Convergence (of sorts)

As some of my friends (both academic and not) have had to endure from me lately, I feel like I have been going through a mini mid-life crisis– an academic mid-life crisis, that is. I’m not likely to dump my wife for a twenty-something girlfriend and a convertable. But I have been in a bit of quandry as to what to do next. The short version goes like this:

  • Option A: I have thought (off and on for the last six months) about starting a book-length project in which I would analyze various “writerly” issues of blogging and blogging culture. I don’t know exactly what this book would be, but I do know it wouldn’t be a “how to” book, I’m not that interested in categorizing genres of blogs (e.g., “this is what an academic blog looks like,” “this is what a feminist blog looks like,” “this is a political blog,” yadda-yadda-yadda), and it probably wouldn’t have much to do with teaching, either– well, at least not directly to do with teaching in a fy comp kind of way. What I imagine(d) would be a book that looks into issues like audience, motives for writing, reasons why writers stop keeping a blog, issues of identity, etc. My thoughts have been/are that I would do all this through a series of case studies of some blogs and interviews with the writers of those blogs, along with a smattering of various writing/rhetoric theories (I’m particularly partial to thinking about this through the lens of “rhetorical situation.”)
    • Advantages: A “hot” topic, it’s probably something that would be interesting to a lot of other readers, might have appeal beyond the comp/rhet community.
    • Disadvantages: There are probably about a dozen similar projects underway and/or about to come out (this sounds like someone’s dissertation if you ask me); by the time such a book would actually come out, we’ll probably be on to something beyond the blog (and even if we aren’t, it will still be “dated” as soon as it’s published); working with human subjects/interviews can be kind of a pain in the butt.
  • Option B: I have also off and on thought about a book-length project that would examine the history of writing technologies before the computer. The purpose of this would be two-fold: first, I want to argue that writing pedagogy has always been heavily influenced by available writing/teaching technologies. It’s just that the computer is a more visible, obvious, and intrusive technology. Second, we can learn a whole lot about why contemporary technologies do and don’t “work” to teach writing by looking at what has or hasn’t worked in the past, something that folks in the computers and writing field hasn’t done much.
    • Advantages: I have already done a lot of research and scholarship on this (an essay on chalkboards, conference presentations, etc.), it’s kind of fun research because much of it involves hunting around in weird parts of the library, it’s not likely to be a project that goes out of date in a few years, and it’s research that won’t require me to go through the rig-a-ma-roll of human subjects review.
    • Disadvantages: Even with what I’ve already done, I still have a lot more work to do, the research on this is difficut, I’m not sure I have the training and/or “street cred” to do this kind of history, and I’m not sure anyone else (other than me) is really interested in this stuff.

    Meanwhile, I recently found out that I can apply for promotion to professor this year (meaning that I would be promoted for the 2007-08 school year). I am of course aware that at many institutions, where one has to produce truly distinguishing scholarship in order to get promoted to full professor, it’s very common for faculty members to toil away as an associate professor for decades or longer. For better or worse, promotion at EMU doesn’t work that way. If I were to bust out and write one or two books in the next year or two or three, I would be promoted to professor. If I did what I am doing now or even less (see below), I would be promoted to professor.

    And, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, my wife Annette Wannamaker has just wrapped up her first and very successful year as an assistant professor here at EMU. She’s happy, I’m happy, and, given the challenge of us both finding academic jobs elsewhere that would work for us as a couple and a family, we’ll probably be at EMU for the rest of our careers.

    So, this opens up another possibility:

  • Option C: Don’t bother with the hassle of writing either of the previously two mentioned books– or anything else I don’t want to write, for that matter. Just blog, read scholarship to keep current in the field (I don’t want to become a completely dead wood professor), concentrate on teaching (which I like plenty), try to find a way to get into some sort of consulting, go to a conference or two a year, write an article once in a while, write fiction and/or poetry, exercise, work on the golf game, become a better cook, take up painting, etc., etc.
    • Advantages: Literally I can pretty much do what I want, I won’t be pointlessly contributing to the mounds of scholarship that already go unread, I can return to some of the “creative writing” sort of work that got me into this buisness nearly 20 years ago, I can have some version of a life.
    • Disadvantages: This sort of freedom often allows me to become so lazy I accomplish pretty much nothing, and a vague sort of guilt, probably the result of the overly zealous pursuit of “THE WORK” so common in academia. In other words, even though I don’t really need to be doing something like a book project, I feel like it’s kind of expected that I’m supposed to be doing a book project.
      Fortunately (or not!), these various courses of action have been more or less decided for me for the next year, and I finally realized this a couple weeks ago (thus the “convergence”): for reasons that are not worth going into, I am going to be the interim writing program administrator for the first year writing program this year while Linda Adler-Kassner is on sabbatical (she’s working on a book, but I hope she does some blogging, too). What this means is that next year, I will be both the “writing program coordinator” (charged with various issues having to do with our undergraduate majors in professional and technical writing, and also with our graduate programs in teaching of writing and professional writing), and the “writing program administrator (running the first year composition program).

      Now, I had been more or less putting off/not thinking too hard about my additional WPA duties in the fall, mainly because I’ve been busy teaching. But as that class wraps up, as I prepare for our trip to Italy and Germany, and as I think about my more than pseduo-administrative duties for the fall term, it has occurred to me that really, the only thing I’m going to be able to do next year is a version of Option C– though I am already imagining an article where I discuss and describe my role as the “accidential WPA.”

      So, like I said, convergence. For the time-being, my future seems decided for me, and that’s an okay thing.

    4 thoughts on “Convergence (of sorts)”

    1. “this sort of freedom often allows me to become so lazy I accomplish pretty much nothing, and a vague sort of guilt, probably the result of the overly zealous pursuit of “THE WORKâ€� so common in academia.”

      I get like that too. Besides the enjoyment I get from writing (a main reason to write), it keeps me sharp. I want to do it, but when I do it, it keeps me in touch with my life. So, if you are going to write, you are obviously in a position where no one is putting a gun to your head (except you). You should enjoy the writing, and you should be working on something of value to you. If that’s blogging, cool. If that’s a history, cool as well. No? Besides, there is also great enjoyment in the research, in the discovery of something you didn’t know yet.

    2. I do enjoy writing, though it is something I have gotten out of the habit of doing– at least doing the way I did when I was working on my diss, when I was in a creative writing program and writing lots and lots of stories.

      As far as blogging goes: you know, I know that blogs are in general (arguably) kind of silly and I totally agreed with your piece about not taking this stuff too seriously, but I would have to say that I have gotten far more out of this blog space (especially if we talk about “getting something” in that whole “Economics of Attention” thing in that Lanham book I have yet to read) than I have out of any article or short story that I have published.

      So yeah, maybe I should just blog and call it a day….

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.