Pacing yourself

Even before my senescence began blooming, I enjoyed reading obituaries. The well-written ones are edifying distillations of character and action; their omissions are bolder than doomsday.

James McMeel cofounded the Universal Press Syndicate, which distributed Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” and the work of numerous other cartoonist luminaries (as well as columns by Garry Wills and Roger Ebert and dozens of others). McMeel was unique at the time for granting artists complete licensing rights to their work. It made the creators rich and happy – which made McMeel happy, too.

I love this anecdote about Jim Davis, the creator of “Garfield.”

Davis first met Mr. McMeel at an American Booksellers Association convention in 1981. Mr. McMeel approached him for an autograph, brandishing a Garfield book with a contract tucked inside. But Mr. Davis had a long-term contract with United Media, which had been syndicating his strip.

“It became a running gag,” Mr. Davis said. “Every time we met he’d hand me a newspaper or something with a contract inside.” After 15 years, Mr. Davis was finally free to sign with Universal.

“The thing with John,” he said, “is it didn’t feel like business. I once did an interview and the reporter asked me why Gary Larson had retired and I was still going. I said: ‘Well, Gary works so hard and he puts so much pressure on himself. Me, if I feel that kind of pressure, I lower my standards.’ It was that kind of air that John encouraged.”

“If I feel that kind of pressure, I lower my standards.”

That is a beautiful sentence.

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“immortal words”

Allen Ginsberg “finally sat on the edge of the couch and said, ‘Well, Dr [William Carlos] Williams, here we are [Jack Kerouac, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, and AG], all assembled. What immortal words do you have for us?’ So he pointed to the curtained window, looking out on the main street of Rutherford, and said, ‘There’s a lot of bastards out there!’” (from The Allen Ginsberg Project)

This explains a lot.

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The social media landscapes

My favourite class to teach, back in the day, was an advanced digital media class at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. No other class I’ve ever taught required such continual professional development, though, and it would take me many months of preparation before I could step inside that classroom again. The scene changes so rapidly.

Overdrive Interactive, a high-end Boston digital-marketing firm, has recently released two super-useful (and truly elegant) graphics: the Social Media Map 2021 and the Search Marketing Map 2021. All the links are live. These would be where I would start getting back in the postsecondary digital-media swing.

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How to write

I love my old friend Jonathan Mayhew’s prose. His blog, Stupid Motivational Tricks (Scholarly Writing and How to Get it Done), is often very charming (and it is always illuminating). Read this bit on the use of “scare quotes.” The last sentence is beautiful.

Obviously, (well, obviously to me), this mannerism arose out of deconstruction. All of sudden the “language” we use to describe “things” came into “question.”  It seemed “naive” to use words that were “problematic” in this way, so everything had to be put under erasure.  Since we still had to use words to “communicate,” we could “signal” our distance “from” them typographically.  

A word like “aesthetic” could be used, but only in quotes, otherwise the reader might think we actually believe in “aesthetics,” god forbid. The word in italics functions in the opposite way: here we are saying that this word solves our problems, as in the word cultural

“Here we are saying that this word solves our problems.”

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Feedback loops

The original focus of University of Washington’s Professor Kate Starbird’s research was Crisis Informatics, “the study of how information-communication technologies are used during crisis events, including natural disasters (like earthquakes and hurricanes) and man-made disasters (such as shooting events and acts of terrorism). … Initially, [her] research focused on the pro-social activities that social media platforms facilitate — for example, how people come together after crisis events to help themselves, their neighbors, and even people halfway around the world.”

More recently Starbird has studied the NOT-pro-social consequences “perpetrated by increasingly dense and often oddly connected networks of accounts.” It is important and scary work.

The infographic above is part of an illuminating slideshow Starbird put together “to help explain the dynamics of ‘participatory disinformation’ and how that motivated the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol.” Click on the image to see the whole thing.

Credit: Kate Starbird, University of Washington, Human Centered & Design Program and Center for an Informed Public

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Our Work Is Everywhere

Portland, Oregon artist Syan Rose’s book ‘Our Work is Everywhere: An Illustrated Oral History of Queer & Trans Resistance,’ is breath-taking and profound. I went through it slowly over the course of three days, letting these voices and insights try to sink in. It was delightful and very very humbling experience, so much to learn and reflect on.

