Saturday, October 01, 2022

The Thirty Day Facebook Fast

 It has been a looooooooong while, but I figured this was as good a place as any to record my thoughts. Last month (September), I decided to take the advice of Cal Newport and do a 30-day Facebook fast. I have my own struggles with his book Deep Work as I narrated here, but I thought it would be interesting to not only leave Facebook for a month, but to be intentional about tracking my experience in doing so. On Newport's recommendation, I didn't announce I was taking a hiatus, but I did write to a select few who might a) actually notice I was gone and b) who might be alarmed if I didn't note their birthdays or other important occasions/posts with a Facebook response. 

The responses I received to that email were the first part of my lesson. I was rewarded with actual responses of support and a desire to know how it went (so, this post is for all y'all!). So, I've decided to do a little run down of my most cogent observations and how the experience changed as the month went on, as well as the startling experience of today, my first day back.

I did have one "cheat" day---I posted and looked on a local forum when my entire neighborhood smelled of smoke. Turned out there was a subway car (thankfully in a yard) on fire. 

Day 1 (don't worry---I won't record all thirty days) insights


  • spousal narration of what's on Facebook more interesting when I haven't already seen it
  • less inclined to check other social media in general (transferred guilt), although I did check Instagram
  • much more conscious of my need to vent! Even though I've thwarted my venting on Facebook, it is often after I delete what I've written. This is forcing me to figure out other (healthier?) routes.
  • FOUND TIME. Amazing how many 2-5 minute work tasks you can find when Facebook isn't the go to. It wasn't so much about the time, but the consciousness of those five minutes here and there. They took on greater value.
  • Feeling WAY less burdened by EVERYONE's hot take on EVERYTHING.
  • Increased mindfulness in general

  • Slight FOMO, but not missing hot takes, sanctimony, or rants
  • Felt a little...lonely. That's worth looking into.
  • THREE times on the first day, I MINDLESSLY clicked on a different app on my phone because the icon is where the Facebook icon was. That was a bit unsettling, although I consider it a PRO that I noticed it at all!
Over the next 30 days my biggest takeaways:
  • Not being able to vent on Facebook necessitated other ways of processing (or processing in general, which is not the same as venting). That's probably a big win from this experiment.

  • I took note of when I felt the urge to share. Much of the time it was the minutiae that seems insignificant for an actual conversation (did you notice the MFA changed it's logo?). I found that most of the time I wanted to post, it was humorous or lighthearted. I gave up on using Facebook as a platform for meaningful discussion awhile back. My focus on activism has been more solitary or directed through my work with ETUDE or Community Cooks

  •  I caught myself on the Instagram reel vortex, as I like to call it. I had already decided Instagram was still allowed, partially because I use it for ETUDE, but I was only supposed to check it occasionally and post less frequently. I hopped on Foursquare, so clearly I had some sort of craving for some kind of social media engagement...but what? Just procrastination? Was it connected to anxiety about the semester starting?
From my Evernote journal about this experiment:

If you know me well, you know I loathe the phone. That hasn't changed, but not being on Facebook made me a tad more conscious about events/celebrations on my radar screen without the assistance of Facebook, so I called two dear friends whose wedding I officiated many moons ago. It was a surprise to all of us that my voice was on the line, I think.

On the busiest weeks, it actually came to feel like a RELIEF not to be on Facebook. I also found myself more grateful for the friends who knew of my fast and who sent me the occasional cute picture or meme via text. I was grateful that these friends wrote to me and communicated outside of Facebook. That solidified what I already suspected about the people I hold closest to me in my life. Facebook or no, they are there.

But it was today, October 1, when I broke my fast, that I had the most jarring experience. I was on FB for the first time, and my home church's page popped up with an alert that they were going live. Now, I have occasionally watched the services on Sundays, but the time difference with California makes it a bit difficult because it breaks up my day. But I was surprised to see a notification about it on a Saturday.

