Writing To Discover

Sometimes the most important writing is that which no one will ever read.  Writing without a defined purpose.  Writing for the sake of writing.

It is important not to overlook this writing.  Nor is it important to always know exactly what one intends to say when engaging in the act of writing.  In fact the “act” of writing is just as important as knowing what to write about.

Shared below is a link to an article from Inside Higher Ed, a website dedicated to academic writing, teaching, and philosophies.

https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/08/19/essay-importance-writing-may-never-be-published

The article, entitled “Writing Not to Print” by Nate Kreuter, assistant professor of English at Western Carolina University, shares an important yet under-acknowledged point about writing: “Writing is simultaneously a physical activity — the product of scrawling or typing — and a cognitive activity” (para. 4).  It is as much about the action of writing as it is about mental focus.  Doing is as important as thinking.

As many of you reading this are finding this blog entry as part of my COM 510 Knowledge and New Media course I cannot stress this enough.  Writing is as much about discovering ideas in the physical act of putting words on a page (or screen) as it is in the thinking about what to write.  Sometimes the research is the writing itself.

Some other important passages to consider from this essay:

One of the myths of writing that many of us have become victim to is that we need to have planned out our writing, to have planned precisely what it is that we want to say, before actually sitting down to start hammering out words on a keyboard. Nothing could be less true. No advice could be more counter to how the act of writing and human cognition intertwine. For both freshmen undertaking their first legitimate research project and for experienced, accomplished scholars, the act of writing itself is one of the critical moments within which we actually learn and synthesize new knowledge.

 

In addition to writing as a discovery tool it also helps avoid the dreaded writer’s block.  Often when we are writing, especially in academic contexts, there can be a tendency to feel as if what we are producing is not “good enough” or “not relevant” to the focus of the paper.  Kreuter reminds us that it is not that the writing is not appropriate, rather that it may be for a different audience–ourselves.

By allowing ourselves, or forcing ourselves, to generate writing that we know will not make it into a final product, we also open up a strategy for preventing or circumventing the writing blocks that many academics sometimes encounter. Worrying that the writing you are doing is unimportant or irrelevant is a fast track to derailing your own productivity. Just write. Then step back and take stock and sort out what writing has promise, and what doesn’t, later.

Rather than spending time thinking about what to write, try writing to see what exactly you are thinking.  You will be surprised at what you come up with.  No one else will see these early drafts in the final product, but the final product will benefit from these early drafts.  Even if it is just to give yourself a better sense of what you are trying to say the practice of physically articulating your thoughts is an act of discovery.

As if to convince himself of his own discoveries, Kreuter concludes, “the writing we produce that will never actually make it into a finished piece of writing is still productive, productive because it gets us to a cognitive point we could not have otherwise reached.”  So try it out the next time you are wondering what you have to say.  You may surprise yourself.

Two Grandmothers, One Vote

In 2008 both of my grandmothers voted for Barack Obama.  That’s right, Grandmothers.  Both of them.  They weren’t the only ones in the family that did so, certainly I too am a member of this family.  But theirs were the votes that resonated with me most.

One of them, Mildred Faina, was 99 years old at the time.  She made to 100 but is sadly no longer with us.  Women did not have the right to vote in this country until she was 10 years old.  She saw 18 Presidents take office, starting with William Howard Taft.  The first person she ever voted for was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  All four times.

Every election season is the most important election in a generation.  I can only imagine the slew of “most important elections of a generation” she participated in.  And yet when what would become her last election in 2008 came around her decision was very simple.  She had been confined to the house for quite some time and my brother was charged with explaining her ballot.  She was not much aware of the major issues surrounding the looming financial crisis; what would we have to say about Lehman Brothers and subprime lending to someone who was already in their 20s when the Great Depression began?  She didn’t even know the VP running mates.  She only knew one thing:

John McCain was just too old to be President.

