Call for Blogs

This fall, I’ll be teaching an Introduction to Autobiography course, a course I pushed through curriculum last year after we did a year-long survey of students to find out classes might interest them.  Our thought was to add spice to our standard survey and introduction to literature offerings to take advantage of the increase in enrollment (and, not incidentally, get back the many students who were using Art History and Communication courses to fulfill their general education Humanities’ requirement). 

[In case you’re interested, the most requested course idea was The Bible as Literature, but the one faculty member in our department willing and able to teach such a course, put it off another year, understandably,  after a few over the top fundamentalist students acted out on campus last year (remember my colleague’s student who would bring a cross and rosary beads to class, praying with them as s/he lectured?) ]

So, autobiography.  It’s been a challenge creating this 10-week course for non-majors, since there is so much I want to do, but I don’t want to terrify them–I want them to enjoy the immersion in this contradictory genre. 

Here’s what I have planned, and yes, it’s ambitious:  After an initial discussion of exactly what autobiography IS, we’ll start with an historical overview and an introduction to some of the theoretical debates and different modes of the genre. Students will read excerpts from several historical autobiographies, two full-length childhood-centered contemporary memoirs, a graphic memoir (Persepolis and excerpts from Maus and Fun Home), and about a dozen excerpts from other contemporary memoirs on subjects ranging from addiction to religion (I know, a risk).  We’ll also spend time on other modes of autobiography such as audio/video, diaries and letters, and blogs. [One final project choice is, indeed, for students to keep a blog all term.]

Here’s where I hope you all come in.  I need me some blogs. Yes, I read dozens of blogs each week, all neatly alphabetized in my Google Reader, but they are all, you know, about academics.  I know that Roxie’s typist is having her students read her own blog for her course this fall on blogging (which I can’t wait to read about), but no, I won’t be offering up this particular blog for their reading pleasure. Besides, I want them to discover blogs that are personal (so not just politics or celebrity gossip) but also of interest to them.

Have any ideas for blogs that are autobiographical in nature and that might appeal to our non-traditional students, ages 16-65? Is there an index of sorts I could direct students to? Please let me know in the comments.

Kindle Update: My new chocolate Kindle cover has a paperback book inside it now since it looked so sad, so lonely.  Estimated delivery of the new Kindle itself  is now mid-late September.


So, this quarter, I read 4 student researched essays on the popularity of Facebook or Twitter.  All four were excellent: good research, thoughtful analysis of the causes and effects (without going into the usual “the world will end” or “this stuff is awesome” conclusion that often sometimes happens with cause/effect analysis essays).

The students who focused on Twitter both joined Twitter as part of their “research” and they convinced me to join, too (the fact that Rosemary Feal of the MLA is twittering in anticipation of the convention this year also enticed me to join). 

Both students noted the phenomenon of odd strangers “following” them, and that most of the tweets were the usual Facebook-like status updates about Seinfeldian nothingness.  One student concluded that Twitter seemed to be more common with “older” people (you know, those of us older than 25) than with people his age (18ish) and that they used Twitter to connect on professional issues or to keep up with whatever sort of news that interested them.

Since I told both students I had joined  Twitter, and showed them my home page (or whatever it’s called), they both “interviewed” me, novice user, as part of their research, pointing out with some glee that after 3 months I only had 3 followers, and only followed 6 others, 5 of them professionally-related organizations, including the MLA.  {Note: neither student asked to follow me, thankfully.}

So, what have I concluded about Twitter? Well, it is amusing to read Rosemary’s tweets promoting the convention (see the Hurston film! buy the cool MLA t-shirts! go to this panel!). And I can see instant updates from The Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed.  And my one friend is quite witty with her tweets.

But  in all of those cases, I’d much prefer to read the blogs: I can read a more detailed overview of a Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed story in Google Reader; I can find out more about my friend’s subway incident on her Facebook page; and Rosemary can give a much more vivid sense of what is happening in Philly during the convention on the convention blog she promises to do again this year.  140 characters can point elsewhere or provide a quick moment of wit, but no, it doesn’t quite satisfy.

Since I so rarely remember to check Twitter, I decided to read Rosemary’s tweets the old fashioned way: by subscribing to them in Google Reader.

