The End

I’ve been dreading the day I would finally have to sit down and write this post because I didn’t like the thought of being last. After this our class blog will probably go silent, so I get the last word on behalf of my fellow “superstars.” I wish someone else had taken the job.

Trying to think of what to write for this has been a bit of a struggle. What we’ve produced is an incredible log of experiences, reflections, and ideas, and I’m not sure if I should be leaving a loose end or trying to somehow tie it all together. It doesn’t help that this post is (was actually) due at a really hectic time, but even though it’s late and I don’t have a whole lot of time to do it well, I figured I should write something.

I’ve never been in to reading blogs. They basically seem to me like platforms for neurotic, self-indulgent people to broadcast things that I have no desire to tune in to. Maybe it’s just my own misconception, but from what I’ve heard the majority of blogs are about fashion, celebrities, or the experiences of some mindless little 13-year-olds in their homeroom classes. Those probably get more readers than we did, but I guess they are easier to read, and are more relatable to the people who (I assume) most often follow these things.

But I’ve gotten a kick out of reading what everyone wrote this year. Like Rob said in his symposium presentation, the weaknesses of our blog were, paradoxically, its strengths; posts were, as far as blogging conventions go, too long and not necessarily following a central theme or using a particular voice.  But because of this we stuck out and probably got more readers. The Internet is full of useless junk, but this proves you can post something more complex and someone just might read it. That being said, we did have help spreading the word. I don’t know what Dr. Clary-Lemon’s expectations were for this thing, but I think we’ve done alright.

Our blog was unconventional, yet we managed to get, and maintain, a decent readership. The diction was not that of a blogger who is talking to a mass audience. It didn’t quite fit in with pre-conceived notions of how blogs should read, how long posts are, and what they are about. We started out as strange outsiders, but we became part of the Winnipeg blogging community, even getting ‘shout-outs’ from other local blogs. And good for us, we were after all students in a writing course.

Like Lynn said in her last post, communities are organic, constantly shifting and changing. In class I also felt like a strange outsider. It’s not that anyone wasn’t friendly, but I felt like Johnny Rotten sitting in on a Beatles band practice. A bunch of talented, good-natured, valuable members of society, and one degenerate bum with nothing constructive to offer, only at least Johnny was never afraid to talk.

Maybe everyone felt that way. We did get to know each other pretty well by the end of the year, but it’s not like we’re bff’s (to use what I assume is normal blogger geekspeak). I did get to meet interesting people though, and each person was unique.

This year has been a journey, and it has come to an end. Like most journeys, in order to be complete the heroes (us) should return to where they began to imbue into that place their newfound wisdom. To borrow a line from Joseph Campbell, we have to return so the “boon may redound to the renewal of the community.” For us it was like 2 journeys, the one most students go on from our home communities to the class and back, and the other from the university to our community partners and back. The blog was an ongoing log of our experiences, and the symposium a way to share “the boon” with the university community. I have no words to explain the horror I felt that day, but I think that it was a positive endeavor. I’m not saying that I enjoyed presenting, or even that I’m personally happy having done it in hindsight, but it was positive in the larger scheme, and at least I didn’t have some sort of public psycho-nervous breakdown (sorry if I disappointed anyone, I’m thinking here of Matt).

I’m not going to go into the virtues of liberal arts education, Richard already did a great job of that in a post a few weeks back. One thing this blog did, and the symposium as well, was provide a rare opportunity for us, as undergrads, to talk about our “research.” We talked a lot in class over the year about different methods of argument, and how we sometimes respond better to “hippy flakes,” or at least something other than the financial discourse commonly used to persuade in the Western world. I think that it would be a little arrogant to assume that we will have had any effect in saving or renewing interest in the endangered liberal arts, but we used the symposium and this blog as platforms to talk about the virtues of a variety of things on other terms. Whether we were talking about a huge island of trash in the pacific ocean, our new bus system, a museum that seems like a temple to those who are building it, a phony sit-in by CEOs, corporations, wildlife rehabilitation, hacking, or health, we questioned dominant structures, we gave things value other than dollars and cents, and helped to redefine what can be done by the liberal arts undergraduate community. As the “superstars” of the rhetoric community, maybe we shouldn’t have expected anything less.

