Recovered Writing: The Project So Far

This is the twenty-fifth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This is a post written in the present about my Recovered Writing project after twenty-four posts. Normal Recovered Writing posts will resume on Wednesday.

In this first phase of my Recovered Writing project, which I began with this post and collected all of the posts on this page, I focused on writing from my years as an undergraduate and masters student. I published 24 posts, of which 16 are undergraduate writing and 8 are masters writing. I did not publish them in any particular order, because it took time to find some files and properly attribute them to specific classes and dates. I wanted to move ahead with the project without imposing an order up front. With that said, I did try to balance the interestingness of the posts instead of posting what I thought were the very best or most likely read essays all at the very beginning of the project.

As I have been finding, formatting, and posting my writing for the Recovered Writing project, I have been struck by how much of the writing seems completely foreign to me. For some of the writing, even some of the writing that I feel is very important to my personal development, I feel only the faintest recall of having written it. For other essays, I have no memory of having written those words. The writing in all cases seem familiar to me as indicative of my continuously evolving style, but the ideas, arguments, and research in many cases are forgotten in the depths of my memory. I need to do more reading about memory and the brain to determine if I should or should not be worried about this. Nevertheless, it is fascinating and somewhat alarming to me that so much writing that I would have spent a considerable amount of time writing have lost the thread of connection to my memory.

Since I began the Recovered Writing project, I have noticed that my daily readership has increased slightly with occasional spikes. However, the spikes were always regarding older writing (like my “On Deep-throat in Aliens vs. Predator: Requium post,” various tech posts such as this one about installing Linux on MacBook Pro retina, and Lego posts such as this one on the vintage Launch Command set). The Recovered Writing posts have not led any readers to engage with me directly, but it is my hope that readers are taking away something from the posts or citing my words in their own research. As Google indexes my writing, perhaps it will lead to more readers finding their way to my words.

The biggest questions that I had about the Recovered Writing project are unanswerable: What effect would publicly posting this writing on my blog or elsewhere have had on my academic and professional development had I done this in real time? Would I have received and responded to feedback by readers of my writing, and what effect might this engaged interaction have had on my thinking, research foci, and professionalization?

In today’s more open world of public or semi-public writing, I think that sharing writing is an essential and necessary part of one’s development. Instead of simply working in one’s monk’s cell and occasionally venturing out to lecture about your thinking, writing, sharing, talking (in its many forms), interacting, collaborating, remixing, transforming, and all-around escaping the cell to be a contributing part of a social world is an essential part of professional practice and development.

Of course, not everyone thinks this way, but I believe that the trend is in that direction and finding ways to make interaction fulfill your research and pedagogical interests while energizing those of others without also unnecessarily distracting us from our work should be something we all aspire to do. For many kinds of writing, research, and pedagogy, we should be lowering barriers to sharing our research, evaluating different kinds of writing on their arguments/evidence despite where they appear, and working better together online. We are the street and we should be finding our own use for these tools, words, and ideas.

In the next phase of my Recovered Writing project, I will continue posting some undergraduate writing that remains in my personal archive while transitioning to conference presentations and PhD writing. After I complete posting these things, I will begin connecting the dots chronologically and thematically. I will build these lists on the Recovered Writing project main page. I want to complete all posting before doing this.

Another element of this phase of the project will be to perform textual analysis over my writing. I am interested in the way my writing and research have changed over time, and I believe that visually exploring these things will help me reflect on my writing over the past and improve my writing for the future.

I want to encourage others to perform their own Recovered Writing projects. A Recovered Writing project can be small or large. It can focus on everything or trends. It can be whatever you want to make it, but it should recover your writing and communications from the prison of our personal digital archives. Let your writing, ideas, and arguments see the light of LCD screens and the eyes of readers who you otherwise never would have had, met, or interacted.

Review of Donald E. Hall’s The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual, Recommended for Graduate Students, Postdocs, and Junior Faculty

Hall, Donald E. The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2002. Print.

