An Entry on the No Entries Motive

Hmm….you wouldn’t know it, but I
write the blog all day long with varied and deep and sprawling observations,
reflections, brainstorms, commentaries, speeches Dusty Baker needs to give his
hapless team, solutions for the English Education quandaries, and more, more,
more. But none of it ever seems to make its way into this blog. It’s time for
an entry on why, though I can’t quite seem to nail it, and so I delay. But here’s
a partial list:

  • Publication Anxieties: There are many kinds of publication
    anxieties, but I’ll focus on the fear associated with the "public representation
    of one’s writing." I know blogging is supposed to be free and casual,
    "your mind on the Web," your un-spell-checked, un-filtered, un-labored-over
    phenomenological stream and such, but who can be so un-fettered, un-revised,
    un-artificial as all that?
  • Loneliness/Privacy: These are opposite pulls. Blogging
    can be so lonely…. There you are, putting your Wisdom o’ Life out there,
    and there it goes, unread, ignored. On the other hand, if the blogging is
    going well, it can get pretty close to the core, so KEEP OUT!
  • Trajectory of An Idea: One thing leads to another, till
    it circles back into the Totality of Everything. I start planning these little
    blogs, each of which connects to all these other thoughts, each of which summons
    a plan for new entries. There’s always a master plan lurking. Ah, master plans:
    the motive of all possibilities and nothingness. Coleridge was right: Extremes
    do meet.
  • Violating Communication Privilege: This problem originated
    as the simple ethical problem of quoting a friend’s email. It’s really wrong
    to take a friend’s or colleague’s or student’s message and post it on a Web
    site without permission, but the delay of the process, and/or the possibility
    of denial takes all the fun and spontaneity out the whole blog experience.
    Now the problem has expanded into another area. For lately, I’ve felt the
    urge to post email that I’VE composed and sent to friends, students, colleagues.
    Even though I am the "owner" and author of the text, I feel it’s
    a violation to take a message crafted and intended for an individual and re-use
    it for a larger audience. (But so much of our language is re-usable!) So I
    start to wonder: To what extent was the original message itself "dictated"
    by the needs of this alterior/ulterior? rhetorical situation? Just when did
    the thinking that this message might be "re-usable" start creeping
    in? As rhetorical motives flit about during communication, just how do we
    go about sorting through purposes, audiences, and situations? So typically,
    I throw up my hands; I just sit on it, and ignore the whole thing, sigh…
  • Get a Life: This journaling, while the best of all things
    (to a teacher of writing…process, process, process…archive, archive, archive,
    which leads to more process, process, process) threatens to take over….
    I mean, who has the time?
  • Who the hell cares? I mean, people around me–at home,
    at work, in the community, everywhere–are kind and caring and generous–and
    would read anything I put before them in a heartbeat, but should they really
    be subjected to "inhabit my sprawl"? I mean, we all enjoy our OWN
    sprawl, and it is, to quote Smeagol, "our precious"…but take that
    sprawl out of context, and talk about BORING! Hmm…the sprawl as ring…now
    there’s an idea! Keep posted….
  • Perpetual Unfinishedness: Living la vida blog, womb-bred
    blogging–authenticity in blogging–requires comfort with–no, an inhabitation
    of–the attitude of perpetual unfinishedness. Got an idea? Feel a need to
    understand it? to know it? to work with it? to move on with it? Go write a
    final draft. Get thee to a five-paragraph essay! Hence from the blog and blogging
    company! In fragments and false starts and partial finishes and ellipsis marks
    and the perpetual endlessness of things we trust, kinda…

Definitions (Internet Humor)

From my brother Michael, my chief supplier of Internet humor:


Arbitrator: A cook that leaves Arby’s to work at McDonald’s.
Avoidable: What a bullfighter tries to do.
Bernadette: The act of torching a mortgage
Burglarize: What a crook sees with
Control: A short, ugly inmate
Counterfeiters: Workers who put together kitchen cabinets
Eclipse: what an English barber does for a living
Eyedropper: a clumsy ophthalmologist
Heroes: what a guy in a boat does
Left Bank: what the robber did when his bag was full of loot
Misty: How golfers create divots
Paradox: two physicians
Parasites: what you see from the top of the Eiffel Tower
Pharmacist: a helper on the farm
Polarize: what penguins see with
Primate: removing your spouse from in front of the TV
Relief: what trees do in the spring
Rubberneck: what you do to relax your wife
Seamstress: describes 250 pounds in a size 6
Selfish: what the owner of a seafood store does
Sudafed: brought litigation against a government official

The Evolution of the English Education Site

This has been my summer of Drupal ( Never quite thought I’d ever say that.