That’s right.  John McCain, that 72 year old whipper snapper 27 years her junior was unfit for the presidency because of his age.  References to McCain’s age had been circulating at this point for quite some time.  Still, there is something different about it coming from a nonagenarian.

There is also something about nonagenarians making statements that are rather inappropriate yet offer perspective.  Mildred knew she was voting for an African American man.  She knew the momentous  historical significance of that decision.  But as had become commonplace in our house, her reflection was tempered by her own sobering realization about how her own family would have reacted.

“If my parents knew whom I voted for they would have rolled over in their grave.”

Inappropriate? Yes.  Offensive?  Definitely.  Yet what always stuck out to me most about that comment was that it was for her an honest reflection of just how long she has lived and how much the world had changed during that time.  One could have only imagined how she’d reacted if she had known whom McCain’s running mate was.

The second one, Jonnie Iwata, is 77 and still with us.  She was born in West Virginia during the Depression and moved to Southern California in the early 1950s.  She’s the only person I’ve ever met who both has a paper subscription to the National Enquirer and regularly made a pilgrimage to Las Vegas every year to see Siegfried and Roy.  In fact the one year she could not go was the same year Roy was mauled by that Tiger.  She has never forgiven herself.

She’s also the first person in our family to have an iPad.  I say this only to highlight her penchant for surprising decisions.  I was visiting at her house around Thanksgiving a few weeks after Barack won.  We were watching the news and David Gregory was on air discussing the transition from the Bush White House to the Obama White House.  We were talking about the election in rather broad terms when I asked her about how she felt about all of this.

“Grandma isn’t it pretty crazy that Barack Obama is going to the White House.”

“Yeah I know. And the slaves built it!”

I’ll never forget that one.  Both of my grandmothers, without any provocation, gave what for me became the most profound reactions to the election of the country’s first African American president.  Were their enthusiastic statements somewhat problematic?  Sure.  Does their age excuse them from this?  Of course not.  And yet I couldn’t help but think about how both of them were the ones, the only ones at that, to make those realities explicit in our family.  And they did so without any provocation or malice.  After all, they were the ones voting for him.

The idea of the single issue voter has always intrigued me.  How could there be one single thing so important to someone that they would vote for that above all else?  I was once that person.  In 2008 I wrote this note on Facebook about how I’m voting for Obama primarily because he treats me like an adult.  Now the racial makeup of the candidate is not what political pundits and scientists have in mind when discussing the single issue voter (not explicitly anyway).  And this is not to say that Barack Obama’s skin color is not a major factor in his success, or lack thereof, as President.  We KNOW that is true.

And yet sometimes it is the single issue that matters the most.  As I prepare to vote in this year’s election I am reminded of these comments, the women who made them, and what they have seen.  They were simple.  They were unapologetic.  They were real.

They also said the most.

Please vote.

My latest post of Humor in America. A few thoughts on some of my favorite clips of Tig Notaro. Check out her Largo set on Louis C.K.’s website.

Humor in America

To those who do not follow the contemporary world of stand-up comedy Tig Notaro is not exactly well known.  To those who do she is one of the best working today.  Tig’s style of comedy is that of a storyteller, a storyteller who’s low key style is punctuated by a series of understatements that combine both a keen sense of awareness and a subtle naiveté that the audience is invited to participate in.  Much of Tig’s humor relies on this juxtaposition, creating laughs by intentionally not pointing out the obvious, letting the audience do it instead.

This is what I find the most entertaining about the story in this first clip.

This second one is shorter but offers a similar feel.

While much of Notaro’s career has been played under the radar that is likely to change with her recent revelation that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Like her…

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Humor in America

By now readers of this blog, and followers of humor in general, are no doubt aware of the recent controversy surrounding comedian Daniel Tosh and the curious case of the misquoted rape joke.  If not you can read about it here, or the original account here.

Long story short: Sometime last week, a woman attended a Daniel Tosh show at The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles. Tosh, known for humor that frequently toes the line on appropriateness, was making comments about the humor of rape jokes. The woman responded that she does not think such jokes are ever funny.  Tosh responds to this “heckler” by announcing to the audience “wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now?”

