Dear Ticketmaster et al

Dear Ticketmaster, Tony Bennett, and Deathcab for Cutie;

I’m writing about a concert my wife Annette and I attended on August 24 at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, a show that was supposed to have featured the band Deathcab for Cutie as the opening act for Tony Bennett.  Why didn’t DfC appear, and don’t you think you owe me at least an explanation, if not some of my money?

Don’t get me wrong:  Tony Bennett was great, as I’ll get to in a moment, but one of the the delicious appeals of this show was that pairing of an indy band that’s made it big with the man who is perhaps the last of the great “old standards” singers, unless you count Harry Conick Jr. and Michael Buble and so on, and I do not count these people.  Imagine the possibility of Tony coming out to sing duet on “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” or Deathcab backing Tony on “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”  And imagine the crowd!  Finally a show that teens and hipsters might be able to attend with their grandparents!

Alas, that was not to be, and I guess we started to see the signs of what was wrong by lack– a lack of reference anywhere to Deathcab, a lack of merch (and you would think that Tony Bennett would at least be selling some CDs if not t-shirts), and a complete lack of anyone who looks like they had heard of the would-be opener.  Somehow, we were the last people who didn’t get the news that the bill had changed– or maybe it was never actually meant to be that way, and it was some sort of odd snafu in the Ticketmaster systems.

In any event, the show started oddly on time and early with Antonia “so-so singer who happens to be Tony’s daughter” Bennett followed immediately– and I mean “immediately,” as in the same band playing and no break between sets whatsoever– Tony was on the stage, giving his daughter a kiss on the cheek, and getting a standing O just for appearing. Which was great, don’t get me wrong, but again, where were Deathcab for Cutie?

Bennett immediately launched into song after song after song, told a few stories he had obviously told many times before (how Bob Hope was the one who came up with “Tony Bennett,” for example), did a little dancing hear and there, and continually and masterfully worked the crowd over like a warm handful of play-dough.  At one point, Annette said to me “there’s no way he’s 85,” and I looked it up again on my phone on Wikipedia, and damn it anyway, he really is 85.  Eighty-five freakin’ years old and still doing somewhere around 200 shows a year and bringing down the house with a version of “Fly Me to the Moon” he sang in the enormous Fox with no microphone to show off both the acoustics and his voice.

Again, it was a great night all-around.  Annette and I had a lovely dinner at the meat-intense Roast restaurant, had no problems walking around the mostly empty mid-week/early-evening downtown Detroit streets, and hey, how many more chances are we likely to have to see Deathcab for Cutie coming somewhere near a college town like Ann Arbor versus Tony “did I mention he’s 85?” Bennett.  So, okay, I don’t need any money back.

But still, what happened to the opener?  If you could just give us an answer to that, I’d appreciate it.  Thanks,



CCCCs in St. Louis: I’ve been accepted and it’s not even September; what’s wrong with these people?!?

My tongue is firmly packed into my gift-horse mouth with this post, but go figure!  First comes news that my proposal for the CCCCs in St. Louis was accepted.  It’s a talk (or something?  I might make a lot of video for this one) called “Amateur Auteurs:  The Problems of Teaching and Assessing Multimedia in Writing Classes.”  I’m interested in the things I say I’m going to talk about in this talk quite a bit because I have been interested lately in a variety of different ways with the dilema of writing professionals teaching and producing what can only be described as “amateurish” multimedia work.  I have a couple of examples in mind, and most of them are my own.

But it was a proposal I put together pretty quickly because– oh, I don’t know, I’m not all that interested in going to St. Louis and because I’m kinda all filled up on conference presentations.  As I was discussing with someone today, reworking/updating my web-based CV made me think that at this stage of my career (e.g., a full professor at an institution where I’m happy and where I’m likely to stay put) I don’t really need to do anything, let alone spending tons of money to go to lots of conferences all over the place. So go figure that my rather ambivalent proposal gets in.

And it is in at a good time, 9:30 am on the Friday of the conference.  AND notice was sent out to folks way WAY earlier than usual!  I don’t know if this a result of snafus in the process last year or what, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard one way or the other about this conference this early.  Again, go figure!

Now if you will excuse me while I figure out what it is I am going to do for this thing….

Readings and thoughts for the coming school year

We don’t start the fall term here at EMU for another two weeks, but I have a very specific sense of “the summer is over” this morning.  Annette and I are back from “Grownup Camp 2011,” our time up north while Will is at camp, and now it is time I face the to-do list associated with the new school term.

I am not alone in this feeling.  Lots of stuff showed up in my web reading this last week about education in some fashion or another; for example:

  • In Doonsebury, a discussion between a university president and a dean about what exactly it is higher education is supposed to do.
  • Via Aaaron “One Flew East” Barlow comes this interesting infographic about how students love technology.  There is some “truthiness” to this, but there are also some bullshitty claims here too.  I know plenty of students of all ages who definitely are not even in “like” with technology.
  • Pitched to the typical college student, Lifehacker has a bunch of tips for getting it ready for school.
  • Or not– why not opt for the UnCollege approach?  This is all fine and good I guess, but the main problem I have with such things is it confuses the abstract and philosophical concept of “education” with the bureaucratic and pragmatic goal of a “credential,” e.g., a college degree.  Hopefully a credential will lead to an education, but no amount of educating one’s self will lead to a credential, and I am cynical enough to recognize that universities are in the credentialing business first.
  • And there’s some secondary ed stuff out there too worth checking out.  The  LA Times has an op-ed column “The myth of the extraordinary teacher” by Ellie Herman, who is herself a secondary school teacher, explains in stark terms the conditions that she’s working with.  It’s probably not surprising for anyone who actually works in the schools, but it might be a bit surprising for all those folks out there who have made teachers– particularly secondary school teachers– out to be the lazy bad guys.
  • There’s also a great piece in the September 2011 Harper’s about the experience fo going back into secondary school teaching called “Getting Schooled” by Garret Keizer.  No link I’m afraid, but it might be worth buying the print version.

