Mucking About In Diamonds:
Blogging, Reflection and Process of Understanding
In my research for my job--which at times feels more like purposeful wandering about the internet than research--I run into some rather cool things. I've mentioned that I'm working on an ePortfolio project (not my only focus, but a major one), looking at the possible applications of a program such as the open source OSP in a University setting, including academics, career preparation, skill reflection ... if I started listing, I'd be here for a very long time. But since the concept of the ePortfolio is generally tied to the idea of student-owned learning through a process of collection, selection and (most importantly) reflection, these ideas are of course tied to other ways that technology is being used to support student interaction with course materials. Most notable among these is the use of blogging.
There are a surprising number of blogs dedicated to (in whole or in part) the use of blogs in the classroom--blogs as a reflection tool, blogs as a method of building classroom interaction and participation, blogs as ePortfolio, blogs as academic journals, on and on. And to some extent I knew that blogs were being used in this way, as I participated in an "edublog" program in a third year english course. (That the use of blogging wasn't an overwhelming success was due more to the newness of the concept for almost everyone involved rather than any inherent flaw in the plan. At the outset, I was the only one in the class who knew what a blog was. Even the professor was sketchy on the idea.) What I didn't expect was the way that blogging was being used as such a powerful method of professional and educational interaction and connection. Of course, such applications are downright obvious in retrospect; just because I am used to blogs being tied to personal events and/or reflection, especially relating to the process of writing and publishing, does not mean that this is the only application. Yet here are blogs that do not fit the model of personal reflection and experience that I'm used to, nor the classic "linking to cool stuff" model that I'm familiar with (all praise BoingBoing, etc.), but rather are used as highly focused, highly productive research and networking tools. Because just like we have groups and subgroups and whatnot in the realm of SF/F blogging, so too are there must-read blogs and groups in the EduBlog sphere. I find myself returning to Jeremy Hiebert's headspacej, weblogg-ed, Alan's cogdogblog, and others.
(And yes, there are even ePortfolio blogs. Helen Barrett's is perhaps the newest, and many of the edublogs mention ePortfolios at one time or another.)
So how is this in any way relevant to anything? Well, on the professional I'm-resarching-for-my-job level, this is all highly relevant to the initiation, creation and support of a space for personal, education and professional reflection. How do people become aware of their own skills and abilities? How can we encourage the deep self-reflection, self-examination and critical viewpoints that are required for individuals to make the leap from merely writing about a thing, an experience, a piece of work, an ability, to writing about it in such a way that they are brought to relizations about what that element means in connection with the rest of their experiences and abilities? How can we make students want to engage and participate in this process?
On a personal level, I'm having to think about a lot of things: my motivation for keeping a blog, the ways that I use blogging, blogging as network and blogging as social sphere and blogging as private journal gone public access. Blogging as self-reflection, and reflection on the process and product of writing. If anyone has any fears/hopes that this is all a rambling prelude to my dumping this online forum, let me assure you that nothing could be farther from the truth. But over the last few weeks, I have been actively thinking about these issues, pondering how and why I currently and could potentially best use this set of tools that I have been mucking around in for such a long time. In a sense I feel almost as if I've been leaping about in a pile of diamonds, made happy by the mere fact that they glitter.
And now I've done a little research and, well, I'll be damned--diamonds can also be useful.
Which isn't to say that I want to use my blog for fame and fortune--quite the opposite, really. But what I have here is a tool to better understand my thoughts and processes related to writing and all the messy details of life. I know that when I'm given the opportunity to truly engage in the process of deep reflection on what it is I'm doing and how and why, I get better. I understand more about story, about structure, about how I write and why. And yes, sometimes this temporarily shuts me down as I internalize this information; I didn't write for months upon months after leaving Clarion. But afterwards? Now? Look out.
So now, perhaps as a reminder to myself more than anything else, my goals are: to be specific, to be honest, to be brave. To admit to and embrace the fears I have about this process, and to act as if I'm fearless. To write about writing in a meaningful way.
And though I won't go so far as to challenge everyone who is reading this (after all, it's hard to fling down gauntlets without knowing one's audience), but I will say this: think about it. Those of you who are writers and bloggers (or journallers), think about how you use your blog and why. Think about how you could use it. And hey, if anything interesting happens, let me know.