From the publisher:

In their own words, queer and trans organizers, artists, healers, comrades, and leaders speak honestly and authentically about their own experiences with power, love, pain, and magic to create a textured and nuanced portrait of queer and trans realities in America. The many themes include Black femme mental health, Pacific Islander authorship, fat queer performance art, disability and health care practice, sex worker activism, and much more. Accompanying the narratives are Rose’s startling and sinuous images that brings these leaders’ words to visual life.

This is a full-colour, oversized book of art and language that is beautifully bound and printed. As an editor and publisher myself, I appreciate the tremendous care and love that went into the work Syan Rose and the people at Arsenal Pulp Press did together. Artists and writers dream of being a part of a publishing team like that.

You can download a generous excerpt of the book from the publisher’s webpage.

Syan Rose
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I wish I had written this.

Back in the day a journalist for the Norfolk Pilot newspaper got his copy back from his editor with this note:

“Sorry it’s so short but a certain amount of muck, spleen, libel, hogwash, garbage, neologism, prurience, presumption, assumption, half-assumption, bobbers, quackery and jackassery to be excised. Well, maybe not HAD to be, but was.”

This is from my friend John Glionna’s terrific blog. John and I have been friends for 42 years, starting on the day the editor of our college newspaper, Jay Rosen, assigned John to be my Assistant Features Editor. Within an hour I realized that Glionna could generate more story ideas in a minute than I could in a semester and that he wrote at top speed and beautifully. I gave him my position shortly thereafter.

John has had a very successful career as a reporter, both in the United States and in Asia. His blog is something else. His posts are frequent and full-story length (and dazzlingly vivid) – not bite-size hot-takes. You should subscribe.

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design + ways

My Kwantlen colleague Arley Cruther‘s essay “An Incomplete History of My Teaching Body” is breathtaking, beautiful and profound. Just published in a collection called “Voices of Practice: Narrative Scholarship from the Margin,” Arley’s piece starts this way:

My summer pandemic semester was very successful, except that I lost feeling in the left side of my face. Tingling spread from my temple, down across my cheekbones, across to my jawline. A static in the message. But though it didn’t get better it also didn’t get worse; I could still smile and raise my arm above my head, so my doctor chalked it up to stress.

The semester had been a flurry of parenting and grading and lesson planning and playing “Johnny, Johnny, Yes Papa” for the millionth time because I just needed to get one more paper graded and webinars and conferences and committees and extra projects and why did I say yes to that and how did I think I had time for that and iced coffee. I spent my teaching life saying words like ‘grace’ and ‘patience’ and ‘community’ and ‘care.’ I typed those words at 5:30 am alone in my living room: the side of my face tingling, distracting me as I tried to tell a student that I was sorry to hear they weren’t feeling well, and of course, take the time you need with the assignment.

Me: I pared down my course to emphasize slowness and reflection and care. I designed it to ensure that all students had access and choice and agency.

Also me: And I didn’t take a day off in 5 months to do it.

Since Arley joined our department, she has deepened our discussion and our understanding of pedagogy, of the classroom. It was been an enlightening experience for me. And humbling, and challenging, as I had not really rethought my teaching practice in a number of years; it was becoming ossified around fundamentals I had stopped reassessing.

My colleague recalls lessons learned as a paralympian, takes them into the classroom, and flips them on their head:

Academia and Paralympic sport had combined to teach me that success was about conforming to a standard that had been set in advance. In most parasports, athletes are ranked by a classification system, which seeks to ‘level the playing field’ by assigning a number to each athlete based on the impact their disability has on their ability to compete. In wheelchair basketball, athletes are ranked from 1 (for most impairment) to 4.5 (for able-bodied or ‘minimally disabled’) and a team can only play 14 points at one time.

I had seen the problems with trying to sort people with wildly different disabilities and experiences with disability into static numerical categories, but it took an introduction to critical pedagogy to apply this logic to grading. I began to imagine a class where students could show their learning in multiple ways, where they could play a role in designing assignments and shaping the direction of the class, where the hierarchy between student and teacher was not to be reified, but reimagined.

For most of my teaching career, I’d puzzled over why my students’ writing lost its vitality when they wrote reports and essays. But when I began designing with students, I learned that they were trying to leave their own voice behind and leap into the language of reports and memos. They could not imagine themselves being enough, so they had to put on a suit of business-ese. Now, I can design assignments that say your experience is welcome, your voice is welcome, your perspective is needed, you are enough.

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It will be so good to get back in the classroom.

I will not be able to hide my tears.

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When in doubt …

… draw a distinction, says Jay Rosen.

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