Category Archives: pfps2012

Being Faculty

So the first week of the semester in PFP, we had to quickly write down what we thought it meant to be a faculty member.  Looking back at it, I must have really been in a bad mood:

A faculty member at a college or university is a person who wears many hats.  Through the course of your day, you are a teacher, an advisor, a committee member, a researcher… just to name a few.  A faculty member is someone who better have a pretty strong ability to balance multiple projects at once.  It is not a 9-5 job—some days you work from sun-up to sundown.  Summers aren’t “Free Time” like so many non-academics believe.  Every vacation ends up involving your research at some point.  Being a faculty member means not seeing your family from Thanksgiving to Christmas, even if you’re actually home every night.  It’s constant, lifelong learning.  It’s never quite growing up—you’re always around young people, and your job still involves going to school every day (and being excited about snow days, in spite of what you may tell your students).  It’s fighting with the administration for your students, knowing that gaining opportunities, funding, and time for your own students may end up being detrimental to other departments (and feeling incredibly guilty about that—usually).  It is fighting with sports for the “real” reason students should be at college.  Spring isn’t March Madness—it’s job talks and committee meetings.

After that, I ran out of time to type.

First off, wow, this is pretentious and horrible.  I swear I haven’t doctored it in any way (clearly–look how bad it is!).

But there are some points in there I still believe are true, even after this semester.  As faculty, we really are people who have to “switch gears” constantly, balancing home life and work life; teaching and researching; faculty committee member and student mentor.  Through all of these switches, we have to stay up-to-date on our fields.  We can only emulate the importance of lifelong learning to our students if we ourselves remain active learners.

I think I was probably a little on the administration in my initial write-up.  Many things happen at the higher admin levels that as individual faculty, staff, and students have no concept of.  We have talked a lot this semester about ethics and standards, and faculty members should always stand up for what they think is right.  As Dean DePauw reminded us all spring, it is important to know where your ethical lines are before you enter a situation with a student, fellow faculty member, and even the administration.

My “being faculty” statement is not as comprehensive as I would like, but I think that’s OK.  If I knew everything there was to know about “being faculty” at 26, having not yet officially been a member of any faculty… well, that would be pretty ridiculous.

PS:  I still get excited about snow days…


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The Price of Academic Writing

In NMFSS yesterday, Gail made this excellent point regarding scholarly articles:  “We pay you a little bit to write your article and then we pay a *lot* to the publisher to get it back!”

She’s absolutely right.  Our colleges and universities (assuming you’re in academia of course) pay us our wages.  And those wages cover our teaching, research, and service.  So yeah, she’s right, at the end of the day, a little bit of those wages go toward writing that article.  We are not paid by the journal for these submissions, nor do I necessarily think we should be.

This article is then published in an expensive journal, which the library has to buy either in paper copy, or in digital copy, or in both!  Without a library account you cannot access this material.  Anyone can walk into the library and use it, to be fair, but not everyone has digital access.

I know for a fact that the cost of these journals is problematic for many university libraries, especially in light of state-level budget cuts (for state schools).  At a former institution, we were sent a list of journals to be cut one year, and unless we made an incredibly strong case for a particular journal, they were cut at the end of the year.

Why are we limiting information to only those who can afford it?  How much farther and faster would knowledge advance if we didn’t exclude people simply because they cannot afford 35 bucks to read an article?

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I like to think I’m pretty good at figuring out when I have offended people and am fairly willing to apologize immediately.  My mouth often goes faster than my brain, so this happens enough that I feel like I can speak to how good I am at fixing it.

So when I encounter a situation where someone is being antagonistic to me, and I honestly cannot figure out why, I tend to think that there’s probably nothing I can do to change that situation (wow, I’m just abusing adverbs everywhere).

Thank G-d I have a pretty thick skin.

More often than I would like, I sit in academic, professional situations and watch posturing that I just can’t understand.  Often these situations arise on power-relationship dynamics (men/women; profs/grad students; older/younger).  Quite probably, insecurities I cannot even begin to understand are fueling them.

