A bit about the National Day On Writing at EMU

This is kind of quick and scattered, because as a result of the stuff I helped out on doing for the National Day on Writing here at EMU on Tuesday, I am woefully behind on dealing with the writings of my students– blogs, online postings, wiki entries, “essays,” etc.  But in brief, it was quite the event.

Linda Adler-Kassner and Cathy Fleischer (the two folks who were the leads on this here) estimated that about 1700 students participated, and we (meaning me, Derek Mueller, and Steve Benninghoff, along with some great help from reps from Apple) uploaded about 400 things to the web site– pictures of hand-written activities, blog entries, and YouTube videos.  It was a tremendous amount of fun, but it was a huge amount of work and I still kind of feel like I am physically recovering from being that “on” for pretty much 12 hours straight.

Now, the NDoW was/is one of those kinds of events that is really easy to be cynical about. Someone– it might have been Clay Spinuzzi too– said having a National Day on Writing is sort of like having a National Day on Hygiene.  I don’t completely disagree with these sentiments.  As we were talking about the various activities for the local NDoW at different meetings, there was not an insignificant part of me that was thinking “this is all pretty goofy.”   Or worse:  how is the (capital D) Discipline of Composition and Rhetoric (or maybe more specifically, just Rhetoric) ever going to be taken seriously if we present it to the rest of the academy and beyond as merely Freshman Composition, or, as one of my students described the NDoW,  as the “Writing Carnival?”

But you know what?  We do every once in a while do need to celebrate things that are  mundane and something we all (should) do, like writing or hand-washing, simply because it gets little recognition and it’s simultaneously important.  What I saw on Tuesday was a lot of college kids having fun doing activities where they thought and wrote about writing, sometimes in surprisingly profound and interesting ways.  And I think it turns out that “goofy” and “interesting” are not mutually exclusive.

As one of the uploaders, my job was to take pictures of things written by hand or to upload videos that people took with flip video cameras.  Most of the students were at the event as part of a class or to get what we call at EMU “learning beyond the classroom” credit, but there was no requirement to upload anything.  These students, mostly college freshman, who came up to the upload station were usually rolling their eyes when they held up their work or handed me the video camera, a smirky and often not at all concealed “OMG, this is so stupid” look on their faces.  But then, after I uploaded the artifact and showed it to them on the web site, they inevitably let their guard down a bit and showed a little pride and pleasure that their thing– a movie, a six word memoir, a “PEOP,” whatever– was up there for the whole world to see. Given that the site had 28,000 hits on Tuesday, I think it’s fair to say that the stuff done at the NDoW has reached a broader audience than your typical academic essay, which makes me think that maybe serious academics ought to pay attention to some of the less than serious NDoW projects to get the word out.

And God forbid we do things that allow our students to associate “writing” with “fun.”

Anyway, go check stuff out at the EMU National Day on Writing site. As someone really interested in this idea of how people perceive themselves as writers (or not), I think there’s a goldmine of stuff there.

“Facebook, MySpace Divide Along Social Lines”

In sort of a danah boyd postscript, I heard on NPR this morning the story “Facebook, Myspace Divide Along Social Lines.” A lot of this is the same old “white and rich people use Facebook, brown and poor people use MySpace,” though it is a little more nuanced than that in this story. The story did remind me of one of my early experiences with MySpace and part of a talk I gave at Creighton University back in 2006. To quote from the NPR story:

MySpace pages do look busier than Facebook; on MySpace you can customize graphics and music while Facebook is limited to one spare blue-and-white design. The MySpace clutter seems to symbolize something more to these kids. Sixteen-year-old Nico Kurt lays out his view of the MySpace users this way: “It seems trashy to me. The only people who use it are trashy people.”

