Practice How You’ll Play: Lessons from the Era of Neil Armstrong

Dad watched the time as we drove some winding high mountain highway in the Colorado Rockies. He had purchased a black-and-white television that could be powered from the cigarette lighter to bring along just for this trip. As the target time approached, he pulled onto the shoulder, and sent my brother and I to wag down passers-by and invite them to watch the moon walk with us.

Or maybe it was the moon launch. I don’t remember clearly. The picture was grainy, only a few cars drove by and none of the drivers thought it was important to stop. (I can’t recall if there were any passengers; I don’t recall any consultations.) I think we weirded them out. I know that I felt a little embarrassed, what were we doing, this strange behavior out of the norm of everything I’d ever seen?

I was six years old, just trying to grasp what was happening and why it mattered so much.

How did they get the camera there?! That required foresight, pre-planning and imagination: visionary (imagining things in the category of “we don’t know what we don’t know”) and apocalyptic (“things could go bad”). I feel a sense of nostalgia for that kind of epic stage when one of the largest visible masses of people being presented through the media were joined by a common dream – to reach the stars! My tendency is to ignore the other forces that contributed motivation: specifically a military space race based on nationalism. Because Vietnam was happening then (I don’t think my parents were paying attention, or maybe they were studiously avoiding it, I’m not sure. Or they talked about it, but not ever when I was around.)

That kind of scientific endeavor seems like a new form of social organization. Wasn’t it distinguished by  voluntary selection? Meaning, most of the people who worked on the moon project were in fields they had wanted to learn about and contribute to… right? That’s a kind of classic scientific research which seems much less common, these days. When such large-scale works have been done in the past (e.g., the Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, US railway and highway system, etc) the organization has been coercive: I’ll pay you what I want and beat you if you protest.

Isabel suggested today that I am able to be an optimist because I actually “touched” the ’60s. I was born and grew up during that phase of historical economy when the system really was working for nearly everybody.

Not many people, these days, get to be a meaningful part of the machine, the economic engine that drives us to work, tuning for efficiency and exerting rigid controls. This is a major reason why I’ve become so interested in the work of emergency management professionals. First Responders are feeling a sense of urgency, on a large system-scale, that suggests the kind of intensity motivating the US’s original space program. They care about their work. This caring was in constant evidence at a recent pilot training that the DC Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism, Serve DC, provided at Gallaudet University. CERT training is required for establishing a Community Emergency Response Team (a CERT). The pilot was earmarked for the Deaf community associated with Gallaudet because, as Dwight Benedict (Dean of Student Affairs and Academic Suppor and a co-chair of Gallaudet’s Crisis Leadership Team) explained during a focus group: “We know if something catastrophic happens in DC the Deaf community is going to come here. They are going to come to Gallaudet just like they went to the Lousiana School for the Deaf when Katrina hit New Orleans. We need to be ready.”

Three focus groups were added to the usual training package in order to explore the ramifications of using simultaneous sign language interpretation within the field of emergency management. The challenges of communicating in two different timestreams were apparent. Frustrations with adapting to the special circumstances of intercultural communication are complicated even more when one of the languages is based in vision and light instead of hearing and sound. These frustrations were more-or-less contained by the focus groups, which allowed each primary stakeholder group (Hearing interlocutors, Deaf interlocutors, and interpreters) the chance to explore their experience and draw comparisons and contrasts internally. Because there was a formal structure for processing the experience, the interpretation itself did not become the main issue of the training – the content of the training material and relationships among Deaf and Hearing interlocutors were able to be the most important dynamics.

One of the instructors, Chief John Sollers, shared with the group how important the experience had been for him, saying that he had learned a lot and that direct interaction with Deaf people using interpreters should be a part of routine training: “We  need to practice how we’ll play.”





sharp curves and time-out-of-time (TOOT!)

Sometimes, sharp conversational curves feel like precipitous cliffs. There is what I do, sometimes, which is to say something spontaneously about something that is going on within the context of a group that is within the realm of things most people have been trained not to say. This is more than a sharp curve, and it calls upon whoever is involved to exercise a deeper level of social resilience. Mental agility has to be combined with emotional savvy, too.

My neighbor is thinking about going back to college but – like many people – is not sure what he wants to study. I asked Kevin if he knew the difference between psychology and sociology. He did. (I wish I had recorded his answers; they were great!) He said something to the effect that psychology is about the mind and how a person thinks of things, and sociology has to do with how people relate with one another.