I wish I could offer some final words of wisdom, but I can’t. My former classmates are all, at the very least, as wise as I am, probably wiser. What I can say is that over the course of my education I have developed a healthy contempt for just about everything in society, and I think that has always been one of the points of what we do here in this community.

Anyways, if any of my former classmates read this, I wish you all the best in anything and everything that you choose to do, and I would like to say “goodbye eveyone” (inside joke).

It’s been a slice.

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Thanks for all the learning

Our class is having a symposium on April 5th at the University of Winnipeg campus from 8am to 1:30pm in room 2M70! It doesn’t matter that in a few days this blog post will automatically become dated. Our class has been sharing our practicum experiences with each other for an entire academic year and now we have to face the public. I’m excited right now but I’m sure I’ll get nervous as the hours come crashing down on me. I’ll quickly realize that I have to give a professional speech outside the safety and comfort of my classroom that has no windows to a big room that has huge windows! I’m sure we will all do great.

Symposium set aside for the moment, like Lynne, this too is my final blog post for the course. Like any journey that comes to an end, it’s time to be reflective, existential, heartwarming, sad and hopeful. 

My favourite part about university in general is the socializing aspect of it all. I’m a social guy. I pride myself on being out-going because I try and make a conscious effort to put myself out there and connect with others. For a not-shy person like me, university has been great. I don’t want anyone getting an incorrect impression of me though. I wasn’t jabbering on for the sake of jabbering on. There was many times when I hardly said anything in class because the discussions were so fascinating that I didn’t want to interrupt anything. I’m also amazed at how much a student conversation outside of class in the cafeteria can easily rival an academic class discussion. I’m going to miss the heck out of my classmates. I’ve had the best conversations of my life in university, recently. I don’t know where I’m going to find people that are as smart and kind than in the UofW. Don’t be mistaken, though.  Every place has less pleasant folk. But the great people I’ve met so vastly outnumbers the non-great that right now I can’t remember any conflicts I’ve ever had with someone.

The English department and Rhetoric, Writing and Communications department has turned me into the chameleon I’ve always aspired to be. I remember our professor laughing at how quickly our discussions changed from class to class and we had to put on different hats. One day we analyzed an economics article, then business, then politics. Rhetoricians can step back and analyze the words instead of getting caught up in the message. The only bad thing is that the rhetorician part of me doesn’t go away. I’m constantly judging people by what they say and even wear. “Judging people” isn’t exactly the right phrase either because I’m not analyzing people with any malicious intention but more so to answer the question, “Alright, who is this person and what exactly are they trying to communicate?”. The UofW is responsible for me analyzing you, whomever I happen to meet.

Our final assignment in this practicum class is a portfolio of all the work we’ve done for our community partners. In our last two classes, we all took turns showing our portfolios to everyone else in the class. Boy did my insecurities pop up. Some of my fellow classmates binders were huge! I wanted those binders to be tested for steroids. Then Richard said that it’s not a competition. Easy for him to say. His binder was a heavyweight contender, thick as an encyclopedia.

But, I quickly realized that Richard was right. I have to clarify that it doesn’t really matter how fast I try to do something, it generally takes me longer to do anything because of my physical disability. Our fellow student, Megan, was partnered with Literacy Partners of Manitoba, and her work multiplied everything I did by at least three times. But even though my workload didn’t match Megan’s, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be proud of the things I did write and create. I’ve learned how to do things, create things, write things I didn’t know how to do before and that alone is an accomplishment worth noting.

Then the humble part of me kicks me and says, “Alright, enough patting yourself on the back. You did fine. Now move on. Do you want a medal?” No, Inner-Me, I do not want a medal. But having more skills now than when I started the course is definitely easing my mind about entering the job market. I’ve never had a job before, ever, and it honestly worries me all the time. Now I definitely feel better about it thanks to this course. I’m not 100% relieved because I made a lot of mistakes in my practicum but it’s better to learn those lessons in school than be humiliated in a job.