The “trashy thing” rang true for me, at least what I remember.  Back in 2006, it was impossible for me to chose a profession like “Professor,” “Teacher,” or even “Student,” but it was very possible to chose the profession “Go Go Dancer,” and it was easy to join professional networks having to do with nightlife, fashion, modeling, gaming, and television. Now, I am assuming that things have changed on MySpace a bit in these regards, I don’t know.  The only time I visit MySpace nowadays is when I click on a link for some indie band that has a site there.  But “trashy” and “cluttered” are both good adjectives for MySpace, IMO.

Oh, and I think I trust Nico Kurt’s judgment in a couple of other ways:  Facebook is likely to be replaced by something else coming along before too long, and Twitter is for old people.

The remains of the weekend

There’s actually a longer post embedded in some of these items, but for now, I thought I’d just get some of these down here.  After all, I had intended on doing so last night but went to bed instead….

  • Cheryl Ball posted on Tech-Rhet asking about a Mac organizing software from a company (or maybe that’s the software) called Circus Ponies. It’s an organizational tool, which might be useful, though I find that my problems with organization and/or “getting things done” are not software-related.
  • Talking/working with Derek on a panel, and two ideas I want to get down before I forget: 1) it sure seems like a lot of people (including me) aren’t blogging at the same rate they used to blog (that’s a post one of these days, btw), and 2) while Facebook and Twitter are kinda cool, they aren’t a very good replacement for blogs.
  • Where have blogs gone?  Well, one theory I have is as newspapers and other print journalism go online, they are pressing into the space that was once occupied more by individuals.  This is not to say that individual blogs are going to go away, but why read (or even write) on your own individual blog if there is going to be a big newspaper out there willing and able to host your posts and comments?
  • Clancy “CultureCat” Ratliff notes some of the writing on the backs of desk chairs of classrooms where she is doing evaluations.
  • Alex Reid has a nice post about learning to write and how it impacts how we should and shouldn’t teach classes like first year writing.  I’ll need to come back to this.  I never actually took first year writing– I tested out of it.  I even was videotaped giving the speech I gave to get out of it, and I believe they took me and the other people who tested out to a lunch.  Thinking back on it briefly now, I believe we were an informal focus group.
  • Fine writing advice, he gist of which I give all the time and which I have to work very hard at myself to follow (and I frequently fail at that).
  • I kind of feel like I been a teleworker/web worker/distance worker/whatever for a long time, but that’s because I teach a fair amount online, and also because tenure-track faculty tend to have the luxury of working wherever they want.  Of course, the problem with “decentralized” work in general and defining “the work” of a college professor in particular is that I’m always working, in an office or not.
  • What’s the big trend now?  Nowism.  Actually, it’s more interesting than it sounds.  I like the list of “now applications” that are down the page a ways, and I like the term “Liquid Modernity” which comes from Zygmunt Bauman.
  • “The lost chicken hatcheries of Iowa City, IA.” Of course I have to note that, even though I am not all that crazy about chickens in Ypsilanti (I have yet to spot a coop in my neighborhood).

Because more than one person asked: Squash Ravioli

This is based closely on a recipe for pumpkin tortellini from the cookbook The Silver Spoon, which is sort of The Joy of Cooking of Italy:  it’s one of those books that’s been around forever and it has recipes for everything.  I mean everything: this book has a section of recipes for cooking Ostrich.  Well worth the purchase.  This is a double recipe; I figure if you’re going to go through the trouble of making these, you might as well make plenty.


  • About 8 cups or so of squash (roughly speaking, this is about two small to medium-sized butternut squash), peeled, seeded, and cut up into chunks
  • 3 to 5 cups of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • two or three cups of bread crumbs
  • about a half teaspoon or so of grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • 3 and a 1/2 cups of flour, with extra for dusting
  • 4 or 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • a pinch of salt

Cook the squash (butternut, pumpkin, something like that) on some cookie sheets in a 350 degree oven for about 35-45 minutes, or until tender.   Cool, and then pass it through either a food mill or a ricer (I use a ricer; I would think a food processor would be a bad idea as it would turn this mixture into something too gummy).  Mix all the other filling stuff in with it.  The mix should be fairly dry, so if it’s still mushy, add more bread crumbs.

