Sunday, February 08, 2009

In Which Your Author Becomes Irritated And Behaves Badly

I'm not sure why I'm writing this post. I'm suspicious of my motives.

I recently expressed an opinion quite strongly. I was not at all tactful. And while I still hold the opinion, I feel a sense of remorse about the way I said, amongst other things: 'You're talking out of your arse'.

I wish I hadn't said that. It's emotionally immature. But it was something I'd been holding in for quite some time.

Is that an excuse for inexcusable conduct? My reaction was explicable: I felt judged and belittled. On this topic I have often felt this way. My outburst was fuelled by innumerable conversations; my interpretation of the most minute facial expressions; my sensitivity to rejection; and so on.

I don't want to write a post that's self-serving. I've read those and despised them. I think I've always tried to be scrupulously honest with my least attractive traits. But I need to think of myself as better than my recent behaviour suggests.

Someone once said to me that they found all social networking sites other than Good Reads to be 'a complete waste of time'. It was expressed in such a quelling tone that I thought to profess my own enjoyment of Twitter and Facebook would be to risk a similar dismissal.

At the same time, I had previously been in social situations with this very person where I, and others, had openly discussed our participation in and enjoyment of Twitter and Facebook. I felt shocked that someone would know this and not even attempt to mitigate their words in the same company.

Perhaps the comments just weren't about me and my cultural choices.

Am I unnecessarily conflating the judgement of the cultural artefact with a judgement about the person, in this case myself?

Another person has always smirked, in what I have interpreted as a kind of contemptuous, pitying expression, when Twitter and Facebook are mentioned. It's an expression that the same person extends to discussions of blogging, Second Life, and more recently Wii.

She argues that they don't offer a real experience; that they are a poor substitute for talking to actual people, living life, and exercising. For her, such substitution is a widespread and contemporary pathology.

Here I will sound defensive when I write that I have formed very real friendships with people I've met through blogging. I'm friends with the same people on Facebook, and we follow each other on Twitter. I try to meet them in the flesh if I travel to their city, and they return the favour when they happen to be in Brisbane.

I have never been on Second Life, but another participant in these discussions is using it as a teaching tool and is fascinated by the legal precedents it presents.

I have explained my decision to purchase a Wii Fit and my subsequent enjoyment of what it allows me to do that walking up a hill in my suburb cannot.

I have a linguistics-cultural studies suspicion of any assertion of real, unmediated experience. I tried to argue that many of these activities were simply another means of mediation of particular experiences: some modes of interaction are enabled while others are not. I'd be careful about privileging one as any more real than any other, especially when it's clear that it's a matter of value or lack thereof being ascribed to a particular medium.

Somehow this elicited more mocking laughter about some apparently ridiculous scenario proposed by Lacan to illustrate his concepts of the Real and the Symbolic.

It might be better to quote another friend here who says all of these activities are not substitutions, but experiences in their own right. She is wise and more lucid, perhaps less invested in such activities than I am.

I am still suspicious of my reasons for posting this. I have explained the reasons for the extent of my reaction, but perhaps I should just learn to conduct myself more appropriately in company.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

To Whom It May Concern

There are many reasons why a postgraduate student or an early career researcher might feel utterly crushed by her experience in academe, but recently I was asked to write a letter of support to be included in an application for promotion for someone I have worked for over the past couple of years, both as a tutor and a research assistant. It gave me the opportunity to reflect, in a concentrated way, on what I hope won't be a rare collegial experience, or prove the exception to the rule. Here's the letter I wrote:

To Whom It May Concern:

I have had the privilege of working with _____________ in the _______ discipline within the ____________________ Faculty at ___ over the past two years. During this time I have been employed by ____ first as a marker and then as a tutor. With ____’s support I have also had the opportunity to deliver a lecture. In 2008 I worked as his teaching assistant which involved a range of administrative activities, including communicating with students on his behalf.

Throughout my association with ____ he has provided a great deal of professional support and encouragement. On a day to day level, he has always provided a range of materials, such as clear marking criteria and suggestions for tutorial activities, that have equipped me to do the task at hand. He has also made proper arrangements for marking moderation meetings and any other additional activities that have been required.

There are many aspects of working with ____ that I have appreciated over the past two years. In addition to his talent for organisation, he has always demonstrated good humour and conveyed respect for my contribution to his courses. Further, he has provided compassionate and useful advice for my development as a teacher, as well as offering specific opportunities to increase my skills.

I have learned a lot from ____, simply by observing him work. To this extent, as a PhD student looking to pursue an academic career, I consider that he has provided me with invaluable mentoring for my chosen vocation.

Yours sincerely,

Kirsty ________ (M. Phil)