Taking a sharp curve in conversation

Then I asked if he knew the implications of this difference in terms of time. “What?” He was puzzled and asked me to repeat the question. I elaborated: If you start from psychology, you make the individual the center; if you start from sociology, you make the interconnections the most important. “Oh!” He got it, saying something about the inter-relatedness of all things. “You lost me for a minute.” Teasing, he added: “You took a sharp curve there, but I gotcha!”

Kevin is one of those flexible kind of folk who is accustomed to having things come at him unexpectedly, not according to the usual ways. His reflexes are quick. Usually quicker than mine! Foin. With most of my friends (and many of my colleagues, too), it occasionally happens that I do or say something that catches them momentarily at a loss, then they’ll pick up and make the next move and it’s my turn to sputter.

Sometimes, sharp conversational curves feel like precipitous cliffs. I am still learning how to help people productively engage with difficult group dynamics by saying, as one boss and I described it, “stuff about stuff” – meaning, being direct and clear about social challenges as they emerge in collaborative work situations.

Time-out-of-Time, also known as “tooting”

There is a facilitator’s technique of structuring a “TOOT” to allow participants in a learning context to reflect on a particular topic or process or experience. The kids’ punishment called “time out” is cultural (not everyone uses it or even knows about it), but the idea of being discharged out of a group’s shared timestream into the corner (or wherever) is another kind of structured use of time. The intentions behind these activities are acceptable because they are familiar; even though someone may not like doing them, they are relatively comfortable because they are (more-or-less) common social experiences.

Then there’s what I do, sometimes, which is to say something spontaneously about something that is going on in a group that is within the realm of things most people have been trained not to say.  This is more than a sharp curve, and it calls upon whoever is involved to exercise a deeper level of social resilience. Mental agility has to be combined with emotional savvy, too. Lately, I’ve been pushed to this edge in almost every group I belong to. Now, if you start from a psychological perspective, it could be that I’m becoming increasingly disassociated from reality (since I am ignoring certain social norms). But if you start from a sociological perspective, then the question becomes something like, what is it about the relationships in these groups that keeps giving me reason to say stuff (about stuff)?

Each approach (the psychological, the social) has something useful to contribute to understanding the dynamics of whatever it is that is going on (with me, with the groups), but neither will capture the whole picture by itself. Psychology and sociology are complements of a greater phenomenon, call it culture or human evolution or the social construction of knowledge (or whatever academic or religious flavor you prefer).

Communication as science

The young discipline of communication is based on the notion of equilibrium between the individual and the social. This is not the typical chicken-or-egg question, because the basic assumption of communication is mutuality. My personality (e.g., tooting or not) is “called out” by the group, just as my participation in the group adds to (or detracts from) the character of the group: its norms and performance (for instance, as a team working toward certain goals). The fancy jargon word is constitution. It is a tricky word to define, so I am linking to the disambiguation page in Wikipedia, specifically to the section labeled “other uses.

Notice: “the well-being of an organism” and “to maintain or improve health” in addition to legal, medical, and political definitions of constitution. Not only are constitutions things (a noun) but also activities (a verb). The concept of constitution is the philosophical equivalent to the observer effect in quantum mechanics: at the sub-atomic level, physicists get what they look for because those dang-blasted tiny particles respond to being observed.

So it is with human behavior. We perceive what we’re looking for – or, more accurately, we understand things based upon the lens used for thinking. This is why applied social science, especially action learning/action research based in communication theory, can be useful in getting groups through difficult dynamics. In communication, everything is always happening simultaneously, there is no “cause” and “effect” – instead there are cycles and stages and intersections which involve history and the biographies of everyone involved.

Maybe its rocket science. For me it is a way to live with integrity.

Is Dialogue Possible?

Promises & Perils of Dialogic Pedagogy

Promises and Perils of Dialogic Pedagogy

It certainly wasn’t boring.

At least not after the slow start! But maybe the start wasn’t actually that slow . . . here I am re-thinking the beginning after the end.

We did not rush back from lunch, so the first set of presentations did not begin on time. Actually, time boundary-keeping was broken earlier, when Eugene and Ana asked James and me to say something during the opening/welcome talk about our action research project. We wanted to keep it brief. I did not think to record the time we actually took nor how long beyond the time allotted in the schedule, but it seems likely that we were already over time before we had practically begun.