I picked up Donald E. Hall’s The Academic Self from the Georgia Tech Library after completing my teaching assignment for Spring 2013–eleven years after the book had been published. Specifically, I was looking for books and articles to help me grapple with the challenges of this stage of my professional life as a postdoctoral fellow: teaching a 3-3 load, performing service duties, researching, writing,  receiving rejections (and the far less often acceptance), and applying for permanent positions. In the following, I summarize Hall’s arguments, provide some commentary, and close with a contextualized recommendation.

Hall states in the introduction that the goal of The Academic Self is, “encourage its readership to engage critically their professional self-identities, processes, values, and definitions of success” (Hall xv). I found this book to be particularly useful for thinking through my professional self-identity. As I was taught by Brian Huot at Kent State University to be a reflective practitioner in my teaching and pedagogy, Hall argues for something akin to this in terms of Anthony Giddens’ “the reflexive construction of self-identity” (qtd. in Hall 3). Hall truncates this to be “self-reflexivity,” or the recognition that who we are is an unfolding and emergent project. I use this blog as part of my processes of self-reflection–thinking through my research and teaching while striving to improve both through conscious planning and effort.

However, unlike the past where the self was static and enforced by external forces, modernity (and postmodernity–a term Hall, like Giddens, disagrees with) has ushered in an era where the self is constructed by the individual reflectively. From his viewpoint, the self is a text that changes and can be changed by the individual with a greater deal of agency than perhaps possible in the past (he acknowledges his privileged position earlier in the book, but it bears repeating that this level of agency certainly is not equally distributed).

In the first chapter, titled “Self,” Hall writes, “Living in the late-modern age, in a social milieu already thoroughly pervaded by forms of self-reflexivity, and trained as critical readers, we academics in particular have the capacity and the professional skills to live with a critical (self-) consciousness, to reflect critically upon self-reflexivity, and to use always our professional talents to integrate our theories and our practices” (Hall 5). If we consider ourselves, the profession, and our institutions as texts to be read, we can apply our training to better understanding these texts and devise ways of making positive change to these texts.

He identifies what he sees as two extremes that “continue to plague academic existence: that of Casaubonic paralysis and Carlylean workaholism” (Hall 8). In the former, academics can be caught in a ignorant paranoia like Casaubon of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-1872), or in the latter, academics can follow Thomas Carlyle’s call to work and avoid the “symptom” of “self-contemplation” (qtd. in Hall 6).

In the chapter titled “Profession,” Hall calls for us to apply our training to reflective analysis and problem solving of our professional selves and our relationship to the ever changing state of the profession itself. He questions to what extent the work of professionalism (seminars, workshops, etc.) are descriptive or prescriptive. “The ideal of intellectual work” varies from person to person, but it is an important choice that we each must make in defining who we are within the profession.

He reminds us that, “much of the pleasure of planning, processing, and time management lies not in their end products–publication or project completion–it is derived from the nourishment –intellectual, communal, and professional–provided by the processes themselves” (Hall 46). He builds his approach to process on his personal experiences: “Unlike some, I know well when my work day is over. Part of the textuality of process is its beginning, middle, and most importantly, its end” (Hall 46).

His talking points on process are perhaps the most practical advice that he provides in the book. In planning, he advises:

  1. begin from the unmovable to the tentative in your scheduling, know yourself–plan according to your habits and work on those aspects of your planning that need adjustment, and stick to your well planned schedule to yield the personal time that you might be lacking now without such a plan
  2. break goals and deliverables into their constituent parts [or building blocks (my Lego analogy) or code (my programming analogy)]
  3. monitor your progress and see daily/smaller goals as ends in themselves rather than simply means to a greater end
  4. take ownership of your goals, schedule, and commitments to others [this is something that I carry forward from my Mindspring days: Core Values and Beliefs: Do not drop the ball.]
  5. deal with and learn from setbacks–life, bad reviews, rejections, etc. [this is easier said than done, and the external effects of bad reviews goes beyond its effect on the writer]
  6. let change happen to our goals and research as our workplace, interests, and circumstances change
  7. taking ownership of our work in these ways can help protect us from and strengthen us against burnout

Hall goes on to suggest ten steps for professional invigoration to help folks suffering from a stalled career or burnout. However, these ten pieces of advice are equally applicable to graduate students, postdocs, and beginning faculty: join your field’s national organization, read widely in your field, set precise goals, maintain a daily writing schedule [my most difficult challenge], present conference papers, write shorter artifacts to support your research [reviews or my case, this blog], know the process and timeline of manuscript publishing, foster relationships with publishers and editors, politely disengage from poor or dysfunctional professional relationship/praise and value positive relationships, and find support in your local networks.