It turns out it was a streamed memorial service for someone who meant a lot to me. Someone who died on September 2. Two days in to my "fast." This was how I found out she died. I wept and shared the news with my spouse who had also not been on FB for quite some time. We both watched the service. This was a woman who had met me when I was 18. This was a woman who was at my wedding. And as I watched I felt grateful for whatever coincidence or grace made it happen that I should be able to see the service on FB. It was healing in its own way.

So...what now?

Even at the start of this experience there was a part of me that felt selfish. Like I was abandoning people. And I suppose I'm slightly resentful that in truth, I was. I didn't have expectations that people should reach out to me otherwise (although some did), but there were things that happened that I only could have known through Facebook and that's the part I don't like. But that's too difficult to fix. It's a reality of how social media works.

But I also know that I can change my relationship to social media. My current plan is to check in once a week (I haven't decided what day yet). I don't need to share every thought and frustration. I need to think about reinvesting in things like cards and phone calls. That won't be easy (especially the phone calls), but I'll work on it. I'm pleased that a month away afforded me the time to really reflect on my relationship to social media (and I think that's wasn't just about "not doing Facebook" for a month). I can't promise I won't miss things. I may be less timely in responding. But the me who responds is someone who is probably healthier than I was before--a bit more measured and balanced. I value most of the connections I have there and I am fine with that (sorry, Mr. Newport). In the long run, I think a more intentional and mindful use of Facebook will be beneficial for me, as well as the people with whom I interact. 

If you feel a bit sucked into Facebook, I recommend trying this experiment. The important element is to keep a journal or some other method of recording how you FEEL. You may surprised by what you learn. 

Monday, July 06, 2020

Review: Tutoring Second Language Writers (eds. Bruce/Rafoth)

Tutoring Second Language WritersTutoring Second Language Writers by Shanti Bruce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This anthology, edited by the same team as ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors is an excellent collection of essays--all of which have use for anyone who teaches L2 learners. There is a strong leaning toward incorporation of diversity, equity, and inclusion principles in various essays that consider the complexity of "competency", multiple frameworks, and "accommodationist" principles (Carol Severino, 2006). Some of the offerings are short, but potent, such as Jose L. Reyes Medina's "Some Things I Did to Help Myself Learn to Write." Others, like Rebecca Babcock's "Examining Practice: Designing a Research Study" and case studies in Puerto Rico, as well as working with specific identities (such as Jocelyn Amevuvor's "Building A Cultural Bridge Between Ghana and the United States in the Writing Center") have more striking relevance in the writing center context. Those who are new to the concept of multi-faceted identity and how that informs a student's experience will appreciate Ben Rafoth's "Second Language Writers, Writing Centers, and Reflection," which, taking its cue from Harris and Silva (1993), recognizes the "diversity of concerns" of the L2 student. Likewise, Michelle Cox outlines the different facets of identity: those which we are born with, those we inherit, those we create, and those constructed for us as key to understanding how to address the multiple challenges of teaching a non-monolithic group of students who are nevertheless categorized as "ESL" (see her essay "Identity Construction, Second Language Writers, and the Writing Center."

As a teacher, the set of the essays that make up the fourth part ("Academic Expectations") was most useful. Valerie Balester reinforces the idea that understanding multiple identities is key to providing an equitable and inclusive experience for L2 students: "In truth, no single approach works, and applying a single approach to all L2 writers/speakers regardless of their needs, desires, or learning preferences, simply because we assume learning English grammar means learning English rhetoric, would constitute Othering." (200-- See Balester, "Tutoring Against Othering: Reading and Writing Critically"). Beyond philosophical considerations, Balester also provides helpful and concrete ways to use meaning to discuss local (lower-order) concerns in a student's writing. While Jennifer Craig's essay "Unfamiliar Territory: Tutors Working with Second Language Writers on Disciplinary Writing" addresses working with students outside one's own discipline, it is very helpful in understanding the challenges of building a general language proficiency and a disciplinary lexicon at the same time--not to mention writing conventions, tone, and style. Primyupa W. Praphan and Guiboke Seong's "Helping Second Language Writers Become Self-Editors" reconsiders "error correction" and its role in the tutoring experience. The authors also help clarify distinctions such as pragmatic errors vs. grammatical errors and recommend a set of strategies for before, during, and after a tutoring session. These principles are easily applied (and should be) to anyone who is assessing/reading L2 learners' writing. This last essay is particularly important as there are several alarming examples (throughout the book) of instructor/professor commentary on student papers that is ego-maniacal, counter-productive, and glaringly unhelpful in its Othering or complete cultural incompetency. In the context of the book the authors see the Writing Center as a place that mitigates this ignorance/bias on the part of the instructors, but teachers would do well to curb these practices at the outset.