I could go on, but that’s enough.  I’m not sure what to think of all of this vexing over schooling as of late.  My default position to such “hell in a handbasket” kinds of critiques is generally we’ve always been going down hill, ever since at least the ancient Greeks and probably before that.  Still, it does seem a little different to me as of late, perhaps because I’m getting too old.

In any event, I still haven’t come up with any new school year resolutions of note yet.  I want to continue my too slow and too inconsistent readings and reviews of journal articles because it seems to me like not many other people out there read them.  I am prepping for two new classes.  I am trying to concentrate on not eating white food and/or low carbing it.  Etc.  One way or the other, time for not getting stuff done is over.

This WIDE-EMU thing might just work

I’ve posted about this on Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus and the like, but I’ll post about it here too:  the deadline for proposals for the WIDE-EMU is tomorrow. This started as one of those things people talk about on a long car trip– specifically, me, Derek, and Bill HD on the way back from the CCCCs in Atlanta– that might or might not amount to anything.  And it’s too early to tell if it will ultimately amount to much.

Still, I think we’ve seen enough interest here to make this fly, meaning that I feel past that fear of what happens if you have a party and no one comes.  There’s enough “there there” for us to make a go of this, I think.

I’m interested in seeing what comes of this first proposal phase and the next pre-(un)conference phase of course, not to mention the actually f2f meeting in October. But at this moment, I’m mostly interested in seeing if it is possible for the free and quasi-impromptu (un)conference to succeed.  Remember:  this is costing us and participants (in theory) nothing, which puts into stark relief those many conferences out there that cost lots and lots of money.  And that also seem to be the same old conference.

So like I said, stay tuned.  But in the meantime, submit a proposal if you are in the SE Michigan neighborhood.

On Bowen’s “Resisting Age Bias in Digital Literacy Research”

I actually read Lauren Marshall Bowen’s “Resisting Age Bias in Digital Literacy Research” in the June 2011 issue of College Composition and Communication a couple weeks ago when I was visiting family at a reunion of sorts in Minnesota.  Now I’m writing this as my in-laws are visiting from Florida.  I think there is a connection here.

In the nutshell, Bowen’s essay is a case study of eighty-one year old “Beverly” and her literacy practices with computer technology.  Beverly is a retired and widowed woman who has actually worked with various computer technologies for quite a while; she worked her way up from secretary to purchasing agent at her town’s paper mill and worked with spreadsheets and other software.  Her technological practices include Flickr, developing scrapbooks (which she prints– Bowen talks about this as a form of remediation), and she seeks help from friends, grandchildren, etc.  Along the way, Bowen makes lots of excellent connections with the scholarship regarding technology and literacy and technology and older people, too.

I have mixed feelings about this piece.

On the one hand, I think it’s well-written and Bowen does a good job of weaving/connecting this work to the scholarship in the field.  I think it would be a good model essay to share with students in English 621 this fall.  Bowen demonstrates classic research methodologies of the field– literacy narrative, ethnography, participant-observation, more or less case study– and it is very good evidence that researchers in our field can do “legitimate” subject-based research with a very small sample.  A lot of times, students in our MA program in Written Communication get to the point of working on their thesis or writing project and they start with these giant and pretty much unworkable ideas: “I want to interview all the teachers at my school about ‘x’,” “I want to give a survey of all the students at EMU about their attitudes about writing,” etc.  It’s not unlike the first year writing student who starts with a working thesis for a research project along the lines of “Drunk driving is bad.” Anyway, what I like about Bowen’s essay is that it is in itself evidence that our field values and certifies as scholarship very small and precise studies, so instead of contemplating dozens of complex case studies, why not focus just on one?

On the other hand, I think this is an essay that raises some largely philosophic questions on the definition of “research” in our field.  There was a discussion that kind of touched on this on the WPA-L mailing list a while ago.  While we as comp/rhet people are willing to call this research, I wonder to what extent scholars in other fields– even other social science kinds of fields– would value a study based on a single subject.  And if it is research that is only valued to people within our field, well, what’s the point?

The story of Beverly’s literacy practices that Bowen tells is interesting, but for the most part, it remains for me only “a story,” one that is difficult for me to make larger conclusions and generalizations.  Granted, when this particular story is read in relation to lots of other literacy narratives regarding technology (I’m thinking in particular of Selfe and Hawisher’s excellent Literate Lives in the Information Age), and I think that’s why Bowen’s essay “works” here.  But I’m not completely sure that’s enough.

I also have a bit of a problem squaring some of Bowen’s arguments in relation to senior citizens and technology.  Without going into any great detail, I’m thinking in some ways of my own parents and of my in-laws (who are quite a bit younger than Beverly), and I do wonder to what extent Bowen might be “reading into” Beverly’s own technological literacy and making claims about her practices that might be a bit of a stretch.  I see with my parents and in-laws the ways in which affinity and affect can motivate people into doing new things with both literacy and technology.  My mom (and my dad, too) recently bought an iPad, I think mainly for my mom to read and to play games.  My in-laws have been working a lot lately with eBay to sell the many clocks and parts my father-in-law has collected and worked with over the last 45 or so years.

But I’m not sure that any of these new activities constitute a particularly sophisticated literacy practice.  I mean, the idea that Beverly is still printing out those Flickr sets is sort of frustrating to me.  We used to have faculty who would insist on printing out email messages, and I think it is fair to say that no one thought of that was a smart adaptation, right?

I digress, but you get the idea.  It’s an interesting essay and interestingly problematic, too.