Dear readers and newbie customizers,
What does it take to make a porch closer to a Porshe? Okay, leaving money aside, the things you need: lights and flowers. I already had the furniture, so that was easy.
Here’s the before:
I have to say that I’m quite proud of my drilling skills. So I thought about putting more lights on the ceiling of the porch. And after a few more hanging planters, I came up with this:
I might add another chair or two. Anyway, it seems more inviting now.
And what’s next? I wanted to hang some art on the bare stucco walls, but somebody much smarter than me said “hahahahahaha.” Which I took to mean “no.”
So, what is really next? I need to put down some mulch around the house. My question is: how mulch is too mulch?
Have you ever had that feeling when–after all those hours of research, all those hours of tedious online reading, all those poorly written anonymous reviews, all those soul-deadening hours of going to brick-and-mortar stores to see the real thing before you actually buy it online to save, like, 3%– you finally get something that you just had to have, and it is. Just. All. Wrong. (?)
You think: crap, I’ve wasted all this time and I still need this thing, and if I return it, I continue to waste time? That stomach-churning buyer’s remorse is worse than a smack upside the head with a cold wet smelly sock (that sock that never fit right and is the wrong color). I get that. Completely. Happens to me all the freakin time! Hence my mission: I must customize when I feel undone by such buyer’s remorse. Sure, you could just return the thing, but that has two serious problems. First, it is simply too giveuppy. Second, you have to face the returns line with your tail between your legs and feel the sands of time, you very life itself, slip away. Time to get to work. Time to work on crafting the thing you know you wanted, but was not there for the taking.
For example: I was not happy with my new wallet. Sure it had some of the properties I needed: zipper, 4 x 5, brown, leather, not too pricy. But it had one major flaw: a coin pocket with a snap! And so I decided to fix it, to improve it, to make it more into a more fully functional, zippered, polished, flat, pebble-grained man-wallet and information-carrier; a wallet that best represents the self I am working to become.
The Customizer’s work is never finished.
Yesterday I customized it. Did I completely ruin it? Not exactly.
Notice the area in the red oval. My wavy cutting and uneven stitching underscore The Customizer’s look. Of course, many readers will quickly understand that there used to be a snap-covered coin pocket where the Metro card now rests. Those pesky coin pockets are too bulky and ruin the lines of the wallet. The answer is always customize! Now I have an extra card slot.
Conclusion: I probably should have gone into home improvement rather than academia. Although they do share some overlap.
I would like to begin by saying that I am an English teacher, and so I am by nature curious about what people write and the difference between intention and execution. I should state here that I am a teacher who is not English, but who teaches the subject of English. And by English, the subject English, I wish to emphasize that I teach American literature, composition, and what might be termed American Studies with a tendency toward Cultural Studies methods, and, what comes next is crucial to my argument, and, I teach these subjects using the spoken and written language called North American (American) English. There, does that make sense? Wait, did I clarify that I don’t believe in public executions, but rather, I believe in properly executing good writing?
As readers might be able to guess, I am making an argument about the slipperiness and comedy of language and how it is easy to push away clarity, even when clarity is the very thing the writer seeks. Twitter, a social media platform that is thrillingly interesting and easy to follow, is also crushingly poor at trying to tell a full, robust, clear story.
For example, what if someone wanted to tell their life story using twitter? What would it look like?
For the 41 year old professional cyclist Chris Horner, the American rider who just won the 2013 Tour of Spain (Vuelta a España), your life and career might look like this (if, that is, you want a new contract and don’t yet have one, and if, that is, you are not a little bitter about the capricious nature of pro cycling finances and sponsor goals, and if, that is, you have created a preening, solipsistic hashtag of #ididthat):
9.37pm Pacific Daylight Time: 15 years old and up @ 4:30am before school starts to train while dreaming of winning a grand tour. I did that!
9.44pm PDT Riding your bike to work so that you can train for hours in the dark after works done. I did that!
9.53pm PDT Hitching a ride across the country for months w/no money (almost I had 400+-) to race. I did that!
