Spring Break Ended, Sadly

Spring break ended too soon but I did get one final draft out and have another one underway. We’ll see if I can make the NCA deadline.

I get a lot out of NCA but it comes out of the cracks. It’s not a direct path to the value of it. I always have a few moments that stick with me and that I use to help me in my thinking.

But for the most part, NCA is run by and loved by dilettantes who see themselves as people who would be NPR journalists if they did not think they were smarter than NPR journalists. There’s a lot of chat about what’s going on on this or that series, latest episodes of Frontline or whatever the journalism show de jour is, discussion about podcasts and Rachel Maddow - stuff like that. It’s a huge cocktail party - over 4,000 people - so some dilluding of the content is expected.

The only papers worth hearing I feel are those from the top paper panels. These are people who have put in the time and are trying to make a contribution beyond NCA, beyond scholars, and perhaps shift the field a few millimeters ahead. Unfortunately NCA schedules most of these to happen at the same time, so you have to pick. This shouldn’t happen, but it shows how far removed the idea of attending panels to learn something is from the planners’ minds. It’s also not nefarious; it is most likely that NCA is way too big, and people are too forgiving in letting in ideas rather than fully thought out papers.

NCA is good for graduate students, I always assumed, but there was a lot of strange stressful discourse from grad students I spoke with last year in Utah. Maybe faculty put too much pressure on NCA these days because the percentage of valuable content at NCA is getting smaller and smaller. It could also be that since people no longer read hyper specialized journals casually (why would you?) the face-to-face at a bar or after a panel is much more important for making connections in your career. Not sure why this is but if you are an advisor, stop stressing out your students about NCA - it’s a place to learn and grow, not to nail a virtuoso performance.

So I’m not sure I should invest so much time into writing for the NCA conference unless I have a really good idea. The past few years I have had some great ideas, and my current one - about Myles Horton’s pedagogy and the distinction between deliberation, dialogue, and debate - isn’t one of my better ideas. I’ve just decided to write it and see how it goes and if it doesn’t hit the NCA conference deadline, that’s fine. I’m not too worried about it.

There’s also our journals, which are not widely read at all - barely read within the communication field - making them poor organs for the distribution of ideas or larger persuasive goals about normative aspects of rhetoric and pedagogy. They are very good organs if your goal is to have a conversation with the 10 or so other scholars who engage in the work you do. That’s how they are designed.

I have nothing against this design except for the fact that nearly 100% of all publication effort in rhetoric is aimed at these 5 journals with a readership that is in the hundreds. If we design our journals this way we should couple that with the discussion, or the obligation, to publish for broader outlets about our ideas.

I like blogging, but this week has me thinking that my new model for writing should be this blog coupled with publication elsewhere. I like the model of a Patreon, where people subscribe to your work for a small fee and then can request or put in ideas for future writing or podcast-type publication. This might be a good way to put a premium on non-academic style work and reach an interested public who self-selects given their interest. I might give this a try.

The only thing I didn’t really do well at this spring break was outline my short book idea. I should just start writing it and get a rough draft out to a publisher in a month. This might be pretty good timing for the upcoming political debates. It’s an untested method, but I think the thesis of the book is going to be to flip the Presidential debates (or any political debates) from refined final product to raw material, a set of commonplaces, or topoi, for us to use to craft a refined set of political principles to defend.

The biggest success story about spring break was how much fun I had playing Fallout 76 and Elder Scrolls Online. I really do think that if things went haywire in the academic world I could stream video games all day for 5 to 6 days a week and have a blast. Of course, any engaging, fun, and exciting creative work can turn into a “job” - one that you despise and resent - very quickly. Just look to how that leaks out in the negativity many professors present toward their students!