Cross-posted at Rebecca's Reading Rants and Raves

Friday, May 03, 2019

Pepita the Fox (in memoriam Alejandro Enrique Planchart, 1935 - 2019)

Last Saturday, I was in Maryland celebrating my grandfather’s 90th birthday, while Alejandro, my Doktorvater, was on the other side of the country lying in a hospital bed. It was one of those days where you become hyperaware of LIFE and how it seems to be in charge, despite our best efforts and possibly, our worst ills. The party for my grandfather had dwindled down, and it was dusk, which is often a wonderful time to see deer, so I stepped outside and took a short walk in the retirement community. I had only gone about 100 feet or so, and I saw this.

A fox. 

I’ve never seen a fox before (in the “wild”), and while I was very excited to check something off on my “wildlife sighting” bucket list, something also tugged at my heart.


Alejandro had many, many stories, and while it should be hard to pick a favorite, for me, it is not. I must have heard the story of Pepita the fox at least fifty or sixty times. Pepita was, as many people know, a fox that came to Alejandro’s mother in need of help, and she looked after it. Alejandro counted it among two pets that he had in his life. What I loved about this story is that it wasn’t just about Pepita—it was about Alejandro’s mother. It was about a little boy learning that his mother was giving and loving. But the best part of the story was when Alejandro would relate how Pepita used to curl up, wrapping her luxurious tail around herself so that all you could see would be her eyes. To explain this, he always demonstrated, raising his forearm in front of his face, fluttering his eyes, masking some of his face, but not his smile.

I remember my very first day of my very first graduate seminar. I was the only musicology student admitted that year, so I was the “newbie.” It was Alejandro’s seminar on motets (largely centered upon origins of and  relationships to Flos filius eius—the “flower children” as Alejandro referred to it). I sat there feeling rather overwhelmed and entirely out of my league. And then this.

“Eh….Rebecca…..You speak Latin. Translate this for us.”
He pushed some source across the seminar table at me.

I panicked. I spoke Latin? That was the first I had heard of it. My friend Ben came to the rescue:

“Oh, Alejandro! She doesn’t speak Latin!!”

Alejandro kept looking at me. “Try,” he said.  “Try to read it.”

So, I did. I sat there at the mercy/patience of my colleagues, as I worked my way through the passage, counting on every etymological skill I had ever possessed. I don’t think it would be fair to call it a “translation”—but when I got to the end, and tentatively pushed the source back toward Alejandro, he smiled and said “Very good.”

And that was my initiation. That was twenty years ago, and I could write a book about all that transpired between that moment and this past Sunday, when I heard that Alejandro was going to take his last breath. There were the classes—including the seminar in choral music that he developed as a gift to me, he said, to ensure that I had the chance to dig into things other than just “cream puffs.” There were the countless dinners and conversations over a cup of “caffeine”—pronounced with three syllables: ca-fay-EEN.  And then there was Cappella Cordina (alongside Musica Antiqua and Polyhymnia).

Alejandro and I fought about Cappella quite a lot—so I was all the more surprised when he made me assistant director. I think he figured it would give me an outlet for my frustration with the singers who were underprepared, talked through rehearsal, etc. I suppose it did, in some way, but it also helped refocus my attention to where it needed to be. Just as a small sample: chant (of various types), Praetorius, Marenzio, Monteverdi, Michael Haydn, Corteccia, Schütz, Ciconia, Ockeghem, Du Fay, Cristobal de Morales…and eventually the title role in a concertized version of Cesti’s Orontea.