9.58pm PDT Sleeping in hotels,host family houses,cars,and park benches to get to the races. I did that!
10.02pm PDT Pro teams won’t give you chance, so you buy your own license and race as an independent. I did that!
10.09pm PDT Race pro for years w/out pay just hoping to make enough winnings to pay rent. I did that!
10.17pm PDT Win everything in the US, pass on the big pay check, go to Europe for minimum pay. #ididthat!
10.27pm PDT Live in Europe in a small apartment W/no car,computer,phone,TV, only a walk for company. #ididthat!
10.28pm PDT Oops. Only a Walkman for company. #ididthat!
10.33pm PDT Take a step back hoping to go forward again. #ididthat!
10.39pm PDT Winning again but told I’m to old to go back to Europe a second time but keep fighting anyways. #ididthat!
10.45pm PDT Sell everything I own for a second chance at a grand tour, fly over with a 140bucks in my pocket. #ididthat!
10.54pm PDT Start going up the ladder with each year passing while never getting that leader respect and belief. #ididthat!
11.00pm PDT Up @6am w/3kids so I can drop them off @school before I go train all day for the Grand tours. #ididthat!
11.03pm PDT Finding that belief, given the leadership, delivering on it. #ididthat!
11.13pm PDT Moving up the ladder w/that continued belief, big sponsors on board now. #ididthat!
11.18pm PDT Whole season disappearing fast but still working hard to make it to those grand tours. #ididthat!
11.21pm PDT Amazing help and belief from all my family, friends, and fans to get back there. #ididthat!
11.32pm PDT Works paid off, forms back, but by now some have lost belief. #ididthat!
11.40pm PDT So much stress & work 4another start at a dream that began many years ago. #ididthat!
11.43pm PDT A life time of work and a stage/jersey arrive and disappear over night. #ididthat!
11.51pm PDT 100% is given and second time it happens, only to pass just as fast but belief is returning. #ididthat!
12.04am PDT The jersey returned only this time for life, the stories to tell before & during it are epic & life time. #ididthat
12.08am PDT Yes it was worth it and yes the dream continues… With or without the belief. #ididthat!
What Chris Horner Should Have Said If He Was a Preening, Solipsistic Academic:
9.37pm Pacific Daylight Time: 15 years old and up @ 4:30am before school starts to read the Iliad and Odyssey. I did that!
9.44pm PDT Writing about the intersection btwn arduous sporting events & Homer’s tales links me 2 Fr critic Roland Barthes. See Mythologies. I did that!
9.53pm PDT Hitching a ride across country to see Derrida speak at JHopkins in 1967. I did that!
9.58pm PDT Sleeping in hotels, host family houses, cars, and park benches to understand Kerouac’s OntheRoad. I did that!
10.02pm PDT Pro lecture circuit won’t give you chance, so, at 19, you create your own college curriculum and go it alone. I did that!
10.09pm PDT Study for years with no pay and no health insurance to become completely self-made (how American!). I did that!
10.17pm PDT Win every academic award in the US, pass on the big pay check to join Fox News, go to Europe to study phenomenology. #ididthat!
10.27pm PDT Live in Europe in a small apartment W/no car,computer,phone,TV, only a book for company. #ididthat!
10.28pm PDT Oops. I did have good health insurance for once! #ididthat!
10.33pm PDT Take a step back hoping to go forward again (thanks Heidegger). #ididthat!
10.39pm PDT Winning adjunct lecture position, again, but told I’m to old to go back to Europe a second time without grant funding. #ididthat!
10.45pm PDT Sell everything I own for chance to study with Chomsky, fly to MIT w/140bucks in my pocket. #ididthat!
10.54pm PDT Start going up the ladder and have to serve on every damn committee known to man (sic) Was adjuncting better? #ididthat!
11.00pm PDT Up @6am w/3kids so I can drop them off @school before I work…actually this is normal and not so interesting. #ididthat!
11.03pm PDT Finding that belief and leadership are hard to deliver. #ididthat!
