e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


bloggy moves

Maybe inspired by Massumi's exhortations to let go and get stupid, in my last post I 1) wrote in a fake question-and-answer format, and 2) referred to myself in the third person. In a way these are both blog moves. Not quite blog conventions, but blog moves.

The question-and-answer acts as a close cousin to the 'Frequently Asked Questions,' the idea being that the text itself anticipates and imitates the role of the reader. You have questions. Let me give voice to those questions and then answer them. It's at once a writer-based (presumptuous to know the readers' concerns, to speak for them, and then actually to speak the concerns) and reader-based (let me think about what the reader needs) move.

Referring to oneself in third person. Maybe the most irritating rhetorical move ever! But it's kind of cool to think about who we are when we refer to ourselves in such a way. I'm me but I'm someone else too. I'm a fiction. Sounds a lot like a blog persona.

I don't know how often I do bloggy things--rhetorically speaking--on my blog. I mean I link to news stories and youtube and wikipedia, use subject lines like "Tuesday roundup" or "Friday miscelaneous," but overall I think I'm often guilty of just taking how I normally write in other settings and pasting that mode into a blog. Today I'll write as if I'm writing an entry in a journal. Tomorrow I'll write as if I'm e-mailing a friend about a film I just saw. The next day I'll write as if I'm writing a book review for Teaching English in the Two-Year College. Etc. After 3.5 years of blogging, I'm not sure blogging represents, for me, any kind of coherent, repeatable, or name-able process. Not sure it should.

Likewise, I've never gotten into a lot of the familiar typographical bloggy things:
--The use of strikethrough text to reveal one's snarkyness by pretending one has resisted the urge to snark it up. Rosie O'Donnell is a gasbag has differing opinions. Of course this technique mirrors the old-school practice of crossing something out. And this is a feature in most word processing programs, so obviously not new to blogs. Just used to death there. And used in more of a signifyin' way. I'm snarky; I'm not snarky.
--The use of the word "Um" to express disagreement or point out contradictions and hypocrisies. Rush Limbaugh accuses the Clinton camp of being soft on drugs. Um, hello pain pill incident. I see this on listservs quite a bit too. Um, if you read my message you'll see I never called you an imbecile...
--The excessive use of the word "seriously" a la characters on Grey's Anatomy. I guess you can never have too many ways to express incredulity. Referring to yourself in the third person. Seriously? You can substitute the word "really" if you wish to be less sarcastic. Corn flakes for dinner. Really?
--The use of the verb "fisk." I hate this word (which refers to refuting an argument, point-by-point), though the etymology is interesting (see link). I'm going to fisk that editorial, which is chock full of fallacies. Like Fred Willard in Best in Show says of shih tzus, "that name just rolls off the tongue."

this guy's funny

Q: How can you tell when Bill's working on/under a deadline for a book chapter, gathering last round of data from this term's service learning students, starting to plan his tenure portfolio, reading Big Stacks of Student Papers, trying to understand Brian Massumi, and trying to find time to start this year's Christmas baking?

A: When his blogging doesn't really generate new content so much as link to other things he thinks are amusing and interesting.

Q: How can you tell when his posts are chock full of aforementioned links?

A: When the subject lines all have "this" in the title: this is sad, chew on this, this guy's funny.

Q: Enough with the meta. Who, praytell, is funny?

A: Whoever is responsible for this self-explanatory blog: Since I Started Listening to Jazz.

Q: Do you realize what a long set-up that was to link to some snarky blog?

A: Hey, it's Bill's blog. Keep your critiques to yourself.


this is sad

I just saw the news that Kevin DuBrow of the glam-metal band Quiet Riot is dead at only 52. CNN reports that they were the first metal band to have an album chart at number one. (Really? That Kiss live record didn't top the charts in the 70s?)

Quiet Riot is a reminder that so-called 80s hair metal probably wouldn't be the critically-derided genre it quickly became in grunge's wake 1) had the first wave of such bands (Motley Crue, Quiet Riot) not inspired so many imitators, and 2) had the bands not looked quite so silly, and 3) had the sound not adopted so much studio sheen.