Alejandro was the first person to tell me I was musical. Don’t get me wrong—I had a wonderfully nurturing undergrad experience and was supported in every way, but no one had ever stopped a rehearsal (conducted with a pencil, of course), to say, “You know, you are so @$%@# musical!” It had never occurred to me that I was, if I’m honest. I saw music-making as something I could do reasonably well and that I worked hard at. But Alejandro saw in me what some might describe as a “gift”.  That moment changed my relationship to music and musicology. I started investing in it for myself.  That carried me through the rest of my tumultuous degree program, as well as my unorthodox paths in academia. I think it still does. For Alejandro, it was always about the music—it didn’t matter if it was Machaut or Brahms or Stephen Hartke. Whenever I feel that I am aimless and lost, as I have this week upon learning of Alejandro’s death, I anchor myself in the music, and in learning.

In shared grief, it has been comforting to remember Alejandro, assisted by the wonderful Facebook community set up by Bob Eschbach in his memory. I’ve smiled to see the same stories passed down from generation to generation. We’ve learned of several iterations of the same nicknames across these generations (I was “Porcupine”—see above note regarding Cappella). Alejandro’s legacy is so immense and multidimensional—we are a family of musicians, of scholars, of friends.  Maestro, I can only hope that you are among all the musicians and composers you loved so well (and maybe even those you didn’t—I can imagine the conversations!).  I move forward, as you would expect me to, remembering that I am indeed “@$%@# musical” and knowing that you, more than almost anyone, showed me what that meant.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Jennifer Walshe: Spiel mit Identitäten (F. Kloos)

Jennifer Walshe: Spiel mit Identitäten

If you read the interview with Walshe at the end of the book, you understand that Kloos' work is basically a philosophical expansion of that interview. She engages with primary sources, but the "name-dropping" of philosophers without citation was aggravating on occasion. The opening chapter is valuable in terms of framing the discussion--Kloos provides Erik Erikson, Stuart Hall, and Judith Butler as lenses through which we might understand identity. Chapter 2 wanders a bit more, investigating Walshe's place in the avant-garde and new music. She summarizes the biographies of the alter egos of Walshe's Grúpat and briefly muses upon the reconciling of these individual identities with group identity. There is some redundancy across chapters, but this is unsurprising as one of Kloos' main points is that Walshe's music doesn't fit traditional categories or modes of analysis.

Kloos gives Chapter 4 over to analysis--and this is where the book is weakest for me. Kloos has insightful observations, but her methodologies vary so greatly that some readings of pieces come up short. We don't know what to expect since there is no systematic approach to analysis. It may very well be that this is due to the content of the works themselves (as well as varied access to materials), but then I would have preferred that the analysis be integrated into the prose of the other chapters. Kloos' "listening journal" approach to Walshe's "As mo cheann" addresses the difference between listening with and without a score, but for readers who are looking to engage with the piece academically, this might prove frustrating. Still, in that Kloos includes gesture, breath sounds, and performativity in her discussions, she provides a good example of what solid analyses of contemporary music might look like.

I've always bemoaned the lack of discourse with the work of living composers--but I get it. It is much easier to use a critical eye (and ear) toward music when the composer is dead. Kloos posits, however, that Walshe's music authorizes listeners to be co-creators, in effect--a glimpse at a democratic idea that "those who listen, have a say" (107). In her final statements, Kloos remarks that Jennifer Walshe invalidates the biographical relationship between work and author, but it is her work with the alter egos of Grúpat that allow her to do so without metaphorically "killing" the author ( a la Barthes).

This is an important book and I would love to see it come out in an English translation. It is a good primer on the New Discipline and provides bibliographic value as well (Kloos curates a helpful list of Internet sources).

(Cross-posted at Rebecca's Reading Rants and Raves)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review: Sound and Score (de Assis/Brooks/Coessens, eds.)

