Saturday, December 20, 2008

Post-NaWriMo Day 1: Off for Awhile...

So my Christmas plans got shifted around a bit--it looks like I'm leaving tomorrow for a long winter's break down south and will be back after the first week of January. I might post from time to time, but don't expect too much...

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May it be filled with the collection of writing material (those family Christmases really are quite good that way, you know ;).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Day 44: Successful Finale to NaWriMo

Ahem, ahem. [Aside, in a whisper.] Where's that darned drumroll?

[From offstage.] Coming, coming. [Drumroll sounds loudly.]

That's better. Welcome, folks. I'm pleased to announce that as of a few moments ago both my third semester of PhD coursework and my NaWriMo experiment (known to others as PseudoNaNoWriMo) were both successfully completed, in that I handed in my last paper, reaching quite a bit past the word count I (re)set for myself to complete between November 1 and today.

As a reminder, the goals (once I adjusted them to realism) were to write 35,000 words between Nov. 1 and Dec. 19, with revised pages as counting for 100 words of word count per page of revision. I was also aiming for submission counts as well. Both academic and creative words were counted, though not (on the whole) blog posts. The totals (which will stay up on the sidebar for awhile as encouragement) are as follows:

NaWriMo final total: 42,663 words (Between Oct. 31 and 5:55 p.m. Dec. 19, 2008)
NaWriMo new word count: 29,963
NaWriMo page revision count: 127 (equivalent of 12,700 new wds w/in Deborah's scoring system)
NaWriMo submission count: 13 (1 conference paper abstract, 2 conference papers, 4 term papers, 6 creative non-fic essays)

I've enjoyed this experiment, on the whole. And I'm pleased with the results. Yeah! A successful NaWriMo and a completed semester! That even deserves an exclamation point or two!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day 40: Whew! Time for a Hard-Earned Rest...

Wow, I can't believe I did so much today. First, I wrote 6 new pages on my first of three final term papers, then revised the whole thing and turned 'er in, completing the first of my three classes for the semester an hour before my (extended) deadline. Woohoo!

Second, I came back and whipped out the first five pages of 15-page Term Paper #2, due at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, in an hour and a half flat, in just enough time to spend a few hours at a holiday gathering before...

Third, writing the catapult magazine article for Friday's issue--it was due before tomorrow morning.

I love it when imminent deadlines coalesce with properly researched and simmered ideas to create more than 4000 new words in a single day. Now, if I can just keep up the pace tomorrow and finish at least the rough text of Term Paper #2 after working for a few hours at my assistantship, I might be on track for handing in that final paper at least a day early.

We'll see.

By the way, the archival workshop went well on Saturday. Oh, and I didn't win agent Nathan Bransford's first paragraph contest, but as Eliot says, "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business." Tomorrow, back to my assistantship work, to finishing these papers, and to a bit of preparation for the course I'm teaching in the spring--those are the tasks at hand.

First, though, I get to sleep 6 glorious hours...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Day 37: Archival Events and First Paragraph Contests

Despite all my good intentions to the contrary, I'm frantically running around trying to get my writing done on time. The urgency right now is to write the last 6 pages of this Saturday's paper, and to finish getting ready for this public event on Saturday, in which my archival theory and practice class will present our work for the semester then give public workshops, including an archival road show (like Antiques Road Show, but with historical value). You are of course all invited.

Anyway, before I go do all that (plus work 10 hours between today and tomorrow and attend my last 3-hour grad class for the semester tonight), I wanted to send you on your way with a really cool contest agent Nathan Bransford is putting on over at his blog. Even if you don't enter yourself you can learn from the entries that are up there.

What he did was to tell people on Monday that they could post the first paragraph of their novels-in-progress in the comments on his blog. The deadline is the end of the day today, and at last check he had 1127 comments on that post. Anyway, even if you don't submit, go over there and check them out. There's nothing like looking over hundreds of first paragraphs of people's works-in-progress to make you: 1.) feel sorry for agents; 2.) Learn a little something about what makes a good (or bad) first paragraph of a novel; and 3.) realize just how much YA fantasy stuff is being written in people's home offices just now (attempting to ride the tails of Harry Potter and Twilight, of course).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Day 34: Word Counts Move Slow with Big Words

Thought of the Day, brought on by a conversation the other night with some friends: Word counts add up much slower than pages do when you use big words. I'm noticing this a lot. I have 10 pages written total out of the 45 I have due for this week and next (that's three 15-page papers that are due), and I've been averaging barely over 250 words per page.

That's compared with an average of 350 words per page when I write fiction or creative non-fiction.

Ah, yes...different genres of writing do demand different sets of vocabulary. It does make me realize that my word output of the last month and a half is heftier in page count than I'd been thinking it was. Interesting.

Anyway, I need to plow out approximately another 10 pages today (i.e., 2500 words, it seems), so I'd better get to it soon, but before I go, I just wanted to mention that despite the common cold I've picked up, I'm actually enjoying this part better than I did the last couple of weeks.

The angsty part of the writing process for me is always that chaotic time when you've got these disparate ideas bouncing around in your head but have no idea how they'll come together to form a paper. That time for me is always filled with fears that there will never be a finished product.

Those fears lessen their grip on me, usually, once I actually get a good start on the writing, though. So despite the continuing knots in my back (which will relax once I hand in that final 15-pager), I'm enjoying the process much more now than I did a few weeks ago. Plus, I'm an accumulative learner, so I usually don't truly grasp the entirety of what I've learned in my courses for the semester until just about now, which is part of the enjoyment. I like watching the bits and pieces coalesce into a more unified whole, both in my head and on the paper.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Day 31: I'm Tired of "Fruits"--Let's Call Them Kumquats

So I've got a new article up in the catapult magazine Advent issue, yet another kumquat of NaWriMo that's developed to the point of consumption. The article's about anticipation and (im)patience, which seems in many ways to have been the theme of my life lately. It's also a bit about narrative theory.

Ya know, it's been very helpful for me to count all the things I write for public consumption this NaWriMo. It helps keep me accountable for getting stuff out there. And it reminds me that I do write a lot. This is helpful information to pile up in me for those times when people ask me whether that novel of mine's done yet. I certainly get impatient about getting that novel done myself, so it's helpful for me to remember that my writing muscles are growing strong in the meantime.

Then again, sitting down and writing these end-of-term essays--which I'm finally ready to do, and about time (there's the (im)patience popping up again)--involves more diligence than patience at this point.

The goal for the day: write (the first) three or four pages of each of the three papers. I'll feel much much better when I have a decent start on all of them, and they seem to have percolated (sorry for the swift change of metaphors from fruit to coffee) to the point where I can plow out that much , at least (ooh, another farming metaphor--or is it snow plowing?).

Anyway, I'm off to it. I hope you have a good day.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Day 29: (Metaphorically) Out to Dinner with Derrida

Thought of the day: There is great irony in the fact that I feel I have least to offer in the way of amusing others when I'm at my most thoughtful, productive time of the semester. (This is when I've moved past the "slightly crazy but in an amusing stage" into the "truly focused on nothing but the writing I have to do" stage. I have not quite yet reached this latter stage this term, but feel it approaching.)

This doesn't mean that I have nothing to offer, I think, to others, during these times--just that such a large proportion of my attention is funneled into articulating some of what I'm learning in written form before I can articulate it orally to others once again.

It's interesting, I think, that I still catch myself viewing this attention to communicating in written form as a lesser form of communication than conversation with others, at moments like these.

Then again, it's more that when I'm busy being my most productive/creative, that creativity isn't always balanced between the different parts of my life, but put into primarily one kind of outlet. The same problem happens in a different form when all of my time is spent communicating face-to-face and I have no opportunity for written communication.

And these papers I'm writing ARE conversations: they're conversations with everything I've been reading. The fact that I feel myself narrowing in on the items I'm responding to, in order to prepare my written responses, is a reduction of ambient noise much like focusing in on what one's dinner companion is saying rather than listening to what's going on at the table next to yours at the restaurant (while in another circumstance you and your dinner companion might decide to go over and join in).

So yeah, I'm not trying to ignore all of you other bloggers out there at the next table right now by not mentioning you or linking to you in my posts. It's just that I'm mostly paying attention to the scholarly dinner companions whose words I've been reading, and figuring out how to respond to what they've been telling me for several months (in term paper form)....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Day 28: More Fruits of NaWriMo

Arghhh! (envision Charlie Brown with those little quivery lines around his open mouth).

Okay, I feel better now. That was a short moment to express how much I have to do very quickly now that I'm back from Thanksgiving break and have only 17 days to finish all those term papers that are mostly still simmering in my head, sad to say (which is not to say that I didn't do research for them over the weekend). But before I get to it, I wanted to share that moment with you, as well as to tell you briefly that the writing lifecycle does indeed seem to go on--that is, writing projects seem to beget more writing projects.

Which is all a roundabout way of announcing that two of my academic submissions from the early days of my NaWriMo experiment have already bourne fruit. An abstract I wrote for a conference paper was accepted (meaning that I get to write another paper by May), and another project I was co-authoring was accepted as a book chapter through a proposal, which means we get to mess with our quite rough draft and try to make it good by February.