11.13pm PDT Moving up the ladder, now sponsored by MS and Dell. Did I lose my moral compass? #ididthat!
11.18pm PDT Whole semester disappearing fast but still working hard to publish peer-reviewed articles. #ididthat!
11.21pm PDT Amazing help from graduate students who actually wrote most of my work. #ididthat!
11.32pm PDT Works paid off, but promotion forms sent back; did somebody lose their belief in me? #ididthat!
11.40pm PDT So much stress & work grading papers and writing grants 4another start at a dream of getting tenure. #ididthat!
11.43pm PDT A life time of work, promotion arrives and disappears over night. Notetoself: don’t date students. #ididthat!
11.51pm PDT 100% is given and second time it happens; notetoself: don’t date admin. #ididthat!
12.04am PDT The promotion returned only this time I’m the new Chairman of the dept!, the stories to tell before & during it are epic & life time. #ididthat
12.08am PDT Yes it was worth it and yes the dream continues… With or without the belief. What the hell did I just type? Who cares? (thanks Neitzsche) #ididthat!
Conclusion: The split between the signifier and signified is the undoing of consciousness.
Postscript: After some reflection and conversation with cooler heads, I think that there is more correspondence between twitter and Horner than I first thought. For instance, notice that as Horner’s stature as a professional cyclist has increased since his Vuelta win (and arguably since his 9th place finish in the 2010 Tour de France), his media presence has increased, even if his interview responses may provoke raised eyebrows. I remember when he inelegantly questioned many pro riders and their strategies during both the 2004 and 2008 US Olympic team qualifying races. His language and riding techniques might have, or might not have, been aligned. But his name was not as powerful, and so this issue did not have the larger repercussions that Horner’s current contract negotiations have. The future of pro riders’, especially older riders (Horner was born in 1971) bargaining power is, at this very moment, under the microscope by many competing interests.
Twitter has a similar issue as it has offered itself as a publicly traded company. According to a report by Gerry Shih, writing for the Toronto Sun Times:
Since its inception, the 140-character messaging service’s simplicity and mobile-friendly nature – it can be used by any cellphone with a text-messaging function – has helped speed its global adoption as a source of real-time information. Unlike many social media services, it can be used anonymously.
The company’s laissez-faire approach to monitoring content, together with an aggressive posture in challenging government censorship requests and demands for customer information, have made it the darling of civil liberties advocates and political protesters from New York’s Zuccotti Park to Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
But now, as it prepares to become a public company with a valuation expected to exceed $10 billion US, Twitter must figure out how to make money outside the U.S. International customers make up more than 75% of Twitter users, but only 25% of sales come from overseas.
That means opening offices and employing people on the ground: there are now seven overseas offices and counting. And that, in turn, means complying with local laws – even when they conflict with the company’s oft-stated positioning as “the free-speech wing of the free-speech party.”
These conflicts, paradoxically, arise not so much in countries with repressive governments – the service is banned outright in China, for instance – but rather in countries with Western-style democracies, including Brazil, Germany, France, Britain and India.
Should readers raise their eyebrows upon learning that twitter is opening seven bricks-and-morter offices that will be staffed, I can only guess, by actual, living people? How should twitter communicate with governments, other contractors, and police? What modern-day philosopher does twitter invoke when talking about free speech?
These reflections lead me to believe that the rhetoric of daily life inextricably is bound up with distributing technology: twitter, blog, Youtube, text, poem, novel, phone call, etc. How we negotiate who we are and how we are always involved in the never-ending need to tell a story of who we are and who we want to be means different things in different media sources. Put another way, just as St. Augustine, Mary Rowlandson, and Ben Franklin sought out the Confession type of autobiography (handwritten!) to reinforce, consolidate, and reconfigure their identities, so too are twitter and Horner seeking out autobiographical writing (online (social) text) to reinforce, consolidate, and reconfigure their identities. They have made interesting choices for giving voice to who (or what) they were, they are, and want to become. And it us up to their readers, fans, users, and critics to make sense of their writing process. The obvious answer to my title question, is it possible to tell a life story using twitter, is yes, it is. But doing so has unforeseen costs.
