeing?

I spend a lot of time on tumblr.

Ostensibly, this is for “research” purposes.

What? I study fandom, fandom lives on tumblr, ergo: I study tumblr.

And about 40% of the time, I do. Because reblogging photos of the Overlord totally counts.









One of the things I’ve learned over there is the desire seems to drive many of the interactions in that space: the users, the teenage girls and young women who hang out there–they want to be seen.


They want to be noticed, listened to, taken seriously, treated as individuals worthy of love, respect, and praise.

But for that to happen, they first must be observed.

In Discipline and Punish, the philosopher Michel Foucault discusses the panopticon–a prison model designed in the 18th century that allowed a guard to see into every cell from a central watchtower, like this:

For Foucault, the panopticon is a metaphor for the disciplinary power of the state, one which doesn’t rest in a king or a president or even an government; rather, it sits in what he calls the “apparatus” of that power–the mechanics of our everyday lives. That is:

And although it is true that its pyramidal organization gives it a ‘head,’ it is the apparatus as a whole that produces ‘power’ and distributes individuals in this permanent and continuous field. This enables the disciplinary power to be both absolutely indiscreet, since it is everywhere and always alert…and absolutely ‘discreet,’ for it functions permanently and largely in silence. (177)

To put it more bluntly: we are all the panopticon. We’ve internalized the norm-ing forces of our society, our civilization, and we replicate and transmit the disciplinary power of those norms through our everyday interactions.

We’re the watchman. We’re the prisoner. We’re the Man.

Ultimately, Foucault argues, it’s this observation, though, this constant state of surveillance that we ourselves embody and enact, that creates the individual. As he puts it:

“Discipline ‘makes’ individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its own exercise.” (170)

On tumblr, then, I’ve noticed a desire to be seen, to become both the object of disciplinary power and the instrument through which that power’s divined.

You’ll see a lot of posts like this, is what I’m saying:


This is only 1/3 of the list of questions, BTW.

Users post selfies, they post confessions, they post minute-by-minute details of their day. And for this, you as a reader are asked to “follow” them–no, to become a follower of them–so that you might be notified each time they post to their blog. So you can see them, each and every time they ask you to look.

More than other online spaces I live in, tumblr is a place where the reader’s greatest sin is to ignore the writer, where the writer’s greatest fear is that no one will respond to or reblog their self-hate, their gif set, their grin, yes.

And I say this for myself, too: on tumblr, I feel more vulnerable than I do on here on my blog or on twitter or over on AO3. Which is odd, to say the least, given my utter lack of shame about the content of my writing in genera.

But, on tumblr, when I’m seen? It’s usually terrific. But when I’m not, when the guard in the tower has her back to me, I–my digital self–disappears.

My prof asked: Is this desire to be seen generated by the panopticon? Or is it a form of resistance?

No, I said, quick. It’s not resistance. But as for the other?

I gotta say: I find that question really fucking disturbing.

Productive, yeah. Interesting, sure. But really really disconcerting.

How I Work: The Setup

Blogpost title and interview prompts are “courtesy of” lifehacker.com and usethis.com and are remixed by yours truly.

Who are you, and what do you do?

Location: Blacksburg, VA (well, I live in Christiansburg, but spend most of my waking hours on Virginia Tech Campus).

Current gig(s): Let’s see, PhD student in Rhetoric and Writing, GTA for Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) / Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM) Engineering Communications Program (ECP; is that enough acronyms for ya?), Assistant editor for Review of Middle East Studies (RoMES; there’s one more for good measure). Belly dancer.

One word that best describes how you work: Conversation.

For a class, “The Digital Self,” we drew out our workflow for research (our personal  “memex“–thanks, Quinn Warnick, for the PDF of Vannevar Bush’s 1945 Atlantic article, “As We May Think”). Mine included a number of stick figures conversing–in a classroom, in a lecture, in front of the TV, over a beer–that’s me and a variety of people who hash things out with me, and whose brains now (hopefully) contain bookmarks to some of my better ideas. Conversation leads to everything else I do, I think.