When “I’m smarter/better/older/whiter/male/younger/taller/female/educated-er than *you*” get in the ways of meaningful dialogue, learning, and just being humane to each other, it infuriates me.  Sometimes I feel empowered to respond to these situations; other times, I sit back and let the jerk (let’s use our 5-year-old words) be a jerk.  Jerkiness will out, G-dwilling.

At the end of the day, I really only have control over my own actions, appearance, and knowledge in any professional (or personal, or random, or ANY) situation.  And if I come off as a jerk, that’s my own fault.

Don’t be a jerk.

Luckily, I have some brilliant academic role models I pull from.  People who are willing to not be in the experts in the room at all times–who encourage the rest of us to step in where their knowledge may be lacking.  I love them for pulling me through the days where the wangst (wank-angst) gets to be too much.


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Why aren’t we reading Lyotard?

For my Religion and Modernity in the West course this week, we read Jean-François Lyotard’s “A Report on Knowledge.”

Let be honest and say I haven’t finished it.  I might be missing something huge.

I am taking both GEDI and NMFSS the semester, and as I read through the intro and beginning of the short work (yes, I have no excuse for not having finished it), I was drawn to Lyotard’s discussion of the importance of understanding how technology is changing the way we learn.  In this new technological age, language becomes incredibly important (this is all on page 16 of the edition I have).  As part of this shift towards a more communicative society, he sees narrative and story as becoming more and more important (page 19).

Narrative becoming more important.  People telling their stories.  You mean… like blogging?

Lyotard wrote this work in 1979, and honestly, it is asking the same pedagogy and new media questions we are still asking.  I forgot to look at the title page when I started (my bad…), and from his language and discussion, I pegged him in the late 80s/early 90s.

Lyotard isn’t in our NMFSS textbook, and frankly, I’m shocked.  Because this guy is seriously awesome.

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D’You Ever Wonder Why We’re Here?

Wow, pretentious title is pretentious.  But it’s an question that actually came up in my New Media Faculty-Staff Seminar.

The title comes from an online web series, Red vs. Blue.  I love Red vs. Blue.  It was one of the first, and is still one of the all-time best best, online machinema creations.  The first lines of the pilot episode go like this:

Simmons: D’You ever wonder why we’re here?
Grif: It’s one of life’s great mysteries, isn’t it? Why are we here? I mean, are we the product of some… cosmic coincidence? Or is there really a God, watching everything, you know, with a plan for us and stuff. I don’t know man, but it keeps me up at night.
Simmons: What? I mean why are we out here, in this canyon?
Grif: Oh. Uhhhhh. Yeah.

There are really two different ways to approach the question “Why are we here?”  For instance, someone might ask me:  Why are you studying at Virginia Tech?

  1. Well, they accepted me and gave me a stipend/tuition remission, so I’m here.
  2. Because at the end of the day,  I wish to become a professor at a small, liberal arts college.  The interdisciplinary program ASPECT will allow me to pursue my dual interests, that of religion and politics, in a way that will make me a well-rounded scholar at a small college.
Obviously, the first answer is very knee-jerk: Why am I in this place?  The second is more long-term:  Why am I on this path, and what is my goal?  The first starts the conversation.  The second gets us someplace interesting.

The question we kind of ended NMFSS with on Wednesday basically was a “Why are we here?” question for Gardner.  For me, it implied a lack of self-awareness of what we are doing.  I don’t expect Gardner to ever come in and tell us why we’re meeting each week, what the justification for each reading is, etc.  I will never be the “is this going to be on the [life] test (obviously we don’t have real tests)” kid in NMFSS.  The answer’s in the reading, the format, and in our conversations themselves.

I don’t wonder why we’re here (in NMFSS, that is.  Earth gives me a big headache).  I know (or at least, I think I know) why I’m in NMFSS.  It seems as a collective class, we all have an understanding, like Engelbart, that we are on the cusp of something… awesome.  There’s a reason we’re now calling most of the internet Web 2.0.  Web 2.0 is when the integration of material exploded.  Before, everyone had their own little space, their bulletin board, their journal, their family tree, their whatever online, and archiving websites (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) brought that information together in ways that search engines never could.  Web 2.0 didn’t do this on its own.  People did it.  People all over the world used their collective genius and energy to (mostly unpaid, at first) put together Web 2.0.  Web 2.0 is big.  Beyond big.  Huge. Ginormous.  OMGWHAAAAT-big?  Mother-of-all-Demos-level awesome that even Engelbart might be slightly impressed by.