80s Hair metal (the ultimate whipping boy of critics) is basically 70s glam (the ultimate object of affection of critics). Does Quiet Riot's breakout record sound all that different from the first New York Dolls record? Okay, Quiet Riot lacked a guitar player as innovative and distinct as Johnny Thunders and a frontman as memorable as David Johansen. But my point is that one is a critical darling and the other is a critical joke. Bands like Quiet Riot took both aesthetic (guitar-driven garage rock) and ethos (sleaze) from the Dolls as well as T.Rex, AC/DC, Joan Jett, Mott the Hoople, Kiss, the Runaways, Alice Cooper, and Suzi Quatro.

Early hair metal had a sense of humor and a sense of fashion. Early hair metal appreciated that pop music relies on good melodies. Early hair metal took cues from solid antecedents like Brit Invasion groups and 60s girl groups and of course protopunk 70s glam bands. Early hair metal kept lyrical content pretty simple: parties, love, sex, rebellion, giving the finger to the man. Early hair metal was a world that Italian-Americans seemed to rule...so shout out to my fellow sons of Italy!

They just got too popular and became too ubiquitous (the fault of MTV?) to maintain after-the-fact credibility. Too bad, because some of it's just good-time rock music. I mean Bowie and Kiss were huge in the 70s, but there weren't dozens and dozens of Bowies and Kisses. That's the best way I can explain the huge credibility gap. Too many imitators in the MTV kitchen spoiled that soup, I guess.

But there's that studio sheen thing, too. Eventually, the 80s incarnation took itself too seriously. I mean in the 70s Alice Cooper and Bowie both got pretty high-concept and their lyrics went beyond the simple garage themes. But they maintained humor. In the 80s, not so much. In '83, you had Quiet Riot doing Slade covers and rocking out. Awesome. By the end of the decade, you had White Lion doing power ballads and taking themselves way too seriously. Yikes.

But you know what, my fellow readers of Pitchfork? Hair metal lives. My new brother-in-law (he married my wife's little sister the day after Thanksgiving...first wedding reception I ever attended where the dj played THREE (!) Bon Scott-era AC/DC songs) and his friends love it. The shows go on, though at smaller clubs, mostly in working-class white suburban areas.

Anyway, I'm sorry this genre doesn't get more respect. And I'm even sorrier that loved ones lost a young guy who should have had more life left in him.

chew on this...

"Take joy in your digressions. Because that is where the unexpected arises...If you know where you will end up when you begin, nothing has happened in the meantime. You have to be willing to surprise yourself writing things you didn't think you thought. Letting examples burgeon requires using inattention as a writing tool. You have to let yourself get so caught up in the flow of your writing that it ceases at moments to be recognizable to you as your own. This means you have to be prepared for failure, for with inattention comes risk: of silliness or even outbreaks of stupidity. But perhaps in order to write experimentally, you have to be writing to 'affirm' even your own stupidity. Embracing one's own stupidity is not the prevailing academic posture..." --Brian Massumi

Right now I'm in the middle of three different books: _Giving_ by Bill Clinton, _The Golden Compass_ by Phillip Pullman (highly recommended by my friend Steve Climer--not to mention anything the Catholic League condemns must have some merit!), and _Parables of the Virtual_ by Massumi. Today I spent a lot of the day reading the latter. I went to this book because all-of-a-sudden Massumi recommendations and references were flying (from a colleague at my institution, from the blogosphere, from Works Cited pages of stuff I was reading) and also because I'm working on a project in conjunction with my service-learning courses (trying to focus on the teacher-scholar model my school preaches) that seeks to theorize students' emotional investment in / attachment to the rhetoric of volunteerism. It's a text that's proven helpful already...and I'm just starting to understand its assumptions and its vocabulary.

The above quotation is itself a digression, but it also, well, "belongs" there, as a statement of methodology, as a defense of interdisciplinary "poaching," as an acknowledgment that such co-opting necessarily re-vises and "gets it wrong," and as an implicit claim that the aforementioned "wrong"-ness is what gives the humanities its ability to say something that matters. Err, by means of saying something stupid, silly, inattentive, rooted in non sequitor, derivative. I'd like to re-vise Massumi in the ways he advocates and get wrong his theory of the potential of unqualified, pre-discursive feelings, so as to say something (something stupid?) about how my students "feel" civic duty. Hope that I can.


