Tag Archives: projects

Things I’ve started writing but haven’t published

  1. A blog post about the anniversary of R.E.M.’s Green, because somehow this blog has become obsessed with R.E.M.
  2. A blog post in anticipation of my workshop on podcasting at the 2015 Computers and Writing conference–a workshop and conference that has now ended, with the post sitting there unfinished, unposted
  3. A scholarly webtext on the materiality of sound, vinyl records, and the crazy ways that these things can inspire composition pedagogy (few of which I’ve actually tried in the classroom yet), a text that I drafted last summer over 3 weeks of using 750words.com every day
  4. It depends what we mean here by writing, but maybe when I talk to a friend in the car about writing routines and relationships and kindness, maybe that’s a kind of writing and maybe saying good things out loud together is a kind of publishing
  5. A chapter from my dissertation on historical attitudes toward the rhetoric of music and how we can do better
  6. A chapter from my dissertation reporting on interviews with student music composers
  7. A piece of music, which I admit hasn’t even been started or considered until now, but a piece of music that tries to capture what it’s like to write but not quite doing so, sitting there, dodging it all by organizing your mp3s and reading good scholarship and tweeting good tweets–which are writing too, we can all agree on that, it’s the 21st century–and if you don’t know why a piece of music would be good for that, why are you even reading this list
  8. An bizarre, juxtaposition-filled audio essay that jams together the sounds of my favorite movies/TVshows/videogames with the words of scholars on the phenomenology of sound
  9. That one above actually exists, even though you’re starting to wonder if any of these things actually exist, and I don’t blame you, how could anyone have this much that they haven’t finished, how could anyone be so much like cookies that just went into the oven?
  10. This one doesn’t exist, but I wish it did: a blog post on Pearl Jam and aggressiveness, chronicling how intimidated I was by their first album and how I forced myself to like it anyway and then how they slowly came to just seem like nice guys playing rock music but when did that happen I mean don’t you remember “IT’S . . . MY . . . BLOOOOOOOD!!!!” and all that from the second album?
  11. A personal essay about the time in 4th grade when I stayed the night at Andy’s house and jammed a thumbtack through the face of a kid I didn’t like on his copy of our class photo, followed by the time in 5th grade when I pulled the fire alarm at school but before it started so that’s not as bad I think
  12. A personal essay about my youngest brother and our weird mutual aggression over our lives, if you can call it that, and I’m not sure you can, but don’t you think I should use the word aggression to echo #10 above?
  13. A personal essay about chaperoning a bunch of college student singers on a trip to Florida
  14. Episode nine of my podcast which is on teaching with podcasts kind of self-referential isn’t it podcast podcast podcast kind of a weird word when you say it too often
  15. Self-referential blog posts that–and you won’t believe me here–that actually help move these texts toward a public, which is really where they ought to go, so let’s get to it, folks

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Wrestling with Authorial Control

I like to think of myself as an active proponent of remix culture. I praise people who share their work with Creative Commons licenses that allow reuse, and I try to license my own works the same way. So if you want to take the words of this post and rap them over a beat you made, you can legally do so without needing to ask me, as long as it’s not a commercial venture, you give me credit for the original, and you use the same CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 license I use on my site.

So it’s been interesting in the last few days wrestling with feelings of authorial control that, academically, part of me felt I had somehow transcended. Here’s what happened:

The Initial Essay

For a custom textbook at my current school, I was asked a couple years ago to write a student-friendly piece introducing them to rhetoric. The point was supposed to be the practical usefulness of rhetoric, as my piece would be paired next to a denser, more theoretically heavy piece. I love writing for students, so I submitted to the textbook editors an essay called “Why Study Rhetoric? or, What Freestyle Rap Teaches us about Writing.” (I also posted that original version here.)

The editors of the textbook made some edits, as editors are wont to do, so the version that ended up in the book is a bit different: two of my sections were deleted, my section breaks (marked with a *) were taken out, and some of the language and punctuation was, well, normalized. Here’s an example: after telling a story of someone whose Facebook posts made her seem rhetorically unsophisticated, I expressed my frustration at that sort of thing with this section-closing line:

Why study rhetoric? Because so many people so often seem to have no no no idea about how to communicate well.