Only Rob Sawyer could write an article about the capitalist, greed-based pursuit of money that is driving the recent push towards private manned space exploration and travel, and make it sound not only like an excellent idea, but so much fun! Sometimes it seems like Rob's enthusiasm and energy is limitless--and I can only watch and admire.
Either that or renew my campaign to make everyone who's ever met, seen, heard or spoken about me a lifelong devotee of adventure racing. It's one of the two.
The political experts predicted a Conservative majority government; the lord be praised, we got a Liberal minority instead. Which is not the big, shiny ideal government that I might envision for this country, but then my ideal is highly unlikely to become reality, nor would it likely match the big, shiny ideals of the rest of the country, but hey, it's something. (Anyone who knows me and knows anything about Canadian political parties does not have to think long to know who I vote for and why, but still, I will maintain some semblance of privacy.) So long as the Conservatives are not in control, I am content ... to a degree.
I’ll maintain some semblance of privacy, but not of impartiality. Conservatives, boo, hiss.
(For my Honourary Canadian friends: this means that Paul Martin is Prime Minister. He has been for a good handful of months now, though I'm not sure that the American media had yet caught on to this fact. He'll be here for a while, though, so remember that name.)
I watched some voting coverage on CBC last night, and was amused by Rick Mercer's commentary. (I have mentioned Mercer of This Hour Has 22 Minutes/Talking to Americans fame before, for those who are keeping tabs.) Responding to those who referred to voting as choosing between the lesser of three evils, he said (and I paraphrase), "It's very important that the lesser of the three evils wins. The last thing we need is the biggest evil running the country." Except that he said it with an East Coast accent.
I am, unfortunately, not nearly as versed in the complexities of the current political situation as I'd like to be. Somehow, in the list of things to do, staying aware of current events has become far from the top of the list of priorities. But, as newspapers are free here at York, I really should get around to changing that.
To which my brain, thinking of my teetering stack of library books, Book Expo books, books borrowed from friends and old copies of New Scientist, says, "Yeah, right. Just what I need: more to read."
Reading whatever I want to read should really be my full time job. That and writing. You know anyone who will pay me to do that?
I am no longer a student. (Yes, we knew that already, but I just wanted the pictures to prove it.) Just over a week ago was my convocation. I am now officially educated. (Ha!)
In the photo are: my Oma, myself, my mom and my Opa. My brother is taking the photo.
I am happy that I'm finished, and happy with my degree, and happy that I attended the ceremony, long as it was. (I was officially undergrad 279 to convocate, and there were a great many people who did not RSVP who were added in ahead of me, plus the Masters and Ph.D. graduates. There were, at the very least, 600 people graduating in my ceremony.) Though as I said as we were driving off campus after the fact, "I'd probably feel different about this if I didn't have to be here again tomorrow morning at 8:30." And the day after that ... and the day after that ...
So I never did get the SpaceShipOne internet feeds to stream for me; I came to the conclusion that it must simply have been due to traffic, because I could get their videos and ads to work just fine, and the live stream somewhat after the fact also worked beautifully. Ah, well. Such is life.
Without the live stream, though, I did what I could: I watched every single video clip, looked at every photo, read every article as they were posted. Sometimes it seemed as if I was doing nothing but switching browser windows and hitting reload. Knowing that it had already happened and was happening without me didn’t change the emotional impact of the event one bit. Here I sat, at my desk at work, hunched over to all but press my nose against the screen, watching grainy videos of a white spot in the sky with tears in my eyes.
"Go," I told it. "Go, go, go."
It was incredible.
And strange as it may seem, I started to have some idea of what it must have felt like to watch TV when people started going into space, when people first flew to the moon. I've said before in conversations to others, I was born after people landed on the moon and it has not happened in my lifetime. The biggest leaps that have occurred while I've been breathing seem to be experienced by machines: telescopes and probes and rovers. I have witnessed the loss of two space shuttles. Mir has crashed into the ocean. Through all of it, there have been other things, amazing things: the start of the ISS, the pictures sent back from Hubble, water on Mars. And yet there has always been that distance, the conceptual boundary--the need for the interviews and voice-over telling the general population how and why this is important.