Cross-posted at Rebecca's Reading Rants and Raves Sound & Score: Essays on Sound, Score and Notation

As with any anthology of essays, a particular reader will find some contributions more useful than others. Admittedly there were essays that I skimmed, as I was looking for specific writings that would interact with discussions for my graphic notation seminar. I appreciate the multitude of perspectives and styles, although I found the essays that were well-grounded in theory to be more useful. Both Virginia Anderson's "The Beginning of Happiness: Approaching Scores in Graphic and Text Notation" as well as Jeremy Cox's "What I Say and What I Do: The Role of Composers' own performances of their scores..." were particularly enlightening in their examination of score/performance relationships. Cox adapts Krenek's 1966 theory of process of musical thought to reveal a composer's performances as a "triangulation tool" (p. 21) between the score and Gestalt/musical thought. The only real quarrel I have with his investigation of Stravinsky's tempi in two different recordings (1946 and 1961) of the Symphony in Three Movements is that it is predicated on an assumption of "logic" when it comes to tempo choices--an assumption that isn't clearly delineated by the author.

Anne Douglas's "Drawing and the Score" is one of the strongest essays as she offers a succinct summary of the relationships that can be established when "an artist transposes concepts of drawing and notation across the borders of art forms" (p. 207). In just under ten pages, Douglas convincingly concludes that the tension between musical score and drawing is essential to all stages of the musical work, and in effect "loops" the components of a performed musical work "between author/audience." (p. 215).

The editing is good, for the most part, although there is a significant error in the captioning of Fig. 4 of Cox's essay (p. 24) and certain essays could have used a stronger editorial hand in order to keep expositional consistency. The book's division into four parts seemed somewhat unnecessary, particularly given the holistic interpretation that underscores the entire book. That said, the parts (I: Score and Idea; II: Mapping the Interface; III: Extending the Boundaries; IV: Choreographies of Sound) do provide interesting inroads to the larger discussion.

This is a very worthwhile collection and has readings that are provocative and useful for a whole host of different types of research and teaching, especially in contemporary music. Some essays are more accessible than others, but it is a valuable compendium for anyone who teaches composition, contemporary music performance, and/or music history.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

People over Publications: A mini-manifesto

Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis in "Time Enough At Last" (Public Domain)
Well, a three year hiatus is a long time...even for me. It isn't that I haven't had anything to say, but I've been taking a step back to monitor my field for awhile. There's a lot of good stuff happening--some of it online, some of it in print, and some of it in the classroom.

Something I've noticed lately is the privileging of print (publication) over other types of work. I'm not talking about tenure and promotion. I don't mean in regard to the job market. I'm talking about every day musicologists (ha!) and how they measure each other's expertise.

Much of my own research has not been published, but it has provided rich and provocative fodder for inquiry in my teaching and my graduate seminars. I really enjoy discussing these seminars with colleagues and hearing about the seminars they are teaching as well. If I find resources I think might be helpful, I share. If I know someone has previous experience with the topic, I often consult them, believing that multiple sources of input can enrich my own syllabus.  To me, it matters very little how much they have published. What matters more is their willingness to share and participate in professional dialogue. I have colleagues whose publication dossiers might focus on seventeenth-century opera but would also be people I could go to for information on hip-hop or country music. I know this because we have conversations. I listen and I learn from what they know. I don't ask for their credentials. They are invested and interested in the research and that is enough for me.

I feel we've lost some of that old nostalgic quality of the "life of the mind." I was lucky enough to work with a dissertation advisor who could discuss Du Fay, Brahms, and Zappa in the same half hour without ever signposting a change in direction. One of the things that makes musicology so exciting for me is what I DON'T know. And while my youthful fantasies of being a Henry Bemis have now downgraded to "I wish I had more time to read," there is much I'd rather learn from a conversation over beers than a lengthy journal article.

