Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Communing with nature

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Tonight I saw the sunset.

The temperature was much warmer today and I went outside seeking relief from the heavy heat inside. This time I had no blanket, but was not cold. The wind was flirtatious, at times coming on strong, massaging my whole body, then withdrawing to nothing but a light tickle about the face and neck.

The sun was a low, ill-defined orange ball. It was the same sun I’ve seen set many times over various bodies of water – Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Superior, the Detroit River (you can tell I’m from Ontario…) But I haven’t seen it go down over the Georgia Straight, while sitting on a bench, caressed by the wind, reading Marx’s Capital Vol. 1 (Ch. 15). It was nice.

An aside: last night I dreamed I was blogging. Let me clarify: I wasn’t dreaming about blogging; I experienced my dream as if I were writing a blog post. I dreamed through the device or act of blogging. So far, I’ve dreamed “in game” – again, unconscious experience mediated through metaphor of gaming. Also I have dreamed I’ve been instant messaging someone – communication twice removed (first through IM, second through the dream, or vice versa). Now it is the blog that is enframing my unconscious self. Goddess help me.

Parksville or bust

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

I am sitting on a log, on the beach, looking upon the ocean. Well, the Georgia Straight. Same diff. It is sunset. I came out just to catch it, because the house I’m staying at in Parksville overlooks this vista, and it seems like something I should do. Also, my kid was out here last night, and I wanted to see what he saw, if that makes any sense.

When I first came out, in my jams, with my tea (Twinings Earl Grey) and an afghan wrapped around my body, I immediately went back inside. I was looking for the camera because I figured, if I was going to see this ocean sunset, and it was going to be as beautiful as everyone would have imagined, I should take a picture of it. You know, preserve the moment etc. etc.

But I couldn’t find it. So I grabbed the next best time-freezing technology, my iBook. And here I am, now sitting on a log, casting the occasional glance out to sea and the setting sun. On the horizon, mountains meet ocean; some clearly snow-capped. Oceanside sounds surround me: the white noise of the ever-moving mass of water before me; the raspy shifting of sand grasses; the occasional distant honk from a flock of geese; the worried cheeping of the Sandpiper who has a nest around here somewhere (saw the babies on the beach when the tide was out yesterday).

We spent most of the day on the beach. The kids had a blast – we barely moved 50 feet from the backyard. What with the tide pools (too many crabs to count), fresh water stream complete w/tadpoles, all those geese (I counted 96), a blue heron, terns, the aforementioned sandpiper and brood plus sand, all manner of rocks, driftwood logs, shells — well, the kids are in heaven. Their needs are so simple, really. A picnic of peanut butter sandwiches, fruit and juice and we were set.

It smells good out here; reminds me of northern Ontario, when my dad would take us kids camping to Lake Simcoe. OK, not so north, but out of the city, cottage country anyhow. For this city girl, it might as well have been Temagami (never mind Fort Severn!). I vaguely associate this outdoors smell with bug repellent, though it’s clear to me now that referent was misplaced.

So it was a good day, in all. The worst is trying to keep the children from destroying this nice house we’re staying in. It’s full of all these nicnacks and artwork from Indonesia or some such place. Already the daughter’s (non-exotic) fairy statue has been dropped and chipped. Not sure what to do about that one…

As I look out at the mountainscape, it appears that I missed the sunset. It’s just a diminishing line of dull orange, sinking deeper and deeper behind the mountains, and also into the sea. Gawd. I need to commune with Nature more.

An aside: I haven’t had wireless access. This was a rude shock, and has taken some adjustment. Have I become spoiled? As my friendly acquaintance Derek said the other day, what did I use my computer for before the Internet? Crazy (shaking my head). Obviously, there is a bit of a time lag with this post…

I dream of MMORPGs

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Tonight, in bed, my daughter said: “I have a ‘feeling ache’. I need some good energy, and some rest.”

And I’m all: I feel ya, sister. Then she passed out and I lay staring at the ceiling.

Why are kids so brilliant, and intuitive, and brilliantly intuitive?

