Sunday, October 31, 2021

RBOC and some writing inspiration

  •  First, some writing inspiration from Paul McCartney in The New Yorker: "As McCartney recalls, “George would say, ‘Be here at ten, tune up, have a cup of tea.’ At ten-thirty you’d start.” Two songs were recorded by lunch, and often two more afterward. “Once you get into that little routine, it’s hard, but then you enjoy it. It’s a very good way to work. Because suddenly at the end of every day you’ve got four songs.” This puts Sir Paul in the "write every day" camp, and I am here for it. At the end of the day you've got four songs; at the end of the pomodoro, you've at least got more words than you did at the beginning.
  • More writing inspiration, but very vague, I'm afraid: a writer recently posted that he gets up really early to write not despite his being too tired but BECAUSE of it. The fatigue, etc. helps him to stop dancing around and actually get down to writing, because it turns off his inner editor. I saw this and shouted "this is me!" to the cats, except that for me 9 p.m. is the witching hour when the inhibitions put out a "gone to lunch" sign and I can settle into writing. I am still doggedly trying to write in the morning because at 9 p.m. on a teaching day, I am really too tired for any work, but morning writing is never going to be the same as those quiet evening hours.
  • Seeing pictures of modern writing houses, I'm struck by how they seem to come in two styles: stuffed to the gills with mementos, children's pictures, artwork, and various cozy knicknacks; and bare in a pure minimalist style, with just fancy chairs, a laptop, a couple of artbooks, and some inspirational "live laugh love" thingy on the wall, with nary a functional file cabinet in sight. The point is that they have a definite aesthetic. Mine does not have an aesthetic, unless "office for reading and writing" is an aesthetic. To my mind it's the most beautiful (because it's roomy and mine and I love it), but I was ridiculously fretting about its not making A Coherent Aesthetic Statement and that I was somehow shortchanging it because I wasn't making it beautiful enough. Spouse wisely said "it's for your work, not theirs. Work is your aesthetic."
  • My double life of pretending regret about not going to conferences and that there is no COVID or that travel is not a challenge, like the rest of the academic conference world, is making me a bit irritable privately, though I'm still maintaining the public facade. 
  • Was Halloween always such a big deal? When I was a kid, we dressed up and went trick-or-treating on October 31, usually with our parents, but they didn't dress up and the houses were just regular houses, not decorated. Around here everything is Halloween for all of October, and a lot of people decorate and dress up. Was it always this way? Or do we just want more holidays now (not a bad thing)? 

Friday, October 29, 2021

If a crazy donor put up $200M to build a windowless dorm, with tiny rooms, would your university do it?

 UCSB says, "heck, yes!"

Short version: "97-year-old billionaire-investor turned amateur-architect Charles Munger, who donated $200 million toward the project with the condition that his blueprints be followed exactly."

These include the following:

  •  2 exits for a building to hold 4500 students.
  • 1 bathroom per 8 rooms, which is bad for all kinds of reasons I leave to your imagination.
  • Did I mention NO WINDOWS? In a place with a view of the ocean? 
  • And that he's paying 200M but UCSB will shell out 1.5 billion to create & maintain this monstrosity?

When he's not reaching into the past for all kinds of inhumane social experiments for his inspiration, Munger apparently makes this offer to various campuses, and some have accepted (Michigan? Not clear.).

 As is unfortunately typical of some university governance processes when money is involved, this was apparently rammed through without any discussion. 

The consulting architect, Dennis McFadden, clearly a man of principle, has quit, because “in the nearly fifteen years I served as a consulting architect to the DRC, no project was brought before the committee that is larger, more transformational, and potentially more destructive to the campus as a place than Munger Hall.” 

Let's recap: take students stressed out by a year of COVID. Warehouse them like lab rats and force them to interact. Provide not enough bathrooms. And fire drills in that place (how did this ever pass a fire code?) will be a real treat, with 4500 students streaming out the two doors at 2 a.m., unless prank fire-alarm pulling has vastly changed over the decades. 

