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Semi-Provocative Article Title: With not one, not two, but three sweeping words as sub-title.

I am, as usual, a bit late to this game.  I am crafting my very first article for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.  The plan is to complete the piece by early summer, coinciding with the time when my teaching load goes on vacation.  The projected article actually stems from a short, five-page essay I wrote for a literature class in my doctoral studies coursework here.  My instructor had offered glowing feedback and ample, fruitful recommendations of what additional directions I could take, both in terms of supplemental research and professorial collaboration within our department.  In short, I need to expand and extend.

First of all, this entry is not meant to read as an immodest platform for my personal gloating (so, consequently, I apologize if it comes off in this manner).  No, I only recount the above accolades because I want to learn more about this task of scholarly article-writing, about its process(es).  I want it to seem less veiled, less covert a practice for those like me, those still sitting in a classroom as a student.  And maybe it already is part of our premeditated curriculum; maybe I am just tardy to this party, too.

As if on cue, my quiet thoughts were recently acknowledged.  Last week, an e-mail came through the wire about a dissertation, thesis, and ‘longer-paper’ writing workshop happening in a few weeks.  This is brilliant.  This seems like the proverbial step-in-the-right-direction for me, for my personal demystification.  Now, I do not know the origins of sessions like this, but they seem designed to elucidate, to enhance the contemporaneous gaining of scholarly experience, to run parallel to our other intellectual pursuits as graduate students.  One could argue that learning how to write a peer-reviewed journal article comes by simply reading loads of other peer-reviewed journal articles.  This sounds straightforward and direct.  After all, as an undergraduate and graduate creative writing student, my exposure to the published literary ‘greats’ that came before, being their witness, holding them as models, was a time-tested and positive practice that worked in improving my own fiction writing.  Indeed that worked, to an extent, but it needed buttressing by the nitty-gritty of peer workshopping, the get-your-hands-dirty kind of text-delving exemplified by exchanging papers and, much more importantly, ideas.

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I want to cite theory and criticism comprehensively and with either great respect or oblique disapproval, when appropriate.

I want to invent no less than one new term, something to add to the long-established nomenclature of my field.  It should end, obviously, with one of the following suffixes:  -esque, -zation, or the all-powerful, yet seemingly anachronistic, -ism.

I want to write long, lucid sentences: those curling serpentine things, scaled with stout, shiny language.

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In an article entitled “’Predatory’ Online Journals Lure Scholars Who Are Eager to Publish” from the March 4th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Stratford directs readers’ attention to the proliferation of so-called pay-to-publish peer reviewed journals.  As mentioned earlier, I came from a creative writing background, and thus I had a keen awareness of outfits such as Xlibris, Lulu, and iUniverse, companies willing to publish my collection of short stories for the banal ‘nominal fee.’  These firms, however, made no secret about what they did, how they crafted their intentions and/or business models.  In Stratford’s piece, however, he suggests shadier dealings: that pay-to-publish academic journals add professors, unknowingly, to their editorial boards or by burying extravagant publishing fees so cryptically within their website that authors often only discover the excessive fees until receiving some staggering ‘invoice.’  Through a deeper uncovering of editorial board recruiting practices, ‘accept-all-article’ policies, and the prevalent over-charges existent, Stratford’s article was a well-timed and quite welcomed article for me.

Forwarding the Chronicle piece to some of my mentors and colleagues, I subsequently learned about things like pay-to-publish academic-level presses as well as some potentially dubious conferences out there.  None were aware, though, of the likes of such ’suspicious’ journals mentioned in the Stratford article.  Maybe readers of this blog, by now, have already seen Stratford’s Chronicle write-up (or the almost equally interesting 29 reader comments that follow it) and do not need my evocation of it here.  I cite it more for the fact that it is a small, but characteristic, part in a much larger machine that I know very little about operating.

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A classmate, colleague, and fellow English Matters blogger, Todd Womble, introduced me to a useful website, created by the University of Pennsylvania English Department, that categorizes calls for conference papers by the numerous (though seemingly not all) sub-disciplines of English studies.  This came about following the posting of his own blog entry a few weeks back, “This is Not Breaking Bad.” While a basic library search, even just a few Google clicks, would have yielded this same resource, I’m sure, the personal and trusted guarantee that came along with Todd’s information could never replicate under an electronic search.  What does this mean?  The navigation and creation of my extracurricular academic activities is not a wholly personal affair nor comes about from a mere repetitive style of practice.  Additionally, it might also mean that the extracurricular should become the curricular.  I am a novice and I may be needy.  It helps me when I find things out from someone else in the program, whatever their level/ranking/distinction, rather than just doing a search on my own, shooting from the hip, into the vastness.