There’s a lot of ways to make fresh pasta, but I tend to use the classic “well method.”  Pour the flour out onto a clean surface and make a well in the middle of the pile.  Beat up the eggs– four if they are large eggs and it’s kind of damp outside, otherwise five– and pour them into the well.  Use a fork and begin incorporating the egg with the flour.  When it is all mixed in, start kneading it.  This will seem to be a hopeless process at first, but if you put some weight into it and a little time, you’ll eventually get a nice ball of a stiff dough.  Put this in a ziplock bag and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.

Get out your pasta maker, roll it out, and make ravioli.   Did I mention you need a pasta roller to do this? Yep, pretty much.  If you don’t have one and/or you want to skip the whole rig-a-ma-roll of making your own pasta sheets, I suppose you could buy some pre-made pasta sheets or some won-ton wrappers.  I’d also recommend doing this as a group activity.  Making ravioli is the sort of thing that works well as small group entertainment, either with a child and his friend visiting for a sleep-over or for some sort of dinner party.  There are lots of ways to make ravioli; the most common method I see in cookbooks is to roll the dough out, put small mounds (about a half tablespoon at most) of stuffing in regular intervals on the sheet, fold it over, press the edges firmly, and cut it into little squares.  We have this press thing which will make a dozen nicely sized ravioli at a time.

As you make them, lay the ravioli out on a cookie sheet, separating layers of pasta with wax paper or plastic wrap.  Put the ravioli in the freezer until harden, and then “bag ’em and tag ’em.”  They’ll keep for months, and this recipe is enough for at least a dozen servings.

How to serve?  Well, they cook up fast:  five minutes or less fresh, about seven or eight minutes frozen.  When they float to the top of a large pot of boiling water, they are done.

The best and classic sauce is with browned butter and fresh sage– just melt half a stick of butter, add some fresh chopped sage, and when the ravioli are done, scoop them out of the water and toss them around a bit in the butter.

Also nice and not near as rich and fatty:  finely dice some vegetables like onion, carrot, and celery, and sweat them for a few minutes in a bit of olive oil.  Add about 2 cups chicken broth, and reduce the mixture to about a cup or less.  Pour this over cooked ravioli.  Or add more chicken stock and other soup stuff and keep the whole thing a soup.  Add the ravioli right to the broth about 10 minutes before serving.

danah boyd at U of M

I’m at danah boyd’s talk at the John Seely Brown Symposium at the University of Michigan this afternoon.  There was a pretty productive and interesting twitter feed on all this:  see http://wthashtag.com/Danahjsb A few thoughts as it went on and now slightly edited over coffee at the Food Whole (which explains some of the mixing of tenses and other mixes between notes at the moment and something slightly more thought out):