What hardware do you use?

Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy S. Nothing special, but a smart phone that I use for internet searches, email, checking facebook messages, and a few apps.

Current computer: An older MacBook with OS 10.6.8 update, which I love. I didn’t have my own computer at all until a few years ago, and this one was a gift from my spouse, Andy. I need to fix the DVD drive, though. Andy’s home office/studio houses his Mac Pro (outfitted with dual 27″ screens, mixing board, and a variety of other sound recording hardware and software, much of which I can’t name) is where we edit and remix much of the music I dance to. Because of Quinn’s class, I’m a proud, if temporary, owner of an iPad updated to iOS 6.1. Similarly, I also have an HP laptop for my GTA position (I absolutely hate using it, but it’s convenient to leave it in that office) and an HP desktop in the journal office, which I like a bit better, primarily for its huge screen and the fact that I keep a decent set of speakers hooked up to it.

Besides your phone and your computer, what gadget can’t you live without? I have such a non-techy life compared to many. I need my DVD player and TV for my yoga videos, and some source of decent sound for listening (and dancing) to music. 

And what software?

What apps/software/tools you can’t live without? Sadly, I’m pretty dependent on Office 2011 for Mac for my teaching, writing, and other work. The journal operates a clunky old Access database that I’m looking for the funding to work full time this summer and learn to completely overhaul; I compose teaching handouts, my own papers and some journal correspondence in Word; I use PowerPoint for organizing a variety of media for classroom teaching. I love Google’s products, including my phone’s android platform, and have been one of the few people, apparently, to be thrilled when my previous and current university switched from awful old Lotus to Gmail. Andy and I use Logic Pro 9 to edit music, but I really need a lot of help from him to be at the wheel rather than just navigating. For The Digital Self, I’ve been using Twitter and WordPress, along with a few other applications, for the past couple of weeks. Yesterday, the Kindle app for the iPad saved my tuchas when I forgot my paperback copy Foucault’s Discipline and Punish for a class, although I also own both that and the Kindle version now, and who needs that?

Do phone apps count? College Football Scoreboard, MyFitnessPal, and DailyHoroscope are favorites, along with Shazam and Pandora.

What’s your workplace setup look like? Which one? My workplace setup is almost entirely nomadic. I spent most of a summer working on my MA thesis at the picnic table in my backyard, surrounded by huge stacks of articles and interview transcriptions, transitioning from coffee to iced tea or lemonade to beer. I usually have a desktop or laptop in front of me and beverage(s), snacks, notebooks, books, etc. spread around me. I like a view, but not necessarily one I’ve created.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack? I worked in the service industry for many years, and I had a hotel banquet manager who’d always say “never go anywhere empty-handed.” I carry that maxim with me and try to run several errands at once, carry something downstairs if I need to grab something, etc. It can backfire sometimes.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Pen and paper or some similar technology, for sure. I use Stickies on my desktop sometimes.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream setup would be fluid, spacious, even invisible. I really want a gigantic whiteboard. Also, I would already know how to use the hard- and software in my dream setup without getting frustrated to the point of near-tears. Audio and video recording and editing software would be high on the list of items I’d want.

What do you listen to while you work?

Most of the time, nothing. Music is a huge distraction for me, so I’ll listen while I walk from one place on campus to another, stop between tasks to throw on my headphones and dance around for a few minutes if the office is empty, etc. When I’m working on the journal after campus sort of shuts down around 5 p.m., I’ll put on Pandora and listen to one of my own stations (a sampling of past starting points: Fleet Foxes, “Electric Feel,” Avicii, Guided by Voices, The Last Waltz, Hossam Ramzy, or one of several hip hop stations for different moods–from Atmosphere to Dr. Dre to Jay-Z).