love to eat turkey on thanksgiving

Why is Thanksgiving my favorite holiday? Probably because the day centers on eating. But also because COOKING is so important to Thanksgiving. Two activities that I love. Aside from watching the Lions, telling half-truths about the conquest of North America, and, you know, being thankful, this holiday is all about food. How cool is that? I'll be cooking for a crowd tomorrow--I especially like the dishes that, for us, are unique to this one day: pumpkin squares, frozen cranberry, and sweet potato souffle. Don't forget to make time to listen to Burroughs' Thanksgiving Prayer, introduced to me by Professor Culik like fifteen (!) years ago.


this i believe

Last Friday Bruce Ballenger spoke here in motown at a regional teaching of composition forum put on by a big textbook publisher. He had a lot of useful things to say about how we teach argumentation. In particular, I appreciated a questionnaire he shared that he uses with his students when he introduces research-based writing assignments. These ten questions get at how and why we do research. I'd like to use a version of this with my civic literacy class in the coming weeks.

For each question, the student answers on a 1-5 scale, 1 meaning "strongly agree" and 5 meaning "strongly disagree.

Ballenger had workshop attendees use the 1-5 scale, answering in one column for what we think, and in a separate column for what most of our students think. This activity led to a good discussion of our own perceived gulfs between students and ourselves. Here are the questions.

1. There’s a big difference between facts and opinions.
2. Most of what you read in books is true.
3. Stories that don’t have an ending or clear conclusions are very good stories.
4. Everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion and you can’t say that one opinion is better than another.
5. Most problems have one best solution no matter how difficult they are.
6. How much you get out of school depends on the quality of the teacher.
7. Most words have one clear meaning.
8. When I study I look for specific facts.
9. People who challenge authority are over-confident.
10. Scientists can ultimately get to the truth.



What could have been the best Saturday Night Live in ages won't air this weekend. Michael Cera of Superbad and Arrested Development fame hosts and Yo La Tengo serves as the musical guest. Ah well, shout out to the cast, MC, and YLT for supporting the striking writers.


wpa grants

Anybody out there have any luck with wpa (Council of Writing Program Administrators) grants in the past? I've never submitted a proposal for one and I'm wondering if anyone has any tips. Two UMD colleagues and I plan to write one this year to help fund some work we plan to do in the 'Civic Engagement' sections of first-year comp we're piloting next year.


lyrics clarified

Every music fan has those moments where you realize you've always misunderstood a particular lyric. I like to call those discoveries the "oh, THAT'S what they're saying" moments. I had one yesterday on the treadmill, listening to Dr. Dre's The Chronic. On the opening track, Dre and Snoop Dogg diss Dre's former bandmate, the diminutive, now-deceased Eazy-E, and Eazy-E's svengali manager Jerry Heller. I always heard the line as something like "f--- Mr. Wankertatoo, aka Jerry and Eazy." But now I think the line is "f--- Mr. Rourke and Tatoo, aka Jerry and Eazy," as in the two characters on Fantasy Island. Because Eazy was short. And I guess his manager must look like Ricardo Montalban, or own a mysterious island frequented by celebrities from the 70s. Maybe Dre's saying that the manager makes all his clients dreams come true? But then, that's not so much of a diss.

Incidentally the last such moment also involved a rap song: Jay Z's "Izzo," where Jay sings, "I beat them charges like Rocky." You know, because Rocky beats his opponents? I always thought he was saying "I beat them charges like Rodney." I'm not sure who I thought Rodney was, but there you have it.

How about you? Any lyrics that you misunderstood for a long time and then had a eureka moment of your own?


winter wheat

On Saturday, a group from our writing program made the trek down to Bowling Green for Winter Wheat, an annual festival of writing sponsored by Mid-American Review. Individual sessions seemed uneven in quality, but I attribute that in part to the fact that I'm on the outside of most festival-goers (a lot of recent MFAs). But, as I still write poetry regularly and short stories occasionally and teach creative writing nearly every term, I figured the event would be appealing. My literary tastes diverge greatly from "MFA fiction," work that has a deliberate, self-consciously "good" quality. I like some literary fiction (Jonathan Franzen, say, or Wendell Mayo, who did a reading at WW), but I also love pulpy stuff like Detroit's own Elmore Leonard and of course the adolescent lit genre. And the party line at Winter Wheat certainly supported the "literary" stuff.