It is not my aim here to recount what did or did not happen, or whether such jokes are or are not appropriate.  Both…

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A Gameplan on Basketball and Postmodernism

In my last graduate class ever there was no final paper.  Thank god.  What we had to do instead was much more fun. And useful.  The class focused on theories of rhetoric and postmodernism and we were charged with creating our own theory “map” by which to make sense of these mostly dead French dudes.  Springtime is also basketball time and the NBA playoffs go on for almost an entire semester.  While perhaps not as intricate as football (a way more modernist game) it does have a level of sophistication that often goes unnoticed.  Wired magazine actually compared the two in terms of the high level of improvisation required to excel in both.

In that same vein I did the same with Basketball and Postmodernism.  Reposted below is my “map” of half court, the 5 positions, and how they link to major theories of the postmodern.  Explanations of the positions appear below the map.

Point Guard (Agency)

  • Controls the ball on offense.
  • Facilitates movement.
  • Theorists- Liberal Humanism, Laclau and Mouffe, Kenneth Burke, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Rajon Rondo


Shooting Guard (Democracy/Antagonism)

  • Primary scoring option, often most athletic player on floor.
  • Democracy, antagonism, populism serve as the major “so what” endgame issues of these discussions since they focus on what these ideas mean for actual political action.  They produce the most visible results.
  • Theorists- Laclau, Mouffe, Toscano, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant

Small Forward (Aesthetics/Performativity/Affect)

  • Small Forward is often interchangeable with Shooting Guard; as their positions and body types are similar.
  • Often the most versatile player on the floor. While certainly always already political, the form and approach theorists in this position employ is less defined, more fluid
  • This interchange is similar to the interaction of political emotions and unreason to antagonism in liberal democracy.  It is also akin to the interplay of politics and popular culture, especially in the last 30 years.
  • Theorists: Deleuze, Ranciere, Butler, Baudrillard, Lyotard, Lebron James, James Worthy, Sheryle Swoops

Power Forward (Structuralism)

  • Power Forward is the enforcer position. Less mobile than Guards or Small Forward they nevertheless exert a powerful influence and are often the most physical player in the game.
  • (Post) Structural theorists seek to emphasize both the enabling and constraining impacts of linguistic/discursive/social structures on agency, democratic participation, performativity, mass media, aesthetics, etc.
  • Theorists- Burke, Foucault, Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler, Karl Malone, Moses Malone, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan
Note: Agency-Structure and Point Guard-Power Forward were harder distinctions than you’d think. The tension between them is often reflected in either a player embodying both positions (Magic Johnson) or the two positions working in conjunction with one another (John Stockton/Karl Malone).

Center (Marxism)

  • The Center is the largest, most imposing presence on the floor, usually more so than the Power Forward.
  • Much like classical Marxism, there was an era in the NBA called the “Big Man” era, where the Center was the most dominant force on any team. Other positions have taken precedence in recent years, but the Center’s necessity to a successful team cannot be overlooked in the present day.
  • Theorists- Marx, Harvey, Braverman, Eagleton, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Lisa Leslie, Dwight Howard

Running the Postmodern Offense

Basketball is a game of perpetual movement. Unlike Baseball or Football gameplay is less linear with players constantly rotating positions on the floor. Furthermore any player can score at any time, relating to Best and Kellner’s notion that a “multidimensional critical theory stresses the relative autonomy of each dimension of society and is thus open to a broad range of perspectives on the domains of social reality and how they are constituted and interact.” (p. 264). There are two offensive schemes/perspectives that can be helpful to extend this metaphor into how the dimensions emphasized here interact:

Pick and Roll:

Strategy where one player moves toward a teammate’s defender to set a “pick”, obstructing the defender’s ability to follow their original player leaving them free to move about the floor. The obstruction similarly leaves the player setting the pick open, as their defender gets caught up in the confusion as well. For the purposes of postmodernism this can be akin to negotiating tensions between agency and structure, or politics and affect to address criticisms of the limitations of any one perspective. The Pick and Roll is an offensive strategy predicated on a dialectic tension.