I don't know, maybe I'm alone in this, but it felt yesterday as if I were watching something entirely new. All day I felt buoyed up by an incredible feeling of hope. Misty-eyed and blinking, I couldn't help but think, "Yep, there’s that sense of wonder."
I have tried two different computers. I have run up and down countless hallways, fighting with locks in an attempt to get into the staff lounge and the promise of the TV inside. I have tried CNN, NBC, CBC, ABC and CTV. I have refused to give them my credit card information. I have sworn countless times, not always quietly.
But somehow I've gotten it working: I am now streaming live coverage of the SpaceShipOne launch from MSNBC, free, at work. YES!!
I love today. This is the first day I've had all to myself in a very long time.
My convocation (which was good, actually--I was very glad I went) started a chain-reaction of sleep depravation and craziness that only ended Friday night. But this morning I got to sleep and sleep, rising only when I was tired of lying around. I spent most of the morning cleaning, actually, tiding the piles that had somehow grown to take over nearly every flat surface in the room, and washing dishes, and folding laundry--and it was good. I played Paul Simon songs and other random goodness--often music that I like and that Carly would hate to listen to. I put on my anklet with the little bells, and put a sparkly clip in my hair and ate chocolate and popcorn. I read some of The Eyre Affair and sat out in the sun. I've watched five episodes of Farscape and will likely watch one or two more before going to bed again.
And I've done what feels like my final edit/rewrite of "Ohntai." Two out of two critiques have mentioned that this feels like chapter one of a novel, but if it is I have no idea what the story is. (And the thought of trying to write that novel is enough to make me very, very afraid.) Perhaps it should be shorter than it is--it still hovers somewhere a bit above 8300 words--and yet I don't care. Quite a few of those are new words, total rewrites of sections, and maybe there is more that could or should be rewritten but I can't do it anymore. It's done. And so I'm going to put it in manuscript format and print it and send it out, and see what the rest of the world thinks. Or at least the editorial types.
I feel good. I've been both productive and lazy. And, best of all, I've been totally alone all day. Which is not to say that I wouldn't have had a good day if I was with someone else, or that I dislike having Carly around, or that going out and visiting someone would have been bad. It's just that it has been so long since I've just been alone to be myself and do whatever it is that I want to do with no one else to answer to.
A full day of my own. Right now, I can't think of anything better.
My brain truly does not work early in the morning. At a bit after 7 AM this morning, when I had already been awake and standing for about an hour, the phone rang. I answered. The woman on the other end said, "Hello, is this Karina?"
And I said, "No, I'm sorry, she's ... no. No, wait. That is me."
Sigh. To make matters worse, I had a choice of two things to bring with me for lunch: leftover noodles and sauce, or a bagel. Somehow, when I was standing there in the kitchen making this decision, I came to the conclusion that the best idea was to bring neither. And I can almost, almost follow my early-morning logic: see, I should have the noodles for dinner tonight when I get home from work, so I can't eat those for lunch, and I ate a bagel for lunch yesterday, and it's not good for me to just eat bagels. Right. The fact that choosing neither of these options leaves me with no lunch did not occur to me until some time later.
In the mean time, I am hungry and frustrated as all hell with the OSPI demo. Stupid thing. Going to metaphorically throw sticks at it for a while longer and see if I can convince it to do what I want. Otherwise ... maybe I'll complain to the developers. Yeah, that'll be productive.
So there's this little Post-it note that's been stuck to the bottom of my computer monitor here at work for almost two weeks now. It's to remind me that we're having (of all things) a Tupperware party. Now I realize that this might sound slightly ridiculous, but I've been looking forward to this since I first heard about it. I mean, yeah, sure, Tupperware--it's not that I really need any kitchen storage containers or utensils, especially not at that price, but ... still. It sounds fun in a "I'm only doing this once in my life" sort of way. And when else will I ever have the opportunity to take part in a Tupperware party?
Actually, the Post-it note reads: Tupperware party --> bring lunch! June 15.
And I realize: today is June 15. And I did not bring lunch, I bought myself a bagel instead because I slept almost 40 minutes too long this morning. That noise I heard from down the hall a bit over two hours ago? Yeah. That was the party.
Stupid Post-it note. I just wish that someone had thought to remind me.