Does that mean we do nothing in NMFSS, if we’re not actively solving a problem?  No.  I am constantly amazed by our readings, conversations, and group exploration.  So, what’s the “reason” or “point” of NMFSS?  I think the “question” to be answered is that we don’t need a problem to solve during the course of the semester.  That is not our telos.  By reading what we’re reading and discussing the way we’re discussing, we  learn to approach everything we encounter creatively.  Then, we need to share that information as widely as possible with the 21st century tools we have at our disposal, because otherwise, what’s the point of learning?   And we need to do all of this with an overarching love of learning, thinking, and doing guiding our thought processes.

I watched my parents go without to provide my brother and I with the best education they could, but I know so many others whose parents couldn’t find the means.   That’s probably why I am a big fan of disseminating knowledge openly.  I absolutely hate that academic journals are so expensive, or that lecture hall space caps out just because the fire marshall will come if we let in more people, or that students can’t go on trips (regardless of their abilities) because they can’t afford to.

Does it cheapen what we do as academics if we share it with everyone?  Absolutely not.  If someone is teaching for the money or the prestige, they probably should stop, because only the rarest professor gets either.  If one teaches because they have a love of learning and helping others to learn, then sharing knowledge with anyone and everyone should come as naturally as breathing.  If one is teaching at a land-grant institution, we get this.  This is that “service” part they bandy about so much.

New media allows us to do all of this in ways the writers of our texts hoped for.

That’s why we’re here.


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Expectations for Graduate Education

Did you know there was entire page devoted to “Expectations for Graduate Education” at VT?  Until PFP last night, I had no idea.

At a Glance,” the expectations are on four main parties:  Grad Students, Faculty, Program/Department, and the Graduate School.  Many of these responsibilities involve clear explanation of intentions and requirements, ethical behavior, the providing of information and support, and above all a hands-on approach to education.  The onus isn’t put completely on the student to just “figure it out”; all members are accountable in this system.

The Much Longer Document (22 pages) defines a graduate student, which is interesting to me, because I don’t know that I would have ever thought to define who we are:

Graduate students are individuals seeking advanced degrees or certificates, either full- or part-time, at any of the campuses or programs of Virginia Tech. They are in the process of advancing from receiving knowledge to creating, enhancing, and taking ownership of new knowledge. Graduate students have various backgrounds, life experiences, and goals. Graduate students have diverse needs related to their multiple roles at Virginia Tech, such as student, researcher, educator, mentor, emerging and advancing professional, engaged scholar, and responsible citizen. (Page 4)

I (mostly) like it.  The one thing I find missing is that we aren’t just Tech-oriented.  We, like all people, have roles outside of the university.  To be sure, it does say that we have “various backgrounds, life experiences, and goals,” but given how often the work-life balance is decimated in graduate school, a nod to the need for such a balance would be a welcome addition in my mind.

Many portions of the longer document talk about the relationship between students and their faculty/department/Grad School with regard to mentoring.  As that is an upcoming topic in PFP, I look forward to exploring this more

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Space and Place

OK, so I said I would write a MAL entry when I got back, and I will, but I haven’t had time yet.

I’m in Urban Political Geography, and for class today, we had to write a 2-minute response to this problem:  how do we/you claim space (other than buying it)?  This was my response:

Space and place have always been an interesting problem for me.  People often ask me where I am from, a question that on some level asks what area I claim as my own.  Being the daughter of a Navy personnelman, I’ve never had a good answer to this question.  People claim space and place by where they were born, or where they grew up the longest, or where their families are originally from.  None of these answers work for me:  I was born in Baltimore, two places can lay claim to the “longest lived,” and I have family from both costs of the United States.  Many Americans claim their countries of origin prior to immigration (I myself know I am primarily Irish, Swedish, and German), but I have no connection to those countries other than a date of immigration.