While the practicum has eased my mind about working in a job, six years of university has not at all helped me figure out what I’m going to do after I graduate this year. One of my communications professors once said that if you leave university with just answers and not brimming with more questions, then you haven’t learned anything. He was specifically talking about learning in general, not of life but I’m still going to use his words. If he’s right then I’m right on track because I have no answers.

I’m graduating this year and I am so glad that I am not the valedictorian speaker because I would have no idea how to inspire my fellow students. I am looking forward to graduating because I’ve been in school my whole life so not being in school will be a huge change. All I can really say is thank you to all the great students I’ve met and thank you to all my professors that have helped me over the years.

Signing Off . . . or Maybe Not

This will likely be my last blog entry of the course. And, of course, it’s a small book.

I sit here after a week of reflective work on my  capstone essay and pulling my portfolio together and I find myself still reflecting. My thoughts turn to this past year – my last year as an undergraduate student – and I keep coming back to this idea of community. The concept of community has certainly been an over-arching theme in my learning and experience this year both in and out of school. It was certainly the main thrust of my essay and was at the heart of most of my grapplings with the course material. Where do I belong, how do I fit in, what language must I speak to get my thoughts, concerns, issues, questions heard and addressed? Am I inside or outside of the community? Who am I to be here if I am an outsider? Can I become an insider? As my mind naturally travels over my experiences throughout my six years at UofW, I realize that community, and these questions, have been a consistent presence throughout, even though at times I did not always see it.

I went to speak to Prof. Jennifer Clary-Lemon last week because certain issues were making me feel despondent and fearful. She reminded me that I was in the midst of several endings both personally and at university. Not only is my class ending but so too is my practicum at PWRC and my career at the UofW. So much insight and awareness and personal growth has coalesced for me over these formidable years. Even that intensity of learning seems to be coming to an end. And, as I write this, I realize that it’s really the many communities of which I have had the privilege of being a part that are ending and a part of my heart is breaking. But in that breaking it will re-knit itself stronger than ever.

When we started this course (and this blog) in September 2011 we entered our classroom uncertain, curious, and intrigued by the possibilities that lay before us. I entered as an outsider to the Rhetoric and Communications community represented by most of the other students. We were introduced to the idea of community – a word I had bandied about quite liberally without much critical thought behind it. I learned that there is language, traditions, theories, and emotional bonds that form through common experiences and a communal history that define where a person situates themselves relative to other community members. We learned in class about insiders and outsiders to communities and what defines someone accordingly. What I have also learned is that communities change and evolve, and where one situates one’s self also changes and evolves as you negotiate those boundaries between insider/outsider. More importantly, there are degrees to which one is inside or outside. I’ve learned that, like so many other things, being a community is not an “Either/Or” situation – or at least it doesn’t have to be, if we choose to look at it differently.

For most of the year I struggled with understanding how insiders and outsiders “talk” to one another and it seemed to me that in most cases the “outsider” had to conform to the “insider’s” language and traditions in order to be heard. Then I had an experience that shifted my perspective. I attended the Moon Voices in ACTion symposium, March 9-11, 2012, at the UofW. I have never felt the dynamic of insider/outsider so profoundly as I did that weekend. Here I was, a white, middle-class female, representative of the very people who concocted and maintained the residential school system and I was attending an Indigenous Women’s Symposium that gave intergenerational residential school survivors a chance to tell their stories of pain and trauma. Yes I know it happened a long time ago (actually, not that long ago) and that I can’t be held accountable for actions carried out by people a hundred years ago. However, I can no more distance my responsibility for what the Europeans did generations ago, than these women who spoke can distance themselves from the painful experiences they have lived through because of  what their people experienced generations ago.

I stayed. And I listened. And an outsider I remained for the entire weekend, but what evolved for me was a greater understanding of how I situate myself in relation to that paricular circle, that community of Indigenous women. I came to understand my role in that community – why I was there, what I could give and what I was given, how I was to be within the community. I was an outsider, yet, I was part of the community at the same time.

This was not unlike the experience I had with PWRC. With my practicum, I felt very much like an outsider during the first term. I was far more engaged with PWRC as an organization, and a community, during the second term because the work I was doing was directed towards specific activities to help bolster PWRC’s publicity. I had specific deadlines and more contact with Lisa Tretiak, President of PWRC, among other members of other communities, such as media representatives, facility managers, school administrators, and the Mayor’s office in Stonewall, MB. But as my time with PWRC winds down, I still feel as an outsider to the inner community that is PWRC, the volunteers who drive the organization’s real work of fundraising, education and, of course, rehabilitating the patients. Sometime in the future PWRC will have a permanent facility with more staff and a communications coordinator on staff who will be “within” the organization and the role I was trying to fulfill from “without”. What I found evolving was this place of outsider/insider – not a stranger to the community, but rather an outsider welcomed in for as far as the experience allowed.

In our Rhetorics class I felt the same thing. We certainly got to know each other and shared with each other while developing a community of peers and friends. But our time together is done. And as I look back, I feel I was still on the fringes of this group too. I am not a rhetoric and communications student in the strictest sense, so I was not familiar with the theory and experiences and the language that my classmates used to situate themselves in the community of our classroom. Nor did I have (nor will I likely ever have) the political acumen that most of my fellow classmates had. They could all talk political rings around me. But, I didn’t let that push me away from the community we were developing. I learned from them and respected the positions they took within the community. And, I brought my experiences, thoughts, issues, and questions to bear on our discussions and sharing and that also went into building and shaping our community. I brought myself and situated myself at the circle and was welcomed as such. I did not conform or forego any part of my own values in order to belong or be heard in this community. So while I may have sat myself on the fringes, I still very much considered myself inside as well.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say except that community is organic, it is born, it lives, breathes, evolves, and dies like everything in the natural, organic world. I guess what I learned is that there are ways for insiders and outsiders to meet and share and re-form, reshape the “community” based on their meeting and mutual acceptance and respect. I had the opportunity to speak briefly at the Moon Voices Symposium. I had my time to address the collected community and share my definition of transformative with them. It may not sound like much but who knows what cracks I created, what seeds of perspective I spread from where I was situated in that circle. The key is that insider and outsider were respected and accepted for what they brought to the circle. One did not try to be like the other and the community was reshaped because of that mutual understanding. I think it’s a huge, yet subtle, rhetorical shift and I’m not sure our world is ready for it. But maybe, one day, we will think of communities in terms of insiders and outsiders together defining what shape that community has rather than seeing its shape by whose in and who is not.

Check for broken links

There’s a web site….

http://www.brokenlinkcheck.com

that offers a free service to check a web site for broken links.

I tested it once on a simple web page with one working link and one broken link.

It worked for that. I tested it on a couple of other simple web sites that had no broken links and it worked on those as well.

I also found a WordPress plugin at

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/broken-link-checker/

But I didn’t test it. An installation is required.

Are multinational corporations really greedy bastards?

No!

We have to stop anthropomorphizing corporations. It’s leading us astray. When we attribute greed to a corporation and think their hearts’ are dead tomatoes splotched with mouldy purple spots, we naively hope that maybe a day will come when their hearts will grow three sizes (Seuss). It’s not going to happen. Corporations are not like us; they can’t have a change of heart, they don’t have hearts.

In Western capitalism, we provide corporations with the many of the rights, privileges, and obligations of citizens. Corporations can sign contracts and have them enforced in law;  they have reputations and can sue for libel. Governments regulate and license them, just as governments license and regulate us (think of HACCP and the Food and Drug Act, and driver’s licenses and the Highway Traffic Act).

But, we went too far when we taxed them just like we tax each other. We should never have done that. Sure, the money is nice, but we pay too high a price for their taxes. There’s a principle in Canada and in the States of no taxation without representation. In 1837, two rebellions were fought, one in Upper Canada and one in Lower Canada, to establish government responsible to the taxpayers. In other words, to establish the principle that taxpayers and voters were the same people.

Later, we decided that corporations were just like people and we taxed them; but, we didn’t give them the vote. However, like Louis-Joseph Papineau and William Lyon Mackenzie,  the corporations yearned for representation. They couldn’t take up arms and rebel against the government; they don’t have arms. But, they do have wallets; so they bought representatives: corrupt politicians and lobbyists.

And as we well know, he who pays the piper calls the tune. That’s the price we paid for a few billions of tax revenue from the corporations: we paid with our sovereignty.

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Seuss, Dr. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! TV, 1966.

I’m not sure I can “hack” it

This is really a reply to Matt’s latest post title “Practicum Progress and Hackers are not Evil People”. I’m writing this as a blog post only because it was getting too long and the reply box was acting up.

I was very intrigued by Matt’s blog entry, especially his discussion about “hacking”. I’ve never heard the term used in the way that he described – hactivists, and hacking as an act of social and technological reform. Very interesting.

I think one of the reasons the term has negative connotations is because of its association to certain computer savvy people who “hack” into other people’s computers and do a ton of damage. This is a form of breaking and entering that I believe is considered criminal activity.

But the term actually has a colourful menagerie of usages. And I explore this term here in the name of rhetorical strategies for getting one’s point across in certain social situations, albeit fairly casual ones (situations I mean).

My son, this past summer, told me he thought his uncle (my brother) was stricter than me. He (my son) liked going places with me better because I was “hackable”. At first, I thought he meant that he could find ways to get around me. That is to say, my son knows, or at least thinks he knows, how to break into my system and modify my “programming”. Like most hackers though, he’s proud of his advanced skill and brags about it, putting me completely on alert to any future tampering.

As I thought about it, I realized that maybe he meant that he could just “hack” me better than he could my brother – in other words, tolerate. When I was growing up “hack” (or hacking) meant being able to tolerate something annoying or frustrating. E.g.  “I couldn’t hack being around her anymore.”

My dad always had this nasty phlegm business with his throat. Every day he would “hack” up some kind of chunk and spit it into the sink. It was disgusting. I imagine people who hack and spit on the street suffer from the same chronic post nasal drip as my dad.

Then there is the context of someone being a “hack” – another usage from my younger years that meant someone who pretended to know what he or she was doing and was caught out.

With my brain “hacking” away at deciphering the true meaning of this word, I decided to do some research. I looked up the word “hacking” in the Oxford English Dictionary. The earliest reference I could find was 1440 and it meant: “The action of the verb hack v.1; chopping, hewing; mutilation, etc. hacking off, out.” Interesting. I’m not sure I like the idea of being so easily hewn, chopped or mutilated by my son.

OED also confirms that hacking can refer to: “a short, dry, frequently repeated cough” (1642); a “Massage with the edge of the hand” (1893); “A large kind of sausage or mincemeat pudding which formed, in some districts, part of the ‘cheer’ on Christmas day” (1674); “Breaking of a note; ‘mangling’ of words or sense” (1496); or “That hacks, wounds, or slashes” (1612).

Other than the Christmas sausage or mincemeat pudding, it’s easy to see how the idea of “hacking” and “hackers” could retain some negative connotations.

What Matt describes the IT people doing with hacking –  “modify[ing] something to use it in a way that was not originally intended” – I call repurposing. I repurpose all sorts of things. I have an antique black metal strainer that, once repurposed as a fat candle holder, is now used as a bread bowl. I have metal muffin tin candle holders. Antique saucers and large sea shells (not antique ones necessarily) make great soap dishes. I could go on. But I think I’ve made my point.

I agree with Matt that such “hacking” can be useful, creative, innovative, resourceful and down right cool especially when it works to benefit social change. Hacking then becomes the epitome of critical thinking and praxis. It’s a shame that the It/Health project lost its funders because of a rhetorically poor choice in words. Or was it, especially considering that “Hacking Healthcare” could represent the usage of the word that refers to the dry, repeated cough, which could then become the “poster condition” for fixing the healthcare system. I wonder if they couldn’t find a way to “hack” at the word “hacking” to give it a modified meaning. Or, did the organizers succumb to the conformity that plagues our society (and likely our healthcare system), namely the naturalized assumptions born of ignorance and blinder thinking.