Triangle Offense:

Players on the floor are spaced 15-20 feet apart forming points on an interconnected set of triangles that can constantly move and adapt to the movements of the defense.

“Postmodern theory in general analyzes phenomena mainly from cultural and discursive perspectives, and often in terms of disconnected fragments without grasping systemic interrelationships such as exist between the capitalist state, economy, and mass media” (Best and Kellner, 1991, p. 268).


The discursive and cultural perspectives are similar to the roles of the Shooting Guard and Small Forward. While perhaps the most versatile and athletic positions in the game, success of these players has always been limited without the presence of strong Power Forwards and Centers. This was as true for point guards like Jerry West in the 1970s as it was for Michael Jordan in the 1990s and Kobe Bryant in the 2000s. All of them have needed bigger, more dominant players down near the basket to make them more effective. The Triangle Offense, in which Jordan and Bryant both participated, relied on an interplay among all positions, but particularly the stronger and more dominant players. Similarly, democratic antagonism, aesthetics and performativity cannot ignore the concerns of materiality and structure in their analyses.

“Multiperspectival analyses do not, moreover, rule out strong and focused analyses of specific phenomena or development of a specific perspective” (Best and Kellner, 1991, p. 270).

Though the Triangle Offense emphasizes multiple player roles and positions in breaking down the defense (or limitations of a particular perspective) it still leaves room for individual matchups between players. In other words it does not discount the role a particularly gifted player may play in exploiting a temporary lapse in the opposing defense. In this sense the “specific phenomena or development of a specific perspective” Best and Kellner argue is akin to the star player (of any position) using the help of their teammates to make a big individual play. Depending on the team, and the specific resistance offered by the other team, this player can be of any position. Traditionally it has been Centers and Power Forward but more recently big plays (theoretical developments) have come from the Shooting Guards and Small Forwards.

So there you have it.  I’d be interested in any feedback, especially from fans of basketball and philosophy.  I’m looking at you Phil Jackson.

Work Cited
Best, S. & Kellner. (1991). Postmodern Theory: Critical interrogations. New York: Guilford Press.

Honesty in comedy and in oneself

I had the recent privilege of writing an article for Austin daily digital magazine CultureMap on comedian Todd Glass’s decision to publicly come out on the immensely popular comedy podcast WTF with Marc Maron.  In it I also consider what comedians (myself included) might make in our language choices in comic material.

The embed function on the site is not working on my laptop for some reason so I went ahead and pasted an excerpt below.

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Comedian comes (out) clean: Todd Glass announces he’s gay on WTF with Marc Maron

BY JOE FAINA
01.19.12 | 11:45 am


Comedian Todd Glass made waves in the comedy world on Monday by using Marc Maron’s widely popular WTF podcast to publicly come out after over 20 years of silence. In doing so, he’s created one of the most memorable moments in recent comedy history.

Since premiering in late 2009, Maron has interviewed hundreds of comedians he’s met over 25 years of performing stand-up comedy. The WTF podcast is known for its frankness and honesty; while he and his guests always talk comedy, conversations tend to veer towards what’s going on underneath the surface in their lives.

The recent interview with Glass, however, is sure to go down as one of the most significant moments from the podcast’s 240+ episodes. That Glass specifically chose Maron’s show to come out is only the tip of the iceberg — Glass repeatedly mentions his decision was motivated by the increasing trend of gay teen suicides.

Stand-up comedy is an art form predicated on brutal honesty — many of the most celebrated comedians are the ones who embrace their struggles and fears for the sake of laughter.
“This is the reason that motivated me to do it. I cannot listen to stories about kids killing themselves any longer and not [think] ‘when are you going to have a little blood on your shirt for not being honest about who you are?'” Glass admits. “And if I do it in a public forum, as opposed to just doing it privately, I can then maybe do something to help kids.”