The final chapter, “Collegiality, Community, and Change,” reminds us, “always t put and keep our own house in order” (Hall 70). He suggests strategies counter to what he calls “the destructive ethos of ‘free agency’ that seems to pervade the academy today–the mindset that institutional affiliations are always only temporary and that individuals owe little to their departments or institutions beyond the very short term” (Hall 70). On professional attitudes, he encourages a focus on the local (institution) before national (beyond the institution), the current job as potentially your last job–treat it with that respect, meet institutional expectations, collegial respect of others, and learning the history of our institution/school/department from everyone with whom we work.

Perhaps most notably, he writes, “If we measure our success through the articulation and meeting of our own goals, as I suggest throughout this book, we can achieve them without begrudging others their own successes. However, if we need to succeed primarily in comparison to others, then we are deciding to enter a dynamic of competition that has numerous pernicious consequences, personal and inter-personal” (Hall 74-75). As I have written about on Dynamic Subspace before, it was the overwhelming in-your-faceness of others’ successes on social media like Facebook that distracted me from my own work. Seeing so many diverse projects, publications, and other accomplishments made me question my own works-in-progress before they had time to properly incubate and grow. For all of social media’s useful and positive aspects for maintaining and growing networks of interpersonal relationships, I had the most trouble resisting the self-doubt that the Facebook News Feed generated for me.

Finally, he encourages dynamic and invested change in departments and institutions. However, as junior faculty, it is important to research and weigh the possible repercussions for working to make change. Hall is not arguing against change by those without tenure, but he is warning us to proceed cautiously and knowledgeably due to a number factors: potential sources of resistance, jeopardizing our jobs, etc.

Hall’s “Postscript” reinforces the overarching idea of ownership by calling on the reader to live with “intensity,” an idea that inspired Hall from Walter Pater’s 1868 The Renaissance: “burn always with [a] hard, gem-like flame” (qtd. in Hall 89). Hall’s intensity is one self-motivated, well-planned, dynamically agile, and passionately executed.

Hall’s The Academic Self is a very short read that is well worth the brief time that it will take to read. It offers some solid advice woven with the same theoretically infused self-reflexivity that he encourages. It practices what it preaches. The main thing to remember is that the book is eleven years old. When it was published, the field of English studies was experiencing an employment downturn (albeit one not as pronounced as in recent years). Michael Berube’s “Presidential Address 2013–How We Got Here” (PMLA 128.3 May 2013: 530-541), among many other places–this issue just arrived in the mail today, so I was reading it between chapters of Hall’s book, picks up some of the other challenges that graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty have to contend with in the larger spheres of the profession and society. The other advice that Hall provides on personal ownership and collegiality, I believe, remains useful and inspirational. In addition to reading Hall’s book, you should check out his bibliography for further important reading in this vein.

2012 Retrospective: My Big Year in Review

2012 was a big year for me. I earned my PhD and I obtained my first job with that degree. I traveled for my research–first to California, then to Detroit,  and later to Germany. And, my wife, our cat, and I relocated from Ohio to Atlanta for my new job at Georgia Tech and we moved into my old house in Norcross, which had not sold during the past six years of graduate school.