  • This is in the Ross School of Business.  Whoa, you talk about seeing how the other half lives.  I came from cramped and smelly Pray-Harrold where I was showing a movie to my 121 students with a laptop and a projector with crappy sound.  And then I walk into this place.  This auditorium (I’m sitting in the balcony) had freakin’ leather seats.  They probably spent more money on this room than EMU is going to spend on the interior fixtures in the Pray-Harrold remodeling.  I think they spent more money on the lobby of this building than they are going to spend on the entire project.  There was some group talking with students in the lobby about tailored suits.  The ten miles between EMU’s campus and U of M’s campus is long indeed.
  • I showed up kind of late, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed much.  A lot of stuff I’ve heard before– I like the idea of “collapsed contexts” (which is also what Wesch talks about with YouTube)  as being like a wedding:  a bunch of people come together who normally wouldn’t and the situation is more or less mediated by alcohol.  The problem is there is no alcohol like that online (says her…).
  • Now she’s talking about her argument/blog argument about her MySpace being “ghetto,” which was indeed problematic, as I recall.  Here she seems to be talking about the experience of writing in public a bit, but I think she is going back to defend her claim.  I think my problem is that all of her evidence seems to be based on the sort of unsubstantiated claims of her teens, and I don’t think cherry picking the gut feelings of teenagers really represents “evidence.”  In other words, I suppose it’s fine to say that teens perceive this to be the case, but it’d be a lot more interesting to me if she tried to peel away at that to figure out why they think this.
  • Or thought this– the split between Facebook and Myspace in terms of class I think used to be true, but probably not anymore.  As someone said in the twitter discussion, MySpace has kind of become the defacto place for indie bands.  Or I guess to the extent that this split is still true, it is perhaps less so than it used to be.   Or maybe just another way of putting it:  online spaces tend to replicate face to face world interactions, which is certainly something people have talked about for a long time.
  • How do we teach this stuff?  How does this work for learning?  boyd argues that one of the best uses of this media is for various “flex time” to help students learn about learning– I guess to make those connections beyond the classroom experience?  She sorta skips that there has always been lots of technology, but she’s right that a lot of students don’t know about technologies like delicious and a lot of students don’t seem to think about a lot about wikipedia.  They aren’t critical users.  Of course, most of what she seems to mean by students/young people is high school kids.
  • She makes also a reference to mashup culture and how a lot of students don’t seem to know much about that either– also true, I think.  I just came from teaching my 121 class (why I was late), where I am showing them the first part of RIP: A Remix Manifesto, and while it’s difficult for me to get a clear sense about what they thought about it today (didn’t have time to talk about it yet), I could tell that it was something different to them.  This “youth culture” of raves, remixes, mashups, internet culture, copyleft, etc. is probably a lot more tied to class and race than the proponents would like to admit and/or recognize.
  • “Is it the technology you’re against, or is it the things you are seeing that you are against?”  I agree with that too….
  • She told a story at the end that I thought was kind of interesting about how one group of Christian students she interviewed who thought that MySpace was a Christian web site.  boyd, obviously confused, asked why they thought that, and the students showed her that everyone they know had Christian stuff on their web site. That seems to me to undercut part of her argument a bit in that what it suggests it that users can take this giant world like MySpace and completely misinterpret it to match up with their own world views.
  • Cliff Lampe offered a pretty good response to a lot of boyd’s points; I’ll need to look him up on this.  Lampe suggests that students are using Facebook to collaborate a lot, while professors are not a part of that.  I think it’s not so much that professors are not involved in student collaboration as much as they are left out.  Or maybe a better way of putting it is students and professors both kind of need their own space, so if my students are using Facebook to collaborate with each other and are leaving me out of it, I think that’s awesome.
  • Libby Hemphill talked mostly about the problems of getting data on this, which I think is very true….
  • Ed  Vielmenti Vielmetti talked a bit about the way that the migration from one service to another is often a lot more about particular histories (a server broke, etc.) personalities (people have fights and split up groups), a whole group just moves from a mailing list, etc.  I don’t disagree with this, but that doesn’t discount completely boyd’s argument either.
  • To be honest, I got sort of distracted during John Seely Brown’s remarks by a really useful twitter post with this:  “@misterkrot: Interesting that the panel on youth use of social media has nobody under 30 on it.”

And then they kinda chatted.  One thing that I thought was interesting at the end:  boyd talked about how she started blogging because she wanted to take an independent study from a Religion professor who moved away and she wanted to post those texts online.

All in all, a pretty good talk and event.  I do think though that it is weird to have a talk about youth, class and social networks in this very fancy palace of an ivory tower and with (mostly) kind of old, rich, white people.

This doesn’t make me a jerk, does it?

So, on one of my many errands today, I was in the Food (W)hole with a cart full of provisions– not a mountain of shopping (that would come later at Costco), but a fair amount.  I was searching for an open line, I found one where the purchase was winding down, so I jumped in.  As I’m putting my stuff up on the belt, I notice behind me an older man (60s?) standing behind me holding a carton of self-serve soup and giving me a look of ‘tude.