The parallel here to my own 1301 courses is rampant, apparent, and beautiful: you know, all that business about entering into discourse communities and such.  An overarching goal is to help my students seek guidance, if not from me then from others.  So, I need to be more cognizant of the moments when this same type of guidance is seeking me out, in my own continued studies of English.  Working on this peer-reviewed journal submission will really help me to breach this doctoral discourse community in a punctual fashion.  I hate being late.

Published in:Brian Carroll |on April 2nd, 2012 |No Comments »

(A)broadside

Idly poking a crouton cube westward across a salad plate, the Candidate tells us the importance of attending college in an international setting.  I stare at the flaccid Earl Grey teabag, drying on my saucer.  What about all of my domestic commitments: the relationships, the contracts?  What about my finances (weekend Expedia trawls yield several-thousand dollar answers to such lingering European travel questions)?  The impossibility of it all is overwhelming; it is too late for me.

“There is so much worth in experiencing higher education abroad,” the Candidate says, chasing the words with iced tea.

I nod, I smile, I utter a monotonic acknowledgement.  It is not that I am dissatisfied—or disinterested—with what I hear.  It all just sounds so, well, foreign.  And despite my troubling penchant for articulating blind responses, I can neither agree nor refute the Candidate’s statement.  I mean, I want to agree, I really want to, but I know absolutely nothing of the matter.  Silence.

I twirl my water glass and watch the vortex clink ice shards against each other.

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Does a student have to learn abroad in order to garner an “international education?”  Granted, one cannot replace the tangible sights of standing, crane-necked, in the nave of a Florentine cathedral, or the oceanic aromas of fresh seafood paella in Valencia.  There is no simulacrum of experience here.  So, what of viable alternatives?  Answers exist but I do not have them.

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Monday, February 13th.  A piece by Ian Wilhelm in the online version of The Chronicle of Higher Education stands out with the bold-faced headline: “Budget Presents Mixed Picture for International Education.”  While the article’s scope aims more to governmental-fiscal matters, I found myself immediately drawn to this line: “The Obama administration is seeking a small increase of $1.7-million for the program, primarily to help disadvantaged students develop ‘global competencies.’”  ‘The Program’ in question here is the well-known Fulbright Program (“the U.S. State Department’s flagship academic-exchange opportunity,” according to Wilhelm) and this conspicuous line, albeit submerged in the succinct text, never further matures.  ‘Help,’ ‘disadvantaged,’ ‘students:’ these words all mean something to me as an instructor, however.  I am certainly a proponent for government programs, and especially those beneath the vast umbrella of Education, but can these aforementioned ‘global competencies’ develop locally?  My thought is seemingly contradictory, no?

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Those close to me already know of my daily involvement in a photo-sharing blog called Blipfoto.com.  Here is a simple description: the site involves members, from all around the world, posting just a single photo every day.  The company began, and is still based, in Edinburgh, Scotland.  In a series of electronic communiques, I interviewed company founder Joe Tree.  Here is the most relevant excerpt:

BC:  How many different countries are represented on Blipfoto?  I thought I remember reading somewhere that it is over a 100; is that right?

JT: Blipfoto currently receives visitors from 176 countries. (I must admit I had no idea there were even that many countries on the planet but incredibly it seems there are more than 190.

BC: Is the reason primarily logistical for the site maintaining an “English Only” policy?  As in, the company is based in an English-speaking nation and employs mostly English-speaking engineers and thus has to be able to monitor the language of/in the posts?  Or can a member based in Paris write all their accompanying words in French, a Brazilian in Portuguese, and so on?

JT: It’s all English speaking no matter where you’re from, and that’s entirely for logistical/practical reasons.  A really important aspect of Blipfoto is the community and content moderation, where material—or behavior—which falls outside our guidelines is removed…the main reason we disallow other languages is because we need to be able to understand something to judge whether or not it’s appropriate, and at the moment we don’t have the resource to view other languages.  We wouldn’t be able to provide any email or forum support to non-English speaking users either, which would also be a problem.

BC: Many websites (I’m thinking of Facebook which is not a fair comparison, I know) have links that allow for content to be viewed in another language—is this something Blipfoto has or is working towards?