One session that stood out in quality and usefulness: 'Writing and Researching Your Family.' A lot of my poetry tells familial stories and the piece I wrote on my great-grandfather taught me more (about class, about Burke, about my family, about how to write an article) than I've learned from a writing project in a long time, so I was very interested in this workshop.

One presenter used genograms to describe the ways that she made sense of various family traumas. The presenter was researching her mother, who spent a long time in prison, and most relatives were unwilling to talk about the subject. She borrowed the concept of genograms from pyschotherapy and, literally, mapped familial relationships using the symbolism of the genogram. Genograms lay out genealogies in ways that articulate emotional relationships between family members. Using different kinds of connecting lines and different colors, genograms account for harmony and love as well as various types of abuse, neglect, and hostility. They are a tool of therapy, but also can be a tool of invention. Has anyone in rhet/comp written about this?

I plan to use genograms in my advanced creative writing course next term. I've never taught the advanced course before and I hoped to find ways to go beyond the tired "character profile" assignment (useful in the intro course, but a bit, well, cheesy). As my students begin to work on fiction projects, the genogram might allow them to create round characters but, more importantly, to think through ways that those round characters interact with others. You can map out non-familial relationships, too, after all.

From Wikipedia,
A genogram can contain a wealth of information on the families represented. It will not only show you the names of people who belong to your family lineage, but how these relatives relate to each other. For example, a genogram will not only tell you that your uncle Paul and his wife Lily have three children, but that their eldest child was sent to boarding school, that their middle child is always in conflict with her mother, that their youngest has juvenile diabetes, that Uncle Paul suffered from depression, was an alcoholic, and a philosopher, while Aunt Lily has not spoken to her brother for years, has breast cancer and has a history of quitting her jobs.


cool list

Taking a break from the chapter I'm working on at Caribou today, I surfed this most intriguing list. The Top Ten Most Important Singles in Detroit History, assembled by Dirtbombs drummer and Metro Times music writer Ben Blackwell. Check it out, and listen to the great music assembled therein.



Who can't relate to this song--one of Sly Stone's best lyrics ever--sometimes? Here are the Dirtbombs performing the Family Stone classic.

Even if you're never right
They get uptight when you get too bright
Cause you might start thinking too much...
I know how it feels when you know you're real
But every other time
You get up and get a raw deal...
I know how it feels
For people to stop, turn around and stare
So go right, don't rate me
I don't mind
I'm the underdog


Brownstein on the Ramones

NPR's All Songs Considered now hosts what looks to be a funny and quirky blog, Monitor Mix, maintained by Carrie Brownstein, formerly of Sleater-Kinney. The defunct Sleater-Kinney played Pacific Northwest punk but, like the much more famous Pearl Jam did earlier and bands like My Morning Jacket did later, they simultaneously wore classic rock influences on their flannel sleeves. And like the early 90s riot grrrl bands that came before them and The Gossip who came after them, progressive, feminist, queer, and body-positive politics played a big role in their lyrical content, on-stage personas, and overall ethos. They proceeded The Gories and preceeded the White Stripes and, once again, The Gossip, in consciously eschewing a bass guitar.

Sleater-Kinney, if I may make a Klosterman-esque pronouncement, were the prototypical mid-period band. Take any definitive Sleater-Kinney characteristic and you can point to a band that shared that trait a few years earlier and a band that shared the same trait a few years later. That's not to say Sleater-Kinney were overly derivative or unoriginal. In my assessment, they referenced arena rock with more verve than Pearl Jam, for instance. They knew how to improve upon flourishes. Plus, they rocked.