Wasn't there a lab rat experiment that proved what a bad idea cramming people into a windowless space could be?

And when sleep-deprived students show up in our classes, guess who will get to bear the secondary consequences?

 Nothing could go wrong here, nothing at all.  

P. S. With its steady drumbeat of "no offices for professors is the great future that awaits us all," I'm surprised that CHE isn't cheerleading this effort.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Bad Art Friend: the blue/gold dress of 2021

You've doubtless seen this one: Robert Kolker's "Who is the Bad Art Friend?" in the NYTimes Magazine. 

Here's the short version:

1. A lightly-published writer (Dawn Dorland) donates a kidney, seeks support (praise?) for doing so by setting up a Facebook private group and inviting writers and others to it, including the more-famous Sonya Larson. She posts an open hypothetical letter to the kidney recipient explaining her reasons. 

2. Larson lurks on the group but doesn't post. Dorland looks at her stats, sees this, and reaches out to Larson by email (who does that?).

3. Larson writes a story, "The Kindest," in which a deluded white savior type donates a kidney to Chuntao, who is--unimpressed? 

In the earliest version of the story, Larson, in order to mock the white savior more effectively, uses part of Dorland's letter word for word, telling her group of writer friends, the Chunky Monkeys, that it was too good not to repeat. Later, she changes it slightly. 

Dorland pursues Larson: those are my words. Larson feels pursued but doubles down: oh, you own all the words and kidney situations, do you? Tells her friends, who along with Larson have been mocking the needy Dorland all along. Lies to Dorland.  Lawsuits ensue. 

The reactions, from Celeste Ng and others on Twitter and in the NY Times comments, have been fascinating. 

1. Writers: Dorland was never our friend; we just liked to mock her. Anyway, she was annoying, and persisting in claiming her words is borderline harassment. She was not part of Our Group, the Chunky Monkey in-crowd. We are Creatives and taking those words and Dorland's life situation was creative license--deal with it. And anyway, Dorland shouldn't write about her kidney donation, because she's begging for praise and it destroys the purity of her gift. Only we should write about it. 

Honestly, this is the take from most of the writers I follow on Twitter, all of whom say "it's clear who the bad guy is here--Dorland, duh."  

The Atlantic has an essay by Elizabeth Bruenig saying "get a load of that awful Dawn Dorland" with no hint of the stolen words backstory, which gives me reason 1,000 why I'm glad I am no longer a subscriber after decades of paying money to The Atlantic. 

2. People who aren't writers: "Wasn't that mean, though, to take her words and gang up on her? Why are you mocking her for being needy and for, excuse me, giving a kidney?" 

My take, as a lowly English professor:

Leaving aside everything else: Isn't the appropriation of someone else's words without attribution what we call . . . plagiarism? And call out in student papers?

I get why Larson would attack and get her group to back her with a lot of excuses. I've seen it whenever I've confronted a student about plagiarism, even when I'm sitting there with a word-for-word comparison. They get defensive and angry. 

It doesn't change the facts. I still report it to Academic Integrity or whatever the university unit about that is calling itself this year. 

Would I ever say this, though, on Twitter? Absolutely not.  I went through middle school, and believe me, I knew Mean Girls.  I also know that the Mean Girl syndrome doesn't stop there. 

Larson said that she wanted "The Kindest" to be a blue/gold dress story, where the woman with the white savior complex and the woman who got the kidney were both wrong and right, depending on your subject position. 

But Kolker's reporting, it seems to me, is providing the real test.

What are your thoughts? 

Updated to add: 

Here's Olivia Craighead at Gawker: sure, there was 'light plagiarism' but ewww Dorland. Dorland pitched her story to the NYTimes, which we can all agree was the REAL crime.

Buzzfeed: #teamSonya

Last update: Summer Brennan lays out the whole case, with screenshots, here: