Tuesday, February 06, 2007

there's a brave new blogiverse out there: scrapartists

In a recent post on her blog, Louann Reid posed the question, "Why not blog?" You can visit Louann's blog by clicking on the Multiliteracies button at the bottom of my blogroll to the left (sorry, can't make links today because I'm posting from Safari).

As I commented there, blogging makes a lot of sense to me from a professional standpoint, but I've also been intrigued about why so many people choose to blog *apart* from a sense of professional duty. Probably there are some closet columnists out there like me, but I stumbled on a whole new discourse community by accident this weekend. As a result, I spent an embarrassing amount of time lurking this weekend. In fact, my daughter claims I'm officially obsessed, but I prefer to think of it as fascination.

It's all her fault anyway. She's a senior, so I'm making her a scrapbook for graduation. I know next to nothing about how to do this. As always when I have a little question, I turn to research. I flipped through a scrapbooking magazine at the grocery store and discovered they have a website. And let me tell you, not only is the blogiverse full of scrapbookers, but out-of-school literacies are alive and well out there. I mean, these people are SERIOUS. They host conventions. They scrapbook digitally (wow, do these women know their way around in Photoshop). Some call themselves "Life Artists" or "scrapartists," and they have created their own language complete with abbreviations sure to confuse the uninitiated. Here are a few examples:

scraplift=copying a LO design from another Life Artist
journal=to write often lengthy captions near pictures on your LO
rubon=a decal of lettering or design that you "rub on" to a LO<--It took me several hours to figure that last one out.

They pose creative challenges, suggest pre-writing procedures to help with journaling, and host contests like MM Idol (Memory Makers Idol). They scan and post their work and comment on one another's. There are rules and tools. They emboss and chalk and sandpaper. They buy expensive Nikons and talk about what makes the best light. They blog and journal and participate in online forums with a vengeance. And all of them appear to be female.

I was so impressed that in the supposed service of collecting ideas for my daughter's project, I just couldn't stop myself, Gee's voice whispering in my ear all the while: "What do you make of this? Is scrapbooking a literacy practice? And if so, what makes it so compelling that entire discourse community has formed around it? Why do only women get to be members? Why the abundance of apparently affluent SOHs (another common abbreviation for "stay-at-home-mom"), and why do so many of them live in Provo (a.k.a. the "scrapbooking capitol of the world")? What are scrapbookers' norms and values?"

At the very least, I find scrapbooking to be a peculiar (as in "noteworthy") instance of a feminized discourse community that has, in the service of preserving family heritage and creating art that deliberately reflects the artist's individuality,

* appropriated many practices often associated with a masculinized domain, such as tool use--online technologies, drills, heat guns, etc. (many scrapbookers recommend buying supplies at Home Depot and Lowe's; I followed one thread that described how a salesman looked at a scrapbooker as if she had a "third eye" when she asked for a screw post)


* combined them with many practices typically associated with a domestic domain, such as sewing, scrapbooking itself, and community formation (many scrapbookers host local LO parties that sound reminiscent of quilting bees).

What surprised me most, though, was how central literacy is to all of this. My visits to websites and blogs like those I've listed below dissuaded me of my notion of scrapbooking as a quaint little domestic art. It's anything but quaint, and its practitioners are highly motivated to use literacy in robust and authentic ways I'm pretty sure they didn't pick up in school. Or maybe they did. Heather Burch, the owner of Poppy Ink (it's the last scrapbooking website I've listed below), posts a pretty surprising bio.:

"I graduated with a double-major in English lit. and print journalism. The written word is serious business. Some of the best prose ever written is: A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolfe. THAT is what this hobby has given me—metaphorically. It’s given me a part of my life that is mine. In between vacuuming, diaper-changing, peek-a-boo, tantrums, bills— I have a place I can escape to create. And at the same time, I preserve my family’s story. A big job. A job I’m grateful for."

Now I'm wondering what we as English teachers/educators can learn from scrapbooking and its practitioners? I encourage you to think about that and check out this vast online community for yourself. Here are a few of the most interesting sites I found this weekend:

http://twopeasinabucket.kaboose.com/cg.asp (website where scrapbookers can post their work, shop, connect, etc.)

http://abiteast.typepad.com/abiteast/ (blog of a scrapartist living in Beijing)

http://aliedwards.typepad.com/ (blog of the woman who coined the term "Life Artist" and is using scrapbooking as a way to promote autism awareness)

http://www.poppyink.com/ (website for a scrapbooking company deliberately influenced by pop art)

thinking about silence

Perhaps because we've been talking about class discussion in my Methods class, perhaps because I'm thinking about classroom discourse as always, perhaps because I had a really peculiar dream on Saturday night in which my house was so noisy, I couldn't hear the strangers who had appeared to reveal to me the secret of my life, I've been thinking about silence. Here's what came out in my journal today:


What could we learn
from the space between our words
when we bare the flats of wrists
the backs of knees,
make vulnerability visible
beneath linked cuffs and nylons?
Silence threatens to embrace us
and so we drop our eyes
lick a finger pray for wind
for any subject that will neutralize
our trembling at its mercies.
But if I were to trace
your snaky temples
and you my furrowed brow
(these little deaths),
we could revere them.
Nothing more
would need be said
be done
but bowing.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

personal pep talk

“In knowing who you are and writing from it, you will help the world by giving it understanding.” – Natalie Goldberg, Writing down the Bones, p. 241

I’m still convinced that my new book is important to write (despite the fact that my editor didn’t even nibble on the unrequested progress-report bone I threw him in my recent e-mail). And I’m trying hard not to listen to my annoyingly persistent self-editing voice that wants to know if his lack of response is some sort of “sign.”

All I know is that something deep within in me keeps insisting that it’s important to write about why and how to teach literature that deals with difficult—some would say dangerous—issues and questions. So far in my rationale, I’ve been pointing out the difficulty that people everywhere—most visibly, politicians, reality TV contestants, warring spouses, angry adolescents—seem to have with doing this very thing, or at least doing so in a civil fashion.

But on further reflection, as I heed Natalie Goldberg’s advice about knowing who I am, I realize that right now, I’m a 41-year-old woman with an injured back who struggles daily with my own big questions, as I’m guessing we all do, whether we want to admit it or not. Conflict and big questions are an unavoidable part of existence, and at least part of the reason why I read is to confront them vicariously through literary lives. And talking through them with the help of a text, what Parker Palmer refers to as a “third thing,” gives me the distance I temporarily need to sort through conflicts of my own as well as questions posed by living in the larger world.

Why does it matter that we talk these texts through with other people rather than pondering them individually then sliding the book back on the shelf? Listen to what Palmer says in A Hidden Wholeness:

“Whether we know it or not, like it or not, acknowledge it or not, our lives are interconnected in a complex web of causation. My understanding of truth impinges on your life, and yours impinges in mine, so the differences between us matter to both of us.”

Now Palmer’s not writing about literary discussions per se, but I think his claim holds true for them as well. As teachers, we can distance our students and ourselves by underlining the similes and highlighting the metaphors so that it actually becomes a “fourth thing,” but is that really why we read? Aren’t we more interested in the truths those linguistic parallels eventually lead us to? Shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to do all that annotation in the service of asking Why?

Well, I think so. Of course I’m not the only one to argue that we enter literary worlds to exit into our own more clearly or that talking through texts can help us do so. I know I’m evoking those buzz words “relevance” and “authenticity” here. (And I also know the book feels so important because it’s probably tapping my own need to confront conflict and speak my own truth, too.) But I don’t think it’s always (or ever) easy to teach the texts that really matter. (Witness the difference between some of my Methods students’ recent list of texts they’re dying to teach and the ones they actually suggested for their working unit. Let’s just say the second list is mostly canonical.)

So summoning the courage to teach the text in the first place seems an important first step. And dealing with the “hot potato” once you’ve done so seems an important second. And yes, I think this could make a difference in helping our kids learn how to deal productively with difficult issues beyond the classroom. So while I’m not entirely sure why it seems so important to me personally to write this book, I think I have to try.