Update, 4:11 PM: Stupid Post-it note indeed. It should have read, JULY 15. So there's still a party for me to go to. Watch out, Career Centre staff, the egg seperators will be mine!
As for the loudness around lunch ... I have no explanations. After all, I worked right through it.
Entering into this event, I had very little idea of what to expect. Books, yes. Publishers and booths and all sorts of chatting. But the details were hidden from me and I was nervous.
But, wearing my new, bright outfit and with spiffy new business cards in my bag, I hit the Convention Centre. I met Sarah outside and we managed to stumble into Julie and Genevieve right by the front doors. Bonus--because Julie could tell us where we needed to go, and from what I could tell the lobby was simply a mass of people. The mass turned out to be a gigantic line that wove its way wherever it wanted, and we squished our way past to get our badges. ... Our fancy author badges, no less. Mine read: Karina Sumner-Smith, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. AUTHOR. Yep, very nice.
What was perhaps even nicer was that these fancy author badges--with their bright red stripes across the bottom--allowed us to totally bypass the gigantic line. I expected to be stopped, but Security waved us on through. I was giddy with the power of the author badge!
Fitzhenry and Whiteside's booth turned out to be right near the top of the escalators, and Sarah and I hurried over to introduce ourselves and giggle over the big stack of Odysseys and the gorgeous Summoned posters that we were to sign. What happened next was something of a blur. Julie and Genevieve arrived at the booth, as did Francine and Jana and Ruth. It was 10:30 and the massive line was allowed up the stairs. The Odyssey authors started signing and giving books away, and people began to crowd around, jostling to get in line. I was a bit lost until Julie handed me a stack of posters with a cheerful, "Here! Give these out."
And I did. Stationing myself by the line, a little ways out from the booth itself, I offered posters to the people still streaming up the escalators. Some weren't interested, of course, and some just wanted copies of Odyssey, but a whole lot of people started coming up to get a copy. (I don't blame them--I couldn't resist the cover art, either.) But what felt absolutely fantastic was to grab the attention of someone who would have otherwise walked by, and tell them about the book, only to have them say, "This sounds amazing, when will it be out?" or "Oh, this is just what I was looking for!" And then to look at their badges and realize that they represented libraries and major bookstores and schools ... it was excellent.
Within an incredibly short time, all the copies of Odyssey had been claimed and so us Summoned authors (now with the addition of Michelle West, who'd arrived sometime during the chaos) began to sign copies of the poster for anyone interested. What a surreal moment. Can you have my autograph? Um ... sure. Of course!
After the signing, us authors were set loose on the rest of Book Expo. Posters in hand, we set out.
Now here's the thing about Book Expo: really, its for booksellers. The publishers' booths are rarely manned by anyone in the editorial staff; they're mostly sales people, all of whom want very much for you to be interested in their authors and their books. To make people interested, what publishers tend to do is make big announcements and then sit an author or two down and proceed to give away free books or ARCs to anyone who wants the author to sign a copy. Michelle described it perhaps most accurately when she said that authors are the dog and pony show that publishers trot out to attract attention. And it worked. Anyone signing anything meant an instant crowd. The bigger the name, the bigger the crowd. All this equals more free stuff.
So, officially, I'm not the person that publishers want to be giving their products away to. After all, I can't influence the buying of any store, large or small, nor do I have the power of an educator who can use specific novels in class or a librarian. But I'm there. And if I got into the various lines for the various authors with their various books, I got the free signed copies, too.
So I did. Many, many times. I have many, many free books, and quite a few other free things besides. (And seeing as I can't buy things for a store, I'll make up for the fact that I'm just an author by discussing here all of the free books that I enjoy reading.)
But, as I was wandering around, getting free books and looking and not-for-sale books and posters and whatnot, I still had those posters with me. As did Jana. And Sarah had her books. And we discovered that whenever people said, "Oh, you're a writer? What do you write?" some good and interesting things happened when we simply said, "Here, let me show you." My personal favourite was signing a copy of the Summoned to Destiny poster for Will Ferguson, co-author of books such as How to Be a Canadian. When I left, he'd returned to signing, leaving the Summoned poster in plain sight in the middle of the Random House booth.