In context, my hope was for the line to express the emotional level of my frustration, my punctuation-less “no no no” emphasizing the rhythms of speech more than the dictates of “proper” mechanics. But the edited version deleted the story that came before it and used this line instead:

Why study rhetoric? Because, communication is difficult, and even more difficult if we are not rhetorically aware.

Style-wise, the new line (to my ear) lacks the stylistic umph I was going for throughout the piece, and it lacks the rhythms of spoken speech. (Try sounding natural reading any sentence that begins with because-comma.)

I don’t want to sound too complainy, though–there was a lot of good work done to my piece, too. Many of my small errors were fixed, and plenty of my wordinesses (which I tend to drown in) were smoothed out beautifully. And hey, my piece was in a textbook for like 7,000 students! Rock on!

Revisions and Contracts

What does this have to do with authorial control? It gives you a sense of my attitude toward the piece as it grew into its next iteration, and as I locked the piece further and further into my mind as mine.

The essay as published in the textbook (the heavily edited version) was accepted for publication at the newish, online, free writing textbook Writing Commons. (Why was the edited version accepted at Writing Commons and not the original? It’s a long story; the short version being that the editors of Writing Commons used pieces written for the custom textbook as some of the first pieces to go through the peer review process at the new site.)

Leaping at the chance to revert some of the changes I wasn’t too happy with in the printed version, I used Word to compare my original version with the revised version. I then created a new final cut that incorporated the best of the book editor’s revisions while keeping a lot of what I had originally written. (I love showing undergraduate students the wonders of Word’s compare document features, which were made so much easier to use in Word 2007 and later.)

Screenshot of Microsoft Word's compare documents feature

The best part: that the editors added “Lord” before “Voldemort”

Writing Commons graciously worked with me through these changes, and I now have this new version up at their site (where perhaps many more than 7,000 students will find it helpful), peer reviewed and all.

Even better: Writing Commons uses the same Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license I use on my blog, and I retain copyright over the piece. I love the idea that someone who found this piece helpful can print copies out, make a video of it, cut out the pieces she finds most helpful, and so on–and all legally (again, as long as she follows the guidelines of this particular CC license).

But the Writing Commons contract also includes an interesting optional clause: essentially, they wanted to know if I’m okay with other Writing Commons authors updating my piece later on. If I checked yes, I would always be first author, but later revisers would be included on the list of authors. This clause makes sense, especially given how quickly pieces can age and need updating, sometimes at times when the original authors can’t be contacted. If someone brilliant came along and wanted to add a few new paragraphs to my piece on rhetoric as freestyle rap, they would be able to, as long as Writing Commons allowed them to and as long as I checked yes.

But I said no. And as I checked no, my thoughts were, “I don’t want anyone else messing with my language. I don’t want my stylistic quirks reduced to voiceless academese. I don’t want my vignettes cut out in favor of preachiness. I don’t want someone else to change the flow I found and add some other stories that have nothing to do with me.”

And this mental defensive posture came about five seconds after I was congratulating myself on being so open, such an example of young scholars who embrace Creative Commons and the “some rights reserved” mindset, so morally superior.


Thinking it All Through

In “A Loss for Words: Plagiarism and Silence,” from the 1994 issue of American Scholar, poet Neal Bowers tells the story of his obsessive search for a plagiarist who was publishing his poems verbatim in multiple journals. I haven’t read the piece for more than five years, but I remember my reaction to Bowers: a dash of sympathy and a healthy mix of “get over it, dude.” I remember thinking, “Well, duh!” when Bowers wrote:

As angry as I still am, however, I confess that after two years of thinking and talking about being the victim of a chronic plagiarist, I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t have simply let the matter drop. In the end, my efforts to obtain justice have yielded few results; and I am not materially worse off than I was before my work started appeanng under someone else’s name.

Thinking back now, I realize this was at least a little uncharitable of me. It’s not like I’ve never felt I owned words before. I like writing, and I’m good at it; there have been plenty of pieces that I want to put my arms around and grasp, and if someone published them under another name, I would probably lash out with sudden Wolverine claws to protect my children.