Twitter: Twitterdee or Twitterdum? Discuss (in more than 140 characters, please).

It MUST Be A Class Assignment

Suddenly, MANY dozens of people are visiting my humble blog and finding me through a search for “Debra Winger” or “Richard Gere” or “An Officer and a Gentleman” or some combination of the above (with a lovely variety of creative spellings).

This happened after I posted the e.e. cummings-like poem many moons ago, too.

I get the cummings-related visits (heck, I, too,  wrote a paper on “anyone lives in a pretty how town” when I was in college), but what’s with the sudden interest in Winger, Gere and Officer? What paper topic could be generating the hits? Something like this, perhaps?

  • Write an essay evaluating the class dynamics, dialogue and sex scenes in this film in contrast to  the same elements in Pretty Women or Urban Cowboy?

Or, and this I fear, is someone actually thinking of remaking the film?

Multiple Blogiality Disorder

Last December I gave a lecture on Oprah’s Book Club, and based on my emphatically positive spin on the Oprah Effect, I was recruited by an eager colleague to assist in starting a faculty and staff blog: a public space for our rapidly growing institution to remind each other who we are and what we do.

We’ve been active for a few months now: our small blog task force has reached out to those faculty and staff members who we think might have something interesting to write about (and who might actually want to take time out of their busy daily lives to do so).

Based on the blog stats, people are reading these postings (with truly novel takes on subjects such as post- modernity, social networking,  soap and chemistry, and “generation me”).   One faculty member “outed” herself as an anonymous blogger of mostly mother and teaching related reflections when she agreed to cross post on our college blog. Another faculty member who posted is also a blogger, but not an anonymous one: she links to both blogs on Facebook, and enjoys the cross pollination of the various public forums.

This week, for the college blog, we are encouraging faculty and staff to submit their summer reading lists.  I am getting some interesting titles, but not as many as I’d hoped.

Despite a slow start, it’s been rewarding starting this new blog—which has yet to really find its footing.  Is the college blog a public relations tool of sorts (not that the PR folks are selling it in any way), or is it just another form of a “Water Cooler” that we have on our internal e-mail system? Right now, it seems to be the latter, but what is most interesting is that because I am one of the public faces of this new blog, I am often confused as the writer of many of the postings—folks stop by on campus to thank me for my interesting posts about Facebook or teaching, and I have to stop and remember that they mean my colleagues’ posts on the college blog (not Annie Em’s posts on those same subjects).

It’s a little unnerving.

This blog, too, is still trying to find its niche: partly educational, partly self reflection, partly a pastiche of links that amuse me.  But that’s ok.  I’ll keep writing and see where it goes.  While I don’t have the talent to write stories like TK,  or the charm to blog on life like Inky, or the wit of Acadamnit, I enjoy the process of writing a blog posting.  Tenured Radical (a rather well-known blogger) has a thoughtful recent 400th posting where she reflects upon her rather satisfying “career” as a blogger, a public intellectual of the 21st century.

That’s a marvelous goal, to be a public intellectual.

One of my students this term came to chat with me about that: he wants to be a public intellectual when he grows up (he’s 22) and asked me what he should major in!  I was truly at a loss. What would you have said?

Since he was sitting there in my soon to be small, old office, waiting for me to give him advice, I ultimately said something, though it probably sounded like a rambling list to the poor guy:  I said that it didn’t matter what he majored in, as long as he took a variety of classes, challenging classes, too.  I said it was probably more important that he write and participate in conversations as often as possible.  That he travel and become involved in the world around him. I gave him a list of titles of books by writers I consider to be public intellectuals, and encouraged him to take classes with professors on campus who I think would be possible mentors for him.

And then I said I hoped we could chat again someday after spring term when my brain was not quite as mushy.

I hope he does stop by to chat next week after he hands in his research paper (an approach on a topic that is, of course, original and challenging).  Maybe I’ll tell him to start a blog.

On Blogrolls and Sitemeters

Here’s a possibly naïve bloggy etiquette question:  should I ask, or, at the very least, inform, those bloggers whose blogs I add to my Blogroll?  WordPress bloggers are notified when they are blogrolled, but it’s not clear to me if other blog writers I link to are notified.  [Note to self: read up on Pings and Trackbacks-they may be my solution.] Of course, why wouldn’t a blogger want the exposure (however limited) of a link? I suppose, however, that I would like to be informed if someone linked to me (or even actually READ my blog, but that’s another issue), so my pre-New Year’s resolution is to contact the bloggers I’ve linked to and actually request permission. Until then, I will suspend adding to my blogroll (though, to  the many who are not yet included, please be patient).