Sleater-Kinney's great song was the self-explanatory "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone," which you can see the band performing a decade ago at CBGB's by following the link. And now Brownstein has blogged about her affinity for the Ramones. So I guess all has come full circle. Brownstein describes losing touch with the simplicity of the band as she moved on to more sophisticated musical tastes:
How had I forgotten about The Ramones? I own nearly all of their albums, I might even consider them one of my favorite bands, but I rarely listen to them. Suddenly this oversight, this forgetfulness, felt disastrous. I think of The Ramones as a starter band, one you have to know, one you have to love, one you have to discover in order for them to lead you elsewhere. But then you go further away and sometimes you forget to ever go back. You find post-punk, you listen to Wire, Gang of Four, The Slits, you find reggae and dub. Then you embrace classic rock, first ironically, maybe at a karaoke bar, and then for real. F*ck this straight-forward punk sh*t, give me prog and wanky solos and post-rock, and soon nothing is valid that comes in under five minutes. When friends or prospective dates ask you your musical tastes, you can't just say, "The Stones" or "The Clash", you have to say the name of the last Ethiopiques CD you bought, or you mention Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, Candi Staton, Bert Jansch, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, a side project of Wilco but not actually Wilco, the list goes on and on. Really? Really these are our favorite bands? The ones that got us out of bed in the morning on a sunless day?
We all have gateway drugs, no? Not just musical gateways either. In junior high, I loved the paranoid novels of Robert Cormier, especially the horrifying I am the Cheese. And a few years later, classics of dystopic fiction floated my boat (how many times did I read Brave New World?) For me, the definitive musical gateways of my adolescence were R.E.M. and The Smiths. You read interviews and start to chase down stated influences (Pylon, New York Dolls, Gang of Four). And when you get older, as Brownstein suggests, you chase down more cache. And like Brownstein says regarding the Ramones, I own all the albums by the Smiths and R.E.M. Do I listen to them often? Not lately, no. If, say, a student asks me about bands I like, I usually talk about an older band that I discovered later on ("you gotta hear the X-Ray Spex, Kraftwerk, Roxy Music") or a newer band ("The Muldoons are the rocking-est band in Detroit right now"). Less frequently do I talk about, to borrow Brownstein's phrase, "the ones that got us out of bed in the morning on a sunless day."

What has provided the soundtrack for unpacking boxes at my new place? Madonna's "Immaculate Collection," The Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society," and Chesterfield Kings' "Mindbending Sounds of the CKs." That Madonna record is perhaps the best Greatest Hits collection ever. Cool value? Cache? Prolly not. I really like the sad and nostalgic songs on the Kinks great concept album "Village Green" and "Picture Book" makes me laugh every time I hear the line about "your fat old uncle Charlie, out cruising with his friends." The Chesterfield Kings are an outstanding garage revivalist outfit that's been around for a few decades trying to sound like the pre-Jimmy Page Yardbirds. I saw them open for New York Dolls last year and genuinely thought their cat-like singer was going to fall to his death from the rafters he had climbed onto at St. Andrews Hall. Musical tastes that span the obscure as well as the mainstream, the iconic as well as the ironic, freshen the sometimes-stale world. But why do we forget the gateways? If it's in order to seek out cool obsessions we've just discovered, then great. If it's a cache grab, too bad. More unpacking to do tonight and I'm going to listen to Fables of the Reconstruction and Meat Is Murder.


normalcy, writing

Nice to be getting back to a fairly normal routine. Today I worked on email for about two hours, catching up on communication with students regarding their current assignments, and pouring through messages regarding several committees I'm on. Usually I pride myself on quick replies--this past week, not so much. But I'm back.

Then, a few hours of work on the conclusion I'm writing to an edited collection that a few friends of mine from grad school are putting together on the rhetoric of social movements. The book, which looks to be very useful, uses lenses (communication theories) a bit different than my usual perspectives (neo-Marxist, critical, social constructivist, etc.) to look at issues close to my heart: community/civic engagement initiatives, the class dynamics of group organizing, and much more. In fact, I spent a couple months over the summer re-reading Hauser on vernacular rhetorics and looking for the first time at lots of current research on social movements in communication studies. Nice to move beyond comfort zones.

...But I think the newness--to me--of some of the concepts showed in my writing, and now I find myself re-writing, re-thinking, and re-envisioning what I had hoped my conclusion would "do." I wanted to push at the individual chapters of the book and frame them as moments of class consciousness and intersectional identity construction. Though the editors were pleased, the book's peer reviewers, rightly I think, saw the chapter as focusing on issues of class in ways that shut down other possibilities. So I'm trying to do better and it's slow going. Me agonizing over global concerns and writerly choices is probably a good sign.

Looked over a ms. in progress for my colleague M. Started communication with a big name scholar (to be named later when and if things come to fruition) we hope to bring to our university next term for a few events. Judged a writing competition for the lit mag on our campus. The normal busy-ness, which feels good.

I hope to finish up in the next few hours and get out of here (i.e., Caribou) in time to whip up some chili. If I can get the tv and dvd hooked up in our new place, maybe a netflix selection tonight, too.


check in

Again with the sporadic blogging. I probably don't have a coherent point to make, but a check-in nonetheless. We had a great crew help us move. About a dozen family members and friends lifting heavy stuff for us. Thanks y'all. Matt brought the Chicken Shack (tm) truck which helped tremendously and the greasy mural on the side had my dad's mouth watering from the moment he pulled up. Matt and my brother-in-law Mike lifted the nine-thousand-pound entertainment center from hell, thank the stars. Some (like my friend Jim) worked fast to finish before Michigan-MSU kick-off, so we benefitted from that motivation too. My mom made an outstanding white chili to feed the troops and my sister contributed vegetarian burgers made of ground chickpeas, fava beans, Italian breadcrumbs, and who knows what else. Kind of a cross between boca burgers and falafel. Delish! Even post-op, Anna's got mad kitchen skills. (Even a story about moving becomes a story about food...I've got problems.)

And our new king-sized bed, our new-house splurge, was delivered on the same day. We only own a few pieces of "new" furniture--most of our stuff is a combination of hand-me-downs and auction finds: my grandma D's old bedroom set, the huge old oak library table from an Ohio flea market that I use as a desk in my home office, etc. But the joys of a king-sized bed are legion, especially for a big guy like me. Though maybe the sound nights of sleep have as much to do with the aforementioned heavy labor. I'll be glad if years pass before I pick up another paint brush. And I don't care if all the great institutions of higher ed come knocking on my door (fat chance)...I ain't moving for a good while. Most of all, though, it's good to be in Berkley, where Nicole grew up. N. is flexible as hell ("you want to go to grad school 2,000 miles away in Tucson? okay, let's do it! you want to take a job in rural and right-wing southwest Ohio where I'll need to sit for another bar exam? you betcha!") and has always wanted to return to her old stomping grounds.

Oh yeah, everybody wants to know about Hyatt the pug's transition also. He too has gotten some good shut-eye on the aforementioned king-size. He likes the greyhound next-door, who seems real gentle and easy-going (just like Hyatt). He doesn't miss Elvis and Diva, the cats who live next-door to our old place who somehow never took much of a shine to him (everybody takes a shine to H.) but he does miss the vigilant but friendly Guard Kitty down the block. With his eyes, he's going to need some time to get used to the sliding glass doors in our backroom, which he's thrice ran into thinking he had a clear path to the backyard...like a bird that flys into a window. We need to either put up a visible blockade or just let them get dirty. Knowing us, probably the latter.

One more thing. Stuff that's now in walking distance:
--a 7-11
--my in-laws' house
--Amici's Pizza
--a bowling alley
--a park with big recycling bins
--the home of the aforementioned Jim, my sophomore year roommate
--alas, no Caribou Coffee (can't win 'em all)



Wow, haven't blogged in a whole week. I'm still alive but dragging a bit after painting three bedrooms at the new house. Got a big coffee on the way to campus this morning. Once we're settled in I'm kicking caffeine again. Anyway, back to the house...the walls and the wood floors are both shiny and waiting for move-in day, which is Saturday. A generous crew of friends and family--including brother-in-law-to-be and his humongous Chicken Shack (tm) truck--have volunteered to help shlep (sp?) boxes and furniture. Now we need to get Old Place packed in the next 48 hours.

Last night we handed out candy on the front porch. Nicole dressed as a ghost and I dressed as a sloppy guy who had spent the whole day painting. Our pals K&P came over and brought their four-year-old who took the new neighborhood for all it was worth. We met some nice neighbors, including several other young couples. Today, back to the OTHER grind. I've got a handful of papers left to mark and some further prep work to do before class this afternoon. Then Civic Engagement is having its Community Action Summit where some of our service learning partners are giving presentations, followed by some of the students (including two from my Civic Literacies course) in our new cohort of sl courses speaking on their collaborative projects. Good stuff. Wonder if they'll have diet coke?, he thinks, nervously twitching.

So aside from some drowsiness and a budding caffeine problem that must be kicked come mid-month, things are good. Regular blogging, and pics of new house, to follow.