Unlike years past, I thought that it might be appropriate to jot down some of the milestones of 2012. Here are a few of those big things:

  • January 5-8: Yufang and I attended the MLA Convention for the first time and met up with a number of our friends and colleagues.
  • February: I spent two weeks in Riverside, California to read and research in the University of California, Riverside’s Eaton Collection in the Library’s Special Collections and Archives. This was an incredibly useful research trip that gave me the original research materials to complete my dissertation. Prior to leaving for my research trip–funded by the prestigious R. D. Mullen Fellowship–I had completed my dissertation’s theory chapter and compiled outlines for the other chapters.
  • April 2: I interviewed for the Marion L. Brittain Fellowship at my alma mater, Georgia Tech.
  • April 9: I delivered printed copies of my dissertation to my committee members. Since my trip to Riverside, I wrote approximately 68,000 words for a final word count of 81,948. Needless to say, I channeled the spirit of Philip K. Dick during this feverish time of hypergraphia. I could not have written this amount in such a short time had I not already created an efficient organization system for my research and deployed a number of digital humanities tools in my workflow. It was a terribly stressful time, because I drove myself relentlessly to complete it as quickly as possible. However, I would not have had it any other way.
  • April 19: I accepted an offer from Georgia Tech to join the rechristened School of Literature, Media, and Communication as a Brittain Fellow! My term of appointment is for three years.
  • May 15: I successfully defended my dissertation titled, “Brains, Minds, and Computers in Literary and Science Fiction Neuronarratives.” I came prepared with a suitcase of gear and donned with my only suit. During my opening statement, I showed off the ebook version of William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy on a Powerbook 145.
  • June 4-15: I met my parents in Norcross to work on my house. We replaced the main water line, repaired the plumbing, installed a new dishwasher, worked on the house, and cleaned the yard. Prior to this trip, I had maintained a vegetarian lifestyle. During my second day of using a grubbing hoe, I decided that I needed to eat meat again.
  • June 28-July 1: I attended the SFRA Conference in Detroit. This was my second and final meeting as the organization’s vice president. I presented my paper, “Philip K. Dick as Pioneer of the Brain Revolution.”
  • July 10: Yufang and I said goodbye to our friends in Kent and drove straight through to our new home in Norcross.
  • August 11: While I was unable to attend the ceremony, I officially graduated from Kent State University with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
  • August 13-17: I attended new hire orientation at Georgia Tech, or as my cohort and I came to know it: Brittain Fellow Boot Camp.
  • August 21: I began teaching at Georgia Tech. I had three sections of ENGL1101. I designed my classes around the theme of becoming better communicators and professionals through neuroscience.
  • September 1: I began building the Lego Death Star set.
  • September 10: My Dad called me early in the morning to tell me that my Granny Ellis had passed away during the night. I wrote about it here.
  • November 15-18: I attended the first international Philip K. Dick conference at UT-Dortmund in Dortmund, Germany. I delivered a heavily revised version of my SFRA 2012 paper, “Philip K. Dick as Pioneer of the Brain Revolution.” The conference was a fantastic experience. I promise to write more about this in a separate post. In the meantime, you can see my pictures from Germany here.
  • November 22: My parents spent the Thanksgiving holiday with us in Norcross.
  • December 16: I filed my students’ grades and completed my first semester teaching at my alma mater. Looking backward, it was a tough semester, but it was extremely rewarding. I will reflect and write about this more soon.
  • December 17: I completed building the Lego Death Star set.
  • December 25: My parents spent Christmas with Yufang and me. They arrived bearing many gifts, and they took us out for more surprises. I believe that we all had a really wonderful time!
  • December 26+: I am preparing my teaching and publication materials. I also have a few job applications to complete. I have been using my chain saw and weed eater with saw blade a lot. When the weather and wind permit, I get to burn a small bit of excessive yard waste that I have to do something with.
  • December 29: Yufang and I met our friend (and fellow Georgia Tech alumna) Smitha for pastries and tea at Sweet Hut. We had a great time catching up.
  • December 30: Now, I am writing this post.

Thank You to My Friends and Readers, Looking Back at Dynamicsubspace.net Site Stats for 2011

First, I would like to thank all of my readers. I appreciate your taking the time to see what I am thinking or working on, and I am also grateful for the comments that I have received from my readers. I enjoy writing on dynamicsubspace.net, and I am thankful that my friends, colleagues, and others find my writing worth spending a little of their time reading.