Potomac Street, Ridgeley, WVMy claims to place do not come from ownership, as I have never owned a house or a piece of land.  They come from memories and the emotions attached to them.  And for me, they are very geography based.  My strongest claim to home is the Appalachian mountains.  My grandmother was born in Keyser, WV, and I grew up in Western Maryland and the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia from 1995-2001.  The culture there is the one I most identify with, both from living there and from being raised by a father who spent his summers climbing around those mountains when he would visit his own grandparents.  Both of my parents still live in this area, and holidays and breaks are spent there as “home.”

Moving to Blacksburg was an emotional experience for me, because in so many ways, it reminds me of middle and high school memories.  While unique in its own right, Blacksburg shares much of the characteristics and culture in the space I grew up.  I notice familiar trees and flowers.  The mountains on the horizon are the same rolling shape.  The people come from similar social, religious, and economic backgrounds.  The memories here of course do not match the ones from my childhood.  I cannot point to the place I skinned my knee in seventh grade or the trees I took my sophomore prom pictures in front of.  Yet the cultural memory runs deeper.  Though the place is different, this new space is home.

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Experiential Learning

I’m a big fan of experiential (or performative, whatever you want to call it) learning.  I was pretty involved with the Reacting to the Past program at UGA (a curriculum created by Barnard College.  I was involved in the Athens game), which I think is one of the best ways to learn history out there.  I’ve seen it work both in “regular” and “honors” courses, bringing students out of their fear-shells and encouraging them to learn both in the classroom and on their own.

But what I really want to talk about today are the Model International Organizations programs, such as Model UN, Model NATO, and Model Arab League (MAL) (there are tons of others; these are just the ones I’ve done).  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard my former adviser at Converse College drop soundbites about the pedagogical merits of these programs.  And I would smile and nod, proud of how well he “spun” what we did, when it really just felt at the time like hanging out with other smart, politically minded people and an excuse to go on fun off-campus trips.

He was absolutely right, by the way.  It’s the best way to teach I’ve ever encountered.

It took getting out of the program as a student and working as a judge and on-site adviser to really see how valuable these programs are.  Not familiar with them?  Let’s use MAL as an example.

Students create a team of between 7-16 students (partners are allowed) who become experts on a particular League country they’ve been assigned (there are 21 of them at the moment–Syria’s been suspended).  Each student is assigned a committee with predetermined topics, which they research in preparation for writing legislation along with other countries at the conference.  Students spend the conference in committee meetings, split between formal and informal debate (governed by a modified form of Robert’s Rules) working on this legislation, which is then passed as a body of the committees at a Summit meeting.

Sounds pretty boring when I explain it, huh?  But it’s not, I swear.  Especially with a strong leader as chair, committees go from groups of shy (well, not everyone’s shy…) students who by the end of the conference are boldly demanding whatever is in their country’s interest.  Students go from hesitantly reading from sources to fully owning the knowledge, speaking extemporaneously from their own expertise.  All students can thrive in this model, from the most gregarious, outgoing speechmaker to the quiet, behind-the-scenes caucuser.  And no one type of student wins awards (yes, there are individual and team awards).

I started out in this program fairly timid.  As a freshman, I knew relatively little about the Middle East.  My first country assignment at a national conference, given to me day-of (there were some last-minute changes, and I was needed in a spot I had not prepared for), was a country I had never even heard of!  The conversation went a little something like this:

Adviser from Northeastern University:  OK, so I hear you need help with Eritrea.

Me:  What’s that?

Adviser:  I believe the proper question would be “Where’s that?”  We have a lot of work to do…

Me:  *beet red*

Because of the strength of this program, and a group of lovely students and advisers who stepped in to help me, I was able to (pretty badly) represent Eritrea in two separate committees, as well as present an Arab Court of Justice (think ICJ but regional… and made up) case representing Eritrea v. the League.  Was I stellar?  Absolutely not.  Did I learn a lot about how quickly I could research, learn, and represent material?  Absolutely.  Am I still friends with the adviser from Northeastern?  Yup!  That’s another great part about this program:  you meet people from all over the country and world that you will be friends and colleagues with for the rest of your life.