Lunch was leisurely yet animated. I was twice called over to the other table in the aftermath of a so-called problematic moment, not to mention finding myself in wild debate with an Israeli over the title of a conference that I am attending in May. We were late getting back to the conference venue – how late past the scheduled start I have no idea. Did the first presenter go way over his designated time? I held up until the third or fourth presentation and then I could not remain alert. I don’t think I actually fell asleep, just dozed but still – enough to feel a little embarrassed.

Tweet activity was okay – we had active tweeters right away and some persisted throughout. You can watch a video of the Tidepool visualization of tweet activity from the first 36 hours of the conference here: #Bakhtin tweets in Tidepool.  Also, you might be interested to know that, at the very end of the conference, @nafoolah tweets from far outside-the-room: “does this hashtag come from nothing to help in my studying about Mikhail Bakhtin” and @antoesp shares Cresswell and Hawn (2012), with dual hashtags for #bakhtin and #epistemology.


Two tweets on the same topic, posted simultaneously.
Two tweets on the same topic, posted simultaneously.

Thankfully the energy shifted during the last presentation of Day 1 when Ana presented her struggle to maintain balance within the tension of being drawn, simultaneously, to two opposed chronotopes: sticking with the standard curriculum or shifting to the Live Event. Her presentation generated the first simultaneous tweets, as well as the first animated Question and Answer period of the conference. Then we were off to dinner. Did anyone sense conflict percolating around the edges, in the hallways, offline? I was unaware.

The First Tsunami was covert

Neither my colleague, who discovered a theory of problematic moments, nor myself recognized the possible problematic moment when it occurred during the second day’s first session. I rejected the idea when it was first presented to me, but once past my initial gut reaction I had to admit that I had felt an emptiness open up, a silence deep enough that wonder regarding what would happen next began to grow. Perhaps I sensed others’ emotions begin to fill the void….but the facilitator re-covered the breach for us; we all went along with her move. I forgot about it. At break however, a participant and one of the organizers approached me with the claim that they had caused a problematic moment.

Pinpointing a possible problematic moment
Pinpointing a possible problematic moment

I rejected this instantly because James and I are pretty sure group-level problematic moments cannot be caused by individual action. This theoretically-descriptive aspect, combined with my previous experiences with problematic moments, led to my out-of-hand rejection. But Kathy was persistent, and her language described my embodied perception perfectly, a silence after a silence. Nearly 24 hours later, when we were able to ask conference participants about their experience of/in that moment, many of the participants who had been present were not able to distinguish the second silence from the first: either they sensed one stable pause; noticed no pause; noticed but deemed it unremarkable, perhaps cultural but nothing more); or was already experiencing an encompassing state-of-being which consumed the distinctiveness all particular moments during that timespan. Such nuances of intrapersonal response detail incredible subtleties of simultaneity and are a significant finding of this action research project.

Control: Fight or Flight?

Based on everything we learned afterward (and, may I just say, we learned a helluva lot!), I can imagine that the instigators of the planned disruption might not have felt the shift from the first to the second silence because they were enjoying the carnivalesque pleasure of rebellion. As it happened, the presenter quickly picked a possible response and pursued it. And, as noted above, none of the rest of us intervened in the tension between pursuing/resuming a standard chronotope or shifting to the chronotope of engaging with Here-and-Now live events. During an interview, the presenter explained, with a touch of regret, that she had not acted as usual in that kind of situation because the group had not yet established a communal sensibility.

Normally we would have captured the PM on video and been able to show it back to the group for interrogation, but unexpected requests for copies of presentations had thrown us for a loop. We missed recording a few presentations while grappling to absorb the ramifications of distributing copies of video obtained under conditions of informed consent. Without the PM to replay, we were left with only the principals’ reports of their respective experiences of the moment. These proved insufficient inspiration for a collective exploration of whether or not a PM had occurred. Instead, we found ourselves in a swirl of debate trying to teach the relevance of differences between interpersonal (individual) and group-level dynamics. In retrospect, we realized that it would have been helpful to articulate the theoretical frameworks that guide our analytical gaze and generation of hypotheses.