First, though, I have to write these papers, and finish another report, and work on a poster, and finish up some plans for a final workshop for one of the classes. So, a quick celebration of the birth of these writing tasks, a quick urgh on the amount of care and feeding they're likely to need. But for now, I must drop them off at mental daycare because I've been called in to attend to the millions of other tasks that need birthing, care and feeding right now.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

We Interrupt This NaWriMo to Give Thanks

Okay, so I'll get back to NaWriMo reflections soon, but for now I wanted to recognize the fact that here in the Eastern time zone on US soil it just became (American) Thanksgiving day a few minutes ago, and in recognition of that fact, share a short list of writing-life-related things I'm thankful for. So here goes:
  • I'm thankful for these bizarre languages we have on this earth, with all their twists and turns, and for opportunities almost everyone on this earth has to learn new ways to articulate using them--and to play with them--every day.
  • However much I love words, I'm thankful that not everything can or should be said using them. In a related thought, I'm thankful words like paradox, ambiguity, and mystery exist, because they help to get at why that can be a good thing.
  • I'm thankful for all the different genres of writing, and the opportunities so many of us have to play with them at various times.
  • I'm thankful for stories, and the complex things they do for us.
  • I'm thankful for creativity, in all its varied forms, even (or perhaps especially) with all its bizarre processes and side effects.
I'm thankful for so much more, of course, seeing as how there's so much more to be thankful for, but that's a start. Right now I'm also thankful that I get to sleep now, so I'll go do that.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Day 22: Taking Stock (Not Making It for Thanksgiving)

So this weekend I didn't get many actual words written on my papers, but I was able to get a few things off my plate:
  1. I wrote and submitted the short travel article one of my friends asked me to write for the new alternative newspaper they're putting out in Toronto soon. The newspaper is called Voice on the Street, and it's a good project. The Facebook group is called "A New Street News" if you want to learn more about it. (I love that I know people who come up with these fabulous things and follow through on them.)

  2. Revised and submitted the Thanksgiving meditation I was asked to write for the church service I won't be attending Thursday morning because I'll be attending one at home.

  3. Finished revising and submitted the creative non-fic essay that was solicited this summer for a new book on faith and food. Sounds like a good collection (even with some big names in it), so I'm hoping that project comes to fruition.

  4. Finally got through the rest of the Victorian mystery novel I needed to read.
Lots to do now, though--work at my research assistantship today, attend class for an hour, write a 3-5 page paper due by tomorrow, and finish up some more stuff for that service-learning archival project at the public library, since I have a meeting tomorrow afternoon with the librarians on that, and a bunch of other meetings and events tomorrow. Thankfully I'm in high "get 'er done" mode...

I probably won't have time to update my word counts on the sidebar until tomorrow, but they're slowly inching up (ah, the slowness when most of what you're writing is chunks of a page or less). The big chunks will come once all these 15-page term papers bouncing around in my head finally get churned out.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day 20: Further Up and Further In

Okay, so it's been a weird couple of days, mostly not in a good way, but I don't want to focus on the reasons for that right now. Instead, I'm going to look at the silver linings, even if they're so shiny that they blind me, and even if I stare so long that my eyelids get stuck open like that. So, without further ado,

Good thing #1: On Wednesday afternoon I got excited about my papers again. My archival theory and practice class, as I may have mentioned before, is a service learning class, so I've been working on a collection at a local library. Beyond the paper that's due at the end of the class and the preservation plan I have to hand off to the library, we're doing a day of workshops and making posters for the public promoting the collections we've been working on.

It's these final two things that I got excited about on Wednesday, because with a little help from the professors, I can now see how my fancy conference-paper length academic paper ties to both of these. Which means my research will help people get excited about researching (we hope) as well as help them to figure out what to do with their own collections of documents in their lives. Nice to have a reminder that what I do can directly affect others.

Good thing #2: Thursday, because of various reasons, I wasn't feeling well and stayed home all day. Thankfully, I had just enough energy to get through most of the Victorian mystery novel mentioned here and here, which means that I managed to actually, by having a lousy day, get further ahead on my papers. The panicky time tends to come when one hasn't read one's primary material properly, after all--have to get through that to get the ideas churning for the paper one must write. And churning properly they are--good to be at that stage with two papers now.

Good thing #3: I found out that the library was able to acquire for me the documents I needed from my archival trip to California a few weeks back, which will be helpful, if they arrive on time, for finishing that third major paper of mine. Don't know when they'll get here, but I'm assured they're coming, which is hopefully a good sign. Definitely looking forward to writing that paper, as it's the closest of all to my dissertation research, but waiting on the materials there...which is okay, as now I'm close to being ready to write the other two. Plenty to do.

Good thing #4:
Although I found out yesterday I didn't get into yet another class I wanted to get into for next semester (urgh--back to the drawing board there), I did find out that I'm able to TA in the spring, which I'm excited about, especially since I'll be working with one of my professors this semester who I like and is retiring, well, after the spring. Still a few things up in the air for next semester, but at least that one is figured out.

Well, papers to write, papers to write. Better get started on it...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Day 17: The Usual Panic Sets In

So, after all the lovely determination I had going on Monday, the usual panic for this time of the semester set in yesterday. That is, I slipped straight past sane, let's-take-this-one-step-at-a-time into ARGHH! How will it all get done in three weeks????

Yup, 'tis edging up on mid-December, folks. Welcome to the end-of-term mood swings leading to a slight insanity (pairs nicely with a glass of merlot). I'm mostly wishing right now that the publishing world of the day hadn't forced poor Wilkie Collins to make his mystery story three-volume-novel length--I'm only about 40% through the 513-page book. Love the story, but there are moments...

At this point, all I'm promising is that by December 19 (which happens to be when the last paper's due), I will have at least another 17,500 new words written and a bunch of revised pages, because that's what's going to have to happen to finish these papers I have due plus all the other assignments I have coming up.

I'm in fact thinking that to preserve the small nicely formed bits of my sanity still lying around (preserve it like pickled herring, but different), I should shift my goal to be 35,000 total words in the period stretching from Nov. 1 to that date, rather than trying to pressure myself to reach the 25,000 by Dec. 1.

The thing is, it's better for me to panic now than to leave the stuff any later. The problem is, a resistant part of me KNOWS that I'm trying to move my panic earlier to get better results, and is seeking to subvert that move by decreasing the urgency... That side must be beaten down.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Day 15: The Deadlines are Coming, the Deadlines are Coming!

I remembered a few things on Saturday:
  1. I have 3 major research papers due in a bit over a month. That's only 4 weekends.
  2. I'm planning to make a 513-page 19th-century novel the centerpiece of one of those papers. In order to do that, I'm going to have to re-read it at least twice, if not three times before I write the paper.
  3. I have some fascinating papers I'm writing this semester, and one of them is nearly ready to write. But I've got a lot of other reading, researching, and writing to do too, both for the others and for other smaller assignments.
  4. Thankfully, I have fewer classes this week and next, but I need to get serious about these upcoming deadlines along with the other writing projects I have due outside of school. Not only so that I can meet my deadlines and produce good work, but also so that I can squeeze some of these paper word counts into my November NaWriMo word count, and make sure I can reach my November goal.
  5. If I can just plow through my word count this November and include a lot of final term paper words in that count, my December is bound to be a lot less scrambly and much more filled with creative writing and revising.
Whew, glad it will be a quiet week and weekend, what with much of the department going to the National Communication Association conference in California. Now if I can just avoid a repeat of last year's performance, in which my neck seized up the morning before NCA and took weeks to recover properly, I should be able to buckle down and get myself on the right track to a proper word count.

Note to self: Don't forget to do those neck stretches.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Day 13: The Leaves Might Be Dead, But I'm not Quite Yet

Depressing time of year, November. Here in Indiana, the leaves are mostly off the trees now, and any that aren't are being stripped off by the seemingly incessant cold rains. The sky is that lovely oppressive iron grey color, and once again, predictably, I've fallen into a funk, wishing with the king in Dr. Seuss's Bartholomew and the Oobleck that I could invent a new kind of precipitation.

Or at least have some snow, since it's prettier than rain. Or perhaps hibernate, like the bears.

Of course, there are several other factors adding to this mood. There are several people I'm waiting to hear back from regarding whether I can get a hold of items for my end-of-semester research papers this term, as well as for possibilities for exactly what I'll be doing next semester. And then there are questions with who I'll get to see and when during the Christmas break.

So basically, if I were given the task of marketing The Month of November, I might not be able to come up today with a better slogan than:


Then again, unlike the leaves, and despite this miserable waiting (how come Advent, the liturgical season of waiting, always seems to come early to me, I ask?) on several fronts, I'm not dead yet. The glass is half-full as well--granted, at the moment it's half-filled with rain, perhaps, but it's definitely not all bad.

  • I'm halfway through my writing experiment, and I'm on track.
  • I'm quite a bit more than halfway through my semester, and the next couple of weeks are lighter ones for school assignments, which means I can get ahead on my school assignments and still have space to work on some creative projects too.
  • I live a pretty privileged life, really--food, clothes, shelter, grad student life that's intellectually stimulating, etc.
Okay, self-pep talk over. The glass still feels a bit half-empty, but at least I have the oomph to go to school and work on some transcripts before attending my last class for the week. Ooh, there's another one: it's Friday, and I made it this far.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day almost-12 (And All Seems Well)

So I gave up on trying to fulfill the word requirement entirely with new words--too much revising to be done just now for that to work. I am pleased to report, however, that in combining both new words and revised pages as my scoring system had originally envisioned, I am more than half-way toward my goal when I'm not quite halfway through my allotted time.

Furthermore, as I explained over at TextFIGHT, my academic work has successfully cleared the way for back-burner creative projects to fester and emerge from my subconscious, a process that delights me tremendously. During the semester, any use of spare mental real estate for anything not paper-related or rest from paper-related thoughts is a strong victory. I'm mostly enjoying the academic papers I've been writing, but it's incredibly refreshing to have creative projects shake that head space up from time to time.

9 a.m.
Just noticed I keep forgetting to put the totals somewhere other than the sidebar. Here 'tis:

NaWriMo total thus far: 13,208 words (as of 8:19 p.m. Nov. 12, 2008)
NaWriMo new word count: 7608
NaWriMo page revision count: 56 (equivalent of 5600 new wds w/in Deborah's scoring system)
NaWriMo submission count: 4 (1 conference paper abstract, 2 conference papers, 1 creative non-fic essay)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Poetry, Epochal Moments, and the New Writer-in-Chief

The last time I remember it happening was a much much much much much less pleasant epochal event--9/11. The inhabitants of the US were so stunned by what they were experiencing, so in need of verbalization by those who had experience with articulation, that they of the poet laureates, if I remember correctly.

So last week, as I read the poem printed on election day in the New York Times, watched the interview with poet Maya Angelou, and watched opinion columnists, pundits, and political bloggers waxing increasingly poetic in their prose, I was quite pleased that it was a happier event this time that called for out for articulation in poetic language and in words from poets.

The thing is, this event, though it also comes in difficult times for the country, comes out of a significantly different situation. Despite difficult economic times, this need for poetics comes out of an abundance of hopeful symbols and emotions to interpret, rather than a raging loss. Sure, many people who I respect voted for the other guy, and I myself don't agree with our new president-elect on several issues, but, politics aside, the choice is one rich in symbolism calling to be interpreted.

And the symbolism gets richer when you realize that the new president-elect himself is a gifted writer of poetic language who himself has been able to articulate poetic, memorable language that has inspired both America and the world in difficult times.

In a week when a glance at international news reminds us that poets and writers are often jailed in other countries for articulating their thoughts and that our election transitions move smoothly compared with those in other parts of the world, I feel particularly blessed to live in a country where we have this time chosen to elect a word-crafter, especially one who is able to perform the incredibly difficult task of articulating a politics of hope that may pull us away from the cynicism of the last decades.

Whether we'll all agree with all the content he articulates, I doubt. But I, for one, am hoping that at least the strategy of hope and of reconciliation will be strong enough to overcome the cynicism about rhetoric that's dogged our country since at least WWII. As WWII reminded us so terribly, of course well-chosen words can be used to persuade people to do terrible things. And, as Eliot reminded us, human words aren't perfect.

But that's no reason for us to denigrate the fact that a message of hope, well put and couched in a full awareness of the darkness that surrounds, is a beautiful thing, and I'm choosing to pause for a moment and be thankful we've chosen someone who, like other excellent poets and writers, can articulate when we the people needed an injection, certainly not of fear, but not only of articulacy--also of hope and a call to selflessness. Not to mention a reminder that poetry, and the type that we choose for ourselves to listen to, matters.

That said, I'm already tired of journalists' and pundits' overuse of the words "history in the making" and "an historic day" and "an historic presidency"--sheesh, we get it, already. Go interview some more poets and writers, would you?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Day 7: First Fruits of My NaWriMo Labor (Publication Variety)

When I heard that this week's catapult magazine article was called "Color Positive," about figuring out how to break through racism and prejudice, I knew I had to write something for it, seeing as how my recent history has taught me a lot about this topic.

And so, even though the deadline for the article was Monday night (the same night the ICA conference paper deadline fell, which consumed so much writing energy for me), I figured it was just as important to stay up and write that as it was for me to stay up on Saturday night working on my ICA submissions and on Wednesday night to finish my rhetoric of conspiracy paper. So I did.

And here's what I came up with. If you go on over, take a read of other parts of the issue while you're there--it's a more timely topic than ever, what with the milestone of this week's election, and it's an interesting mix of thoughtful people's thoughts on this subject that's taken so many newspaper and blog inches this week particularly. There are means to comment on the articles and more generally on the issue's topic if you want to contribute to the discussion.

On the NaWriMo significance of this article, it makes me more excited than ever on my focus not only of creating words, but of creating words that are designed to be pushed out into the world. And the fact that I'm allowing my project to be composed of smaller pieces as well as long ones means that I can see bits of the fruits of my 3 a.m. labors as I'm going. I love that.

By the way, I've been working on another post for this blog (it's coming soon, Ril), but since last night I've been working hard on this "regaining my sanity through more sleep" project that started after I handed in my last projects of this crazy week. The new post will probably show up tomorrow, since I'll likely be less sleep-deprived by then.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Day 5: Exhilaration and Exhaustion

Many many big sweeping moments in the last 30 or so hours here in the US, and I've been so exhilarated that I've found it really really hard to get back to focusing on this here 1000 words I have to write.

The thing is, as far as my NaWriMo thing, I'm ahead, especially after that written assignment I handed in this afternoon, but this other one, this 3-5 page paper, he already gave us an extension because everyone had been up late with the election coverage (one of the advantages of being in a department that studies a lot of speeches and such). The extension was until 2 p.m. tomorrow, but I have to work tomorrow morning, so I'll be up tonight until it's done.

So despite my exhaustion from a weekend of insane paper-writing to hit my Monday deadlines followed by a day of epochal election excitement and two amazing candidate speeches followed by some unfocused academic reading until 4 a.m., I'm off to write 3 to 5 pages. Hoping to keep it to 3, as I really really can't keep this pace and level of energy going much longer. I'm already on the verge of descending into the deepest pit of crankitude I can imagine...

I'm definitely planning to sleep most of the weekend. And I should be able to, as I'll be far enough ahead between the new words, not to mention the revision pages that also add to my word count, that I can relax a bit, catch up on a few things I've been ignoring dreadfully. Maybe even leave the house to see people in non-coursework and assistantship-related capacities, and to exercise...hoping the beautiful weather holds out a few more days.

Then, next week, I can plunge back into the writing game, and maybe even get some of that creative essay revised that I've been meaning to do for that editor, get some of that novel manuscript of mine edited and properly queried, get the MA thesis finally into the mail as a monograph submission... All those things that have been on my checklist since the summer or longer. Most of them aren't that hard but have consistently fallen in the priority list. Thanks to my NaWriMo project, I hope to have the oomph to actually plow through them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An "Open Source" Online Limerick Dictionary--Need I Say More?

Okay, I'm totally writing a few of these for part of my NaWriMo word count--what an absolutely wacko-but-in-a-brilliant-way idea! For those of you doing NaNoWriMo (such as you TextFIGHT folks), you might try playing with one or two word-defining limericks to prime the pump when you need, well, pumping up...

Hm, what word between Aa- and Dd- could I play with to disperse the stress of Election Day? I'll have to play with a few while glued to the election news tonight...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Day 3: Just Imagine Little Schem-y Tent-y Fingers...

Okay, so I have to admit it feels a bit like cheating, this being able to ride the wave of the NaNoWriMo energy AND also have deadlines to add fuel to the fire. But the thing is, I think I needed both to finish the Herculean task of the weekend. And the thing is, the sort of speed-writing they do at NaNoWriMo is the sort I'm going to have to do academically next fall during my preliminary exams, so it's a really good thing for me that I'm combining the two right now in my NaWriMo experiment.

At any rate, my weekend was rather sleep-shorted and my Sunday wasn't QUITE as restful as my Sundays usually are, but I did get at least a bit of rest on Sunday, and the ICA conference paper submission deadlines somehow got met--the first abstract sent out on Saturday, which was the deadline for that one, and then the other two papers tonight by 11 p.m. Eastern time (the last one literally slipped in under the wire with seconds to spare).

It's good for me, this re-development of a willingness to do the best I can in the space I have to allot to a project before its deadline, then to fling it into (virtual) space to see what the response is. I was thinking about this the other day, that I used to do this all the time with writing in the business world and was mostly fine with the process, though I wished I had more time to polish.

Although it's good to have more time to polish things and take more time for revision, there's also a merit in the kinds of speed-writing and speed-submitting exercises such an environment provides you with, and so I'm thankful that my academic life is teaching me to take on that challenge, and that my NaWriMo challenge is helping me to also mix in other more creative genres into that goal. Hopefully, once I've gotten in the habit of speed-writing and speedishly-revising and speedishly-submitting in a variety of genres, I'll learn to be more skillful at varying my speeds in a variety of forms whenever needed.

Oh, and what I'm REALLY hoping is that my NaWriMo exercise is reasonable enough that, unlike so many people's experiences of NaNoWriMo, it's sustainable--if this works as well as I hope it does, I'm hoping to make every month a NaWriMo month.

Anyway, I do have this week's catapult magazine article yet to revise one more time and send out for good measure before I sleep, so I'd better get back to it.

Before I go, though, here are the numbers for future reference, after what's been officially day 3 of NaWriMo:
NaWriMo new word count: 4759 (as of 11:00 p.m. EST Nov. 3)
NaWriMo page revision count: 49 (equivalent of 4900 new wds w/in Deborah's scoring system)
NaWriMo submission count: 3 (1 conference paper abstract, 2 conference papers)

Once this catapult article gets out, those counts will go up even a bit more...ah, this NaWriMo thing is going beautifully so far. I love it when a plan comes together.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Days 1& 2: Treading that Boundary between Good and Wimpy Self-Excuse

Huge...task...set for myself...this weekend, involving these Monday night deadlines. Which means yes, I'm significantly ahead as far as personal word count goes, but I have the great desire to manufacture several more days' worth of time between now and tomorrow night.

Anyway, let's focus on the positive here. As of the twittering-birds'-time when I went to bed this morning, I had written 3646 new words on 3 different projects, revised 3 pages and submitted one conference paper abstract. That means that as far as these personal goals for this contest I'm ahead by about 2000 words, which puts me on par with NaNoWriMo word counts after 2 days. But...lots to do yet for those pesky external Monday deadlines.

This having a word count and a goal is a fabulous way of pulling out and evaluating the success of my writing practices, as well as becoming intensely aware of all the things inside me that try to resist getting stuff out there on the page.

On Friday night I tried the "reading my notes right before I went to sleep thing" and that seemed to work well, as did the "keeping my notes in mind before jumping in the shower" thing. Caffeine also seemed to work well, and finally later in the evening, pulling out my classic paper-writing movie--Lord of the Rings--as a backdrop really kicked me back into gear.

But listening to music? Not so helpful yesterday. Neither was the 50% off Halloween candy (sugar high only followed by crash and guilt--not so pleasant). Playing piano helped quite a bit, but wasn't the thing yesterday that had me running back to the screen and back to plowing out more pages again. However much I hate it, I think I just needed a break in the middle of the day yesterday for my mind to think things over.

Sometimes I wish I could overcome such simmering times. I'd get so much more done more quickly. Sadly, sometimes they're needed, both for academic and creative projects. One can jump among the projects when one gets stuck, and therefore pick up some productivity that way, but at some point I tend to hit a wall on all projects so my mind can get one figured out. Thus it always has been.

Hm, I think it's good that I'm trying to push myself. It's helping me differentiate between what's a real barrier to getting work done and what's the kind of wimpy excuse I tend to buy from myself because that other part of myself's such an excellent rhetor. :) There's still a lot of gushy ground, though, maddeningly, between the two...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Declaration: 25,000 (New) Words by November 30

So for those of you that don't know, it's National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) beginning today. In past posts I've been feeling left out of these creative speedwriting events, but yesterday I made a command decision--I'm going to ride the wave of enthusiasm and slight insanity of NaNoWriMo, but in my own way.

No, I'm not going to plow out 50,000 words of novel draft by the end of the month, as NaNoWriMo participants will. My goal is more in keeping with the spirit of this blog, whose purpose is to knock down the partitions between the parts of my writing selves.

And so (drum roll please) I'm going to write 25,000 new words of significant writing (for the most part, blog entries don't count) by November 30. This averages out to, excluding Sundays and starting last night, an average of 1000 new words per day. This writing may be academic or creative in nature. It can be in any combination of projects. In fact, the work can involve revision--10 pages of revised text will substitute per 1000 words of my total.

The rule is only that it must not primarily be for my own use, but something that's intended to be sent out into the world for evaluation--either to be graded by my professors or for publication of some kind.

See, I'm a grad student, and I have lots of other writing responsibilities I would feel terrible about abdicating if I tried to spend a month doing NaNoWriMo with only creative work. This way I should make tons of progress on my academic writing (and yes, journals that I have to hand in for my archives class count) and, because of that, get some work done in the creative realm as well.

Oh, and query letters and cover letters count as well--I'll be counting up the number of items I actually submit places as well. I'm excited about using this month not only to produce, but also to focus on revising as many items as possible and getting 'em out there...

So hey, those of you out there doing NaNoWriMo, I'm with you guys. And those of you who don't feel you have a novel in you but want to ride the writing excitement with me, please feel free to join me in NaWriMo, using whatever rules you feel you can adhere to reasonably.

Of course, this said, my first night was unproductive. Today, however, I'm planning to write a good portion of a conference paper due on Monday, and revise another for the same deadline, and write a creative non-fic essay also due on Monday, so that will get me significantly ahead in word count.

So off into the intrepid adventure of plowing out the pages of text...I'm quite excited about it, actually...check out this blog's side bar for my word count and submission stats.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Bit Unfair, Methinks?

From the new post at the Good Letters blog:
It’s hard to find people making bigger fools of themselves than those who blather about how they fill a piece of paper with something that came out their heads.
Yeah, of course there's a type of writer who's like this, but I'm getting tired of all those out there in the writing world who seem to me to spend an awful lot of time--shall we say blathering on (usually in written form)--about the kinds of writers they don't like, and lump all the others in with them.

Yes, as Harmon states accurately, idolization of one's writing output is not a good thing to do, and I do think it's a danger for anyone who writes, particularly those who write full-time. But, as Mark Terry pointed out recently on his blog, being a full-time writer is like auditioning for jobs all the time, and is about as stable as the stock market. That sort of constant evaluation is bound to make some people a wee little bit insecure from time to time (as someone who's had to adjust in the last few years from once-a-year employee evaluation to constant grading of what I write, I can certainly relate to the pressure of evaluation). Can't we have a bit of compassion and understanding here, as Lindsey Crittenden recently suggested?

And really, must those (such as Harmon) complaining about the types of writers they don't like work so hard to encourage negative stereotypes of full-time writers and lump all writing groups and writing communities in with them? Being a full-time writer and writing out of delight are not necessarily exclusive of one another, anymore than having a full-time job is likely to give one a good sense of perspective on life (as Harmon implies). (Furthermore, I wonder why we as a society see teachers, who are constantly sharing their opinions and creative output orally, as a self-effacing group, whereas writers are automatically seen as narcissistic for doing the same thing in a written form.)

I don't know, maybe I'm just blathering on. :) What do you guys think?

BTW, I found my writing mojo--it was under a pile of transcripts on my desk at school, of all places. Here's hoping it doesn't slither off again before my pile o' writing gets done this weekend...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lost: One Mojo

I've been looking for it everywhere. I'm really hoping it didn't get left on the train or in a hotel room in California. Anyone seen it (my mojo, that is)? I definitely need it for the weekend--I have about fifteen pages of term and conference papers to cohere, one twenty-page paper to revise, and one creative non-fiction essay-like article to write between Friday night and the wee hours after the end of Saturday Night Live (which I better not be watching this week).

We'll call it, not the three-day novel or NaNoWriMo, but the day-and-a-half pile o' non-fiction, academic and otherwise, I've got to write. (Titles are everything, no?) Anyway, once this is done, I'm hoping to plow into some novel manuscript re-writes during the rest of November. But I have have have to get this done first.

So it's important that I find this mojo by tomorrow noon. Please let me know if you happen upon it somewhere (and feel free to heckle me throughout the next couple of days if I'm not getting the writing done)...

Oh, and for someone who's been reading archival theory (i.e., reflections on the preservation and loss of our pasts) all semester, this book reviewed by Gregory Wolfe over at Good Letters intrigues me. Alright, to school, to school...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

There and Back Again: A Grad Student's Tale

I'm back in Indiana, back at school this morning, and my mood has changed (upwards) about 104% since I left. The thing is, somewhere on the grounds of that beautiful library, perhaps as I was discovering fascinating things in the manuscript I was looking at (working on a project I enjoy, of my own choosing), I remembered why I wanted to keep on with this grad school thing when my MA was over. I remembered what I love about it.

And so I'm back to work now, and much more enthusiastic about my semester. Actually excited to write papers and articles and to read them... Woohoo! Yup, seems a little time away doing something you love from time to time can be an immeasurable help in reminding you why you're taking on this crazy writing life in the first place.

Especially if it's somewhere warm.

Oh, and before I go, I wanted to share this from Friday's Good Letters post (which I missed because I was gone:
The spiritual life and the creative life both depend on conjuring something out of nothing. Or perhaps I should say “nothing,” because the void only presents the unimaginable until we’re in it. There’s nothing “fun” about it, though the results can be enjoyable.
The thing is, I think there is something "fun" about it sometimes--just not all the time. Sometimes one must be reminded of the joy in it, though, to get through those rough patches. This weekend I had a glimpse of the joy of conjuring again, and for that I'm grateful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Zen and the Art of (Public) Transportation

Okay, so I don't believe in the whole Zen thing, but the title still gets at what I'd like to talk about, and a good part of I like to travel so much.

And I do like it. Despite the feeling that your skin is layered in some sort of film by the end of the day, despite unidentified foot-long smudges your jeans pick up somehow, somewhere, along the the way, despite the delays and the frustrations and the missteps, and the tired back and feet and the required watchfulness over one's ambulatory possessions, I appreciate travel, particularly that by public transportation (though as my friends know, I also wouldn't slam the door in the face of a good road trip that came calling--Alaska, anyone?).

Of course, public transportation is time-consuming and I'd be annoyed with it if I had to do it everyday (witness my driving to school), but on vacation, my writerly self quite enjoys it for three reasons:
  1. Serendipity. Although I've been traveling "alone" this weekend, I've never lacked for companionship. Airports, airplanes, and trains are fabulous breeding grounds (liminal spaces, some academics would say) for fabulous conversations. I've certainly experienced that this weekend. Beyond giving me good material, this stretches me and reminds a girl who spends a ton of time beyond a computer screen that there are other people out there. Sure, there was one ride where the person was a bit too much of a chatterbox, but forbearing is part of being part of community, and I like that public spaces are spaces where I get to exercise my community muscles.

  2. Eavesdropping. This wouldn't work for academic research, but for my creative writing self, public transportation is a great place to overhear conversations of people, keeping my ear open for interesting types of dialects and bits of characterization through dialogue. Besides, sometimes overhearing on public transport is inescapable, so one might as well keep its useful purposes in mind. :)

  3. A Step toward Peace. Sure, if I did this on a regular basis, I would feel the need to be fully productive during my public transport time, but this same liminality, disjointedness from what's come before and the place you're going to, is a great space to relax and allow one's brain to calm down, to either give oneself space to dig into a book deeply without so many distractions or just to be still, to stare. As Eliot put it so well, that point when "an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations / And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence" (Four Quartets, "East Coker") can be a jumping-off point into that stillness, that listening mode, that in my everyday life I can be so bad at. That point from which both prayer and writing can grow so well.
And that, I think, is at the heart of why, despite the hours and hours spent moving around this weekend, I can go home retaining a level of stillness and a measure of refreshment, ready to plunge back into the page and the screen. (Of course, remind my jetlagged self of that Wednesday morning when I have to get up early and go to school after a final day of buses and airports and airplanes tomorrow.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lions, Tigers, and Huntington Library Squirrels, Oh My...

So since I've been out here in California, I've been noticing that the squirrels out here act differently than the creepy ones at Purdue--at least the ones on the grounds of the Huntington Library, Museum, and Botanical Gardens, where I've been given the privilege of reading a select number of rare manuscripts for a few days. Seriously, I've never seen squirrels acting with this much confidence before. These squirrels are awesome.

The thing is, I'm convinced it's their environment. See, the grounds of the Huntington mix together a whole range of different kinds of these amazing environments for these squirrels to play in. They can go hang out in the desert for awhile, then go play in the jungle garden before hopping over to the Australian outback...

I'm pretty sure that, surrounded by all these big, fancy plants with very few other animals around, they've convinced themselves they're really lions, tigers, monkeys, and/or kangaroos in squirrel bodies.

Yup, that's right, folks. I'm feeling a Wizard-of-Oz-like story coming on... ("If the squirrels were king of the forest...")

(I may possibly be a little giddy from spending a day outside in the beautiful weather in gorgeous gardens. Tomorrow, back to the Huntington reading room, which is quite nice, too--all the nicer that the research is going well. Then, way too soon, back to Indiana fall weather and the-semester-as-usual. But I'll go back refreshed by this change of venue and by how much I've learned here. And when I need a spurt of courage, I'll remember the Huntington squirrels.)

Writing life tip of the day: Go to new places from time to time. And watch the squirrels.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Thrill of the (Paper) Chase: A Documentary Romance

Take One: Bodleian Library, Oxford, England, 1997. Deborah, on a jaunt during her Semester in England, stands chafing at the polite barricades keeping her from the stacks of the Bodleian library in Oxford. Later, when I heard that there were 16th century books stacked up in corners within the library's depths, I felt my heart beat a bit more quickly, and I was jealous of those who had permissions to go in.

Take Two:
Morgan library, New York, 2006. Deborah, on a pre-thesis-on-Thoreau-and-Eliot jaunt to New York with slightly-impatient friends, stands and copies down the information she can glean from the behind-glass pages of one of Thoreau's journals while steaming up the glass in front of them with her breath. Earlier, having had the usual visitor's look-but-don't-touch access to the amazing three-story library room, she wondered whether any of those enticing books were getting read, but by no means felt qualified to figure out whether she could do so.

Take Three: Huntington Library, San Marino, 2008. (This coming Saturday, to be exact.) Armed with the knowledge I've learned in my Archival Theory and Practice class, I know much more, and therefore, having filled out all the necessary paperwork and been granted limited access, I will walk in, show my ID, receive my reader's permit and the three documents I've been given access to, and be able to actually page through them for hours. Sweet victory!

Still, if this is a romance, it will be more like a conjugal visit in prison than anything else--I'm not allowed to take any bags or pens into the reading room, only paper, pencils, and a laptop. I had to tell them exact days that I would be there so I could get access to these materials. If I want photocopies I will need to fill out a form at the end of the visit. All of these specifications...

From the midst of my archival theory and practice class, I understand the need for such precautions--after all, it's important to keep these things in good condition for their preservation. All the same, I find it fascinating that the metaphor I keep coming up against is visiting these documents in prison. I suppose, though, another metaphor would be that of going through all the checks to become a day-long visitor to the White House, to see some of the parts people rarely see on tour. That's probably a more apt metaphor, really, because it is quite a privilege.

And I am looking forward to looking at these documents, making friends with them and seeing whether this pen pal relationship of ours will blossom into something more, maybe even a dissertation chapter. No matter whether this particular documentary flame sparks or fizzles, I'm thankful that takes 4, 5, and 6 are likely to be even happier scenarios. That's important, as I'll likely need to do this down the road again, in both my academic and non-academic writing (historical fiction or non-fiction alike).

As GI Joe used to say in the cartoon of my youth, "knowing is half the battle."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What to Read, What to Read

So yesterday both Mark Terry and Terry Whalin posted about reading the kinds of books you gravitate to, and then writing those kinds of books. I find this a fascinating concept that's probably true, to a certain degree. But I'd like to point out that reading entirely different kinds of books than the ones you gravitate to, and trying to write different kinds of genres than what you're reading, can be pretty amazing.

That, of course, is said from a girl who's been reading a lot of theoretical tomes lately. I have to admit that theoretical tomes haven't necessarily always been the first book I'd pick up when strolling through Borders, and yet, I'm finding that material incredibly enriching. Yes, I've been writing papers that respond to that theory, but I've also been finding it's been raising desires in me to write creative non-fiction, to try new fiction genres, to add deeper layers to my thought and to my characters in my fiction.

See, the theory I've been reading has touched on some pretty basic questions about who we are as humans. About meaning and communication. On the nature of story. On how we conceive history and why we like to keep and throw things away. About how we influence one another, and questions of agency and free will. This semester, I've been busy theorizing and writing academic papers in response, but I can feel my confidence toward other writings improving as I feel my ponderings on these topics gathering me lots and lots of writing material.

So yeah, I'd like to encourage you writers out there to, sure, read what you want to write and write what you want to read, but here's my two cents: don't limit your reading to that. Don't shun the hard stuff. Stretching your comfort zone is good, and can stretch your imagination along with your understanding.

Oh, and one more thing--don't forget to "read" the "texts" around you in your quest for figuring out what to write. Pay attention to what stories you like to listen to from other people and watch on TV, what locations you like to visit, what your interests are. Observe how people communicate with each other and how the cultures around you work and how they interact with each other. These things, beyond what you like to read, could open up whole new universes of kinds of things to read and to write, and add new depth to what you do write.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In Which Her Internal Nerd Begins to Salivate...

For those of you keeping track, I handed in my rhetoric of conspiracy paper yesterday on time. In fact, I dropped it in the box a whole 5 minutes early, I think.


So before I forget, Terry Whalin pointed out a great article about blogging at The Atlantic . Many great lines and insights (though I disagree with a few of the statements--for instance, the first blogs were primarily used as a navigational tool to supplement search directories, so I've been told, rather than as a personal diary-ish log).

But it's a good article. The best line, for my purposes as a media scholar and as a writer, is this, from near the bottom of the last page: "The message dictates the medium. And each medium has its place—as long as one is not mistaken for the other."

He's talking about writing for different media--for the magazine, for the book reader, and for the screen--and I think it's just fabulously well-put. Delightfully non-media-determinist.


In other news, I got word yesterday that, while I will not get a general reader's pass for the Huntington Library in California for my visit this weekend, they have kindly granted me access to view the three documents that will help me, hopefully, write a paper leading toward my dissertation work. I'm very excited about this, as I was a bit worried, seeing as how I could probably work from photocopies, but who knows, what with the potential smudging and such.

For those of you who fail to find your internal reading nerd salivating big-time at the prospect of going to cool libraries and burying yourselves in the marginalia of nearly-forgotten Kingsley Amis mystery novel manuscripts written in the 1970s, the grounds of the library are supposed to be amazing. If you've seen the chick flick The Wedding Planner with Matthew McConneaghey (awful movie but that's not his fault), there's a garden scene with nude statues that's I'm told was filmed on the grounds of this library. So I'm hoping to also hang out on the grounds a bit if I can (though I have no need of meeting a guy there--got one already, thanks).

I also have a couple other activities planned while I'm out there. There should be writing material gathering a-plenty, for creative stuff as well as the academic.

And I'm excited about getting a change of scene. The mid-semester doldrums within me have been crying out, and I haven't been to California since I was 9. Woohoo, I say! Woohoo!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Oh, So That's Why...

This is one reason I'm not a full-time (freelance-ish, that is) writer at this stage. One reason, at least. I admire those who are.

Back to that paper due at 5.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cage Match (Part 5): The Finale

Announcer (whispering): Aaaaaaand we're back in Cage Match Arena, at the fight between the married Depth and Accessibility. Their son Harry Potter has just raised his wand, so let's see what happens next. This is exciting, folks!

Harry Potter: Silencio. [the arena quiets instantly] Yeah, yeah, I know some of you were looking for me to stride in here and take part in some of those action-packed scenes we've all read me perform, but quite frankly, after all that work in the seven books, I'm tired. And I'm worried about you folks, as well as about my parents.

I know, I see you folks over there with Accessibility painted on your chests in successive letters--it's spelled wrong, by the way. I see you rolling your eyes. Don't think I won't use my wand if I don't have to. I also see you group of Depth-ites over there who obviously think I'm a lightweight. Same goes for both sides. My wand is ready, so no funny business.

The thing is, what we need isn't a cage match. What we need is to work together here, understanding the way the world is evolving. Depth and Accessibility have produced some fabulous kids, and we heap scorn on them from both sides. How could a married couple keep a healthy marriage when both them and their children are ostracized from so many different sectors of society?

Accessibility supporters, yes, you could use a bit better attention span and learning a bit more nuance. Try reading some of Literary Mystery's work from time to time, or Book Club Fiction. Or at least the History Channel.

And Depth supporters, please don't roll your eyes quite so much at such activity. It's rude, and it just makes you look bad. Your work could use a bit of narrative spice to it. The fact that something has drawn popular attention doesn't necessarily mean it's bad.

