March 9, 2011 § 21 Comments
If you are one of those people who notices eensy-weensy details like the particulars on someone’s blog, you may have noticed that yesterday I decided to append a copyright license to my blog. You see, I’ve started to become nervous. It finally dawned on me the other day that I am posting portions of creative thought that will appear in one form or another in my dissertation. It would break my heart (not to mention really really piss me off) if someone stole my creative intellectual property before I even had a chance to explore it. Although I trust my general readers not to steal my thoughts, the same can’t be said for the general Googler who might happen upon my blog when they type in specific keywords.
Note: I realize that I’m giving myself a great deal of credit, thinking my blog would show up in a Google search, but for the sake of the point, please just play along.
In addition to being pissed off by plagiarists who might want to steal my stuff, I am disgusted by people who plagiarize at all. For instance, as some of you Gmail users may be aware, Gmail sometimes takes it upon itself to “read” your e-mail and provide advertisements that correlate to the subject matter. More often than not, I am appalled to find an ad for a paid dissertation-writing service (like those paid essay-writing services!!) splashed across my Gmail inbox…just because I used the word “dissertation” in a message to a friend.
How utterly disgusting and disgraceful, to steal a dissertation! To pay someone else to write it for you so that you can slap your name on it and claim authorship! To that I say: if you don’t have the facilities to compose a dissertation all on your own, then leave your program ABD. Let it go. Don’t get the degree. Leave the degree for the students who can and will do their own work. So disgusting.
And then…things like this happen:
Look, folks, let’s just be perfectly clear here.
Writing is hard work. If you want your work to be taken seriously, you will often need to incorporate some amount of research (even if it’s light). Even in works of fiction, authors will write an acknowledgement or thanks message where they give credit to the people who assisted them in their research.
Research is hard work. In order to conduct research properly, you have to think of all the questions before your readers have the chance to ask them. Cover all your bases. Know what your sources know. As you conduct your research, you have got to keep track of the sources: their titles, authors, page numbers for direct quotes and paraphrases.
If it isn’t appropriate for your work to contain a bibliography, then write a note of thanks and acknowledgement so that those who assisted you are given credit.
I guess at the end of the day, the plagiarism rule is this:
When in doubt, always give credit where credit is due.
March 2, 2011 § 6 Comments
Welcome to another installment of “Let’s Talk Semantics”! Before we begin, a vignette!
Ah! I think to myself. Spring has come early. Too bad for me I’ll spend it in the library. Oh well.
“Excuse me!” a shrill voice interrupts my reverie as I dig through my bag for my sunglasses.
“Hm?” I look up and find a young woman, frazzled and frantic.
“D’you know where the deli is on campus?” Her question comes fast and impatient.
“Uhm…,” I say intelligently. “Ah, the best I know is that we have one on campus. And…I think it’s near some dormitories. Maybe…that direction?” I gesture randomly to the right.
“Okay,” she says, suddenly confident in my unclear directions. “So, it’s over there?”
“Oh, well, I don’t really know. I just think it’s in that direction…but I’m really not sure. Maybe you should ask someone else.” I reply, realizing that I’m about to send her out into the wild blue yonder.
“But it’s that way? If I go that way, I’ll find it?”
“Uh…I really don’t know,” I say, trying to laugh to lighten her intensity. “All I know is that it’s near some dormitories.” (For the record: this is not like my little undergrad–there are dormitories everywhere here!)
“Okay, I’ll go that way, then.”
Laughing again, I stop her and say, “No, no! I don’t want you to go the wrong way. You really need to ask someone else. I’ve only been to the deli once and that was six years ago! I’m not confident in my memory.”
She scoffs scornfully at me and turns around to speak to a rather dashing young man. Soon, they’re laughing. At me? I don’t care. I’m going to the library.
Oh…that’s where the deli is….
So, let’s talk semantics, folks. When did “I think” translate to “I know” for her? at what point do we as general listeners take someone’s thought and transform it into knowledge? Was it because I looked older than a freshman (god help me) that she just wanted to intrinsically trust me even though I was telling her that I wasn’t a trustworthy source on this point? I wasn’t wearing teacher clothes, so I looked like every other student schlepping across campus. What in my language/demeanor/dress indicated to her that I was the font of information and that I was just being modest when I said that I wasn’t sure but I thought this was true?
As a student of English studies for nearly over a decade (oh the horror!), I have learned the fine art of supporting my most outlandish claims with research and cold-hard facts. I have learned how to ethically, pathetically, and logically present a compelling argument for the purpose of persuading my reader to my side. I have learned to deliberately select specific words over others to serve a clear function. But, and let me be perfectly clear about this, if I do not know something to be true but I have a pretty good idea, then I will choose the phrase “I think,” instead. And I do so hoping that my reader or audience will discern the difference.
“I think” indicates that I have not conducted the research, have not gathered the facts, and indeed am not confident in my own conclusion to stand resolutely beside it should it be found wanting.
“I know” means the absolute opposite of the above. And I choose to use that phrase in specific instances.