Norming: Academic, not Innovative

Probably it could not have been any other way. Despite the encouragement we took from pre-conference email communication describing, for instance, how “Our mini-Bakhtinian conference is not the same as every other conference you have attended,” the rituals of social interaction were not significantly affected. The change in form, “that we don’t have parallel sessions, but the whole conference takes place in only one track” may not have implied as much willingness to explore the stages of group development as we optimistically interpreted. After the possible problematic moment, James and I became absorbed with preparing for our scheduled workshop slot: we were generating hypotheses about the possible problematic moment and imagining how to design the session in order to maximize engagement with the data. As far as I can recall, the presentations continued along the rest of Day 2. Presumedly most of the conference participants again enjoyed a meal together; we huddled in our hotel room, parsing video and strategizing how best to maximize the learning opportunity.


For this first blog entry (the project proposal specified two or three), I’m working from memory and also trying to cast as wide and broad an overview as I can, while remaining tight on the emergent data that we selected for qualitative analysis. The foursome who appeared to give the first presentation on Day 3 had not been previously present; from my point-of-view they caught a huge thrust of energy as the group initiated a Q&A only a few minutes into their presentation. I was quite impressed with how they handled the feedback, apparently unruffled they took it all down and hung in there for the rest of the morning (but that’s all). It seemed that conference participants who had remained since the start were hitting stride. Then came our workshop and it proceeded as if grudgingly. Although no carnivalesque actions were performed, two of the small groups overtly chose not to conduct the structured “now what” task but instead opted to talk about something else that they wanted to talk about with each other. We left to debrief and, upon return some 90 minutes later, were informed that we had missed a(nother possible) problematic moment.

The Second (possible) Problematic Moment was Overt

A conference participant who had left remains in conversation via Twitter
A conference participant who had left remains in conversation via Twitter

We were not there and did not leave the camcorder running, so we have paltry data to work with. Eugene told me they have faced such disagreement before, that it has to do with (according to some) “application,” and (according to him), “implication” regarding his dialogic pedagogy philosophy (?) of teaching. Yifat said, “Oh you really missed something,” and James was told that there was a din, an outburst of many talking at the same time. It sure sounds like a group-level event. I mused about it on twitter, getting responses from Eugene and also Mara – who had been able to attend (along with several others) only the first two days of the conference.


"love" was tweeted at least 16 times in 30 minutes
"love" was tweeted at least 16 times in 30 minutes

We were only able to stay for the first presentation of the last, fourth day of the conference.  It would be cool if some quantitative analyst would run the tweet data (as captured in Tidepool tweet counts) and correlate word frequency with the topics of each workshop. As with the National Science Foundation tweet data (Idiographic Case #1) from their Workshop on Transformative Research, the tweets that Tidepool captures represent only a partial perspective on the conference-as-a-whole. For what it’s worth, the word with the highest count within the time boundary of a single presentation was brought to us by Jayne.

A Tweetorial with a Mission

The best occasion to join Twitter is during a conference or event where other participants are also/already Tweeting. Even if you rarely contribute your own original Tweets, simply reading what people are talking about, and Re-Tweeting (command: RT) are significant contributions to a crucial conversation. I’m curious whether worth pursuing might come from linking the #nsftr conversation with this week’s #bakhtin conversation. Are TR (transformative research) and dialogic pedagogy (DP) two sides of the same coin?

This is a tutorial about Twitter; a Tweetorial with a mission.

Most Tweeters share pithy thoughts that they think may be of interest, humor, insight. The best occasion to join Twitter is during a conference or event where other participants are also/already Tweeting. The trick is to find out what special identifier – called a hashtag (details below) – is being used as the code for collecting Tweets about the experience of that event. At academic and business conferences, these Tweets usually consist of a) quotes or paraphrases of what presenters are saying and b) commentary about the quotes, people and/or conditions of the venue. Tweeters who are so inclined may engage in networking or repartee – both with other people in attendance (i.e., who are “in the room”), and also with people who are not physically present but following the Tweets about the event from “outside the room.” Sometimes different perspectives are evident; often all one gets is a collage of statements. In order to make sense of these strange smatterings, one has to extrapolate relationships of the various Tweets with the theme of the event, and imagine what positions and dynamics they might represent.

Table of Contents:

  1. Why Tweet?
  2. Action Research Proposal
  3. Potentially Transformative Research
  4. The Basics

Why Tweet?

