June 9, 2007

Small Memories Loosely Joined

Time to flip the calendar, belatedly.

For my presentation at Computers and Writing this year, I read a paper (yes, I know) that had at its heart the idea that Roland Barthes' autobiography, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (Amazon), was a text that resulted from a process not unlike that of blogging. My paper basically looked at various passages from the book (and a couple from Camera Lucida) and argued that RB by RB had something to teach us about blogging.

I cited a passage from it a while ago that struck me, but honestly, I've always been taken by the whole thing. It's a book that, for me, fits with almost everything else that he was writing towards the end of his career, and it offers short glimpses of the process behind it. As far as I can tell, it was composed in various pieces, like blog entries, that were later compiled (and alphabetized, a la Lover's Discourse) into the book. Here's a page or so from my talk:

[Barthes] says flat out that the aim of his discourse is not truth; rather, his aim appears to be the construction of this pseudonym with whom he shares a name. And that construction is undertaken not in the spirit of precision or consistency, but of proliferation. One of the longest entries in the book regards the “circle of fragments�—he describes his entries as stones along the perimeter of a circle. “Liking to find, to write beginnings, he tends to multiply this pleasure,� Barthes explains. “That is why he writes fragments: so many fragments, so many beginnings, so many pleasures (but he doesn’t like the ends: the risk of rhetorical clausule is too great: the fear of not being able to resist the last word� (94). It is that fear that Barthes ultimately works against in his later work—professional, scholarly discourses seek the “last word,� to eliminate the need for more writing. Barthes’ turn towards subjectivity is a turn precisely away from such discourses. He explains that “What I write about myself is never the last word. Open to these different futures, my texts are disjointed, no one of them caps any other; the latter is nothing but a further text, the last of the series, not the ultimate in meaning: text upon text, which never illuminates anything" (120).

That line about constructing a pseudonym with whom he shares a name was my favorite line in the entire paper, I must admit. But the quotes from Barthes may give you some sense of why I like this book, and find some resonance in it.

Anyhow, after the conference, I made a decision that I hinted at a couple of entries ago. I'm going to try something a little different with my blog this summer. First, I need a new 100 things--I'll probably sweep through and amend the one I've got, but it's old old old. Second, I need to take a break from the "real world"--for various reasons, I couldn't really blog about the stuff that was on my mind for much of the year, and it made blogging a much more difficult activity for me. And soooo, my plan is to blog autobiographically in the same way that Barthes does in his book. Short entries, telling details, other words, small pieces. I'm going to shoot for 100 of them, but we'll see. I'm going to try and do it everyday, but I won't hold myself to that. I probably won't write them in third person (like Barthes does), but otherwise, I'm going to try and just inhabit the style of that book for a while.

I'm going to pick up pace over at Rhetworks, and may interrupt my autoblogography here on occasion, but otherwise, that's the plan. And I expect it to begin on Monday. See you then.

June 11, 2007


My earliest memory is actually, I think, a memory of a memory. It's what I remember remembering when I was old enough to understand the idea of "your earliest memory." Anyhow, I have some recollection, mediated or no, of figuring out how my crib worked. It was a wooden cage, and one side dropped down when released by a metal bar. As I think back, the bar was well-placed to be tripped by a knee when a parent's hands were full (of me). However, it was also well-placed to be triggered by someone reaching his hand between the bars of the crib, reaching down, and giving it a push.

I don't remember actually getting out of the crib, although I suppose I must have. I simply remember figuring out how it worked, and lowering the side when I was still young enough to be doing it from the inside.

June 12, 2007

Cause & Effect

There is a certain part of me that longs to reduce as much of the world as possible to the seemingly simple rule of cause and effect. I want to be able to know how to achieve particular effects, and I want to be able to rest easy in the faith that specific consequences will follow from various actions. Intellectually, I understand (and will even argue) that this is not the case, but that hardly matters when it comes to living my own life.

It occurs to me that much of the unfairness I perceive around me boils down to this gap, between knowing how things work and wishing how they might instead work.