But when I first read Bowers’s piece (which apparently he expanded into a book?), I was just getting excited about all the possibilities for purposefully losing control over writing. Authors like Kathy Acker and Jonathan Lethem and Dave Shields who blatantly create new, awesome things from the work of others, showing the claims of “I WROTE THIS JUST ME AND ONLY ME FOREVER WITH NO INFLUENCE” to be as flimsy as theorists have been suspecting for a long time.

In many ways, my thoughts on this stuff haven’t changed. I know that even my piece on rhetoric and freestyle rap isn’t as “original” as I feel it is: folded into it is something of Geoffrey Sirc’s ethos and the style of countless other essayists I’ve admired. The format of using clearly marked section breaks of varying length is absolutely stolen, but I’ve stolen it so often I have no idea where I first came to love it. Even the basic concept of seeing rhetoric as akin to freestyle rap was suggested to me long ago when I first learned–and this was a groundbreaking moment for me–that Homer’s poetry was performed orally by poets remarkably like freestyle rappers, who had a series of stock phrases in their mental storehouses that they could improvisationally (improvisatorily?) pull out when they needed them during a performance. I didn’t acknowledge this source in my essay. Heck, I didn’t even realize it was there until just now, as I consciously plumbed the influences that went into that thing, that collection of words that I love so much and want to protect.

So the closest I can get to a tidy, Full House-style conclusion right now is that I like the idea of living in that tension. I’m clearly more like Bowers than I sometimes like to think, protecting the fruits of my writing with a strong sense of authorial power. But even as I feel these feelings, I’m suspicious of them, wondering how much they’ve been infused into me from my Western cultural background and how much they were put there by a creative creator who revels in his own version of authorial control. (Wait, hasn’t someone else wondered something just like that before? I better go look it up. . . .)

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Music and Rhetoric: Making it Matter

I’m listening to Philip Glass’s score to the classic 1930s Dracula, and this track seems to represent the thoughts bouncing around in my head right now. Hit play and listen as you read along.

I opened up my Google Doc “Dissertation Research Journal” and started to write this out there as a freewrite to figure out some thoughts, but then I decided this was as good a place as that to think “out loud.” (Auditory metaphors are unavoidable, no?) I feel that sense of scholarly unease that often leads to good things; someone (who?) once wrote, “I always wake up in the middle of the night and realize that my current project is completely uninteresting, but by figuring out my way around that terror I get to the really good stuff.” I feel like I’m getting there now.

Here’s the thing: musicologists write about rhetoric all the time, but it’s generally boring. Here’s what I don’t mean by that:

  • I don’t mean that musicology is boring.
  • I don’t mean that exploring the intersection of music and rhetoric is boring.

Still, this stuff (which I’ll politely not cite in this informal space, I think) is often boring:

  • It’s boring because rhetoric is interpreted as a series of techniques. (“Here is how you arrange a speech. Here are figures to make your style effective.”)
  • Building from that, it’s boring because musical rhetoric is described as a series of techniques. (“Here is how you arrange a sonata. Here are musical figures to make your style effective.”)
  • Building from both of those, it’s boring to read a technique-driven analysis of any text. (“Then, Cicero/Bach moves into the confirmatio section of the speech/piece, which has x effect. Then, Cicero/Bach uses anaphora, which has y effect. Then . . . .”)
  • It’s also surprisingly boring to read the original manuscripts of 17th- and 18th-century musical theorists (mostly German) who loved listing every single way that rhetoric and music seem to be similar.

So. As I’ve been weighed down by this boring-ness more and more in the last few weeks, I’m increasingly led to a deeper question: how do I view rhetoric? Is it just a compilation of techniques that can be roughly categorized to help people invent, arrange, embellish, memorize, and deliver arguments? Or is it something more? I felt this desire for the ineffable recently when I was writing a fun, student-friendly piece called “Why Study Rhetoric? or, What Freestyle Rap Teaches us About Writing” (which I’ll post here one of these days). I kept talking about why rhetoric mattered, but suddenly I realized I hadn’t actually gotten specific about what rhetorical techniques actually look like, and in the end that section is what I’m least happy with.

Maybe this is the heart: one of my dissertation readers emphatically said to me once, “How can anyone in other fields know what rhetoric is? We don’t even know what it is!”