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Read the rest of the story at CultureMap Austin.

High School Reunion

Many in my age group didn’t go to their 10 year reunion. My Dad had been hounding me about it for months but it didn’t matter. I always knew I was going to go. There was never really a revenge factor. I’ve just always been curious to see what happened to everyone. So many people skipped town and within a year or two I lost touch with all but a handful of people from a school of 1500.

None of those people were there.

My friends said I was the brave one for going. It was certainly weird, but about what I expected. I did think more would be there but Facebook’s pretty much reconnected everyone who mattered from high school. Except for Eric Chemi. Seriously, what happened to that dude?

I split to catch a friend at a dive in Los Feliz. A few days later it was outside a Kid Cudi show in downtown when I finally discussed with a friend what it was like. I told her I was glad I went and people seemed to be doing well. She caught my diplomatic bluff:

“You’re saying it was pathetic.”

Yes. It was.

It wasn’t pathetic because many of the people still live in town. There’s nothing wrong or weird about sticking around your hometown and getting a day job. Everyone who was there was there for the same reason–a curiosity to see what was going to happen. It was weird that no one ever felt the need to go back. Unless you still lived there.

The location was all that needed to be explained about my high school. It was at the Hard Rock Cafe in Universal City Walk, the largest tourist trap in LA. Meaning it was expensive as shit. And hysterical. There wasn’t a single coherent group of friends there.

I went in knowing it was going to be ridiculous. It did not disappoint. A reunion at the Hard Rock was not the weirdest part. Neither was the fact that only 30 people showed up. What did it for me is sitting at the bar with one of the dudes who was literally bulletproof in high school because his parents were both LAPD telling me he’s about to take the bar exam in the hopes of one day prosecuting corrupt cops. I remember thinking “that’s really great…hey remember when you and your twin brother nearly beat that kid to death in a movie theater parking lot? Because you were bored on a Friday night.”

Of course he didn’t. Because as I said bye to all of them before I left he responded “Nice to meet you”.

Father’s Day In The Park

I can never figure out what to get my dad anymore for Father’s Day.  Sports fans are usually really easy but there are only so many hats one can buy for someone constantly perplexed at the day to day operations of both the Lakers and Jay Leno.  A few years ago I thought I had a slam dunk in gifting someone who has been to a Lakers playoff Game 7 with Phil Jackson’s Kobe Bryant tell all The Last Season only to be later foiled by the fact that it was a book.  The same fatal flaw would later apply to  The War for Late Night

Instead I came up with the baller idea of taking my Dad to a ball game.  I hadn’t been to Dodger Stadium in over 5 years. It’s been a tough time being a fan as of late. A decrease in attendance on account of the worthless owner met with an increase in police presence on account of the dudes who beat a Giants fan into a coma. Not to mention a team that has struggled to compete since an epic World series win when i was 5. But Dodger Stadium remains a Marquis ballpark in the majors and definitely one of the most beautiful in all of sports.  And real fans can’t quit on the Dodgers.

The game was great.  I mean it was boring, 1-0 games can do that, but at least the Dodgers won.  And my dad seemed to really enjoy it.  None of us had been to a game there in years, and we had great seats because my little brother can afford to shell out $100 a pop to sit on the third-base line.  I sat in between them, with my Dad, who’s become more or less a real life Willy Loman in the last few years as the automotive industry continues to turn on its people, and my brother, a successful real estate salesman unaware of the irony of his ability to purchase $100 seats to a bankrupt team owned by a maniac real estate mogul.

One my Dad’s favorite things is to tell the same sports stories and trivia over and over again.  It’s something that I will probably pass down, if I haven’t already to my friends.  Granted, he’s got an impressive list.  Anyone who vividly remembers when the Dodgers moved to LA and can recount an almost encyclopedic knowledge of every major team event since then has certainly earned that right in some regard.  Seriously, no one knows more about the Dodgers than he does.