Around the World

When I was small, I skipped a grade. Did first grade in the fall, second grade in the spring, and then pushed on to third with my new cohort. But they didn't just move me up straightaway. My first accelerated subject, true to my robot self, was math. I remember taking addition and subtraction quizzes in first grade, where we weren't allowed to begin until everyone had their quiz. I sat in the front, and as everyone was getting their quizzes, I could do the first 15-20 problems in my head, remember the answers, and at "Go," would simply fill in the first column or so of problems.

Anyhow, it didn't take long before they sent me upstream. And in my second grade classroom, they played a game called "Around the World." We were already seated in a circle, and one person would leave hir seat, and stand behind the next person. The two of them got a flashcard math problem, and the first person to answer it advanced, while the other person took that seat. The name comes from the prize that a body won if s/he managed to go all the way around the circle without "losing." Needless to say, this was a game that appealed greatly to me.

June 14, 2007


I'm a little surprised every time I realize that my 20th HS reunion was last summer. I didn't go, nor was I tempted even for a moment, although it would have been fairly easy to time a midwest swing so as to make it convenient. Not that I had/have anything against the people with whom I went to HS (or college for that matter, as my 10 and 15 have passed there as well). It's just that the idea of a reunion, the artificial milestoniness of it, doesn't really appeal to me. If I were the kind of person who had made really close, lifelong friends in HS, then perhaps I'd feel differently about it.

So I didn't go, but the other day, I came across a bunch of photos from it. I recognized most everyone, but there was something about looking at these pics that depressed me. Not a "wish I'd been there" but more a "where has the time gone," I think.

June 21, 2007


It seems appropriate that, on the longest day of the year, I reflect upon the fact that I am a night person through and through. Career-wise, I've engaged in 3 major writing projects (major = more than 100 pages), and each has taken place primarily when the sun is safely on the other side of the earth.

Intellectually, I don't believe that it's impossible for me to adjust my schedule so as to spend most of my waking hours during daylight, but I've never been able to manage it. And in the summers, when my work time is taken up with more flexible hours and fewer meetings, my body always seems to gravitate towards working at night and sleeping during the day.

So from that perspective, today is the worst day of the year.

June 24, 2007

Conversion Narrative

Back to biographing.

I was thinking the other day about the choice I made to get into the Rhetoric/Composition game, and while it was undoubtedly a gradual and only semi-conscious process, I think I can pin down the semester that would feature in my Secret Origin.

My undergraduate degree was in literature, but with a strong and ongoing theoretical dimension to it, enough so that the "theory course" I took in my MA program at Miami (which was a university before Florida was a state, or so the t-shirts read) was mostly review for me. In the spring of my first year, though, which would have been 90-91, I took Edward Tomarken's Literary Theory course, along with Susan Jarratt's Social Theories of Reading and Writing. You'll be pleased to learn that not only do I still own the reader from that latter course, but I even have it handy. We read, among a decently sized set of books, articles/chapters by Bizzell, Faigley, Spivak, Raymond Williams, Foucault, Lunsford, Cixous, Vygotsky, Bakhtin, Althusser, Gramsci, Berlin, Schilb, Gates, Trimbur, Stuart Hall, Bruffee, Eagleton, et al. I shudder to look back at my marginal notes.

At any rate, as a theoretically minded young MA student, SJ's course convinced me that I could follow that interest in R/C just as easily as I could in literature, and while I don't know that this counts as "conversion," it's the one point I recall where I "chose" R/C.

June 25, 2007


Discounting two brief trips into Canada (one to Toronto for MLA, one last month en route to C&W), I've only actually been out of the country twice. The first was my junior year in college, where I spent a term in Ireland, and the second came while I was at ODU, when I went to the Digital Arts & Culture conference when it was in Bergen, Norway.

There are many people who love (LOVE) travel, and their metric seems to be a list of all the really cool and wacky places they've been. Which is fine, I suppose. But I measure a place less by the place itself, I think, and more first by the getting there and second by the people I'm there with. There are some incredible places to experience out there in the world, I'm sure, but that's not what I'm talking about when I myself claim to love travel. My single best traveling experience ever was the trip I took back in Fall 2004, where I was just driving from place to place, visiting friends, stopping for pictures, singing along to mix CDs, and logging miles. Good times, seriously.