Now, in my defense, 1) I am (almost) certain that I didn’t cut this guy off in getting to the line; 2) while I clearly had more than him, I did not have an extreme amount of stuff, and 3) I’ve got places to go to0, and hey, you shoulda hustled.  Anyway, as this goes along, the dude is still giving me the evil eye (or perhaps I was just projecting that, I’m unsure), so as I was paying, I mumbled something like “Jeez, I guess I should have let you go ahead of me.”  Which, to be completely honest, I didn’t really mean– see my previously offered defense.

So I ask you:  I wasn’t too big of a jerk here, was I?  Or maybe– just maybe– maybe it was the soup guy who was the jerk because he was trying to make me feel bad with his evil stare and sigh!  Yeah!

Wild thing, I think I love you…

This evening, Annette and Will and I went to see a special showing of Where the Wild Things Are, which was a fundraiser for the very excellent 826 Michigan. It was a fantastic event.  We were at the Michigan Theater far too early (5:30-ish) because it was a sell-out and we wanted to make sure that all of our ducks were in a row.  There was already a good 40 or so people in line all waiting for their “will call” tickets when some semi-official person came out and told the crowd that no one with a cell phone that could take a photo would be admitted.  My plans to take a series of still pictures of the movie from my iPhone was thwarted.  Of course, while in the theater and during the movie, I saw PLENTY of people with iPhones and cell phones, but never mind that.

Anyway, after a quick dinner, we got ourselves situated in our seats and enjoyed Michigan Theater organ music.  The movie was a sell-out, but not completely; the balcony was closed, as was the back part of the main level.  I overheard someone who seemed to know what they were talking about who said something about how Warner Brothers (the movie’s distributor) set some pretty strict limits on how many people could attend these preview screenings.  Still, I’ll bet there was close to 1,000 people there.

After some introductions about 826 Michigan, Dave Eggers and Amy Sumerton (who is the program director person for 826) came out for a little small-talk and Q&A about various things about the movie.  My favorite question was actually asked by my wife, who asked what did Maurice Sendak think about all of this.  Apparently, Spike Jonze (the movie’s director and co-writer with Eggers) has known Sendak for quite a while, and he gained Sendak’s blessing for making the movie.  Eggers also said that Sendak was involved in the process pretty much throughout, from commenting on aspects of the script to the film itself.

Then FINALLY, showtime, after a rather amusing little short film with Sendak telling a story about himself attending the World’s Fair back in the 1930s.  A short review and some very modest spoilers after the jump, but I will say this:  it’s a great, beautiful, complex movie, and one well worth seeing on the big screen.  Apparently, there is an IMAX version, and I could see that being worth the experience.

Continue reading “Wild thing, I think I love you…”

digital_nation looks like a cool resource; on the other hand…

Via this post on Henry Jenkins’ blog (who is moving his blog to his new digs at USC– hopefully this address will stay the same with no problems) comes information and a recommendation for “digital_nation:  Life on the Virtual Frontier” from PBS’ Frontline. It looks cool; I’m not sure if it’s aired yet or not, but there are some interesting video clips.  It could be good for 516, and even for the first year writing class I’m teaching right now where there are some students working on social networks for their research projects.

On the other hand, I have to say that I’m not entirely a fan of some of the people featured here.  For example, I personally have yet to be convinced that danah boyd’s work youth culture online is based on anything beyond common sense, her own gut feeling, and some experiences talking with kids.  Maybe her talk at U of M in a couple of weeks will change my mind.  And I think that Marc Prensky’s idea of “digital natives” is pretty much wrong in all sorts of ways.  But hey, these are the folks that PBS is talking to, and these are the folks who are leading, for better or worse.  And even if I think they’re wrong, they’re still interesting.