Even if you rarely contribute your own original Tweets, simply reading what people are talking about, and Re-Tweeting (command: RT) are significant contributions to a crucial conversation. The conversation is messy, but software tools are being invented to help sort through all the different discourses by collecting intersections, simultaneities, juxtapositions, rhythm and rhyme. Tidepool, for instance, is an open source tool still in the early stages of development. Tidepool’s first public use was at the 2012 #ictinferno, a Summit on Information and Communication Technology hosted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Digital revolution is a game changer. #ictinferno,” tweeted @jonberndtolsen, summarizing a point by keynote presenter Douglass Trumbull.

The success of Tidepool at the #ictinferno emboldened a surprise action research engagement with the 2012 Workshop on Transformative Research hosted by the National Science Foundation. The Tidepool visualization and Tweet Archive provided just enough substance to generate an open, public conversation about what it means to do transformative research.

Action Research Proposal:

LLR-ICT2012I’m curious whether something worth pursuing might come from linking the #nsftr conversation with this week’s #bakhtin conversation. James has noticed that I seem to be considering TR (transformative research) and dialogic pedagogy (DP) as two sides of the same coin. Are they? Would putting the expertise of language/dialogue specialists into conversation with the expertise of interdisciplinary scientists generate conditions for making headway on a wicked problem or two, by “incorporat[ing] knowledge from multiple perspectives from different scientific disciplines and from the public as a way of breaking free of traditional thinking patterns“?

Potentially Transformative Research

Is there such a thing as pre-identified “potentially transformative research”? Similar to climate change/public policy scholar @danadolan, I’m eager to see the #NSFTR Workshop Report! In just a dozen comments to my critical discourse analysis of the #NSFTR Tweets, several challenging dynamics of group interaction have arisen. There’s the problem of terminology (Bubbles? “Don’t call them portals!” Ah, they are clouds.) There’s also the problem of theory. The description of Lyotard’s “phrase” and “genre” sure reminds me of Bakhtin, and Lyotard’s differend must be related to Derrida’s différance.  Meanwhile, one may want to be alert for diatribes: are they tangents steering engagement away from a certain kind of social/interactional dynamic, or representations of dynamics being enacted, somehow, by participants and witnesses to the conversation? (And when topics are flagged as such, what then? Not to mention spontaneous outbursts of songwriting!) You’ve also got to consider the practical applications: is there any product to be made with theoretical ideas or are they pie-in-the-sky? And what about deviations from the original objectives? How constraining is the allowance for development?

The Basics:

For the Mini-Bakhtin Conference on Education: Promises and Challenges of Dialogic Pedagogy, we are hoping to inspire some new and experienced Tweeters to Tweet using the special identifier (known as a hashtag) #Bakhtin – case, btw, does not matter, but the # symbol does! The # symbol in front of a word or acronym constitutes a hashtag. If you do not have a Twitter account, please consider signing up and Tweeting during the conference, even if you never use it again!

Some tips:

  • Most professional people use their full/real names, or a recognizable variation. I played around with mine (@stephjoke) to poke a bit of fun at myself. James played it straight up, @jamescumming.
  • You can “follow” us (search for our usernames in the search box on the Twitter homepage, make sure you keep the @ symbol! That turns the nickname into an address). All Tweets by whoever you follow will appear in your Twitter account, including Tweets without the hashtag #bakhtin.
  • Even if you decide not to sign up for a Twitter account, you can google the hashtag, #BAKHTIN, and see what (if anything) is being Tweeted.
  • (I came across a few Tweets last week including #Bakhtin hashtag by Tweeters who were quoting or otherwise referencing our hero). These outsiders probably don’t care about this conference, but you never know!
  • At the conference, Steph will be available to provide Twitter assistance and support.
  • We will be collecting Tweets in two ways: an archive at and with the “visualizer” called Tidepool. The Tidepool visualization of Tweets will be displayed during the conference:

For additional information, please see Understanding Twitter: Why Twitter is Less Like Facebook and More Like Email – Learn about what Twitter is, how it works, and how to use it to interact with others. Are you trying to fit Twitter into a Facebook mold? If so, you might be missing out!

“Oh god! Oh god!”

“My mother didn’t teach me to cook or sew or to do my hair or how to talk to boys. She was more interested in reading difficult books and thinking. As a homemaker, she unworked.

And she pushed me into the world neither a girl or a boy, just a big, awkward, ignorant thing, forcing me to invent myself as I went along.