What’s your sleep routine like? Not great. Typically 12:30 to 8:30 or so. I am working (Still!) on going to bed and waking up earlier. With Virginia Tech being such a 9-5 campus, it’s pretty necessary.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? I am a really good cook.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Mostly, an extrovert. I like to feel out unfamiliar situations before sticking a toe in the water, though, especially around really “cool” and/or really smart people.

Is there anyone you’d kill to see answer these same questions? The wording of this question makes it sound like I’m going to torture someone to get their answers. Actually, I’m acquaintances with another PhD student (geology at Purdue, if I remember correctly) and really talented, unique, belly dancer and costume designer, Bastet. I’d like to see how she manages things. Joss Whedon or Kevin Smith would be really cool.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was just yesterday, from my advisor. It goes something like, “Don’t let other people serve you their shit.” My best friend brought a different version back from a leadership conference once: “That monkey on your back? That’s not my monkey.”

Is there anything you’d like to add that might be of interest to others? I’m not sure that what I have written would be of interest to others, so, no.


The Setup

In my Digital Self class, we are all talking about our “Setup” – how we get stuff done. Using The Setup website as a template, here I go:

Who Are You and What Do You Do? 
I’m Tana M. Schiewer, graduate student, wife, mother, bicycle commuter, and occasional writer-for-hire. I am currently a PhD student in the Rhetoric and Writing program at Virginia Tech, which is housed in the English Department. When not trying to force my brain to concentrate on words on a page, I spend time mostly with my husband, 9 year old son, and Puggle, who suffers from seizures. I occasionally do ad copy or write grants.

What Hardware Do You Use?
I have an HP TouchSmart that I use for most of my classwork, though thanks to a program here at Tech I also have an iPad to use for the semester. I also sometimes use my phone to do work, when necessary. Also, for bike commuting, I use a Giant Revive with a Bionx electric assist. (What? Not the kind of hardware you meant?)

And What Software?
For school, I mostly use the basics: Gmail, Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft Office. Library databases for doing research. Express Scribe for transcription. I tried using Mendeley to manage my PDFs and books, but I just can’t seem to get myself to keep up with it. I was using a simple Excel sheet to track what I read, make notes about the main ideas, and establish keywords, and sometimes that just seems easier. I might go back to that.

For home, the only software really necessary is to keep track of finances. Budgeting is extremely important when you’re living on a paltry graduate assistantship salary! :-)  I use our bank’s online payment systems and Mint.com to keep track of finances and ensure we stay within our spending limits. (I did have an amazing budgeting software program I loved that I started using when we get married (1996), but it finally stopped working when it upgraded to Windows 7. It’s a shame, but Mint’s okay.)

For fun, the usual: Facebook, twitter, Hulu, Netflix.

What Would Be Your Dream Setup?
I still love paper and pen, but it’s not always easy to cart around all the papers you need, nor is it always easy to write stuff down when you’re, say, riding a bicycle. Most of my best ideas come to me when walking to the bus, riding my bike, or drifting off to sleep. So I would love something that could just magically transfer ideas from my head to some sort of database. And also, from my paper to the database (no, not a screen I would write on instead). Because yes, I’m lazy.

Oh, and as long as it’s a “Dream Setup” – I also want the magic bag-with-no-bottom that Hermione had in the Deathly Hallows. Because then the whole paper thing would be less of a problem.


My favorite hardware.

My favorite hardware.

Start Making Sense

I’ve written in this space before about my relationship with writing, but I’ve never really considered how I write, how I get shit done. So using Lifehacker’s How We Work series as a Proust Questionnaire-type model, I’m taking a crack at chasing my workflow, so. Here goes.

Current gig: PhD wonderland
One word that best describes how you work: Ongoing
Current mobile device: iPhone 4
Current computer: MacBook Pro that’s aging gracefully

What apps/software/tools can’t you truly live without?

  • Notes on the iPhone. A good 80% of my projects, both fan fiction and academic, start there.
  • WordPress and Tumblr.The next generation of idea development happens here.
  • Dropbox synched on all my devices and online. Almost all of my teaching materials live there, in various iterations, along with tons of fandom and academic-related PDFs.
  • Good Reader for iPad. PDF access all the time to shit I pull down from Dropbox.