Last night, I tossed and turned, all night it felt like. And as I roamed the bed, looking for space where a small foot or other body part was not draped across me or jabbing into me, I dreamt of MMORPGs. (Sara would be proud.) Oh? You don’t know what these are, you say? Well, why not come to my lecture on Friday about games? I didn’t know the first thing about why anybody would care about video or online games but guess what? I can give an entire 2nd year lecture on them. Now I dream about Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Games. In my dream, I’m in the game, looking for somewhere to sleep. How’s that for fucked up?

Maybe, one of these nights, I’ll get a restful sleep. I told KA I was plagued, in consciousness and unconsciousness. She said, by what? And really, it’s just life in general (as Depeche Mode would say).

My first computer dream (or you know you’re a nerd when…)

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Last night I had my first computer dream.

We’d had the neighbours over for some general relaxation and jovial imbibing. This while the children ran amok and tore the house apart. It was good times. Around 2 a.m. I awoke in some distress, with the sense of having been tossing and turning, as they say. My dream quickly returned to me:

I was (in my dream) documenting the night’s festivities on a wiki, complete with a table of contents, WikiWords and everything. The cause of my distress was that (in my dream) I was having trouble attaching some video taken during the night of the children and their antics (never really happened). I was having technical difficulties which, for any of you who know me, would be about par for the course (and yes, I’m aware of the irony).

Now, the day prior, I had just given my lecture on Networks, into which I’d miraculously managed to work wikis (thanks Rococo). And I’d been editing and uploading to our own class wiki that very day. So go figure. Dreams are not that subtle, Freud and his hangers-on notwithstanding.

I had to laugh at this dream – my life, my very thought process being mediated by the machine, being funneled and organized by a particular digital interface. This is funny and amazing to me. I’m thinking here (but only halfheartedly and vaguely) of Donna Haraway’s cyborg.

The dream itself I would categorize as a “stress” dream. You’ve had them. For example, a student’s stress dream is missing the exam, or waking up one day to find out you’re enrolled in a required course that you haven’t attended in two months. And it’s grade 13 French and you’re screwed. That’s one kind. Another kind is the “waitressing” dream. I’ve had so many of these in my decade or so of waiting tables. You’re “in the weeds”, having lost control of your section without even realizing it, and every customer wants to kill you. These are bad dreams, and they very nearly approximate real scenarios.

And now I’ve had my first computer dream. It’s not nearly as bad as the other types – not yet, anyhow. But not much is resting on my accumulation of geeky knowledge (who knows, maybe just my career?) Anyhow, Richard Smith would be proud. This is a man who, early on in our frienship said: “We’ll make a geek out of you yet.” To which I scoffed and guffawed. But secretly, I’m pleased…

Fashion vs. Ed Grimley: Academic smackdown

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Today it is raining – torential downpour-type rain. It began last night in a short, violent burst evocative of a monsoon. It cut the heat, sending a blissful wave of cool rolling across everything. Right now, it is raining hard and I love how people are walking around without umbrellas (myself included) – as if to say, no, we don’t really live in Vancouver; as if their denial of this moment will sustain the stretch of dry, mostly warm weather we’ve been relishing of late.

A thing on my mind lately is fashion (or lack thereof) in the academy. I know this is fairly unimportant, superficial, even. But when you’re surrounded by total fashion victims on a daily basis, it becomes a strangely pressing issue. I’m not kidding: I saw this guy the other day dressed like Ed Grimley.

Now I love Ed Grimley. He was my all time favourite on SCTV which I used to watch regularly with my friend KA, back when were 10 in her house on Wineva in the Beach. Those were the days of pay4view TV (KA’s dad had SuperChannel) and listening to Richard Pryor and the McKenzie Brothers (other SCTV alum) on record. The early 80s were good times – innocent times – no matter what anyone says.