And lastly (I promise), I have to say that the notion of Ben Franklin on twitter is glorious. Hmm…#iambenfranklin?
Wanted to post a link to the Canmore World Cup Nordic Ski Race. And now in 2018 I am doing it!
Maurice Manificat and Rolland Clara really put the hurts on the field in the last 2 kms.
Peace and ski grease!
Folks, we are not done with this cheating thing:
I’m not sure that there will ever be an end-point to finding film scenes in which authors and artists are brought in as the One and Only True Source of Information to Decode the Mysteries of the Art Object. I think that the idea of the author as the only legit source of decoding is tripe, rot, balderdash, hokum, bunk, crud, guttersnipe…in a word, it is fooey. I mean, hey, Shakespeare is quite dead and that has not stopped a constant flow of articles, books, films, poems, songs, and performances about him and his work–some, or even all, of which may be better than what Will himself could have said. Here is what I think about the author as the singular source of interpretive righteousness: what if–in some fantasy land–you actually get to ask William Shakespeare what the true meaning–the true essence–of a complex play like, say, Coriolanus (1605-6) is, and he happens to be working on a rather painful gas bubble, and all he is able to say is: “of course that play is really about how I wanted to French kiss Kit Marlowe, now leave me you smug, self-righteous, entitled, disrespectful, L-riding, tax-evader!”
Here’s a scene from Woody Allen’s comedy Annie Hall (1977). Note that this Author-As-Righteous-Owner-Of-All-Truths zinger may have influenced the director/writer of Back to School:
So, who is cheating in this scene:
1. Marshall McLuhan is cheating because he has a moustache.
2. Annie Hall is cheating because, just prior to this scene, she mentioned sex and therapy in a public place. And that combination is known in psych circles as the nuclear option.
3. Woody Allen cheats because he breaks down the Third Wall.
4. The Columbia prof cheats because he mentions Fellini’s Satyricon (1969) with an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips.
5. I cheated because I had to look up the correct spelling of Satyricon.
6. Lance Armstrong cheated not because of his will to win at all costs or his desire to stand on podiums in European countries, but rather because he had a rough time recovering from his two days of riding in the 2006 edition of RAGBRAI–which stands for The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (an annual seven-day bicycle ride across the state in which riders eat lots of pie and breakfast burritos and drink oodles of weak, warmish macro-brew beers) and thus had to up his EPO cocktail intake by 2 nanograms–this was the beginning of the end for him. I know, because I rode that Wednesday leg to Coraleville, Iowa, and caught up to his 6-man posse. Said Lance to us: “How did you catch us? We were going, like 21.” Said my friend, Geoff, in response: “We’re Cutters, we catch riders. It’s what we do.”
Here is a short clip from Back to School (1986), starring Rodney Dangerfield:
A friend of mine said that there are several ways to read the cheat here. Here are a few that we came up with:
1. Rodney cheated because he paid someone to write his essay.
2. The teacher cheated by not allowing for opinions outside of her narrow scope.
3. Vonnegut cheated because he accepted payment to write an essay that he knew would be submitted other another person’s name.
4. The teacher, again, for having relations with a student.
5. Rodney, again, for have relations with a teacher.
6. Vonnegut, again, for not realizing the “The Author is Dead.”
7. Rodney’s son for not putting a stop to his father’s shenanigans before they trasnpired.
8. I’m all out. But I’m sure you, dear reader, can think of more…
Long time no write, huh, Scraps?
Well, I’ve been a smidge busy.
Besides falling off my bike, recovering from that, taking up running after a 29 year hiatus, learning how to be a Brooklynite, playing with my kids, and teaching, I’ve also been hard at work with my colleagues Juanita But and Mark Noonan in the arduous task of writing/editing/proofing a textbook. Well, after a year-and-a-half, it is finally finished:
As you can see from the title, this book is a composition textbook, or reader, that focusses on New York City. The Place Where We Dwell introduces college students to many interesting essays, poems, stories, and art pieces that are about, you guessed it, New York City. The goal of the book is to help students understand, or read, New York City in new ways and to encourage them to practice critical writing, reading, and thinking methods.