What’s your workplace setup like?

workspace @ school

The key for me is having a big space to spread out in. I don’t need shelves or drawers, really; just a big wide workspace to fill with books, papers, computer, and other detritus  At school, I spend as much time sitting on my desk as I do behind it; it’s just easier for me to work up there. At home, I make a conscious effort to work at my desk and not on the couch. Couch = social media. Desk = writing.

That said, I spend more time working in alternative spaces like the library and the local Starbucks than I do in either of these officially sanctioned places.

workspace @ home

Decorating my spaces, adorning them with the relics of academic fandom, is key for me. I need Batman putting his finger in my face sometimes; at others, I just need some pretty to stare at when the words aren’t coming fast enough.

Blank walls freak me out, is what I’m saying.

What’s your best timesaving hack/shortcut?

Write shit down. Whenever and wherever an idea comes, I write it down RIGHT THEN or else it’s gone. This saves me time later wracking my brain for evidence of my previous brilliance, because it’s all there on my iPhone or in the margins of my homework.


when i run out of space here, these notes migrate to other rooms. my hallway’s full of the things.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? 

Giant sticky notes on the wall of my workspace. They’re the in-world version of my iPhone Notes.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

The iPad when I’m traveling and at conferences and a good set of headphones, always.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?

Giving myself permission to write. Just sitting down and letting the words come, fucked up or sideways or even right the first time. Publishing my stuff on the internet has done wonders for me, in this way: I write something, I publish it, period. Writing’s like a trap-and-release program, for me.

What do you listen to while you work?

Blessed silence or movie soundtracks like Tron: Legacy and X-Men: First Class.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Ugh. Terrible. I go to bed at a reasonable hour, sure, but then I wake up more than once and check email, which suggests to the cats that it’s time to get up. A struggle ensues, with sleep the inevitable loser.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

Bitch please. I am the textbook introvert.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Listening solves 95% of problems. Help people to know they’re being heard.

The hardest part, for me? Is listening to myself.

On Pretentiousness and Twitter

I dislike pretentiousness. Which is a difficult dislike to have when you’re a graduate student, because let’s face it: the academic world is rife with it. Or…it has a reputation for being rife with it. To be honest, I’m not quite sure which of those statements is fact anymore. Are there pretentious people in academia? Heck yeah. But are they the norm, or the exception?

I feel like my uncertainty about this has a lot to do with the increased presence of professors on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  Thanks to Twitter, I now know that Clay Spinuzzi takes the bus to campus, Bill Hart-Davidson is a cyclist, and Quinn Warnick catalogs his Clif bars. Somehow, knowing these small extra details about academics makes them seem a little less Ivory-Tower-y. Somehow, this digital space that we each can only access from one side of a screen tears down walls. Does that even make sense?

Now, I’m not saying that these media spaces are the only things doing this. Just this past weekend, we had an Undergraduate Research Writing Symposium here at Tech, and Dr. Carter-Tod (who organized it) stated that she brought in the three guest speakers because they are “accessible” and generous with their scholarship and time. Only one of the three has an active Twitter presence, so I don’t think that’s what did it for them. They are simply hospitable scholars – and many, many of them exist in the discipline of Rhetoric and Writing. (Hooray!) But not everyone is good at showing the rest of the world that they are ready and willing to lend an ear – even if they truly are. And unfortunately, legends of snobby scholars and “I had a bad experience” stories from students often keep students from feeling like they have the “right” to approach other scholars – unless specifically granted permission to speak.

So I guess what I’m trying to say in my rambly-roundabout way is that social media applications have aided in tearing down walls – whether they be real or just perceived. And though I’m still undecided on how I feel about keeping up with all of this digital stuff, I do know for sure that I at least appreciate Twitter for helping to virtually knock down some walls.
p.s. This post sounded much better when I wrote it in my head while walking to the bus today. Isn’t there some sort of technology that can help me with that?