So, why am I talking about this?  In 2004, I first served as a student delegate at the Southeast Regional MAL (SERMAL) representing Jordan (Yes, Holly Jordan the delegate from Jordan.  My committee thought it was pretty funny too…  Libby Long, the delegate from Libya was also on my team.  My adviser wouldn’t let us switch.) in the Economic Affairs committee.  I was scared out of my mind.  I had only recently joined the team, and even my fellow freshmen had a few more weeks experience than I did.  In my ill-fitting suits, I stood up, knees knocking, and presented Jordanian thoughts on economic issues.  I had no idea what was going on.

These programs changed my life.  I went on to national leadership roles within this organization, sponsored by the National Council on US-Arab Relations and grew far more as a student and learner than I ever anticipated as an entering college freshman.  And the program itself has evolved so much since I started.  We’ve gone from murdering half the rain forest each year to nearly paperless conferences, with resolutions being projected on SMARTBoards and edited as a group in real time.  The 300 pages of CIA World Factbook info on each of the member nations of the League (which I did print and put in a binder I still have…) is now available as an Android app.

So now, 8 years later, I have the opportunity to lead a team from Virginia Tech.  Serving as Head Delegate, we will take a delegation, representing Mauritania, to SERMAL.  I am so very excited to help facilitate this opportunity for Tech students.  I’ve been pretty obnoxious about my excitement with them.  I hope they will get why I’m so spastic after we return home.  I promise to post pictures and reactions to how awesome it was!

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The last nine months have been an incredibly strange period of time for me.  The transition back fully into academia following a two-year hiatus after grad school has been far harder than I ever could have imagine.  Because, completely unlike starting undergrad and in ways very different from even starting my graduate work at the University of Georgia, the last 9 months have truly felt like a series of never-ending changes.

I found out in early May of 2011 that I had been accepted here in the ASPECT program, but without funding.  My soon-to-be husband, Ryan, and I discussed the merits and demerits of beginning without funding and ultimately decided to just come and hope for the best.  He began attempting to find a job in the area, and I desperately tried to figure out how I was going to break it to my job.

On May 13, we find out Ryan’s gotten a position in Roanoke.  On May 15, Ryan and I get married.  On May 17, I find out that I’ve magically gotten funding to go to school.

Best. Week. Ever.

It was the beginning of the transition that I find myself in the middle of now.  After nearly 5 years in Athens, GA, a place I associated completely with the maturation of my relationship with Ryan, we were leaving, newly married, about to start over.

Ryan ended up moving here first, just weeks after the wedding, and I didn’t move here until mid-July.  July 15th to be exact.  I know that because it was the day that Harry Potter 7.2 released.  The first day of my truly “adult” life.  One of the last days of pure childhood.

This entry is trailing into tl;dr territory, but bear with me.  Sometime in 1998, my dad heard this lady on NPR named Joanne something-or-other talking about a book she wrote and that the second book in the series was coming out in the next weeks.  Dad actually stopped on the way home, being so compelled by the interview, and bought my brother and I Sorcerer’s Stone.  My brother and I refused to read it; as much as I love my father, he was the kind of dad that brought home truly awful books (like “A History of France from 1735-1738, Complete with NO PICTURES OR FUN”) in the hopes of educating us.  We figured the adventures of this Harry kid were going to be equally stupid.

They weren’t stupid.  In fact, they changed everything.

I was 13.

Fast-forward to 2011, Christiansburg, VA.  That morning, I had woken up in Athens, GA, said goodbye to old friends and my favorite breakfast place, and had driven to Blacksburg.  Ryan and I celebrated my homecoming by going to see the last installment of the Potter films.  Of course I knew how it ended–I’d read all of Deathly Hallows the afternoon it released.  But still, there was a finality.  It was finally over.

I was 25.

I found myself crying at the destruction of Hogwarts, the castle that had housed my imagination for more than a decade.  I knew it was coming, but there was a finality to it I hadn’t been able to imagine.

Transitions.  Moving through my Ph.D. so far has felt like constant change.  Week-to-week differences in schedule, new opportunities and new friends, the constant questioning of my own right to even be here.  And most importantly, the quest for a new breakfast place.

And, of course, the constant reminders that I’ve somehow moved past the students I currently teach and am in a different space now.