As the afternoon wore on, publishers started bringing out the Big Guns: food and free liquor. They had cake, they had wine, they had nachos and vegetables and every imaginable kind of dip. (Not to mention the champagne, beer, water, cocktails, cheese, fruit, crackers...) People were calmer, chatting, and clumping together in impossible-to-walk-through groups. Though I was getting weary at that point, it was much fun.
But soon, despite the proliferation of snacks, it was clearly time for dinner, and clearly time for my aching self to leave. Let me just say, I love Book Expo. Despite the fact that by the time I left my feet hurt, my legs were seizing and my shoulders resented being used like pack animals--and had no problem telling me so--part of me was sad that it was over. Since I'd taken Monday off so I could attend my convocation, I seriously considered waking up early, ignoring the page proofs that I had to edit, and rushing downtown to attend a few more hours (before, of course, rushing back home to change, rushing to York and doing that whole graduation thing).
I feel like this is the first time that I've stopped doing stuff in days--and I'm not really stopped even now, because I'm about to make dinner and I have writing to do and business cards to redesign and print out and laundry to wash and dry and then there's that whole needing to work and sleep thing. Yeah. So: busy.
But I've been doing enjoyable things, too. Last Wednesday (woah, am I ever behind) I went to see Sarah's choir perform Carmina Burana, which was utterly fantastic and which I thoroughly enjoyed. Despite the fact that I'd been about ready to fall asleep on the subway downtown after work, the music kept me absolutely awake and listening. Plus I had Chris (of Bakka fame) to keep me company before the show started and during the intermission.
Friday I went out with some newsgroupies (deep breath--Sarah, Jana, Lara, Rob, Ross and Sandie) to see Harry Potter. The company, by the way, was fantastic (the people I went with, I mean, not the hoards of tarted-up 14-year-old fangirls that swarmed the place on mass ... but I digress). I'm rather enjoying this growing trend of us all going out to a movie or someone's house or something. It's been a while since I've had a group, and I'd rather missed it.
I also greatly enjoyed the movie. I've heard people say both positive and negative things about this one, but for what it's worth, I think it was the best one of the lot, by far. It's more vivid, more emotional, more real. And no, it isn't the book, but that's sort of the point of seeing a movie, isn't it?
It also taught me something very important. Midway through the movie, as I'm half-wondering to myself what it is about this movie that's so different and so much better than the previous two, I came to a sudden realization: this movie was like the others, but with the intensity dial turned up. And my writing brain goes, "Intensity dial? Those exist?"
As soon as I realized that, I thought about the Peak of the Ocean books' storyline; there has been something missing from that whole huge story, and I couldn't figure out for the longest time what it was. And so I thought about a scene, and imagined turning the intensity dial up--upping the tension between characters, deepening the meaning, making the danger more present, making the consequences that much worse--and wham, the scene fell into place. And I tried it again, and again, and damn if it didn't work every time.
Don't know how much of the movie I missed, lost in my own head like that, but whatever it was, it was worth it. So, so worth it.
Now if only I had time to write it...
(Yeah, so stop writing blog entries, you twit.)
(Shut up, me.)
In the mean time, work has been ... work. I actually ran out of things to do for a day or so there, and managed to catch up on some email. Not enough email, of course. (I have a couple of emails that I'd really like to respond to that are literally months old. And how to you just send someone an email after months of silence? It's hard, is what. I feel like a terrible person. Or a terrible correspondent, anyway.) But today was a big meeting with Important People that was my meeting--my idea and under my leadership and all the rest of that jazz--so I was nervous as all hell. But this project is going good places and can actually be quite exciting when I let myself stop and think of all the potential.
In other news, I'll be going to Book Expo this Sunday, which I'm both very excited and very nervous about. Thought I had the perfect outfit, and then I went and bought some new clothes. I'm determined to make an impact (though, hopefully, not by projectile vomiting on an editor's shoes, which is what M'ris mentioned to me. Eep). We will see how that goes.
Also: since putting the comments feature on this here lovely blog, I have since discovered that it will only update and/or tell me about comments when I'm connected to the ftp server. Which means, only right before and right after I upload an entry. Now is this something due to me messing up code again (I don't think so, but you never know, right?) or something related to the way that Blogger works or what? Should I not be surprised by this? I don't know.