Starting Over. Again.

I built my first website, an online version of my university’s literary journal, in 1999. Actually, I convinced my much smarter roommate to build it for me, then I duplicated his template, copied and pasted each story or poem from QuarkXPress into NotePad, and added a few basic HTML tags. And boom — we were live on the web.

I was instantly hooked. Even though I had no programming skills and very little training in graphic design, I decided to start an online literary magazine after I graduated. I was working on Capitol Hill, and The White Shoe Irregular was an attempt to keep my creative juices flowing. A couple of friends helped me get the site up and running (thanks, Josh and Weston!), and within a few months, we were publishing a new piece of fiction, poetry, or satire almost every day.

The White Shoe Irregular, version 1

When Movable Type came out, my life got much easier. I no longer had to spend two hours every night marking up the next day’s piece and renaming files via FTP. And thanks to our shiny new content management system, the site’s design became much more sophisticated. (Translation: I added a sidebar.)

The White Shoe Irregular, version 2

The site got featured on a few “cool page of the day” websites and even won “Best Content/E-zine Website” at the 2001 South by Southwest Web Awards. (I had no idea what SXSW was, so I didn’t bother to show up for the awards ceremony. My life might be very different today if I had made the trip to Austin.)

Around mid-2003, my enthusiasm for the site began to wane (one can only imitate McSweeney’s for so long), and rather than let the site live up to its name, I decided to shut it down. I am happy to note that the site has never gone offline — the entire archive is still available.

The White Shoe Irregular, version 3

Almost immediately, I began working on a new site called Gnoyle. (Yeah, I know, terrible name. It’s a long story.) But deciding exactly what the site should be and do and look like took a little longer than anticipated. I think the “Coming Soon” page was the only thing on the site for the better part of a year.


Eventually, I decided not to decide, and Gnoyle became the place I published anything and everything that was on my mind — short fiction, book and movie reviews, interesting quotes, and bizarre overheard conversations. I even made a bold departure from my black-and-white color scheme.


Gnoyle lived on to see a few more iterations…


But grad school was right around the corner, and I soon found myself with another stagnant site on my hands. This time, I took down the site and gave up the domain name. In the intervening nine years, no one has claimed gnoyle.com — a sure sign that I could have chosen a better name for the site.

At Iowa State, I created more electronic portfolios than I care to remember. The process was always arduous, but each site that I created taught me a little more about web design and little more about what I wanted my online presence to look like.

Quinn Warnick's Personal Site, 2007

At some point (2006? 2007?), I decided I needed to own a professional domain name, so I went with the obvious choice and registered quinnwarnick.com. (Thanks, ancestors, for having a unique last name! Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me a unique first name!) Of course, registering a domain name and creating a site are two very different things, so I was back to a “Coming Soon” page.

Quinn Warnick's Electronic Portfolio, 2006

When that got too embarrassing, I added a splash of color and a few links to spruce things up.

Quinn Warnick's Personal Site, 2008

In 2009, I scrapped the rooster and went completely professional (i.e., boring) for my academic job search. I added teaching and research statements, teaching evaluations, an HTML version of my c.v., and a fancy contact form. For the first time in five years, I was almost practicing what I preached to my web design students.

Quinn Warnick's Personal Site, 2010

And, sadly, that’s how the site has looked for the past three years. Other than minor updates to reflect job changes or the new courses I was teaching each semester, quinnwarnick.com has been ridiculously stagnant.

So. It’s time for something new. I’m not quite sure what that something will be, but I hope it involves more regular updates, some reflection on remnants from my digital past (like these screenshots of old sites), and better integration of the many scattered pieces of my digital present. I’m asking the graduate students in my Digital Self class to develop (or redevelop) an online presence this semester, so it only seems fair that I should play along, too.