Davy Jones died today.  And honestly, his death feels like another nail driven into the casket of my childhood.  Thanks to Nickelodeon, twentysomethings and thirtysomethings today are saddened by the death of a member of a band that broke up before many of our parents were married.  I blew so much allowance money in the late 90s and early 00s on the Rhino rereleases of the albums (I’m listening to Shades of Grey on Headquarters right now).  Some of my fondest memories involve blaring said CDs in our bedrooms singing off-key and not caring.

If I said “Davy Jones died today” to any of my freshmen, I doubt they would have much of an idea of who I was talking about (You mean that guy from Pirates of the Caribbean?).

Yeah, I’m kind of sad right now.  But is the really world ending?  To Jones’ family, it probably feels that way.  But in the grand scheme of my own life, I probably won’t mark this day as all that different than any other (Do you remember where you were when you found out Davy Jones died?).  But in this period of constant change and growth I find myself in, it is a moment to pause and reflect.


Keep jammin’ out on that rock tambourine, Davy.

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Blogging as Subversion

In all three classes I have to blog for, people are either enthusiastic towards or terrified of having to blog (with very few in between).  In part, I do think some of the terror might come from a person’s definition of a blog.

So often, blogs are described as online journals, which I think is completely unfair to them (and us).  The first blogging platform I ever used was LiveJournal (there was also InsaneJournal and GreatestJournal to pick from back in the day–IJ is still around), so the naming of it didn’t help.  But by equating a blog to an online journal, we’re already limiting its potential use.  I think a lot of people then go into blogs thinking it’s just a written version of your super-personal thoughts.  Of course that would be terrifying!

But that’s the brilliant part about blogs:  they really can be whatever you want them to be.  Some of the catchiest online presences around have nothing to do with presenting the person as they actually are.  @feministhulk on Twitter is one of my favorite personas.  Yes, I’m sure whoever runs that account is probably a feminist.  But I somehow doubt they walk around talking in Lou Ferrigno voice (which is disappointing…) spouting feminist agendas all day long.  Twitter is their vehicle to have fun and say something they want to say in a unique and reative way.

Dr. Fowler did get me thinking about this all of last night–why are people reticent to blogging?  What is so problematic about it?  If you see a blog as only an online place to dump your padlocked-secret-Lisa-Frank-journal thoughts, then yeah, that is terrifying.  But if it’s a way to have fun with something your interested in, even if it’s not particularly unique (your way of saying it is probably way more unique then you could ever realize), a blog becomes a very special outlet for your creativity and imagination.

I called this post “blogging as subversion” because right now, that’s how I’m seeing them.  We’ve been talking so much in Dean DePauw’s class about tenure, promotion, and the all-important difference between assistant, associate, and full professorships. The hoops one has to jump through include publishing peer-reviewed journal articles and books through university press  publishing are daunting.  In my mind, we’re automatically limiting who receives this information by picking these expensive, subscription-required (or access to a university library in some cases) media.  Glossies and mass media publications are bad.  Because, G-d forbid, we might actually be sharing knowledge with the masses.

Blogs are powerful and, yes, subversive.  I can write anything I want here.  It’s terrifying and dangerous.  It’s wonderful and awe-inspiring.  I can come up with new ideas here and get feedback from all of the world.  And yes, someone might then steal my idea and write about it, but it’s still my idea.  And I can go publish something too, because the idea will be in my own words and will be said differently by me than anyone else can.

Do I want people to read a book I might write someday?  Absolutely.  And yes, the selfish “I Need Validation For My Hard Work!!!!! Look at meeee!!!” reasons are there, jumping around somewhere in my Id.  But honestly, books are a medium, like so many, that hits everyone in a different way.  I’d rather have a book I write mean something to one person then to sit on a shelf in a university library (because their the only one’s who can afford it) doing nothing.  How often have you been the first person to check out a book since the 1950s at the library?  It’s sad, isn’t it?  What’s the point of all this school and learning if we can’t share what we’ve learned with people outside of this crazy academia bubble we live in?

Blogging might be an answer to this situation.  Why not go into it thinking that maybe we can change the world with our words?  That sounds ridiculous and trite as I write it, but why not dream big?  I’d rather dream the impossimprobable (neologisms are fun!) then not even try.  If blogging isn’t working for you, figure out why.  Make up a character.  Blog about something you actually despise just to see if you can.  Have fun.  Be subversive.


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