WordPress.com logs the visits of readers to my blog. I like to reflect on my writing and how it corresponds to these statistics. Below, I present a summary of the site’s statistics with some thoughts about the increase in visits that I received in 2011.

I was particularly interested in seeing how this year’s numbers compared to previous years, because I endeavoured to post more content this year than in any previous year as part of WordPress.com’s postaday2011 project.

My attempt at posting one new item each day has been a phenomenal success. I successfully posted one item each day save once. However, there were many days when I posted two or more items. By month in 2011, I posted 56 times in January, 42 times in February, 55 times in March, 47 times in April, 53 times in May, 42 times in June, 36 times in July, 42 times in August, 35 times in September, 43 times in October, 42 times in November, and finally, 39 times in December 2011. Each month, I consistently exceeded the number of days by the number of posts for a total of 532 posts in 2011. Since I began dynamicsubspace.net in 2007, I have written 1,239 posts.

In the chart above, you can see the number of unique page visits by month and year since I moved the blog from Apple’s mac.com to WordPress.com in March 2007. During the very first month of being hosted on wordpress.com in March 2007, I received 29 visits. So far, I have received 8,191 visits during December 2011. This is a tremendous increase in page views!

Considering the number of visits that I have received from year to year: dynamicsubspace.net received 3,772 visits in 2007, 27,882 in 2008, 32,458 in 2009, 48,245 in 2010, and approximately 76,121 in 2011. This translate to a 639% increase from 2007 to 2008, 16% increase from 2008 to 2009, 48% increase from 2009 to 2010, and 58% increase from 2010 to 2011. I believe that the increased content generation that I have done during 2011 has made the site more interesting to regular readers, and it has also created more content that non-regular readers find via search engines, social networks, and link sharing sites.

Further breaking down the visits to dynamicsubspace.net, the site has consistently increased its average visits per day. On average, the site received 14 daily visits in 2007, 76 visits in 2008, 89 visits in 2009, 132 visits in 2010, and 209 visits in 2011. This translates to a 443% increase in daily visits from 2007 to 2008, 17% from 2008 to 2009, 48% from 2009 to 2010, and finally, 58% from 2010 to 2011. These daily visit increases also, I believe, correspond with the increased content output that I have accomplished this past year.

One thing that I wonder though is how spammers influence these numbers. As you can see in the graph above, my spam filter has caught a substantial rise in attempted spam comments during 2011. It is because of this increased spam over the past two years that I began moderating all comments to dynamicsubspace.net. I would prefer to not moderate on the site, but I don’t want my noncommercial site to become a huge billboard that generates money for others (copiers of my content on other sites present a whole other problem). Also, Symantec reports here that email spam is the lowest in years, but I wonder if spammers are shifting their tactics to plaster the web instead of inboxes.

Here is to another successful year of dynamicsubspace.net. I have hinted at some lose ends that I will write more about in the near future. These will appear as I have the time to think about and write more about them.

Teaching Portfolios and Reflection

It is essential to regularly reflect on teaching, and I do this after every class that I teach. When a course is over and I receive my student Student Surveys of Instruction, I begin another round of reflection. It is at this point, beyond the feedback that I get from students during the class that is usually favorable, that I receive the feedback that some students may be unsure about sharing. I am happy that my current college writing students are not so shy, but I am critiquing my college writing II class from Fall 2010 as a result of the no-holds barred comments that I received from students. This is a constructive process, because I want to make my classes as successful and engaging as possible for my future students. It is unfortunate that I only hear some of these complaints now, after the fact, but it is worthwhile that student voices can be included in the reflective process of their teachers.

Along with this process of reflection and reviewing student comments, I am also putting together the most thorough teaching portfolio that I have ever done. I have the beginnings of a teaching portfolio from past exercises and most recently from putting together a packet for the Midwestern Association of Graduate School’s Excellence in Teaching Award. In the packet that I am assembling now, I am thinking about and justifying certain elements of my portfolio. I am working through the rationalizations and results of particular choices that I have made as a composition instructor at Kent State. This is all very useful work for my development as a teacher, and it is giving me additional ideas about how to conclude my current college writing class and expand my future college writing classes.