To get started, I’ve stripped down the site to a default theme and moved a few things around. The final version of the site (if such a thing can be said to exist) will be taking shape over the next few months, and I’ve decided to keep the site live as I work on it, so things might look a messy for a bit. With any luck, the mess won’t last for another four or five years.

Turn Back Now

A friend pointed out that, in my last post about my digital self, I linked the shit out of that sucker, a choice that she argued had the effect of shifting the reader from a linear experience in this space–scrolling from top to bottom–to one that’s unstuck in both space and time by kicking the reader through my back catalogue of posts, but in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure sort of way, you know, like:

You see a series of doors ahead of you.

  • If you choose the one marked “slash fic writer,” turn to page 7.
  • If you choose the door marked “rhetorician,” turn to page 4.
  • If you choose the one marked “political junkie,” turn to page 12.

Huh. I’d never thought of this place, this blog, quite like that.

Part of it, I suppose, is that because I wrote all of the posts in question–build all the damn doors myself–it’s hard for me not to think of this space as linear. At its core, this blog’s a trace of my thinking, for better or worse, and I tend to think of it in temporal terms. How the posts tagged to what was happening offline, what I was reading, where I was physically located, etc.

Now my friend, she’s very into space, the way that physical environments–especially those designed/designated as memorials–can affect the user/visitor’s construction of knowledge. So it stuck with me, a burr under my mental saddle–and then it ran headlong into George Siemens.

Siemens is an educational theorist and teacher up in the Canada, eh, whose work explores what he calls “connectivism,” a theory of learning that attempts to account for human-computer interactions. In “A Learning Theory for the Digital Age,” Siemens recasts learning as

a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.

(HAL 9000? Is that you?)

I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.

Such a redefinition is necessary, he (Siemens, not HAL) argues, to account for shifts in learning practice and application. Educators must recognize that

knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner

but is rather constructed, negotiated, and revised by an individual end user within an ever-evolving panoply of informational networks comprised of both electronic devices–hi Gerty!–and other individual users.

I’m here to help you, Sam.

Ultimately, each of us is constantly playing in and with what Siemens calls our “personal learning network,” one which, if it’s to remain useful, must always be kairotic.

So this got me thinking. Maybe one way of approaching this blog–a clearinghouse for my online life–is as the temporary home of my personal learning network, an online space through which I can momentarily move beyond what Spock might call “two-dimensional thinking.”

That is, a place wherein I might learn/write [because for me they are inexorably connected] not outside of time and space, per say, but through it, with the understanding that the Enterprise can fly up and down and beyond just as well as she can fly straight ahead.

But this assumes, I think, that I’ll return to the blog as a reader, too; as someone who engages with what I’ve written after the fact, outside of the kairotic moment in which the words first flew. Hmm. So building this living memorial to my PLN isn’t enough, perhaps; I’ve got to wander through it from time to time and engage the gaze. Participate in a little metacognition.

So, then, if other people, other readers, visit this space, then, it might become a point of connection within their own PLN, temporarily or no.

Besides, you can always turn the pages back and choose another door if you don’t like what you find:

  • You see Castiel spread out on the bed before you.
  • You see Gorgias spread out on the bed before you.
  • You see Rick Santorum spread out on the bed before you.

…do you wish to proceed?

Twitter, Professionalism, and Performance

business suitsThis semester, I’m taking a class called “The Digital Self,” which is focused on the idea of networking online, online identities, and things of that nature. Part of the focus of the class is creating our professional presence online, mostly in order to prepare us for the job market. I have to (create and) maintain a Twitter presence and blog with this professional goal in mind. (At least, this is how I interpreted the assignment.) I already had a Twitter account, so I’m aware of the basics. However, said Twitter account (a) was created during a time when I was convinced I was going to write the most amazing book on motherhood ever (working title: The Marvelous Magnificence of Malcolm) and people would follow me to read my sage advice and my child’s witty sayings, and (b) has evolved since then include all of my interests – geeky stuff, theology, politics, etc. So, I had to consider “re-branding” my Twitter account. I left the handle (@Marvelous_M – which stands for “Marvelous Malcolm” – my son’s name) but changed the name on the account from “A Geek and Her Son” to my name. My bio now describes my scholarly pursuits with a little bit of personal info mixed in. The goal of all of this? To establish myself online as a scholar, and to build a professional network. But I continually grapple with the lines between what personal information to share, and how “professional” to make my presence.