This also means that a good chunk of conference papers I attend are for the person giving the paper. I might have little interest in the topic, but I am interested in the person's interest, and that for me is reason enough to go. I'll admit to having a rather disheartening experience recently where I gave a paper at a national conference for my "subset" of specialization and only one colleague showed up for my paper. I know there are plentiful reasons why people didn't show up, and certainly I've missed many many papers due to conflicts of my own. But when I finally pushed my pride out of the way, I realized that a 20-minute conversation with one interested person would probably be more engaging and fruitful than having two rows of uninterested people sitting at my paper thinking about where they were headed for dinner that night.

So, all of this to say: I will continue to privilege people over publications. And if that keeps me on the outside looking in (to what, I'm not always sure), so be it. If you see me at a conference, sitting at the bar, come tell me what you're up to--even if I'll never read about it in JAMS.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Experiments in Collaborative Pedagogy: Paper Proposals

Two weeks ago, the students in my Orpheus seminar introduced their preliminary paper proposals to the class. Last year, I had many of the same students in Writing About Music, the first year graduate course where we walk them through a paper proposal, outline, first draft, and final draft.  What a difference a year makes!

These proposals are understandably more fully developed than those I receive in Writing About Music. They include proposals to examine Rameau's cantata Orphée in relation to his Traité de l'harmonie, to connect Orphic works by the relationship between the first and second deaths of Eurydice, and to analyze the music in Moulin Rouge and Bono's "The Ground Beneath Her Feet."

As mentioned in this previous post, I am writing along with my seminar, as part of an experiment in what I might call collaborative pedagogy. I was not exempt from sharing my proposal with the class, and I was the last person to present. I am fortunate that my class is full of spirited and intelligent people who readily received my own proposal and gave me honest feedback.

I won't share the entirety of my proposal here, but I'm looking to connect Joseph Campbell's "total science of mythology" to more holistic musicological study of Orphic operas. My general premise is that rather than viewing these operas as "settings" of mythical narratives, we should see them as extensions of mythical experience, and no less culturally relevant than Ovid's or Virgil's narratives. If anything, I am advocating for a more ethnomusicological study of Orphic operas, and I'm hoping that the approaches used by mythologists will prove useful for musicologists.

I read my proposal to the class, and in that context, I was painfully aware of my reliance upon jargon. I wrote my proposal in academese, using phrases like "epistemological quandaries."  One of my students remarked that he understood roughly 75% of it, but wanted me to paraphrase it with more clarity. What a gift to be confronted with a group of very intelligent and invested people who have no ulterior motives except to understand!  I realized that I have freedom here--I'm not submitting this proposal for acceptance at a conference. I'm merely communicating with a group of like-minded individuals about something that piqued my curiosity!

There is a false dichotomy between research and teaching. The blame for this lies on both sides of the equation, but I posit (to speak in academese) that we need not choose. My seminar has become a forum for constructive feedback--not quite peer review, but it has its own merits. I challenge them to critique their teacher’s work, and through this they practice confidence in their own ideas. I may not get feedback from “experts,” but there are plenty of avenues for that within my field.  The integrity of my project rests on nothing more than what it contributes to the group of people who are likewise trying to amplify what they've learned in order to reach beyond it.

Let's stop for a second. I'm going to repeat that last bit:

"The integrity of my project rests on nothing more than what it contributes to the group of people who are likewise trying to amplify what they've learned in order to reach beyond it."

I think we have largely lost this sense of wonder as part of what shapes "academic conversations." We are too busy publishing (or perishing) to remember that at the heart of academic inquiry there is a core belief in the value of knowledge. "Sapere aude, " if you feel more comfortable with that.  But we shouldn't need to validate this quest with Kant and Foucault in order to understand how important it is. We all have the power to be both the guardians and harbingers of thoughts.

I'm grateful to be on this journey with my seminar. I've already reshaped my proposal, narrowing it to a more digestible scope, whittling away at the academic pretense so that my students will benefit from whatever the finished product happens to be. I have not started writing it yet, but I already have the first footnote:

1. I dedicate this paper to students in my Fall 2015 Orpheus in Music seminar, who keep me grounded in the ongoing battle between my role as an academic and the reasons I chose this field in the first place.


Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea