I just sent off my article to the patient and long-suffering editor this morning and then immediately jumped in the car to catch an afternoon train to NYC for a family visit. Whew!

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I’ve been thinking about the topic for the article (fan videos and their development of narrative) for 7 months or so. At least I seem to remember that it was a cold dark night in my office finishing up the proposal it.

One might think that with all that time and thought that the article would write itself, or at the very least flow trippingly off my fingertips and onto the page. (That is, after all, what my own delusional brain was depending on…).

Instead, it was days of grappling in the dark, wringing out pages that may or may not be relevant to the argument. When the time came to give a provisional draft to a gracious reader, the main editorial comment sounded somehow familiar: “your argument and energy really starts to emerge here at the end. Have you considered starting with that?.”. And I’m back in the writing bush leagues.

I’m transcribing this rather humiliating scenario becauseI do so love to publicly flog myself for my own shortcomings, but more importantly to remind myself (and the three readers of this blog) that the process of writing and thinking are never as straightforward and fast as I expect them to be. They are, in fact, almost as painstaking and frustrating as typing this entire post with one finger as I await the onslaught of the big family trip in the hot hot city.

Wish me luck.

Austenian Advice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a project is intensely engaging and worth working on until it has a deadline, at which point, it becomes dull and the prime mover for procrastination.

[This may not, in fact, be a universal truth, but then again, neither is Jane’s, right?]

That is all.

Computer Paranoia

For some reason, I’m jinxing my computers lately. I think it began with Collins’ visit, where I had the most difficult time working the DVD player on his Mac. Since then, I can’t get wmv files to play on my office computer, despite the fact that I’ve downloaded every player I can find (and despite the fact that Flip 4 Mac works just fine and dandy on my laptop). This is particularly vexing as my film students are moving into editing land, and I’d like to be able to view their work!! Meanwhile, I’m reading piles of drafts and using the editing toolbar in Word, and the thing keeps seizing on me. Is there anything more demoralizing than making comments on five pages of a paper, only to have to quit the program and start all over again?

Given all of these nefarious computer troubles, you can imagine my delight when I found this Eddie Izzard take on computers on YouTube. “Control P, Print!” indeed. [For the brave and intrepid, Izzard is on tour through the summer. Road trip to D.C., anyone?]

Back in the Blog

The extended blogging hiatus below was sponsored by: an article deadline, a conference presentation, a visiting speaker, the letter W (for “what was I thinking?!!), and the number 4 (the average number of hours of sleep I got over the past two weeks).

For the past few weeks, with all of this activity, my constant refrain has been the one I borrowed from Jarhead: “Welcome to the suck.” And suck it did; too much to do, too little time to do it. Produce very polished writing and synthesize complicated arguments from research in film studies, composition pedagogy, and new media theory, and do it fast. Meanwhile, come up with a smart but conversational ditty on the translation of blogosphere protocols into the classroom, and then go and see what other people in comp/rhet are saying about the digital world. Finally, organize a set of activities to entertain your visitor, and strike the perfect note between professional and friendly. In short, the goals of the term boiled down to this: think smart; write well; talk pretty; socialize comfortably. Or, as I kept telling myself: don’t be an ass.

I’m not sure that I succeeded on that final front, but now that I’ve caught up on some sleep, I realize why it’s worth running the academic gauntlet. I’ve got so many new ideas running around in my head right now, I can’t wait to peruse them at my leisure. Here are my top three: how would we characterize the aesthetics of YouTube, and what are the pedagogical implications of this? If the retrieval of information is shifting radically (from hierarchical to folksonomy), what are the author’s new responsibilities for positioning his/her work? In what ways is convergence culture restructuring the boundaries of taste as a means of filtering information?

Not that I can address any of these right now, but they’re certainly the highlights of getting through some of my own research, seeing a great panel at the CCCC, and reading excerpts from Jim Collins’ new book. Hooray for new and exciting ideas!

And now, back to grading…

Time Flies

I vaguely remember a moment during which spring break (or “mid-winter recess” as we call it in the snowy Northeast)was actually a break. In college, for example, I’d flee Redlands for home and spend 11 days sleeping late, hanging out with my mother, and partaking of the wonders of Vegas cuisine and bingo with the elderly.

Now, however, break means “write like hell, because it’s the last chance you’ll get.” How sad is that?! Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to have time to write and think about what I’m writing, and I’m doubly grateful to have an article pre-accepted at a journal and a conference paper coming up. But I dearly miss the break that is a break from work, not just a break from the other parts of my job.

But lest I feel too sorry for myself, K and I have planned a trip to Metropolis for a few days. For K, I think this is our film and architecture trip. Apparently, we’ll be seeing Violent Saturday at the Film Forum, and this newly-renovated building, both inside and out.


Finally, we’ll be taking in the 59th Street Bridge, in homage to the comparison made in the Looking at Movies textbook we’re both using this semester.

All of this is well and good (if a bit much to do in a couple of days). But if you’re a careful reader, you’ll note a pattern to the above. Because as much as I love Frank Lloyd Wright and the Film Forum, none of this is really my bag. But therein lies the problem: what does one do when one goes to the big city? To me, New York is like the smorgasbord; there’s so much going on that I never know what to do. I see that Eddie Izzard is working out his new show—that’s guaranteed to be a good laugh. Should it be the Whitney Biennial? Or the old standby: hours at the The Strand? What’s good enough to function as the break in the work of break?

What’s your favorite NYC gem?

Caving in to Peer Pressure

All right. All right! I finally did it: I made a Facebook page.

It’s been on my list of things to do for quite some time, but a recent conversation about a former American Studies major was the incident that clinched it. I hear he’s doing great things—but I hear it second hand, because my colleague found out via Facebook. [You all don’t call…you don’t write!!] This is part of a larger notion as well: American Studies has a hard time with publicity. As a program, we’re just not that big or noisy, and so we can fall off the map sometimes.  And unlike many majors (say, biology or psychology), the term “American Studies” doesn’t immediately call to mind a field of study, and only a handful of students have had a course in it in high school.  Do we mean post-Cold War, rah-rah American nationalism?  Do we mean boo-hiss, America the imperialist?  Do we mean whoa, this is weirdest cultural formation–from confederacy to jazz, diners to nuclear bombs–ever?  I’d like it to be the case that a Facebook page would give students a way to understand what American Studies is, and who the majors are, and what they do.

But I enter into the Facebook-y world with a bit of trepidation, to tell you the truth. Only a year ago, I had a group of students tell me that they were freaked out by the presence of faculty members on FB. That resonated with me. Everyone should feel like he/she has a space where outsiders don’t watch over h/er and judge h/er.  If social networking is going to do something, let it not replicate, to the extent that we’re able to engage in its production, a digital form of Bentham’s prison.  We’re doing that just fine in physical interactions as they stand.  And yet, my intuition tells me that students and faculty members are figuring out new ways of negotiating this space, depending (as all pedagogical and human interactions do) on their specific quirks, habits, and ways of being.

For me, the “have a page but nothing on it” doesn’t seem right. Since joining gets you access to other’s pages, it feels a bit like voyeurism—people know you’re there, but they can’t see you. And at the same time, letting it all hang out there isn’t me either; it makes me deeply uncomfortable when I can’t judge reactions to information (and thus my deep-seated paranoia reveals itself). Hell, I don’t even really want to post a picture. I love privacy. I really really do. And you’d think that blogging would be counterproductive to that love, but it’s just not—or it doesn’t feel like it is. (Sadly, that’s about as media-articulate as I can be today.)

So, it remains to be seen how much and how long I’ll use the Facebook page. But I’d love to hear what works for others, and what makes them uncomfortable (or, as I just thought in my head and translated for consumption here “what totally skeeves people out”. Methinks I should not blog on weekends…)
All FB tips, concerns, or advice happily accepted. Comments are open for business.


I’m writing up my syllabus for a first-year seminar in American Studies (I’m still riffing on the title. It should include the idea of “the good life”—as that’s the common theme among the first year seminars–and also cue the students that we’ll be looking at a number of digital media technologies: games, online video, information networks, etc.. “The Digital Good Life”? “The Good Life Goes Digital”? Needless to say, suggestions welcome).

I find it difficult to go on with a smile in my heart, however, when I read things like this:

  • They’re going to make a sequel to the film Wild Hogs. Seriously?!! We just can’t get enough of middle-aged men on Harleys?! Touchstone, you’re killing me!
  • I suppose it’s official: the movie version of Alan Moore’s Watchmen is going forward. From the director who brought us 300. And some truly bizarre casting. When I heard they’d got Patrick Wilson, it seemed safe to assume he’d play Veidt. But Nite Owl?! I hope Wilson has a deep affection for Krispy Kremes, or similar fat-bomb snack-sized product.
  • Meanwhile, Rush Hour 3 was the top opener at the box office last weekend, and apparently scored the fourth-highest opening of the summer. Please, see anything but this film. For the sake of the children, and all future race relations.

I suppose these are the examples that let me complicate the concept of the digital good life. If there are ways that media networks can make us smarter, there are ways it can make us dumber too. While I love Steven Johnson’s thesis of the Sleeper Curve, this is definitely a case of “everything bad is NOT good for you.”

**On a brighter note: someone has made Watchmen legos? Who knew? But what’s up with Rorschach’s hat?!?!