This struggle between maintaining a “professional” presence online versus a “personal” presence – well, I find it vexing. How much of my “personal” life should I reveal? If I only post professional things, am I covering up a part of myself? Denying it, somehow? The very nature of online networking thrusts all of these problems to the forefront, as more and more information about us is posted – either by us (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.) or by others (news outlets, friends, etc.) – in an easily searchable space. The lines between private and public are suddenly extremely blurry. When this is the case, is the creation of an online professional presence some kind of performance art?

This idea of professionalism as performance struck me as I watch people on the job market. You want to see a well-dressed academic? Go to a “job talk” (the talk academics give about their research when doing a campus visit in the hopes of getting hired). No matter how people dress for their daily teaching assignments, you can bet they’ll be wearing a suit for the job talk. I can’t help but wonder – will they teach in those suits?  I mean, really? Are they just performing the identity they hope will get them hired?

Is that what I’m doing now?

Why Am I Here?

Not “Why Am I Here?” in the huge, existential sense, but it is certainly connected to that question. Rather, why am I here, on a blog. Why must this be part of our existence? I’ll return to that in just a second.

But first, funny(ish) story: I’m getting a PhD in Rhetoric and Writing, but I have come to dread writing. I have an awful visceral reaction as I attempt to type out something that I can save to the screen. I feel the way I know my undergraduate students often feel, like I have to put something out there, because it’s for a class, and/but therefore, I have nothing to say.

Why do we participate in social media? According to the authors of Networked: The New Social Operating System, due to a variety of conditions in contemporary society, we (in North America, at least) exist neither as individuals nor groups, but as “networked individuals.” Of course, social media are part of the trend, but being networked individuals in the physical world is another aspect of the same phenomenon.

Speaking of which, it took me several tries to decide on the term “physical world,” and I’m not convinced that it’s the right one, or even that there is a way to describe the world excluding digital media. The analog world?

Concepts I already dig, discourse community and activity system, remind me of this idea of networked individuals. Even if activity systems sort of have boundaries (where networks don’t), I think in practice it’s pretty hard to identify them. These concepts might also be useful for me to pose some ideas about how our networks work for us (and we for them):

  • We all exist in multiple networks, with stronger ties to (individuals in) some and weaker ties to others.
  • We share common language(s) with the other individuals in our networks.
  • We’re influenced to think and act in certain ways by our networks, and we can influence the other individuals in our networks, too.

There’s more to this, I think . . .


My Rhetorical Voltron

All right, Digital Self fans: here’s the deal–

This blog? It’s my rhetorical Voltron.

It’s a space where all the disperate parts of my self combine, where my “complex identities”–as Rainie and Wellman put it in Networked–build themselves into a sword-wielding whole:

Ok, the sword’s sold separately. But you dig what I mean.

This is a space, an electronic place, where I write through all the different kinds of shit that makes its way through my head without bothering to gloss over the borders, to make myself into a coherent, heterogeneous entity.

Oh no: you can still see the seams. Each of the robot tigers, yeah, they’re distinct–and yet connected–here.

To wit:

Look: this is a space where I write, period. For good or ill, nsfw or not, this is where I invoke the Goddess Rhetorica and use her for my own devices.

I’ve thought long and hard about what it means for this blog to be public, to be linked in any way to my official identity as a scholar, natch. And to date, my response has basically been: fuck it.

But I suspect this course will make me [has made me] have that conversation with myself once again: what does it mean to be Catchclaw and KT, all at once?

For now, though, don’t be afraid: sometimes a sword is just a sword.