The Handwriting’s on the Wall

According to the NCTE inbox for last week, Jan. 23rd was National Handwriting Day.  Who knew?  Furthermore, who knew such a day existed?  One last one: who thought that such a thing was necessary?

Anyone with whom I have a writing relationship (my students, multiple family members, friends, cat sitter, etc.) can tell you that my handwriting is a horror.  That’s not hyperbole; it’s truly wretched.  It’s not effective, as virtually no one can decipher every word in a given document (this sometimes includes a check); it’s not aesthetically-pleasing as letters are not uniform size and are often not fully formed to begin with.   It would work wonderfully as a code that only I could read, but I have found myself returning to books and notes being able to recognize that I wrote something, but not the content of that writing.  As long as I can remember, I’ve blamed this on being left-handed; surely having to invert all graphical instruction (i.e., “do this, only backward”) has a dire effect on the quality of  handwriting!  As an adult, however, I’m sure that there are plenty of lefties out there who write right.

For all of these reasons, the increased move toward writing in a digital space has been a godsend.  I tend to embed comments on drafts using Word, my film notes are usable a year later because I typed them while viewing, I send grocery lists to my spouse that he can actually read.  (True story: “Why did you buy coconut milk?”  “It’s on the list.”  “Where?”  “Right here!”  “That says ‘chicken broth’…”)

All of that, you’d think, would add up to a unilateral love for writing=typing.  Effective, efficient, decodable—what more can you ask for?  Add to that this quote from NCTE’s 21st Century Literacies Report: “digital technology enhances writing and interaction in several ways. K–12 students who write with computers produce compositions of greater length and higher quality and are more engaged with and motivated toward writing than their peers.”  Hot diggety!

And yet.  There’s something to be said for the tactile experience of pen on paper.  The sense of the ink flowing out behind your hand as you move across the paper; the ability to cross out–rather than delete–text; the indentation of the nib.  These have given literary scholars some of their best metaphors ever:  Pushkin’s white ink; Heidegger’s Being; Derrida’s palimpsest.  What happens at the moment when these experiences of writing become only metaphors, and no longer associated with the process of writing itself?  And what new metaphors await us in the age of new media composition?

What Happens in Vegas…Actually Matters

Ah, the morning after, and the news is abuzz with the results of the Democratic caucuses in Nevada.  I’m all for people fighting it out to analyze the results (popular vote doesn’t equal the number of delegate votes?  What is this, the electoral college?), but for me, the bigger story is this, courtesy of the NY Times:

The contest in Nevada drew record turnout among Democratic caucusgoers, a reflection of the intensity of the race. In hundreds of precinct caucuses, including nine casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, about 116,000 voters took part in the first Western contest in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, 10 times the amount in the 2004 caucuses here.

Let’s say it again: “10 times the amount” that showed up in 2004!  It should come as no surprise to anyone that people show up when they have a voice, and it’s happening here for at least two reasons: 1) the race for the nomination is so close that people actually think it matters if they caucus and 2) Nevada’s primary is so early that it has a chance to influence other voters.  Good going, Harry Reid.

All of this is incredibly heartening, as the earlier reports coming out of Las Vegas pre-caucus were all about how the state was under-prepared and voters had no idea what to do.  My insiders (okay, my mom) tell me that surprisingly, people at the precincts (okay, her precinct, at which she was a interim chair) were motivated and ready to caucus.

So, let the New York Times make snarky comments about the how they did it on the Strip:

Voters not only went to scores of schools and community centers across the state, but they also weaved their way through slot machines and bar stools to participate. Maids and cooks, bellmen and bartenders, nearly all of whom wore their uniforms and matching name tags, were granted a lunch break to attend the caucuses.

I don’t care if the showgirls came with their headdresses and spangled tights—they showed!  (Actually, I’d have paid good money to see that.)  And thus, the first Western state to weigh in on the 2008 presidential election showed that despite associations of Mob bosses, prostitution and gambling, political participation can and will happen anywhere when people are motivated.

And thus I breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Class Schedule vs. Viewing Schedule

One of the things  I often fail to take into account when I choose teaching time slots is what I’m watching during any given semester.  At many schools, this wouldn’t be a problem: the vast majority of the courses are during the day.  At Saint Rose, however, we tend to have a vibrant host of classes offered in the evenings, and those can cause all sorts of conflicts with the primetime lineup.

Take tomorrow night, for instance.  It’s the first evening of my graduate course Literature in the Information Age, about which I’m so excited I could spit.  Contemporary novels, hypertext, new media readings—good times!  And yet, tomorrow is also the Democratic debate in Las Vegas.  This is important viewing for a couple of reasons: first, because it’s in my hometown (this is the least important reason). Second, because it’s the lead up to the Nevada caucus on Jan 19—a first for the state and for the region.  The west gets to weigh in on candidates before SuperTuesday?  Hot damn!!  Third, and perhaps most pertinently, there is a significant voter drive going on in Nevada among Asian American populations.  The Asian and Pacific Islander Vote initiative has an article up describing the importance of the Asian American vote in this primary because of the significant populations in Vegas.  If the Democratic candidates are going to make any mention of Asian American issues, this would be the place to do it.

So, normally I’d be at home, glued to the television and mocking Brian Williams’ hair.  But instead, I’ll be having a delightful conversation with my intrepid grad students.  Immovable object meets irresistible force.  A war of two goods.

Thankfully, my Wednesday night class ends with just enough time for me to get home before Project Runway starts.

So Many Teen Films, So Little Time

It’s syllabus season again, here at Abyme central, and that means making a number of fine-grain distinctions about what to include in classes. As I’ve said before, this is always a moment of great pain. It feels a bit like abandoning your children by the side of the road, or picking them last for kickball teams (I’ll stop short of a Sophie’s Choice scenario). This spring, I have the great pleasure of teaching a course on teen film. Assuming that I have about 12-13 dates on which to show films, how on earth do I narrow the pack?

I know what you’re thinking: there are some must haves. I’m down with Timothy Shary (and a host of film critics) on this one: John Hughes changed the nature of the genre, and thus he’s in, and perhaps more than once. But then which? And why? And there are other concerns at stake here as well; while I could certainly build a list that would speak to the history of the genre, particularly in response to modern market forces, what I find myself most interested in are the ways in which this format wrestles with the anxieties and obsessions of contemporary phenomenon, and in doing so, constructs adolescent responses to them. For that reason, films that are particularly good at exemplifying critique (e.g., Boyz in the Hood) are in, over and above exemplary candidates in the pool.

One last thing that I find myself fascinated by, that’s slowly making its presence known: the stakes of the teen adaptation flick. There are too many of these to count, really, ranging from Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (a staple of my high school experience) to the recent Amanda Bynes vehicle She’s the Man. Are they the equivalent of hiding vegetables in junk food, ie., “fooling” a teen audience into consuming something that’s ostensibly “good for them”? Are they depending on the fact that they’ll be shown in schools? Is it just part of a larger raid on high culture texts by the Hollywood industry? The answers to this are going to be different for each film, surely. For my money, I’m most interested in the ones in which the original ideologies of the text have to shift, and sometimes even reverse themselves, within the constraints of this genre. [Case in point: last time I checked, the reason Viola in Twelfth Night dresses as a man is to protect herself in a strange country. Bynes, on the other hand, is motivated by a desire to join the boys soccer team. Is enforcing Title IX the 21st century version of self-protection?]

All of this to say that the canon of teen films is battling it out with those that do the kind of theoretical and intellectual work that I want them to do. Which means, I fear, that a number of old favorites are going to have to drop out. The question of the morning: will Some Kind of Wonderful or Say Anything get the knife?