But that’s not how it sounds when you read musicologists, past or present, write about rhetoric. They seem to know. Rhetoric is always a set of techniques. It’s depicted an art, a techne, a set of technical knowledge about what’s most likely to move a crowd. Certainty all around! And in some ways, they’re right. Rhetoric is indeed an art and a series of techniques. It really is. But it’s more, too. Right?

When I was writing that piece about freestyle rap, I asked a question on my Facebook wall that now feels particularly apt:

A screenshot from Facebook

Did I ask these people for permission to post this? Nope.

Marc mentions Corder’s article, and here’s how it ends:

Rhetoric is love, and it must speak a commodious language, creating a world full of space and time that will hold our diversities. Most failures of communication result from some willful or inadvertent but unloving violation of the space and time we and others live in, and most of our speaking is tribal talk. But there is more to us than that. We can learn to speak a commodious language, and we can learn to hear a commodious language.

Musical rhetoric can work the same way, and it’s even better suited to this kind of “commodious language” than words are: music can be carefully crafted to “hold our diversities,” to be loving, to honor the inherent “violation of the space and time” that music brings as it insistently attacks our ears and minds.

And did you see Corder’s sudden move to the auditory in his 4th-from-last word–his request that we “learn to hear” this new, connection-bridging model of rhetorical communication? Maybe he hears it too. . . .

So what does this have to do with my dissertation? It means that I’m not just “interpreting musicology’s work on rhetoric in terms that the rhetoric field will appreciate,” which I always say is one of my many goals. Instead, it means that I’m coming at that work–again, both historical and contemporary–with the new lens of pointing out how our view of rhetorical music can be so much broader, so much lovelier, so much more engaging, than a simple study of arrangement and figures. And there’s nothing boring (to me) about that.

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Cracking Open Traditional Academic Prose

I’ve been drooling over Laurel Richardson’s Fields of Play (Constructing an Academic Life) this afternoon. In the section I read most carefully, she describes the process and reaction to her composition of a 5-page poem using the words from a 36-page interview transcript from a woman named “Louisa May.” It’s a beautiful piece, resonant in all the ways a poem should be. Here’s the beginning:

The most important thing
to say                           is that
I grew up in the South.
Being southern shapes
aspirations                shapes
what you think you are
and what you think you’re going to be.

(When I hear myself, my Ladybird
kind of accent on tape. I think, O Lord,
You’re from Tennessee.)

And so on. Louisa May tells the story of her divorce, pregnancy, and decision to raise a child on her own.

Richardson describes many reasons for the decision to use verse–including the admission that there are probably several reasons that she doesn’t quite know yet (147-48). In part, though, the form is apt because:

In the routine work of the sociological interview, the interview is tape-recorded, transcribed as prose, and then cut, pasted, edited, trimmed, smoothed, and snipped, just as if it were a literary text, which it is, albeit usually without explicit acknowledgment or recognition of such by its sociological constructor. (140)

She’s got me thinking about times I’ve broken the boundaries of the academic prose I was expected to write, and how those are some of my most pleasant memories as a writer. And that’s interesting–that it’s specifically boundary-crossing that I remember most, not the times when I wrote a poem in a place where a poem was expected, or a traditionally memoir-ish piece when that was expected. There’s something to the act of cracking open a seemingly closed door that appeals to me (though I think I should/could find a less violent metaphor for such a playful activity). So as an act of trying to create the memory of those activities, I’ll list them here. For example:

  • In 12th grade, I turned in some crazily obtuse poetry when asked to reflect on some of my academic writing.
  • Similarly, in a magical realism class in my 2nd year of college, I couldn’t find it in me to reflect on my semester’s writing–it was a portfolio class–in an unmagical, too-realistic way. So because I was 19, I typed up a poem in courier font with vague references to the impossibility of describing the magical in prose, which I remember included the (uncited) line from the liner notes of The Smashing Pumpkins’ The Aeroplane Flies High box set, “And don’t you forget it for one second,” to which the teacher wrote in, “I won’t.”
  • In my final semester in college, I prepared a portfolio of my best papers written throughout my four years and wrote a retrospective on what I had learned. Instead of an essay (which I think everyone else did), I pieced together a hodgepodge that is still one of my favorite pieces of writing ever, including a frame story of a witch threatening to suck my brain out with a spoon, a dramatic scene where an old Kyle talks to a young Kyle about the books he’ll like, a story about my granddaughter putting on headphones that allow her to hear the thoughts I was thinking as I drafted college essays, and a poem in iambic pentameter.
  • For my undergraduate honors thesis on Atlantis in literature, I included an introductory story about me drowning and two short stage interludes between chapters, where I tried to express different sides of my ideas about Atlantis, the uncertain complexity of my feelings and all that. Stuff like this:

Dorothy: I really like that I got to go here.

Silence. Phyllis gives no indication of hearing anything and stares directly into the audience.

I mean, it’s all kinds of stuff. But especially the name. I like that we go to Atlantis High School.


Phyllis: It’s the same as every other high school.

Dorothy: No it’s not, it’s . . . different because of something about. . . . It’s different because it’s Atlantis. That’s cool, I don’t know.


Phyllis: It’s not really very cool.

  • In my first course in grad school, I managed to offend James Slevin by writing another short drama between balding, full-of-themselves academics in a panel discussion and Walter Ong, back from the grave, who had some questions for them from the audience. Professor Slevin thought I meant the balding jerks to be him. Oops.
  • In a recent creative nonfiction graduate workshop I took with some brilliant MFA students and the brilliant-er Ira Sukrungruang, it was stinking hard for me to write standard memoir-fare. I kept feeling the need to play around, tell things out of order, overload the page with footnotes, make stuff up, and generally be an ass to my patient readers. Now, there was a lot of support for this buffoonery, even though I didn’t always pull it off, but it was clear that some of the better writers in the class thought my stuff was unnecessarily quirky, flashy, whatever. They were probably right.

So what am I saying? I’m not sure yet–like Richardson, I’m comfortable figuring out what I think about my writing practices after the fact. But I do know that some (all?) of my dissertation interviews are going to appear as poems. Updates shall appear as I proceed.

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Background Music

I finished Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother last night (my second book read completely on the Kindle–and it’s free here, so why aren’t you reading it too?). It’s a fun YA read (interesting note on YA fiction: it doesn’t shy away from the sexy time but avoids the big MF bomb with underscores) that has me thinking about all kinds of privacy, terrorism, technology, hacking issues in fresh ways. Good stuff. It also ends with a few afterwords, including this quote from Bruce Schneier, security expert/hacker:

But really, security is a mindset. It’s a way of thinking. Marcus [the main character in Little Brother] is a great example of that way of thinking. He’s always looking for ways a security system fails. I’ll bet he couldn’t walk into a store without figuring out a way to shoplift. Not that he’d do it — there’s a difference between knowing how to defeat a security system and actually defeating it — but he’d know he could.

It’s how security people think. We’re constantly looking at security systems and how to get around them; we can’t help it.

All this is basically a rambling introduction to my thought for the day: background music. I’ve been working on and off on an audio submission for a special issue on “Writing with Sound” for the online journal Currents in Electronic Literacy, and part of what I’m thinking about is background music–in videogames, in silent films, in non-silent films.

And I find that the more I think theoretically about background music, the more I think about the background music that’s constantly around me. It’s like the Schneier quote: “It’s how [music] people think. We’re constantly looking at [or listening to] [music] and how to [make it, understand it, judge how it’s affecting us]; we can’t help it.”

I don’t really have much more to say than that. But really, here in Panera, what would my work be like with instrumental music playing from India or China or Ghana or New Zealand, as opposed to the Bach/Vivaldi/Scarlatti rotation they stick to? (That’s not critical, by the way; I love the music in Panera.) And in my car driving here, when I switched from NPR to Rubber Soul, my mood lightened, I started happily humming harmonies to songs I don’t really know; I was more adventurous, more casual. Walking from my car to my campus office with Portishead playing in my headphones gives the walk a different tint than it would with Pearl Jam.

I know, I know. This is all old news. There’s tons of work on movie sound design, real world sound design, videogame music, etc. etc. etc. But there’s something different between knowing something and starting to experience it, habitually drawing it to the forefront of consciousness. And that’s fun, and worth mentioning.