JT: It wouldn’t be a gigantic job to translate the functional/instructional bits of Blipfoto into other languages, but I doubt we’d ever do that with users’ content.  We do plan to move into other languages in the future. When we do, we’ll have to think as carefully about the cultural aspects of those new areas as we do about the practicalities mentioned above. It will almost certainly depend on people native to our new geographical areas to support and nurture those new parts of the community.  We are actually running an experiment at the moment with a Japanese magazine aimed at Japanese people learning English. Their readers are being encouraged to post on Blipfoto in English as a way to improve their written English. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

BC: As the whole site revolves around the notion of posting just one photo per day within this advertisement-free, clean aesthetic, how does the role of the image relate to the role of the word?  Does Blipfoto represent an arena where written language is becoming less relevant?

JT: No, in fact I think it’s quite the opposite. Take the words away from Blipfoto and you’d lose more than half of what makes it wonderful. I’d say that only a minority of Blippers are driven by a keen interest in photography—most simply use the photograph as a cue to tell a story, record a moment or start a conversation. The technical or aesthetic quality of the photo has surprisingly little effect on one’s ability to do all those things—the written narrative is often just as (and sometimes more) important. Many users have commented that they’ve tried to keep a blog elsewhere, before discovering Blipfoto, but have never been able to stick at it the way they do here. I think the reason for that is the balance between the photo and the words—a balance which each user can shift on a day to day basis depending on their mood.

What is happening here, exactly?  I think Tree’s third response is fascinating and telling: the site’s expansion will rely on local individuals in a specific cultural framework to maintain any forthcoming changes.  In short, global networks boil down to the involvement of local entities.  Again, what else is occurring in this dialogue?  Quite simply, Blipfoto affords the opportunity (to employ the same word as Wilhelm) for one to place themself into an acceptable paradox: sailing in the vast international ocean while still casting out a local anchor.  Inane nautical metaphors aside, though, can one see any danger in operating within English-language-only environs if it allows monolinguals to take their first step into a much large realm?  In other words, I am not advocating some English superiority, but for those that currently know only English, a place like Blipfoto exposes them to international experiences from real people.  I know this example is singular and very limited but my goal is to illustrate a perceptible ‘replacement.’

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Thursday, February 16th, 9:47AM: my first English 1301 course of the day.  I sit on the long table in the front of the classroom because it is more casual this way.

“How many of you speak another language?”  Something like a third of the hands sprout up.  I tug my tie-knot and learn.  I learn about photographing muscle cars in the UK.  I learn about the woes of transportation issues on the diverse UTA student body.  I learn about international power-lifting competitions.  I learn about playing a cricket match in India.  I learn.

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Sunday, February 19th.  The second most-read article today on the Chronicle site is “In Study Abroad, Men Are Hard to Find,” by Karin Fischer.  In the piece, readers become acquainted with gender-based enrollment issues in international education programs.  At the risk of sounding overly selective, though, it is one of the last lines that intrigue me the most: “’If you study abroad, you’re connected with everyone else,” Mr. Becher, a junior. ‘It’s like you’re in a little club.’”

I am perplexed: the forging of far-reaching links but that only happen within very exclusive borders.  This feels like an accessibility problem.

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One of my Blipfoto subscribers from Sweden, B-, speaks the most curious brand of English (reminiscent of Alexander Perchov in Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel/film Everything is Illuminated). In response to my positive comment on his landscape shot, he thanks me “for my courtship.”  In an exchange on capitalism, he claims some nations are “ill with disease-profit.”  Finally, when trying to implement the American colloquialism “through trial and error,” he produces “through trail and terror.”  These are some of the most beautiful phrases I have ever read and this is not a hyperbole.  Even though B-‘s posts are often prefaced with disclaimers about feeling deficient in English, with B-, I become the student, I become the learner of international poetics.

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Is “domestic isolation” a detriment to my formation as an Academic?  Conversely, maybe the question could/should be phrased this way: is international study mandatory for my doctoral success?  How do I balance the facts that I want to experience and engage in/with other cultures, other countries, but am facing a persistent self-bemoaning stemming from lack of time and/or funds?  My aim is not a sour-graped report of my desires, though the logic of that perception is not entirely faulty.  Rather, this is just recognition that my international education, in some adapted fashion, is already underway.  There is international access all around me.  Right here.

Published in:Brian Carroll |on February 20th, 2012 |6 Comments »