About the cover art. The artists name is José Parlá–a Brooklyn-based artist who uses many forms of painting, calligraphy, and layers to create pieces that look like they are part of the city. The cover art is a reproduction of his painting titled “Your History.” Hats off to the publisher Kendall/Hunt for working with the Parla to promote the art work. Check out the full cover:
In this photo, you can see the words “Your History” better. Oh, I’d like to thank Clara Scanlan for helping me with this photo–that’s her finger at the top.
Let me know if you are interested in the book…perhaps you are teacher in New York City, or perhaps you want to teach a composition course on global cities, or perhaps you teach an introductory course on culture studies or urban studies. Or, maybe you just want to read a lot of great writing on New York City. Hopefully, local book stores and Amazon and other places will soon start selling it.
Amazon has a page for it, but it seems they are temporarily out of stock:
You can also go directly to the publisher’s website:
Here is the ISBN: 978-0-7575-9017-7
And here’s my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For that close friend (spouse?) who became unnecessarily anxious that the public might think strange thoughts about my frozen-wet-diaper-treatment, I want to go on-record and say that I used filtered Brooklyn water to wet the princess diaper. It was a name-brand filter, by the way. But I won’t tell readers the name because they do not sponsor me.
Scrapes (formerly Scraps)
It looks like I will be taking up a new sport. Why? Because I crashed. I hit the pavement. I wadded it up. I bit the dust. I wrecked. I took a nose dive. I crumpled the paper. I wiped out. I failed, epically.
On June 25th of 2011, I was in a local race at Floyd Bennett Field in Coney Island in the fair borough of Brooklyn. 80 racers in a Cat. 4 race. Three laps to go, I went off the front for a while, parce-que I had some excess energy that I needed to donate to the road. Last lap, I felt good, was riding about 25th wheel when two guys tried to tune my front wheel with their handlebars. Basically, I was taken out. I was choiceless in the matter. It’s not like I had to swerve to avoid them. They dove into my front wheel. I went ass-over-teakettle. About 8 guys went down. I had the worst of it.
How did I know that I got the worst of it? Because some guy said, “Oh, shit, look at that dude!” I turned around and nobody was behind me. I was that dude. I could see my left shoulder in a place that was not good. Not good at all.
Here’s what my shoulder looked like few weeks later:
Here’s what a close-up looks like:
Here’s what the x-ray revealed: An AC separation. No, it was not dislocated (nice try amateur orthopedic surgeons!). No, it was not broken, you part-time physical therapists.
What you are looking at is a Category 2–out of 5 categories– (I always wanted to be a Cat. 2 rider!) AC separation. That stands for Acromioclavicular Joint Separation.
A close friend said that frozen wet diapers work really well on sore shoulders:
She was right, but the embarrassment factor does come into play.
Scraps tries to run (again, after a
20 year 29 year hiatus) with not much success.
Public art has been around for a long time.
Public art is sometimes commissioned, sometimes it is not. Graffiti is used to transmit political, personal, and artistic statements with or without permission of the property owner. Graffiti is powerful because it is unsanctioned, but it is also uncomfortable for a street theorist because it is beautiful and illegal–what is the political stakes of studying it? But this art form is all around us in Brooklyn. Our students see graffiti—tags, stickers, murals, advertising— in the place where they dwell. My interest in graffiti is in the way that it is a form of personal writing, a form of consolidating one’s identity. Writing one’s name on a wall says many things, but at the very least, it says: I exist.
Mark and I have had the good fortune to be able to work with a local artist, José Parlá, who writes in his beautiful book JoséParlá: Walls, Diaries, and Paintings(2011), that:
Historically, walls have exhibited the voice of the people. My earliest paintings were made on walls at night. My thought and impulse behind the gesture was as primitive as that of cavemen marking and drawing in their dwellings to assert their existence in a place and time. As my works evolved, be it paintings, signatures, or even the documentation of these early ephemeral artworks throughout city walls, the works took on the nature of personal journals based on empirical experiences. The organized black books and photo albums also became my diaries. […] As a result, these works are time capsules, mixed documents of memory and research.”