I wonder though, how many “hackers” are doing their “hacking” for social change or just because they can. That’s an awful lot of power they posses and as Spiderman learned, with “great power comes great responsibility”. The question then becomes can we really “hack” it.

What’s the Point?

Perhaps, it’s a bit late, given that I graduated last spring, to ask what’s the point of going to university for a liberal arts degree. Last Friday, I took my mom grocery shopping and as we were pushing her shopping cart through the produce section, she asked me why I had gone to university to get a 4-year BA in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication. In the larger community beyond Superstore, students, parents, leaders of industry, politicians, and taxpayers are asking the same question: What’s the point?

So here’s my 2¢ worth.

Let’s start with what I think the point was on 18 June 1815: the battle of Waterloo. The Duke of Wellington purportedly said that “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” He probably didn’t say that, but no matter. To me the statement attributed to the Iron Duke implies that if you wanted to train an elite corps of men (and they were always men) to slaughter the veterans of Marengo, Austerlitz, and Jena, or colonize people in far off lands, or establish empire, and do so with the minimum amount of supervision, then you send the young men to Eton where they learned how to belong to the team that did these sort of things. At university, they didn’t learn how to do those things. Rather they learned that they and their classmates were the only ones permitted, perhaps obligated, to do these things. For sure, they were entitled to the rewards that accrued from doing these things.

In 1815, students at Eton learned one or two ancient languages, literature, and history; and played games in the pouring rain. They learned how to comport themselves. Take, for example, Alexander Morris, lieutenant-governor of Manitoba in the 1870s. Earlier in the 1840s, he attended both the prestigious Madras College in St. Andrews, Scotland and the University of Glasgow. He excelled at his scholarly pursuits: he recited a passage from Homer before his peers and professors and wrote a paper titled “An Incident in the Rebellion in Canada in the Years 38-9” (Talbot 20).

I don’t know exactly which courses he took; but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t one called Colonization and Empire Building 101. Yet, in the 1870s, Morris, in the company of a few red coats, meandered around the prairies negotiating Treaties 3 to 6 and renegotiating Treaties 1 and 2. He would set up camp, sound a bugle, and insist that the Aboriginal people in the neighbourhood nominate spokesmen. Then he presented them with what amounted to a ‘take it or leave’ offer and blathered on about the great white mother who loved her children:

I thought what I promised you just now was just, kind and fair between the Queen and you. It is now three years we have been trying to settle this matter. If we do not succeed to-day I shall go away feeling sorry for you and for your children that you could not see what was good for you and for them…I ask you once more to think what you are doing, and of those you have left at home, and also of those that may be born yet, and I ask you not to turn your backs on what is offered to you, and you ought to see by what the Queen is offering you that she loves her red subjects as much as her white. (Morris 60-61)

You learn to talk like that only at the most prestigious institutions of higher learning.

But, that was then and this is now.  It’s a bit more complicated now. Especially because of the teaching of the professions in addition to liberal arts at universities. By professions, I mean accountants, lawyers, engineers, and doctors. I don’t want my urologist to comport himself like a highly-trained surgeon: I want him to be a highly-trained surgeon; I don’t care if he played out-field in right field and can recite Homer, I want to be sure he has a steady  hand and knows that a right radical nephrectomy is performed on my right,  not his.

For students of the liberal arts, however, I think it’s still the same: we learn how to behave, how to comport ourselves, how to reveal the subtle signals that we belong to an empowered class. Fortunately, with the democratization of Western society, there are more classes to belong to than were available to Alexander Morris.  Some day, a commentator may say “The battle against poverty was won on the campus of The University of Winnipeg.” (Ok, not the battle, maybe a minor skirmish.)

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Morris, Alexander. The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, Toronto: Belfords, Clarke & Co, 1991. Print.

Talbot, Robert J. Negotiating the Numbered Treaties: An Intellectual and Political Autobiography of Alexander Morris.Saskatoon,Saskatchewan: Purich Publishing Ltd, 2009. Print.