To the cover for Summoned to Destiny edited by Julie E. Czerneda, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside, ISBN 1550418610. Forthcoming in August 2004.
Isn't it fantastic?! And just wait until you see the back cover, too, and the spine, and the quotes! Whew. The art is by Kenn Brown and Chris Wren. And what's so great about the cover image is that it incorporates pieces from almost all of the stories ... but the woman on the front ...? Yep, inspired by my very own "A Prayer of Salt and Sand."
I love this so much I just can't put it into words.
So I was finally getting around to adding Haloscan comments to this page when I discovered that in all the Blogger changes that have been going on lately, all of a sudden there's a commenting option. Who knew? Course, then Blogger just had to republish my entire blog, so now all my blog entries have this new formatting. I'm kind of sad to see the black/peach/aurora style go, even though I still have the code. I've always tried to leave the formatting for old entries alone, so that everything is just how it was when I published it. I could attempt to re-format all the old entries back to their original style, but I have no idea how to do that and really doubt that it'd be a good use of my time.
I'm rambling. I need dinner. Thank goodness there's food in the house.
Update: and somehow I cut some necessary code from my template, because now the comments won't work. Trial-and-error coding is really a stupid way to operate, but it's all I've got.
Update, update: Added the correct coding, and everything appears to work wonderfully ... except that it doesn't. Sigh.
When I went out for lunch yesterday, four cars were blocking all traffic from entering the York Common. Buses were lined up on the street, empty, as students waited in lines by York Lanes. As I walked, another police car drove up and added to the blockade.
Another police car was slowly driving (the wrong way) around the Common road itself, calmly diverting the questions of students who wanted to know why they couldn’t get near the buses. As I watched, two York security people in full uniform came down the sidewalk, talking into walkie-talkies.
No one knew what was going on—except, of course, for the police, and they weren’t talking. By the time I went back to the office, things were back to normal.
In an unrelated (at least I assume it's unrelated) story, which I discovered this morning while checking the weather online, two men were shot in a café right by the Jane/Finch corner. For those who aren't local: York occupies the block between Jane and Finch, Keele and Steeles. Once again, too damn close for comfort. But by that time, I was likely walking down my quiet residential street towards my apartment.
A while ago, back when I was still living in residence, I said in one journal entry that I most certainly did not want to live anywhere near York University, no matter how convenient it seemed. The Jane/Finch corridor is entirely too dangerous for my liking.
A few months later I received a rather angry email from a gentleman who informed me that he had lived in the area for about twenty years, if I recall correctly, and had never had any problems. His neighbours were very excellent people, too, he wanted to let me know. Which is lovely, and I'm sure he was being honest with me.
For a while I was planning on writing a rather long and involved reply to his email. But it arrived during an exam period and really, education had to take precedence over ranting. In the end, all I really wanted to say to him could be summed up in one sentence: Sir, you quite obviously are not a girl in her early twenties. (And considering the then-recent activity regarding the rapist on campus and then the murder just off it--all involving young women, of course--I think that my point was relevant, though somewhat obvious.)
While I could understand his displeasure at my public rejection of the area of the city in which he lives, his angry email did not change my mind. No, not even a little. And here's the difference: where I live, I feel safe. I am not scared to walk home alone after dark. (The most frightening thing that's happened to me after dark was that I almost walked into one of the local raccoons before either of us noticed the other's presence. After a moment of staring, I elected to walk around the cars onto the other side of the street while it chose to backtrack and continue walking on lawns. Oooh, scary.) The only community police alert that I've received about the area since moving in last September has been a warning that there have been pickpockets in the fancy shops in Bloor West Village.
Here, two men were just shot, one critically. That's the difference.
(And suddenly, my hour-long bus commute does not seem particularly inconvenient.)
There are stacks upon stacks of motivational posters (all nicely framed and mounted) here in the office. In my office, specifically, as it also doubles as a storage space for things that don't yet have a home. I am told, day after day, with every idle glace to my right, to follow my heart, to be flexible, to have no fear, to be aware that change is constant, etc., all with lovely accompanying views of rocky landscapes or clouds or rocky landscapes with clouds.
I also have a very big, blank wall above my desk, which I think could be covered quite nicely with this poster.