I do find it intriguing that WordPress asks me whether the blog is written by a friend or a lover or a colleague, or if I just have a crush on the writer! [To read more about what WordPress calls “Defining Relationships”, go here.] What exactly is the point of that? Is that information then made public?  Of course I have crushes on some of the bloggers I read: intellectual crushes, rather than physical, since I haven’t actually met most of them.   I fall for a finely wrought sentence, a sharp wit: a lively, engaging writing style simply makes me melt.   And while I will praise their writing in public,  I think identifying my interest as a CRUSH is problematic, to say the least. 

There are so many reasons why such a tag could get me, and possibly the targeted blogger, in trouble (note even the word “targeted” is so aggressive and hostile).  The Oxford dictionary definition and illustration is very interesting:

Crush (noun)

A person with whom one is enamoured or infatuated; an infatuation; so to have or get a crush on, to be enamoured of, take a strong fancy to. slang (orig. U.S.).

1884 I. M. RITTENHOUSE Maud (1939) 338 Wintie is weeping because her crush is gone. 1895 J. S. WOOD Yale Yarns 153 Miss Palfrey..consented to wear his bunch of blue violets. It was a ‘crush’, you see, on both sides. 1913 Dialect Notes IV. 10 (Have a) crush (on), to be conspicuously attached to some one. 1914 G. ATHERTON Perch of Devil I. 31 Some of the younger married women..get a crush on some other woman’s husband. Ibid. 186 To be jealous you’ve got to have a fearful crush. 1928 Punch 2 May 484/1 Gervase and Pontefract had had a quiet sort of masculine crush on Joyce for some time. 1929 JELLIFFE & WHITE Dis. Nervous Syst. (ed. 5) iii. 335 They tend to be aggressive, domineering and often play the man role with their schoolmates, or ‘crushes’. 1952 V. GOLLANCZ My dear Timothy 212 It is common to make fun of schoolboy and schoolgirl ‘pashes’ and ‘crushes’.

I like “Gervase and Pontefract had had a quiet sort of masculine crush on Joyce for some time”: I assume that is the equivalent of my feeble “intellectual crush”, but perhaps not?  We need a better term, like “crushiness” (aka Colbert’s “truthiness”).

This from the Online Etymology Dictionary clarifies the connection between gnashing teeth and infatuation (really, they are not dissimilar at all):


1398, from O.Fr. croisir “to gnash (teeth), crash, break,” perhaps from Frank. *krostjan “to gnash.” Sense of “person one is infatuated with” is first recorded 1884; to have a crush on is from 1913.

For now, I will not identify any of the bloggers I link to as either an intellectual and/or physical “crush”-it may be best to remain mysterious about that and let them figure it out in other ways. 

On a very related note, I also recently discovered (the ongoing revelations after deciding to begin a blog are relentless) the sitemeter or blog stats revealing who is visiting your blog. Call me naïve (will do, Dr. Naïve) but I had no idea that they reveal how often you visit a particular blog, how long you lurk,  and, and this hurts, the location of your Internet service provider (and thus, potentially, YOU). 

In my defense…..

To those of you who may have noticed me lurking on your blog a bit too often, please let me argue that in my defense I am at the computer for at least 8 hours a day, leaving it on, with all its various “windows” open, even when in class or at meetings.  I am really, truly not actually lurking for hours at a time in your blog!  It definitely does NOT mean I have a crush on you (or that I even like your blog: it may mean it’s taking me way too long to get through the less than stellar sentences or the tedious analysis of a ho-hum, at least to me, subject).  Or, it may mean I actually love reading your blog and I’m trying to catch up by reading older posts.

I need distractions at work, especially when students don’t seem to be distracting me: I’m a multi-tasker at heart (see Nov. 23 posting).

End of protesting too much….

In fact, I’ll just end it with that.

Addendum: It looks like Crooked Timber has already covered the “blogcrush” territory. Check it out here.