I heard about Drupal some time ago, but I didn’t want to be bothered with it. “Another magical solution to X, Y, and Z…blah, blah, blah.” Drupal could make it easy for users to put up material on the Web quickly, collaboratively, and easily–that’s true, but lately, you see, I’ve been somewhat committed to the notion of “Web Literacy for All…” I’ve come to see courseware like Blackboard as ultimately disenfranchising users from full participation in Internet communication. It puts you on kinda a welfare state, alienates you from your content, mystifies you with its processes, forces you into ill-fitting templates, and ultimately discourages you from using the Web for your own and new, unforeseeable purposes. Over the years, I thought Ronan, from the TechRhet listserv, put it best in his quasi-Orphic pronouncement: “Courseware sucks.” And Drupal to me seemed to be yet another version of courseware–making powerful features “easy”–but still, somehow, mystifying, contorting, and disempowering users….

Then on TechRhet this summer, one colleague put out a query asking people what they might use for an information-sharing site for his whole department–a site where faculty could all post syllabi, assignments, etc.–for sharing, discussing, group authoring, etc. The colleague said he had started the project using Drupal–and he seemed happy with it–but he just wanted to know what others were doing for similar tasks. So, of course, I took a look at his site,, which is a resource site for teachers of First-Year Composition–and I was intrigued.

So I downloaded Drupal, installed it on the English server, and started tinkering. And I was more intrigued. For I soon enough came to see a false “either-or” in my thinking: EITHER “Web Literacy for All” OR “Courseware.” Clearly, we need both. :)

What Drupal adds is powerful inter-activity and dynamic re-configurability of data and uploaded Web content. Here’s how they describe it at

Drupal is an open-source platform and content management system for building dynamic web sites offering a broad range of features and services including user administration, publishing workflow, discussion capabilities, news aggregation, metadata functionalities using controlled vocabularies and XML publishing for content sharing purposes. Equipped with a powerful blend of features and configurability, Drupal can support a diverse range of web projects ranging from personal weblogs to large community-driven sites.

Diversity (of projects) is the thing that most jumps out at me right now. At first I couldn’t quite figure out what the specific application of Drupal might be. Now that I’ve “lived with” the software for a few weeks, I’m beginning to see applications arising left and right.

[Minor rant:] This “emergence of purpose” phenomenon is another example of me pursuing a project without really knowing the goal. As Michael Fullan says, “vision and strategic planning come later”…. What I’m getting at is my old complaint against the ASSESSMENT CULTURE–which insists on measuring progress toward KNOWN GOALS, and doing so from the onset and regular intervals. That’s all well and good. But it misses the point of (or casts an aspersion on?) the indirectness of wondering/wandering–which is the source of so much of my best learning. Goal-directedness and benchmark measurement are fine and good–but they tend (kinda like the Five-Paragraph Essay in high school composition instruction) to TAKE OVER THE WHOLE WORLD once they are let loose. They’re good ideas run amuck. Keeping the things, and keeping them in trim–getting the proportion right–that’s the trick. [End rant]

More valuable to me than even “diversity of projects” are Drupal’s features of group authoring, searchability, re-configurability, and meta-data tagging. These features will make it possible to put the latest English Education news all online easily and consistently–and all gathered and organized in one place. I’m not sure it’ll work, but I’m going to give it a try. The prospect of managing a massive information site like an English Education site has always daunted me in the past. I knew our program needed such a site, but it needed a good one. I knew I could build a good one, but I never had confidence in my ability to maintain one. For those of you who have build Web sites can relate: Adjusting a complex site, like an information-rich program site, is much like renovating a house of cards…you know what the outcome should look like, but getting things there in one piece is quite another matter.

I’ve begun contemplating running my courses out of the EE site, or a different Drupal installation; I have to experiment more. But Drupal allows for the threaded discussion boards I use for my students’ reading journals. I just have some questions about privacy; does Drupal allow for private discussion boards? Even if it doesn’t, I should be able to password protect parts in the traditional Apache way. Anyway….