José Parlá could almost be talking about General Education; Gen Ed is a process of mixing memory and research within (sometimes against) the maelstrom of the college student’s total experience. I have tried to turn both my fascination with Parla’s extraordinary art and my desire for my students to write what they know and what they need to learn into writing assignments. One such assignment involves their writing about themselves as a collage of information. The walls of Brooklyn have helped me with this assignment.
“Nevins Street Jargon,” by José Parlá
I have not been able to find out if this plywood fence is a found artwork photographed by Parlá, or if Parlá had a hand in it. Either way, it is a palimpsest of neighborhood signatures–a local cryptography.
Then I saw this installation at the corner of Fulton and Adams–where a Shake Shack burger joint is going in. Here, on these black walls, the point is not to deface. Instead, the point is to put your own message next to your neighbors, to read other desires, to engage, to create a community “mixed tape” of memory and research and performance. Several times, I have added my own writing, my own tags, my own effort to say that “I exist.” And I plan to go back often. I encourage you to take part in the performance of the “Before I die…” installation.
For the next 15 minutes, let’s create our own memorials to this seminar, to City Tech, to our own small groups, and even to our own identities.
Each group collaborates to make their own “Jay Street Jargon.”
Rule 1: each writing must overlap another writing, even if only a little.
Rule 2: no erasing.
Rule 3: there are no rules in graffiti.
1. Write down three academic words in your field that you hate. (vertical)
2. Write down three academic words in your field that you love. (diagonal)
3. Write down the your nickname in big, bold letters. (upside down)
4. Name your favorite teacher. (left handed)
5. Name your favorite moment in this seminar. (in a circle)
6 a. Write this phrase and fill it in: My job rocks cuz ___________________. (in all caps)
6 b. Doodle. (no shapes, just wriggly lines)
7. Write this phrase and fill it in: Before I die _____________________.
8. Who is your favorite artist? (backwards)
9. What is your favorite number? (then scratch it out)
10. Ruin at least two of the answers or writings on your wall that you like. (because)
11. Are you looking forward to the shared lunch with Karen and John? (in another language)
12. Favorite food? (inside a rhombus)
13. Doodle. (shapes!)
14. Write this phrase and complete: Where I’m from __________________!
Thanks for reading, and feel free to share this assignment widely!
Sean Scanlan, PhD
City Tech, CUNY
by Sheila Packa
I learned to ride
the two wheel bicycle
with my father.
He oiled the chain
clothes-pinned playing cards
to the spokes, put on the basket
to carry my lunch.
By his side, I learned balance
and took on speed
centered behind the wide
handlebars, my hands
on the white grips
my feet pedaling.
One moment he was
holding me up
and the next moment
although I didn’t know it
he had let go.
When I wobbled, suddenly
afraid, he yelled keep going—
Beneath the trees in the driveway
the distance increasing between us
I eventually rode until he was out of sight.
I counted on him.
That he could hold me was a given
that he could release me was a gift.
“Not Forgotten” by Sheila Packa, from Cloud Birds. © Wildwood River Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
Grabbed from: The Writer’s Almanac. May 18, 2011.
I dedicate this poem to my daughters, Katie and Clara. The older of the two (Katie) can ride without training wheels and has exhibited a small hint of what the poem above describes. The younger of the two (Clara) will probably learn to ride without training wheels this summer. I think she is a bit young, but she is committed to doing what her sister does.
Will I let them race bikes in a few years. Not a chance. No way.
But, seriously folks, what choice do I really have in the matter?
Next thought…should I get the new super-awesome saddle with carbon-braided rails, or should I save my money for when my daughters ask me to buy them carbon-braided rail saddles?
Peace and end-of-semester grease.
Should I mention that I raced in a real bike race last week? More later.