Not that I'm averse to traveling the wide world (although I am fairly averse to the aeroplane). It's just that the thing I like about travel is the way it can lift you out of the everyday, and for me that means no schedules, light planning, and seeing where the road takes you. Makes me smile to think about it.

June 26, 2007

Less than memorious

It may say something about me that I think about this, but I have a vague memory of the first time that I felt like my memory had failed me. I remember being a senior in high school, and not being able to recall details like teachers' names or much about particular classes from my sophomore year in high school. I remember not being able to remember.

It's something that, presumably, we all experience as our lives pile up more data than our heads can comfortably hold. And maybe there were other times where I couldn't remember, but I just didn't reflect on it. But I remember this particular instance, and being more than a little freaked out by the fact that I could remember so little about a time in my life that wasn't all that distant.


According to my mom, one of the first words I could say, after the obvious ones, was "Cubbies." I like the Bears and Bulls, and can even root for the White Sox under the right circumstances (i.e., against the Yankees, Astros or Cards), but the Cubs were apparently my team before I knew what that meant.

Growing up, I owned a book that I've tried to find online (but haven't found yet) that was about the Cubs. I think it may very well have been the first "real" book that I ever read. It was a history of the Cubs, with stories about the team, their best players, etc. I remember that there was an appendix (I think) with song lyrics from some of the Wrigley Bleacher Bums' more ribald efforts, and that my dad removed that chapter from the book.

Had the Cubs not collapsed against the Marlins a couple of years ago, there was a good chance that I would have tried to get a ticket to at least one game at Wrigley for the Series. I still hold out hope that I'll be able to attend a World Series game there in my lifetime.

June 27, 2007


In addition to watching the Cubs struggle daily on WGN, one of the things that the neighbor kids and I used to do was to create marble runs. Matchbox cars were fairly common back then, and they would sell tracks to race them on (which I vaguely recall being this ugly orange). We would use the tracks, the slight incline of our driveways, and whatever else we could think of to do it. I do remember, once, creating one that started from my 2nd floor bedroom window, went into the gutter on the roof, and down the drainpipe on the side of the house.

Anyway, the kits for marble runs are a lot flashier now than our cobbled-together courses. I should also mention that domino runs were a favorite pastime of mine growing up as well--I recall getting a set of domino-shaped blocks that were specifically weighted at one end, and it came with a book that suggested all sorts of funky arrangements and tricks.

And all of this before I'd ever heard of Rube Goldberg.

[This reflection is specifically brought to you by the fine folk at the Japanese television show Pythagora Switch, whose 9 or so minute YouTube compilation will help this entry make a little more sense.]

June 28, 2007

The Island of Obsolete Media

It took me a long time before I could call those stores at which one might buy music anything other than "record store." Far longer, in fact, than it took them to get out of the business of selling actual records.

I didn't buy my first CD player until my senior year of college (1990), and this was a little late in the game. I did already own some CDs, which I used for my radio show. (My first CD? Squeeze's East Side Story.)

(Yes, I had a weekly radio show in college. There may actually be a cassette tape of one of my shows somewhere, I think. But I probably hope not.)

Anyhow, I bought the CD player with money that I received for winning a fiction prize at my college. And now, I have boxes of obscure, dusty plastic cases filled with music I haven't listened to in years. And when the house I grew up in went on the market, I landfilled most of my record collection as well.

I was thinking about records today, because I recall inheriting (from my mother, I think) a box of old 45s, including some Beatles records that would probably be worth something if I hadn't (a) lost them, and (b) scratched the crap out of them. In that collection as well were a number of novelty songs as well (Monster Mash, anyone? It's a graveyard smash...). I was thinking about how, in the olden days, some of those novelty songs would actually crack the charts. (Yes, I used to listen to Dr. Demento in junior high school, too.) Where is novelty music now? Up until a couple of years ago, other than Weird Al Yankovic, I couldn't have answered. But now, after Lazy Sunday, A Special Christmas Box, and Natalie's Gangsta Rap, i'm thinking maybe it's the viral video phenomenon.