But I don’t think anyone in real life should dress like Ed Grimley. Not only is it aesthetically disturbing, it also looks to be uncomfortable. And so to my mind, wrong. Often, on my way to the School of Communication I take the less travelled path – through a lower level of the Schrum Building. It is one long corridor that streches on and on, eventually ending at our school. This corridor passes through possibly the nerdiest departments at SFU: physics, biology, chemistry. At the beginning of this tunnel of fashion devastation, is the office of one prof who is, in fact, stylish. Not just stylish, but almost couture. I first saw this physics prof in line at the coffee shop. I commented on her shoes – some very funky pumps that I’m sure had never set foot in a university before this woman brought them there. After I’d gotten my coffee, I made my way, via this less travelled path, to the Grad Lounge. And I was behind this woman all the way. That’s how I know where her office is. I’ve seen her since, here and there on campus. And you know, she kicks it every time, with the most unlikely but totally awesome ensembles. Now every time I pass through Physics, I keep my eye out for her, just to see what she’s wearing that day.

I’m not saying academics need to go to this length (although I certainly appreciate it). But there should be an aesthetic standard; or if not standard, at least not acquiesence to the stereotype of befuddled, carelessly attired professor. Why? Simply because it’s unnecessary. And it can be depressing. I have to say that our school is fairly fresh (if not fashion forward). There are a number of young profs who are mildly to moderately aware of or concerned with what they wear. And of course, their is our fearless fashion leader, the school’s director, Martin Laba. He carries the torch for our school and I, for one, am grateful.

That’s all I’m saying.

A beautiful day in the neighbourhood

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Today is a beautiful day in Van. As I walked to the skytrain this morning, I paused mid-sidewalk to absorb the sun. My friend’s dad said I’m not getting any real immediate benefits from Vitamin D but I *believe* this to be true nonetheless. So I absorb my sunlight, and my vitamin D, and I feel myself grow a little bit, like a plant. And then I continue walking. Incidentally, the sights and sounds of my corner – Commercial Drive and Broadway (basically) are not so life-affirming – typically sirens of various sorts, the emergency vehicles careening by, cars frantically pulling to the side (or not – some like to try to outrun the firetrucks etc.), and also garbage, assorted motley crews sitting on patios, waiting for buses or just hanging about, sometimes asking for money or selling drugs. But for all these attributes of downtown, it isn’t – closer to suburban hell, but not that either.

Anyhow. I digress. About the weather. Vancouverites tolerate the rain rather well, I think. It takes a lot (like 29 days of nonstop rain) to get them to complain about it. Mostly, it’s not discussed. On the other hand, a mild summer day, with a weak sun and a cool breeze, is the perfect weather here, and people will not stop raving about such a day. It’s all people will mention, all day long. But like too much rain, there’s such a thing as too much heat in this town. The difference is the threshold. Like today, for example. It was 23 C, but felt much warmer (indeed, the rumour I heard was 30). On Burnaby Mountain, of course, it’s always a couple degrees cooler. And even so, on my way to the gym, I heard one of those “in passing” conversations – you know, not just a “hello” but also some minimal banal exchange. The subject? How it was too hot!! Said with disproval and a touch of indignation.

Too funny… I knew there were some things that I liked about this town. This cantankerousness is right up my alley.

What’s with the old dogs…

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

At the risk of sounding ageist, what’s with the old dogs in the academy? Ha, you’re thinking, the age old question!

Indeed. In their recent journal article No Time to Think, Heather Menzies and Janice Newson contend that “technology, far from freeing up academics’ time, has compressed it to stressful levels” endangering the university as a “site of critical and creative reflection.” Their findings? 58% of respondents find it harder to focus; 51% don’t have enough “time to think” and 42% said they are more susceptible to being distracted by the information and communication coming at them.

No shit. These findings reinforce what I have gathered, learned anecdotally, and have begun to experience in my training for the venerable position of professor. The authors attribute this state to the shift to the “new, technologically enhanced work environment”, wherein academics are regularly online with colleagues, students, and research subjects and partners.