Ethier way, this was a WAY better idea than going to a Casino in Santa Barbara like we usually do.  Those places are way more depressing than the Dodgers’ record. I still got it.

The Neighborhood and The Department

A lot of academics in my discipline speak of their respective departments as a community. The one we have in Communication Studies at the University of Texas is considered pretty strong.

But I don’t think of our department as a community.

For me it feels more like a neighborhood.

I grew up in a pretty tight-knit neighborhood that had a lot of families that partied pretty hard together. We had two kinds of parties: 4th of July, and whenever we felt like it. The first involved shutting down our street, being loud and obnoxious, and having the cops show up–to the free BBQ we gave them. The second kind usually started with the phrase “well, Ray and Tina are out in their driveway with the stereo up. What can we bring over?” Plan or no plan, both ended up with the adults in the neighborhood going long into the night.

I feel like I have somehow stumbled upon that same thing here in my graduate department.

This past weekend a bunch of my fellow graduate students, and some professors, celebrated a birthday in the form of a house party, complete with DJ and dance floor. The party was deemed “sold out” by the host, as both the smoke machine and guests repeatedly came billowing out onto the back porch, where the designated champagne sabering area was. It wasn’t anyone’s first time being at a house party where the cops made an appearance. But I’d be willing to bet it was that officer’s first time responding to a noise complaint at a party full of people with Masters’ Degrees.

Then the Superbowl, a day where no plans were needed, we all just “knew” to show up at our own designated “driveway.” Combining our “refined” tastes as graduate students (kegs and champagne) the night involved a lot of yelling, obnoxiously critiquing the power dynamics at play in various Superbowl ads, and a Rockband marathon going long into the (school)night. An actual neighbor, upon seeing the keg the birthday boy and I were unloading from my trunk, asked if we had any for her. Of course she was invited, this is how it works.

Most of the original families from the street I grew up on no longer live there. Some do, but for the most part they’ve moved on to different places. Yet from time to time they still meet up and throw the same parties. The Neighborhood is more a dynamic than a place. I feel the same thing about The Department.

For my family back home who want to know what graduate school has largely been like here in Austin, you already know.

For my new friends here, a bit of a glimpse into how we all ended up in this place.

Except here we are ALSO getting our PhDs.

There’s an App for That. But Why?

I just finished my weekly visit to my local-ish Apple Store. This time it was for an actual purpose not a I “need” to check new iPad accessories drop in. I’ve jumped Mac first into MobileMe and was getting some pointers on to better use the service. Naturally my questions turned to everything but how to sync all my devices.

With the recent release of the Mac App Store for Mac users who actually use the computers it seems as if Wired’s pronouncement of an App revolution has finally solidified itself. But I’m still not sure what the fuss is about.

Apps make a ton of sense on increasingly mobile devices, where hard drive space, much like screen space, is at a premium. But laptops seem to be getting less and less the mobile users device of choice. Though I love my Macbook and appreciate Apple’s ability to make them even lighter, my iPad and, hopefully, new iPhone (good work Verizon!) take up most of my on the go computer use. And that is fine.

This is not really a complaint about the Mac App Store. Becky, today’s MobileMe instructor, was quick to point out that it makes a lot of sense for Macbook Air users. Which is true. And it also can potentially be used to upgrade applications one already has without having to buy a completely new version. That’s also true. But I already use third party apps like Tweetdeck on my laptop and don’t really worry much about clogging up hard drive space of more than 200GB, so an entire store seems unnecessary other than it’s already available for iPhone/Pod/Pad etc. I get their utility on the iPad and my increasingly useless Blackberry (again Bravo Verizon!) I get Wired’s justification that “the Web is Dead” in favor of more app based internet use. Now that it seems to be coming toward laptops as well I am just trying to wrap my mind around how this will actually benefit and shift more stationery computer usage. Perhaps its just another step toward complete syncing of every device one owns. Seems pretty cool but also kinda creepy.

Can anyone help me out? Who is using the Mac App Store and why?