And you, Mom and Dad, stop turning each other into pounded-up tomatoes. You love each other, and it's time to show it. Marriage is all about compromise, remember? How can you love your children properly when you can't appreciate each other's quirks?

[Depth flings open the cage door and rappels down to where he is. Accessibility reluctantly follows.]

Depth: Well, son, you know how much I hate to be maudlin or sentimental in any way, much less as conforming to anything ryanstates or others may have predicted as the outcome for this event days ago, but you're so right. I'm not going to fling my arms around your father and beg his pardon or anything, particularly with these bruises, but if he's contrite, I may go home and let him sleep on the couch instead of the roof for the next few days.

Accessibility: Same goes for me, son. I'd really like to sucker-punch your mom right now to get ratings, but I'm going to hold back and go home with her. I do love her.

Announcer: Well, that's it, folks. Perhaps a bit pat, the Depth folks might say, and with not enough fireworks for the Accessibility folks' tastes, but that's the life of the Hybrid production, which this, it turns out, happened to be. This is Chuck for Cage Matches 'R' Us, bidding you farewell and returning you to your regularly scheduled blog, which is sure to be just as stirring. Thanks for sticking around for these dramatic events, and feel free to throw tomatoes or other fruits at each other or at Deborah in the comments...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cage Match (Part 4): The Commentary and Commercials

Announcer: As I promised, Harry Potter is about to speak to the crowd here in Cage Match Arena, in this epic showdown between the married couple Depth and Accessibility. But first, I want to cut to a discussion I just had with our match commentators.

Commentator 1: Thank you, Chuck. Well, clearly this is an epic battle here between Depth and Accessibility. They're breaking all the rules.

Commentator 2: Ah, but in many ways they're also following all the rules, Chuck. And that's a problem for supporters of Depth--they'd like to see her fight Accessibility in a less violent venue. Less punches, more discussion.

Commentator 1: Well, at least this doesn't bore us to tears. Look at all that interest! Harry Potter could do anything, though, what with his magic powers and his willingness to act. I'm eager to see what happens next.

Announcer: As you can see, our commentators have sympathies. Thanks, Commentators, for your input. And now, for a word from our sponsors.

[camera cuts to commercial 1, with a scene of a young man sitting on a sofa.]

Commercial 1: Tired of feeling run down? Watching too many Cage Matches? Buy your own cage and spice up your workout life! Fight your enemies or your closest friends and family! Either way, you'll watch the pounds melt away. Buy now for only 12 installments of $59.99.*

[fine print:*Does not include a surcharge of $5000. Cage is not a toy. Manufacturer intends this as an exercise tool, and takes no responsibility for any deaths or injuries that occur during its use.]

[camera cuts to commercial 2, with a couple arguing over the cage match on a sofa]

Commercial 2: Tired of taking sides in these sorts of battles? Like something in-between? Jump over to Hybrid TV, where we have somewhat-nuanced, never dull, discussions of all the children of the combatants.

[camera cuts back to Cage Match Arena, and zooms in on Harry Potter's raised wand...]

[To be continued...]

Come back tomorrow for the startling conclusion to our cage match adventure... (Oh, and feel free to let me know in the comments if you're interested in the product mentioned in Commercial 1.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cage Match (Part 3): The Crisis

Announcer: And welcome back, once again, to Cage Match Arena, where we're hosting a cage match between a couple married for a hundred years--champion Accessibility and challenger Depth. Their children standing on the sidelines have gotten into the fight a bit as well--Journalism is right now down there, it looks like, fighting to defend the honor of his sister Book Club Fiction, who was just slammed with a tomato by an Accessibility supporter.

Up in the cage, things have taken a bit of a turn. Depth was ahead early, then Accessibility, but right now it looks like both of them are exhausted, leaning back on the opposite sides of the cage and glaring at each other.

In order to understand this glare, let's bring you to the crisis that led this couple from wedded bliss to this point. It seems that it happened when one of their youngest children, Reality TV, was five years old. There was a note home from his kindergarten from his teacher saying that he had tried to have one of his classmates voted out of school.

When Accessibility came home from work, he and Depth got into it. Accessibility thought that the behavior was delightfully amusing, and praised his son for his creativity. Depth, however, thought the child needed a stern punishment. She's reported to have yelled, "He's just like his father! Shallow and ignorant!"

Tragic, folks, when marriages go bad, but then, I wouldn't have missed this fight for the world.

Look, the challengers are going at it again! Accessibility just got in the first blow, a particularly good one...

Cameraman: But look! Down in the audience! It looks like one of their younger but widely respected children, Harry Potter, is breaking through the crowd, ready to make a speech. Is he trying to stop the event?

Announcer: Shut up, Jake. You're not supposed to talk. Yes, it does look like Potter is getting ready to say a word. We will bring you all of it, we promise, but first, we must bring you a word from our sponsor (and break for tonight's final presidential debates)....

[To be continued...]

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cage Match (Part 2): The Progeny

Announcer: So welcome back to Cage Match Arena, where challenger Depth is taking on champion Accessibility for the title. They've been, so far, going punch for punch, which doesn't surprise us here at all. See something we didn't tell you yesterday is that these two combatants know each other extremely well, as they've been married for the last hundred years or so.

[cut to wedding shot of Accessibility and Depth stuffing cake into each other's mouths, then another of them standing on a beach, with Depth on Accessibility's back]

Yes, that's right, these two fell in love sometime during the Romantic period in England, and they've been together ever since. Sometimes, like tonight, their relationship has approximated the War of the Roses, but over the years they've also had many many children, some of which resemble their dad, some their mom, but many of which look like both. Some have migrated to other countries, but they're all here tonight.

[pans to faces on the sideline]

In case you've forgetten who they are, a sampling of names should be enough:
  • Journalism
  • Creative non-fiction
  • Book club fiction
  • Literary mysteries
  • Complex hour-long TV dramas
  • Biographies
  • The History Channel
These children, many of whom are quite successful, are standing on the sideline, eagerly watching and wondering what the outcome will be for their much-loved parents. It's quite brave of them to stand there, as the crowd is getting near riotous with their support of either Depth or Accessibility, meaning that these hybrids are getting occasional boxes of popcorn dropped on them.

It looks like Journalism is particularly taking a beating down there, though he's throwing that piece of fruit right back at them... Oh! Up above, it looks like Accessibility just took quite the blow from Depth. She knows just where to hit him, it seems!

Ah, tensions are high here: no telling what's going to happen next. Unfortunately, we need to break now for a word from our sponsors. Don't go away--we'll be back soon to continue this saga.

[To be continued...]

Readers, please inscribe chants you think are going on in the audience, from either or both sides, within the comment area.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Cage Match: Depth vs. Accessibility

As the lights go up on the arena, the audience roars...

Announcer: Yes, folks, today, on this beautiful Columbus Day (Canadian Thanksgiving for you Canucks), we have for you a rare event. Previously this would have been handled by way of a Socratic dialogue, but we must roll with the times, so here it is, the showdown between our reigning champion, Accessibility, and his challenger, Depth. Now, if you've been around, you know that this format favors Accessibility over Depth, but it looks like Depth has been training up by lifting heavy tomes of French philosophers. She looks remarkably buff. I'm anxious to see what happens.

Depth and Accessibility face each other in the cage.

Depth: You ready to throw down, punk? Those long nuanced sentences may not be concise, but they've built up my strength.

Accessibility: Your long sentences are worth crap. A short punch is the most powerful.

Depth: We'll see about that: you err in thinking that my deep thinking has stopped me from Karate Kid-esque training while teaching deeper substance at the same time (and using many colons and semicolons). Furthermore, I have an attention span that can grind yours into the ground.

Accessibility: You going to stand there and argue, or fight? That's what people came here to see. Let's rumble!

Depth: Don't think I can't be passionate, nuanced, and right at the same time. Bring it on, dude. Bring it on.

They pitch into each other.

[To be continued...]

Any takers for the chances of either side?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wist; or, Giving One's Inner Nerd a Hug

So as I look around at blogs written by people in the world of general-audience writers (such as here, here, here, and here) at this time of year, I sometimes feel wistful. I see people preparing for NaNoWriMo and so forth. I see encouragement to finish creative projects and get one's stuff out there for publication.

I stare outside at the colorful leaves doused in golden sun, and I think of all the writing projects stacking up in my brain behind the (mostly academic) ones I'm working on, and I feel wist. Great wist. I look outside, and it seems that far away, just beyond what I can see, there's this shimmering vista of greener-than-green grass with springtime crocuses popping out of it. My stack of academic tomes on historiography, archival theory, and even the fascinating rhetoric of conspiracy look pale and anemic beside this green vista, as does the stack of term papers and conference papers that is my October's goal.

These papers are important for me to do. They're intellectually stimulating. They are helping me prepare for other future writing tasks I must do, both inside and outside of the academy. But it's hard to remember that some days when the just-out-of reach crocuses seem to pulse with their purple brilliance.

I think there are good reasons for me to feel that these current tasks are marginalized ones from the perspective of the general-audience writing world--after all, they will not be concise, beautifully sounding writings for public consumption, which is the most acceptable thing in the world of writers that write to sell. Nor are they going to be the kind of aesthetic production that's seen to be acceptable to those in the writing world that aren't so concerned about sales.

(If one were to represent the whole writing world as a social landscape not unlike high school, then, I'm clearly a nerd on that landscape, even if within the academic world, I'm the artsy one in the corner. No wonder I feel a bit fractured in my identity.)