I would like to simplify the technology experience of my students, so I’m thinking I may not use Blackboard for the course sites. If I could centralize everything in Drupal–i.e., the EE site, my students would be sure to get all the relevant info posted there–and have, in essence, a “one-stop shop.” Drupal and their own Webfolios; that would be enough technology; none of it would conflict with Blackboard; in fact, we could provide useful links to Blackboard and other SXU academic sites. More to follow….(for example the actual address of the English Education Web Site, which is not quite ready for public viewing… :) )

On Blogging, False Starts, Negative Capability, Hopes…

It’s safe to say that my worst blogging fears have been realized. :) I started blogging last summer when I was nearing the completion of my online dossier, but I was worried I would start off with a bang and then just let the thing go…. I had good intentions, but after a few intense posts, I hit a minor roadblock, and never bothered to find a way around it. And now I’m here with my second blogging foray, a year later.

I wonder: Just how many hell-paved roads of good intentions by me and others have been barricaded by such minor inconveniences?

Could it be that my motivation is not pure? That I’m not a genuine blogger, with blogging in the bones? That blogging is an exercise for me that I’m trying on, but don’t really “feel it” the way true believers do, the way that those who have blogged in the womb do? Such a question seems appropriate to ask at at a time like this.

One of my motivations for coming back here, I’ll confess, is blatantly impure: For, from my students I found how effective “impure blogging” can be. I coerced my methods students last semester to keep a blog, and I was so inspired–maybe not always by what they wrote, but by the possibilities unveiled by what and how they wrote. They wrote their blogs as an assignment, under the threat of some kind of eventual grade–but still there is some meatiness, some soul, some blogging essence there. If they could do it and produce some valuable results….

Another opening thought–a technology lesson here: Yes, this is my second attempt in actual blog writing, but blogging is something that has been rolling over in my mind for at least three years now, since Megan Hughes and I first heard about it at a conference at Northern Illinios University. Meg was mildly intrigued, and came right back and started her own blog. And I pledged to myself to think about it. There is much to say and enjoy about Meg’s wry sense of humor in those early postings, as she quizzically relayed both the importance and silliness of the new medium. But my point here is about process. The blog that you are reading here started then, and needed all the intervening time and false starts and ephemeral ruminations. I find that ALL worthwhile technology projects for me require a similar process of “living with” an idea, a set of possibilities, several trials by error. Technology demands a coming to it on its terms–a submission–a type of “Negative Capability,” to put it in the Keatsian terms that appeals so to my English bones and breeding. Technology, when it fascinates me, does so because of the lessons about learning, life, and process it sets into motion. I think that many people who have antipathy for technology do so on this level: the technology is requiring a “living with,” a process, a reflective approach to purposes and methods–whereas the individual just wants to get something done, and on his or her terms. The individual is not looking for a “living with” (as in “inhabit the sprawl”)–he or she just wants to write a memo, send an email, crop a picture–just get something done.

SO…what was that road block in August of 2003? It was a copyright, intellectual property, decency in friendship issue. My friend and mentor, Julie McNellis, and I had been corresponding about my online dossier–its process, its lessons, its potential as an example, etc. A spat of emails were filled with “oh-oh-oh” moments, as we looked ahead and schemed. So in my enthusiasm, I just wanted to copy and paste letter after letter into the blog. But even then, I knew better. But to ask for permission? Julie would give it in a heartbeat, but that heartbeat might take a week or so to communicate. Another technology lesson: The slightest inconvenience is a deal-breaker. Or conversely, the great convenience of email and Web access is the tech deal-maker of all time.

Another reason for my blogging false start of last year: I didn’t have the GREAT bBlog software that I now have. bBlog is now installed on the English server, and its features provide the missing ingredients whose absence left last year’s experience hollow or incomplete. bBlog enables sorting and meta-tagging of entries. Now a blogger can grow a set of reflections over time in categories. Thus, with a little planning, the blogger can create an organized archive. My excitement for the central English Education assignment–the Programmatic Agenda–grows and grows at the thought of students being able to record their reflections, learning, information, Web sites, etc. in easily-sorted categories.

Anyway, the thing is started again. May it flourish!