Fifty years from now, kids will sit in their family rooms, and pull out an old shoebox with a bunch of burnt out video iPods in it, loaded up with SNL videos, All your base are belong to us, and spoofs on the lightsaber kid, and their parents will try to explain to them how at one time, people couldn't eyetrack-select videos from GoogleFlix and have them beamed directly into their brains.

July 3, 2007


Every year, my dad, brother, and I would drive down to Missouri, cross the border, and buy fireworks for the 4th of July. We held an annual block party for July 4th, with a few relatives and friends thrown in for good measure. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, potato salad, cole slaw, and a big hollowed-out watermelon filled with every conceivable berry and melon. Good stuff.

My other memory of those times is that it was the one time of the year when we were allowed to drink any kind of pop we wanted to lay our hands on. So, in addition to visiting various sketchy roadside fireworks vendors, we made an annual pilgrimage to the store for things like Black Cherry Shasta, Creme Soda, Sunkist Orange, Grape, and Strawberry, and the like.

And sparklers. Lots and lots and lots of sparklers.

July 9, 2007

Saturday mornings


One of our family traditions growing up was Saturday morning errands. My dad, brother, and I basically vacated the house for all sorts of whatever every Saturday.

One of our regular destinations, pictured above, was the Davenport Bank Building, which has since been bought and sold a couple of times, and is now owned by Wells Fargo, I believe. Anyhow, my dad's law firm rented the 7th floor (and later the 6th as well), and our barbershop was on the 4th floor, and on the ground floor, there was a little newstand shop that was the only place to buy candy sticks (that I knew of at least).

Anyhow, one of the memories I have is being able to futz around in their office supply closet to my heart's content. I love the office supplies. I remember also flying paper airplanes out of the 7th floor windows, and in a town with few other comparably tall buildings, this can be a lot of fun.

Hair Care

There are three distinct periodizations to my life when viewed through the lens of hair care:

Up until high school, I went to my dad's barber (Rudy was his name, if I recall correctly). We should bear in mind here, however, that my father was all but bald. My cuts were even, but that was about all.

In high school, and extending into the first couple of years of college, I went to a stylist named Cindy (again, I'm pretty sure that was her name), upon whom I had something of a crush. For a few years after that, I just got my cuts when and where I could.

From grad school on, for most of the time, I've gone ahead and taken care of it myself. It's almost a full circle kind of deal, because I really only worry about it being even, and the way I achieve it is to shave my head a couple of times a year. I don't always go full bald, but I do it often enough for it not to be much of a shock to the folk around me. I can let it grow out for a couple of months, and usually I can squeeze another month or two out of it by trimming the sides (I'm not a fan of ear-wings).

I've had the same hairbrush for years, don't use much shampoo, and I don't spend money on styling, of the studio or personal hair care products varieties. And that suits me just fine.

July 14, 2007


This may seem like an odd thing for someone heavily invested in technology, as I am, to hate, but one of the things I absolutely, viscerally hate is the computer animation of animals (and babies) so as to give them the mannerisms and/or the speech of human adults.

It's a popular technique (this summer's Underdog, for example) and one that seems to appeal to plenty of people, but I find it deeply repulsive. I can't watch commercials that use it, and I won't watch it in movies.

When it's used for aliens, or fantasy creatures (Narnia, e.g.), it doesn't bother me at all. The talking toys and creatures in Wonderfalls? No problem. But a talking squirrel, or a dog raising its eyebrow, or babies turned into adults? That stuff makes me nauseous. (Yes, the dancing baby put me off Ally McBeal for the rest of that series' life.) I have a similar reaction to child beauty pageants, which made it difficult for me to watch/appreciate Little Miss Sunshine at the end.

There are plenty of things I don't care for, and just don't engage with, but the unnaturalness of this kind of anthropomorphism, for some reason, repulses me.