But I think my sense of wist is also, at least in part, a crocus-is-prettier focus on what I want to do that isn't so possible right now, rather than being content with what I have, and recognizing that the journey takes time. This stage, my doctoral work, is a process of learning--a time in which I don't have to focus on broad audiences all the time, and a time to collect material for all sorts of writing projects of all genres. A time for germination. And while I may occasionally chafe at having to perform certain writing tasks when there are others that look prettier in my head, this stack of books beside me has some fascinating stuff in it.

And the leaves are pretty.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Audience and Online Interaction Spaces

Lately I've been realizing how much participating as an author in online interaction spaces (like Facebook and this blog) is helping to deepen my thoughts about audience from the writer's perspective.

Take Facebook for instance. On my profile, friends and acquaintances from various stages of my life collide. I'm used to thinking about them differently, and now they're here, in one space. This gives new perspective to what "writing for a wide audience" means.

Or take the fact that I import this blog into Facebook as well as posting the items here. It makes me aware that others may also be reading this in a different context--e.g., feed readers--and that makes me try to keep those contexts in mind when I write things, knowing that, for instance, people might be seeing two different sets of comments on my posts, or none at all, depending on where they might be reading it.

These sorts of things make me aware of how much I modulate my communication on a daily basis depending on who I'm speaking to and how they're receiving that communication. And as a writer, these thoughts further sensitize me to the nuances of the idea about audience, which is such an important aspect of what we consider as authors.

Walter Ong* says that writers always imagine a particular kind of audience for their writing, and then give their readers roles to step into. It's fascinating to me how these online venues challenge, stretch, and concretize those imaginary audiences, potentially making both author and audience aware how much those roles are a shifting landscape, and how much the audience also creates roles for communicators to step into.

Anyone else have any noticings about audience, whether from online or offline venues?

*In his excellent essay "The Writer's Audience Is Always a Fiction"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Power of Syntax...

As a girl who spent a good chunk of my summer transcribing, I noticed something reading a CNN blog article just now.

See, ever since I had the experience of transcribing speech just as it's been said, I've realized how much we, on a daily basis, smooth out what others say in our heads. If you've been transcribing for awhile, you begin to notice that the inevitable fillers in newscaster's talk gets left out of the closed-captioning, for instance.

However, in the world of public speaking, there are expectations for a more polished syntax (sans fillers). And with our current president, people started noticing exact syntax. And I find it fascinating that this CNN blog entry, in reporting Governor Palin's exact words and word order, gives us transcript form rather than reporting the gist of what was said rather than smoothing it out, as reporters have so often done in the past.

Question: are our political reporters increasingly moving to the modern fiction model of "show, don't tell"? There is certainly an emphasis lately on non-verbals as well, in the debate coverage...Are these moves natural ones, highlighting the re-ascendancy of oral and visual culture? Or does it take the oral out of context, since we so often correct for the oral internally, emphasizing syntactical moves that look wrong in print (where we're not used to transcript style, as anyone who has tried to go back and re-read their IM conversations could testify) and therefore doing injustice to the person whose words were included? A little bit of both, perhaps?

Inquiring minds want to know...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Not So Bad for an Awful Day...

Okay, so I had an awful day yesterday. No point getting into the details--in fact, I don't want to give away the details, because I'm treasuring them up, dang it.

Yes, it was a horrible, awful, terrible, really no good, bad day. And I hated every minute of certain parts of it.

But at the same time, there was this little writer's voice in the back of my head saying, "this is great material. Talk it over with those close to you, get the frustration out of your system. But learn to tell the story, and most of all, remember it. It could come in handy for some creative writing story you have to tell later on."

And then, at that point, I knew. I knew that this year is and is going to be a better year than last year. Last year that voice deserted me way too often, and with it my sense of humor and my perspective on my life.

That's right--I'm healthier when I've got voices in my head (at least that one). The thing is, really bad days are the stuff of story. Who wants to read about people that are completely happy all the time? When I can remember that, I remember to not take myself too seriously, which helps me keep spiritually aware and generally sane at the same time.

Plus, it leaves me with the odd sensation that my bad days are good in some way--at least they're good material, eh?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

5 Free Audio Resources for Writers and Readers

I've noticed my posts have been getting a bit ethereal lately (one of those grad school side-effects), so here are a few podcasts I really appreciate as a writer, reader, and general appreciator of words and creativity. It's easy to sign up for all of these through iTunes and then download them to my iPod. They're great to keep up on in the car and during walks and trips to the gym.
  1. A Way with Words: NPR's delightful language program, in which the quirks and delights of the English language are discussed on a weekly basis. 1 hour long, except during the summer, when it's shorter.

  2. Authors on Tour: A weekly recording of authors speaking at Denver's Tattered Cover bookstore. The authors they choose are excellent ones in a variety of literary and non-literary genres. Talks range from 10 minutes to an hour.

  3. Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac": I've mentioned this daily podcast before--I subscribe to this one by email too. 5 minutes per day of poetry and writer/artist/influential person biographies.

  4. New Yorker: Fiction: In this monthly podcast, a literary giant-ish-type figure reads and discusses an influential story that's been published in the New Yorker in the past. Segments last between 10 and 40 minutes.

  5. Last but certainly not least, this site is a constantly-growing volunteer-submitted library of public domain audiobooks. The quality of the audio is more or less good depending on the particular book or even chapter, but some of the recordings are pretty amazing, and hey, it's free. And you can listen online, download whole books or chapter by chapter, or subscribe to each book as a podcast. Length: anything from a few minutes to 30-some hours (that's Moby Dick and War and Peace and such). The average length book is between 5 and 12-14 hours.

Friday, October 3, 2008

On Publication, Fame, and Conversation

I wonder if for some of us, it's not just "we read to know we're not alone," but also "we write to know we are not alone," and more so now that mass-mediated forms are enabling more and more feedback.

Are some of us who grew up reading for that "a-ha" moment in which someone was able to express something about humanity we ourselves were unable to express now writing in hopes that someone will say back to us that they found the same experience in our writing?

Is that why we (or at least some of us) write? And with the spread of mass/interpersonal communication spaces, are we hoping for that sooner, and on everything we write? Is that part of the vulnerability factor, and part of the shift in expectations? But as things get more interpersonal, the audience size gets closer to interpersonal too, on average--are we still thirsting for mass reach in a mass/interpersonal world? Is this unreasonable, or is this part of the deal of trying to be a successful writer? Or do we just want to get people talking, not necessarily all directed toward us?

What does this desire for publication and success (whatever that is) amount to, anyway? Is it a desire to be talked about and remembered, or to be cool, or is it a desire to converse and bring people together, or what? All of those things? None? Others? How much impact is enough impact in a world that at least says it aims for democracy in communication, where the average blog has, I heard the other day, one visitor? (Talk about your "fit audience but few.")

On a lighter note, Kevin Alexander's written a delightfully tongue-in-cheek article on how to write a quick literary masterpiece, for those yearning for a wide audience and impact. And there's a more serious but delightfully opinionated (nearly cranky, but in a good way) post over at Good Letters on the importance of considering a word's etymology when considering its use.

On a related note, I wonder if the mass/interpersonal convergence thing is why reality shows and celeb gossip are at the points they've gotten to--seeing the "behind-the-scenes," more "personal" world of people on TV helps us feel like we're closer to having an interpersonal connection to them.

I wonder...what do you think?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mass Media Meets the Interpersonal

So in the Communication field, two key areas of study (which are often viewed as separate areas) are mass communication and interpersonal communication. These areas are generally considered to be separate in this way: mass media is one-way communication (such as TV, radio, and traditional journalism), whereas interpersonal communication typically covers conversations and other two-way communication forms.

The thing is, I believe that mass media always had an interpersonal dimension to it, and vice versa, but I've been realizing more and more lately that emerging technology forms are causing mass-mediated communication to take on more of the expectations of interpersonal communication, and vice versa, as new genres evolve that meld the two (blogs are one example). More and more, the creators of previously one-way communication (such as book authors) are not only expected to go on book tours to meet their fans, they're also expected to have blogs and respond to comments. And so on.

The thing is, I've been noticing that this trend has encouraged me to become more and more aware of the bizarre dynamics that are created as the expectations of these two kinds of communication collide more and more with blogs, social networking sites, and other emerging communication forms.

Looking forward to seeing how these dynamics evolve, particularly as it impacts me both as a communication researcher and as a communicator. I've certainly had to catch myself readjusting my expectations lately, to make them more reasonable both of myself and others, as these convergences (threaten to?) affect my communication patterns in both new and old forms.

I'm pretty sure my expectations are also influenced by my being a graduate student, in which role much interactive discussion is expected of me as part of my coursework and professionalization, so I'm curious whether anyone else notices this? Do you have any experiences with this you'd like to share? (Don't feel overwhelming need to post if you're busy, but hey, if you want to participate, I'd love to hear from you.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

On Journals and Journaling, Part 2: Vulnerability

So I'm diving through a bit of grad school trench warfare here, so I need to dive back down into the textual mud soon, but I wanted to complete this post, talking about the "reporting" aspect of journaling.

I became keenly aware of this aspect last week, when for my archival theory and practice class I had to treat some of my own papers as archival materials, and write an aid to guide them about it, and then write about both who might use them and reflect on the experience of having done that.

It's just interesting, viewing what is so often private as potential fodder for others in the future. I now totally empathize with T. S. Eliot's desire to have so many of his papers embargoed for so many years after his death. Makes sense when one thinks about being so vulnerable, or about hurting people in one's life through things said in one's less guarded moments when one was just venting.

All of this reminds me of the vulnerability associated with any kind of writing. I think this is because of the time-delay of response to written text (and the possibility of no response at all). It's often-discussed among writers, but seldom is discussed as the results of text in media studies/media ecology circles.

The thing is that this textual inheritance, I believe, has passed to much of our time-delayed electronic communications as well--without being able to see how our audience (intended, or unintended--as with future researchers) is responding to something like a Facebook status or blog post, we worry what they'll think of us, much like we did with pretty much everyone all the time in junior high. An age-old concern transposed to a new setting.

As electronic readers, I propose, we should keep this vulnerability in mind and respond accordingly, as much as we're able (considering the busyness of our lives, of course). As writers, I think we should chill out a bit, and keep our lives and our writings (of whatever kind) in perspective, and try to have a little faith, while still being aware that yeah, vulnerability is often scary and often has consequences, some of them good, some bad.

Monday, September 29, 2008

On Journals and Journaling, Part 1

"Journal is from Old French jurnal, or 'belonging to a day.' At first, it was a sort of reference book that contained the times of daily prayers. In the 1600s, it acquired the meaning of 'diary' and later became associated with newspaper titles and lent its root to journalism." From Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac

This quotation came through to my inbox the other day, and it struck me as being chock-full of interesting tidbits:
  1. That the first journal recorded the times of daily prayers. As a Protestant Christian who, (like Kathleen Norris, whose book The Cloister Walk encouraged me in the practice), loves visiting monasteries, my "monastery geek" side comes out full force for this one. Particularly since my "diary-style" journal entries so often turn into prayers by their ends--I find talking to God so much more interesting than talking to myself.

  2. That the first journals were also reference works. I still find my journals to retain a touch of this character--I try to capture thoughts, observations, emotions, etc., partly so I can refer to them immediately and figure out what's going on in me, but also for reference later on to remember snippets of what my life was like at an earlier time. And my journals specifically used to capture writing inspirations are even more reference works.

  3. The reporting, or journalism, aspect is interesting, particularly as I don't often think of other people reading my journal. However, last week I had to do a finding aid for some of my papers for my archival theory and practice class, acting as though future researchers would be using my papers for research, and this gave me new insights into this journaling aspect (and made me feel quite vulnerable). But more on that in a day or so (hm, there really is an ancient connection between journals and what many blogs have turned into).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Life Imitates Art?: The Debate Formats

So last night I was watching the debate responses late on MSNBC when this political analyst came on. I don't remember his name (as I was still half-dead from my week of grad school insanity), but he attributed the more loosened up format of the debates in West Wing affected Jim Lehrer's insistence on McCain and Obama talking to each other. If this is true, a fictional representation may actually have had an effect on this election.

The thing is, as a West Wing fan, I knew the thing looked familiar as I was watching the debate. I knew I'd seen something similar on the show. As someone who's studying stories, particularly fictional ones, from a rhetorical, what-is-its-place-in-society way for my PhD, I found this just delightful. But beyond academics, if it's true, it could be actually quite significant within this already-unusual election.

So much to say. First, the analyst's case for this connection between the fictional and the real debate was compelling: he said that Jim Lehrer had been asked to take part in the fictionalized West Wing debate version a few years back, but turned it down because there was a rule that PBS employees couldn't appear in fiction (and Jim Lehrer himself had written the rule). That he'd talked to Jim Lehrer after the fictional version had aired, and Lehrer had liked the fiction version. We can't know for sure, but yeah, from my viewings of both (I watched that episode again a few months ago), there's a pretty significant echo here between the fictional and the real versions, particularly considering the popularity of the show and the fact that the debate moderator tonight actually had such a close connection with the fictional version.

Anyway, if this connection is true, this is huge. See, West Wing, according to teaser quote on the back of Season 4, is, at least in the eyes of The Buffalo News and those who wanted to put the quote on the season's cover, an "hour-long fantasy about what the White House might be like if honor and intellectual brilliance ever trumped cupidity and mediocrity." So this influential, well-written and award-winning show about what politics might be like may, a few years after its airing, be changing potentiality into actuality, which is pretty mindblowing to think about (though totally familiar ground for narrative theorists such as Walter Fisher).

Case in point:
LAST NIGHT There was much made in the post-debate coverage that Obama relaxed and look at McCain as Lehrer was urging them to, whereas McCain looked uncomfortable with the whole format and never once looked at Obama. And yes, Lehrer's role as the moderator highlighted this difference, as he was the one encouraging direct interaction.

IN WEST WING It was a situation with a youthful but smart Latino Democratic candidate (played by Jimmy Smits) goes up against a much older Republican mavericky candidate (sound familiar?). In the TV show version, both sides loosen up (not encouraged by the moderator but on their own--I think it was actually the Republican candidate who started the thing and insisted on a new debating style, and the Democratic candidate responded well), putting them on much more equal footing and making the audience breathe a sigh of relief as both characters became more likeable.

IN WEST WING, then, both opened up. LAST NIGHT, in the real version, only one of the candidates loosened up.

It makes me wonder, a lot. In a few directions:
  1. Will art make a measurable difference in this election? West Wing was a very popular show, and that episode was only aired a few years ago. I can't have been the only one in the audience with narrative expectations based on the fictional version. Might these comparisons to the show's outcome actually affect in a significant way how the voting public interpreted the outcome of last night's debate? (One wishes someone had started a longitudinal study back at the original airing, so as to ask those people tonight was their reactions were. :) If so, the comparison can only be positive for Obama, it seems, and negative for McCain, which is incredibly relevant at this point in the election cycle.

    It's definitely exciting, in that the world of possibility offered within West Wing offers an antidote to what narrative theorists Bennett and Edelman say happens so often in the narratives crafted by politicians: that "stock political plots ([as opposed to] other, more useful narrative possibilities) construct meanings to counter...ambiguity," resolving "possible points of new understanding into [cut-and-dried] replays of the political dramas of the past." This means that literary representations of truth may have wedged new possibilities for the narrative genres put forth by the political culture of this country, which as Bennet and Edelman argue has difficulty achieving the sort of creativity and possibility offered by great fiction.*

    In other words, solutions that people have dreamed up and put into fiction are able to break into our polarized, highly conventionalized ways of thinking about politics in this country, demanding that candidates act in new ways, in a very literal sense.

    On the other hand, some might be disturbed that a scene in a TV show, in prescribing new ways for politicians to act, might have been able to act as a lobbyist, potentially swaying the course of the election. If you think the show's potentialities are the way candidates should relate to each other in the debate, you're likely to think it's great--if not, probably not so much.

    (By the way, I think Obama won the debate, and I'm perfectly aware that my judgment in that could be influenced by, among other things, the fact that I like the styles of relating offered by West Wing's version of political debating--they rang true to me when I first saw them, which gave me further grounds for the contrast between the two versions to seem particularly striking to me. In fact, if West Wing really had a conceivable influence on this election, I wonder whether it's possible that Obama's style is somewhat more accepted in general during this election because of some of the aspects of the "fantasy political world" West Wing laid before the American public.)

  2. For artists, including myself: Does this raise the stakes on what we do? On the ethics of what we as artists choose to write? How we write it? This case seems to illustrate that our cultural productions have some pretty powerful rhetorical oomph--perhaps even influencing who becomes president of the US. That's some pretty amazing power--something to be taken seriously. I don't think it means that we should be making our fictions heavily ideological, allowing the "shoulds" of the world trump the "what ifs" within our stories, but it certainly makes me think we should at least be asking the right "what ifs"--important "what ifs"--and seriously considering our choices of characters, as well as other ways we might think in the ethical dimension about the persuasive power of the story to influence the world.

  3. For narrative theorists and creative folks of all stripes: Not so much a wondering here as more of a WOW! Look! A pretty significant example that art, and its study, is incredibly important, and that stories are incredibly significant in how they shape our views of the world, and provide a testing ground for proving out how ideas may work in the world. Woohoo!

    On the other hand, though, it concerns me a bit. It makes a strong case for rhetorical and sociological interpretations of art, which is good, but with Santiago Ramos, I'm worried about our reduction of art to ONLY these aspects, so it makes me worry a bit about whether this kind of case could overly encourage that sort of emphasis at the expense of the other equally valid aspects of fiction, especially their aesthetic qualities as well as the ways they help us view people and the human condition in more complex and (often) sympathetic ways.
One final prediction, from a girl studying the rhetoric of conspiracies this semester: Someone in the McCain camp could so easily turn this whole West Wing and the debates thing into a conspiracy theory of some kind. I sincerely doubt that such a thing would be the result of a conspiracy--just shows that Kenneth Burke's idea in "Literature as Equipment for Living" is right--that we use situations in fictional stories to help us understand situations in the real world, as strategies for thinking differently than we are used to thinking.

* Bennett, W.L. and Edelman. L. (1985). Toward a new political narrative. Journal of Communication, 35(4), 158, 162. For more on rhetoric and possibility, see Kirkwood, W. (1992). Narrative and the rhetoric of possibility. Communication monographs, 59(1), 30-47.

Some links to stuff about the West Wing debate episode:
  1. A description of it,
  2. a blog post highlighting the political side of the episode,
  3. a Washington Post article on the effect of the episode
  4. an MSNBC post-episode report
  5. AP article asking why real debates don't work like the episode

1:39 PM:

Really have to stop researching this soon and get back to more immediate stuff, but here's some articles making recent connections between the West Wing election and this campaign from
a Minnesota Public Radio debate article from yesterday and a BBC article from 12 days ago which says Smits' character on the show (and not to be a spoiler for DVD watchers, but Smits's character won the election, by the way) may have influenced Obama's run, and another blog post mapping the similarities and connections.