This is a phenomenon I’ve noticed in increasing frequency–when I say “I think,” this sometimes translates into “I know” in the minds of my listeners. Hell, even when I say, “I don’t know” and am clear on that, sometimes my listeners hear the complete opposite. (I do know this because of recent conversations with students who have misquoted me during lecture to a surprising degree.) It is in moments like this one when I have that horribly wearying thought that my deliberate word choice is all for naught–have we turned into a society that just speaks for the sake of hearing the sound of its collective voice?
As it turned out, I ended up passing the little deli on my journey to the library. I had pointed that young woman in the exact wrong direction. Oops. Her life lesson: always get a second opinion, especially when your first source rambles on about how she doesn’t know for certain that what she’s saying is even true.
January 16, 2011 § 3 Comments
In essence, accountability is when one person makes a commitment to him- or herself via another person’s knowledge of that commitment. So, for instance, when I say, “I’m going to perform a certain action in a certain amount of time solely for myself,” what I mean is, “I want you to yell at me if I do not perform a certain action in a certain amount of time solely for myself.”
Sometimes what I really want to say is, “I want you to take responsibility if I do not perform a certain action in a certain amount of time solely for myself.” Sometimes I want the word “accountability” to mean that someone else can take the fall for my failure to come through on a specific commitment.
Don’t manage to write my 2 pages a day? Surely it’s someone else’s fault.
Can’t shake that weight? Obviously Lay’s is to blame.
But here’s what I’ve really started to learn as a grown-up: the cold, hard fact of the matter is that nobody can actually take the fall for my actions (or inaction). And now I pause for the Internet to unanimously and in perfect harmony let out a mighty: DUH.
Well done, Internet! Bravo!
Anyway. So, fine, it has finally sunk in that asking others to help me stay accountable does not necessarily and automatically make them responsible for my goals. I am learning how exactly to employ this knowledge. For instance, on Wednesday night last week, I seriously did not want to work. At all. But when Robert got home from work, I begged him not to make me cook dinner because I hadn’t accomplished a thing yet. We talked a minute about a Plan B and finally settled on eating out nearby to my favorite coffee shop. After dinner we would sit in the coffee shop until they closed; Robert would play whatever he wanted to on his laptop, and I would work. After dinner, I still did not want to work. At all. But Robert held me accountable and put it to me this way: “it is 7 p.m., and they close at 10. You’ve got three hours.” Of course…I also had to teach my first day of class the next morning, and I did not like the prospect of staying up at all hours that night finishing my pages.
I finished my pages at 9:55 p.m., and we were in bed by 10:30. (Of course…I didn’t sleep that night, but that’s not the point!)
I’m also learning to ask for help while seeking accountability. I guess they go hand-in-hand.
Accountability is taking responsibility for your own actions while simultaneously asking for help. We are really asking for someone to help us remember that someone else is aware of our goals. We are asking for help because we ourselves aren’t perfect. We are asking for help because we know that we can only achieve our goals when other people are involved, even in the smallest way…even if it’s just to keep us on track.
And that help, that accountability that someone else holds us to, is the point where we realize the actuality of our intended goals.
January 8, 2011 § 12 Comments
Considering that one of the things I love to teach my students is the power of words in general, I have decided to begin a series of posts. From time to time, as the mood hits, I’ll add to this series: Let’s Talk Semantics. In this series, we’ll play with words and their individual power, as well as the meaning behind them.
Let’s begin, shall we?
Let’s Talk Semantics!
Yesterday morning, I met with my friend V over coffee to discuss some dissertation writing plans. We agreed that if we wrote two pages a day, five days a week, and turned in 10 pages every Friday to each other, by the end of April, we’d have every chapter in a full draft form. Considering we’ve been in academia for over a decade, and that we’ve studied English literature/composition for the majority of that decade, we can compose 2 pages a day with little trouble at all. We feel confident we’ll be able to meet these self-imposed deadlines and that we’ll hold each other fully accountable.
And that’s what brings me to today’s topic.
While V and I were writing down our deadlines in our calendars, I glanced over to V’s calendar and saw that she had chosen a very specific word. Rather than choosing to write “Writing Goal: 2 pages a day,” she wrote “Writing Commitment: 2 pages a day.” In that moment, it suddenly struck me that there is a clear difference between goals and commitments. Here’s what I mean:
Goals: something often vague, abstract, and in some distant future. We might say something like “my goal is to lose 100 pounds,” but we haven’t necessarily mapped out exactly how we intend to achieve that goal. So, fine, we map out our plan to achieve it. But does that plan automatically suggest that the goal will be met? I’m inclined to believe, no.
Commitments: something concrete, specific, and immediate. When we make commitments, we are holding ourselves responsible and accountable for meeting those commitments. If we fail in our commitments, we are often held responsible and accountable for them by others as well. For instance, if we commit to raising a puppy, we commit to feeding it, taking it potty all the times it
rings a bell needs to go out, walking with it to keep it exercised, socializing it with other dogs, and playing with it to keep it people-friendly. If we fail in these commitments, we reap the consequences of that failure. We might have a poorly-adjusted dog, or (even worse) our dog might be taken from us.
Commitments are more serious goals. Goals say nothing about our level of interest in completion. Making a commitment says to all who are aware of it: “I mean to see this through to the very end. I will not give up.” Goals say: “I really hope/wish I could achieve this.”
So what? Anyone can hope and wish and dream. But commit?
To commit takes some real gumption.