The problem with this article, as I see it, is the conflation of technology with the corporatization of the academy, and the blaming of the former for the deterioration of post-secondary education. To their credit, the authors acknowledge the commercialization of the academy, which began with severe funding cutbacks in the 1970s, and the ensuing repositioning of universities as more business-friendly. One result of this has been the “wired campus”. But in addition to reporting the (seemingly natural) outcome of higher stress due to fewer faculty members and increased work loads, as well as instant access via the internet, this study appears to be blaming ICTs for academics “not reading as deeply and reflectively as they use to, or as they’d like to.”

Hello! That’s a bit of a stretch. I have the internet, so I can’t concentrate, can’t think deeply? My students can access me 24/7 (though I’m under no obligation to respond in kind, and can, in fact, set strict parameters around this), and that’s why I do shitty research. Sorry, I don’t buy it. I don’t dispute the findings; I do take issue with where the authors lay the blame: technology. It’s too simple and too easy to blame this new technological dystopia that campus life and work has become.

Despite this fairly uncritical, determinst approach (technology ruined my life, waaahhh…), the study also only surveys 80 faculty members from across the country. While I think this is a fairly small sample, and hardly representative for all the fuss it’s causing, what I’d really like to know is their age. And does this technological anomie correspond to where these academics came in on the IT learning curve? For those of us who don’t know any different, I wonder if this encroachment of communication technology is so devastating. I don’t think that technology and critical pedagogy are mutually exclusive. Why on earth would Menzies and Newson assume this; it’s a flawed premise, and it has skewed their conclusions. Why would my use of technology as a professor mean that I “fail to challenge and provide an altenrative to students’ self-reported ‘consumerist’ approach to education…” Why would it preclude or threaten necessarily “sustained dialogue in leanring communities and asking questions about the long-term public good.”

There is definitely a problem in post-secondary education. But it’s not technology. Try looking at the people behind it, beginning with those who talk about university degrees as commodities, and students as consumers. Just for starters.

Telling like it is

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

I met with Feenberg today to discuss my revised chapter for the ACT book, working title, (Re)Inventing the Internet. I knew his edit was going to be heavy – he’d already told me there were problems with my academic writing style. Today, he was unambiguous: I am sloppy. Or my writing is, anyway (I, in fact, border on neat freakishness). So he did a tonne of editing and bascially cleaned the thing up for publication. I couldn’t help smiling as he was offering up his criticisms of my work. I just thought it was funny to hear such harsh criticism delivered in so amicable a fashion. It’s funny to sit there and have someone tell you what’s wrong with something about you, as if they were discussing the lovely autumn day outside. Anyway, the chapter reads better than anything I could come up with on my own (yet) and I’m extremely grateful for the time (not insubstantiale) he took with my work.

On another note, I went to my first French For Parents Workshop today at Educacentre. These are for anglophone parents whose kids attend French immersion schools. When you register by phone, they ask you four questions at the basic level, and keep going till they determine what level you are at, say Elementary 2 or Intermediate 1. Based on my quick interview, I was placed in Beginner 1. It says, right here on the sheet, that this is for “students without previous training.” Indeed, most of the parents there tonight are not originally from Canada (Iran, Guatemala, Philippines, Japan, China, Russia – quite a United Nations), and so did not have mandatory French class from K-10. Now, I took French all the way through high school, including 2 courses in Grade 13 (which they don’t have here in BC, and not anymore in Ontario)! As if that weren’t enough to show my dedication to our country’s other language, I took a French course in first year university and got a B (anyone remember that old Cheech and Chong ditty with the verse: “Mexican Americans love education, so they go to night school and take Spanish and get a B”?). And I get placed into Beginner 1??? With people never before exposed to French, who, in fact, are pursuing a third, not second, language?!

Needless to say, the class was too easy and I should really advanced to at least Beginner 2 (for students with “a few basic notions in French”) or, dare I say, Elementary 1 – “for students who can have a short conversation in present tense.” Whatever, I’m staying put; I already marked up the activity book and can’t be bothered to switch nights. It’s only 5 or 6 more classes; I’ll chalk it up to review and move my way up, the old fashioned way – by just doing it.

Speaking of advancement, I was on the Bored Housewives Network today (My Friend now considers himself among those ranks – I linked to it through his blogroll) and there was a very interesting discussion about holding “younger” kids back – they’re talking kids born in September and earlier. I never thought of these kids as younger – only those born really late in the year, like November or December. And even then, it never seemed to be an issue. Monica Szucs and I never had any problem communicating over Barbies, and she’s a Late Autumn Baby. But that was the 70s; things sure seem to be different today, as the BHN discussion suggests (people in New York not putting their kids in Kindergarten till they’re 6?!). My kid is a December Baby, but I never thought much about it till after the first parent-teacher meeting of his little grade school career. It seems there are some warning signs: “Is French for him?” the mat-leave replacement asks. Oh, French is for him, alright. It’s for him till it very clearly isn’t, anyway. But it got me to thinking. The boy does get frustrated at not being physically adept where his 5 year-old classmates are (cutting and other fine motorish skills in art, agility and prowess on the play structure etc.). And he sure can be a little goof, socially. But his verbal and conceptual skills are advanced, he has a long attention span, and loves (and is learning) to read. So I feel confident he’ll be able to keep up academically. And if his mum can pass Beginner’s I French class, he’ll be laughing all the way to France, n’est ce pas?

The fine art of sandwich slicing (or why your children hate you)

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

I was preparing my kids’ lunches today when I had a profound realization: what happens to us in childhood stays with us. Elementary, my dear Kate, you might utter with justified condescension. Of course. But I’m not talking about big things – like absentee parents, divorce battles or finding a dead body (like in Stand By Me. Man, I miss River Phoenix). I’m talking about the little things that are seared – if not into your conscious memory – into your sensory memory – that collection of experiences that is stored in your body, only realized in physical release.

Let me clarify. So I was making lunches for my kids – you know, turkey on brown (oh the indulgence, the irony of using deli turkey as a carcus of the same bird sits in my fridge reminding me of yesterday’s gluttony). It was as I was cutting the sandwiches (diagonally) that it came to me: I do it this way (triangles NOT squares) very purposelfully, and only because this is how I wanted MY sandwiches cut as a youngster. It was a minor tragedy to endure squared sandwich pieces. I felt resentment toward my dad – for his practicality, his lack of creativity, and what I was certain at the time was his mean spiritedness. Now, my dad’s a decent guy – an author, mentor to some, and overall good citizen (shovels his walk on snowy days, tips the Canpar guy at Christmas, and says things like “howdy” and “good man”). But to my young mind, he approached Scrooge on this matter.

Well. I reflected on this as I finished preparing the lunches; there are other things – tiny little things – that I do as a definite reaction to my childhood, and it’s perceived shortcomings. Mostly this has been brought into relief as I raise my own children. It’s a bit like reliving my childhood and, in a way, it’s like a second chance. I get to broaden and deepen my experience of childhood, after the fact, from the perspective of an adult. It’s fun. But in other ways, it’s a conscious response to aspects of my childhood that I wouldn’t want to recreate for my own kids. Trivial? Yes, on some level – and it’s prudent to be mindful of context. But some of the silliest things (to adults) carry the most weighty significance to children. In righting the injustices of my childhood, I hope I can also stay attuned to my kids, and respect their harmless (yet potentially profound) little likes and dislikes.

On another note, I’m finally making some progress on my comps. I dumped one committee member, and signed up another. Rick Gruneau is an old Marxist, but erudite and pretty fucking savvy. He knows what’s the what and doesn’t mind telling you. He swears a lot, which of course I like, and has more than a healthy disrespect for authority. He comes from an interesting place, which includes, but is not limited, to being his daughters’ soccer coach. I like that. I gave up a long time ago on the dream of having a woman on my committee. In some ways it was tokenistic, but in other ways, still important. But I’ll settle for three out of three being parents, and two of those with kids young enough that they’re still involved.

Rick and I talked for over an hour in our first meeting, and his endless stream of information (about socialism, modernity, enlightenment, social change. But wait, there’s more!) was literally music to my ears. By the end of our meeting, we had my list sorted out; by the end of the day, I emailed him my revised version. I feel like I can finally begin this process in earnest.