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Computers and Writing 2011 Proposal

I’m excited to present my first video proposal to speak at a conference. I put this together for Computers and Writing 2011 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. If accepted, my presentation will be called “Sound Composing: Musical Rhetoric in the Ears of Composers.”


For my visually minded friends (me included, ironically enough), here’s the video’s script. The italicized parts are contiguous quotes from Steven B. Katz’s The Epistemic Music of Rhetoric: Toward the Temporal Dimension of Affect in Reader Response and Writing.

Perhaps time, and all it stands for, is the basis of the experience of language as sound, emotion a lump of time caught in the throat.

It’s hard to talk about sound–what exactly it does for audiences, how composers manipulate it. Rhetoricians are well versed in discussing images, fixed in time and graspable. But the question of how composers of sound apply rhetorical principles is less well explored–the temporal, unfixed nature of sound complicates things.

Perhaps it is through time that we can know the affective experience of language as an indeterminate flux and flow.

Rhetorical principles have been applied to music for hundreds of years, especially in Western Baroque and early classical texts on music composition. These composers were taught to use their instrumental music to communicate emotional states that audiences would clearly comprehend, relying on a series of rhetorical musical figures and gestures. More recently, Steven Katz has written on how knowledge is fundamentally emotional, temporal, and musical. Along similar lines, Joddy Murray has drawn attention to the importance of non-discursive rhetoric. And in 2006, Byron Hawk and Cheryl Ball co-edited a  special issue of Computers and Composition, “Sound in/as Composition Space.” [And I forgot to mention the parallel issue of Computers and Composition Online.]

Perhaps it is in time that the essential unity, the oneness that oral cultures experienced in sound, exists.

I want to add to this work by developing a composer-centric rhetoric of sound. I conducted a qualitative study of music composers (students and professionals, practitioners and scholars), using their explanations of their compositional aims as the bedrock of a new understanding of sound’s rhetorical possibilities and functions.

Perhaps we have not lost it. Perhaps it is still in the music of language.

My interviews focused on questions of how music communicates–what kinds of things it can say, how composers plan for their audiences, how they think rhetorically. More specifically, I asked them about influence, emotion, their use of preexisting musical forms, and digital composition, both in terms of composing with electronic sounds and using computer notation software.

Could it be that voice and felt sense, that dissonance and disequilibrium, that harmony and resolution in reading and writing are musical in nature, are the epistemic basis of affective knowledge, are a temporal form of knowledge?

I’ll report on what my participants said about their own work and about music in general, playing clips of their interviews and compositions when appropriate. I’ll also engage the audience by briefly playing selections of music that showcase the problems my participants brought up, inviting the group to consider the different ways that music can mean.

Music Credits (in order)

Image Credits (in order; all with various Creative Commons licenses)


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Two Views of Rhetoric, Visually

I’m putting together my PowerPoint for the Remake | Remodel conference in Germany in a couple weeks, and I thought I’d share my two favorite slides so far.

The concept is pretty simple: my presentation discusses fan remixes (on Lost Video Island and OverClocked ReMix) from a rhetorical perspective, so I’m giving a very simple primer on what I mean by rhetoric. First, there’s the traditional view:

The ideal rhetorical situation

Rhetoric: The Idealistic View

But then there’s the more realistic view of rhetoric, that acknowledges that people create their own meanings based on their situatedness in time and space, their emotions as they hear the message, etc.:

The realistic view of rhetoric

Rhetoric: The Realistic View

Then I’ll point out that the reason I’m interested in fan remixes is because the rhetorical effect of a text is complicated when the text includes aspects that the audience has seen/heard before. But that uncertainty is managed in part by fan communities, where the norms and literacies of the discourse community are shaped and tweaked and learned.

That’s one reason I like this image so much: in a sense, I’m “remixing” the original Creative Commons licensed photo from Flickr, “orator” by southtyrolean. And people’s reactions to the image will be affected by their own history with Lego bricks–for some (like me), it’s an instantly nostalgic, familiar image because of the Lego element, but for others it might look childish, odd, etc.

In other words, the image itself demonstrates my justification for talking about fan communities in my presentation.

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