I am deeply grateful for that.”

~ Gabrielle Bell, Manifestion

More blog victims.  Hehehe.

After calling on higher powers, Knightly said it was “like reading my Miranda rights.” Yossarian, Eureko and The Cat in the Hat laughed at Knightly. Welcome to the club!

“My mother didn’t teach me to cook or sew or to do my hair or how to talk to boys. She was more interested in reading difficult books and thinking. As a homemaker, she unworked.

And she pushed me into the world neither a girl or a boy, just a big, awkward, ignorant thing, forcing me to invent myself as I went along.

I am deeply grateful for that.”

~ Gabrielle Bell, Manifestion


We were marking the end of a life phase, the beginning of another; for one of us in particular, and — perhaps — for each of us generally.

a healthy breakfast
a healthy breakfast

Meanwhile, I am receiving splendid treatment in the care of PomoCommie. It feels great to be back in Belgium; Antwerp gives me smiles.

tweaking the turns: resilience is systemic

Resilience requires, among other things, “distinguish[ing] between those catastrophes we can repair and those that require us to face a new reality” (p.35). I’m interested that “resilience” is typically invoked as a counterpart to crisis, as if it only emerges spontaneously in the face of a sudden unexpected event rather than persisting as a durable property of a system. Resilience is also most commonly described as a characteristic of individuals rather than groups. How we comport ourselves when wounded, however, is a matter of relationship that is fundamentally inseparable from the co-occurring internal psychological struggle.

Excerpts from Resilience
by Elizabeth Edwards

Sixty pages in to this Christmas gift, I found myself enjoying it more than I at first anticipated.  Some malicious news/gossip drifted within the realm of my awareness some months or a year or two ago about Elizabeth Edwards selling out some part of her soul either by publishing this book or – maybe it was going on a talk show circuit afterwards or… I don’t recall the details. It was a reflection of one of those distasteful, distressing tendencies of the media spotlight to grind away at character, seeking and exploiting flaws of integrity, as if there are so many of us who could withstand such scrutiny well.

Context: Whiteness

The back cover sports a quote from pp.37-38, in which Edwards admits a preference for avoiding difficult things in life while reconciling herself to the fact that they are going to happen, no matter what. By this point, she has already painted the picture of herself as a person living a dream and believing it could continue unabated. She had noticed tarnish, but not allowed it to dim the glow of her idealized vision, such as (among other things) recognizing “that the color of your skin gave you a whole different, less hospitable country” (p. 15).  Edwards attributes most of her fantasy to growing up in a magical-military lifestyle framed by Armed Services Radio. Seems like a classic example of how lives become meaningful within a context shaped by media.

It is my interpretation to lay her idyll at the feet of whiteness – not the simplistic version of white skin privilege, but the attitudes and assumptions of whiteness – which can be embedded in any human body of any ethnicity, given enough socioeconomic privilege and cultural conditioning.  You may consider the evidence sketchy, but when Edwards describes how she is changed after the infidelity of her husband (coming very soon after a diagnosis of breast cancer, and some years after the life-altering death of her teenage son), I thought to myself, this is what whiteness shields you from:

“I was not wounded, not afraid, not uncertain before, and

now I always will be.”

Many pages later, discussing a transformation in her Christian faith necessitated by the death of her son, she writes:

“I had believed that God would intervene to protect the innocent. How, at forty-six, having seen what I had of the world, having walked around the site of the children’s hospital at Hiroshima, near the epi-center of the atomic bomb, having seen injustice and misery reposed among the innocent across the globe, I still believed this, I cannot say. I only know that I did…” (p 110).

Whiteness enables this kind of magical thinking.

“What we know is apparently no match for what we need” (p. 70)

Faith is a kind of map that orders a belief structure, enabling coping mechanisms and strategies for survival and – if accompanied by luck – individual and social thriving. “In my life,” Edwards admits, “the map has almost always been wrong.” She is referring to a saying of her friend Gordon Livingston: “When the map does not comport with the ground, the map is wrong” (p. 32). In lieu of a god who protects the innocent and guards the righteous from random trauma, Edwards comes to believe in a God who “promises only salvation and enlightenment,” continuing:

“This is our world, a gift from God, and we make it what it is. If it is unjust, we have made it so. If there is boundless misery, we have permitted it. If there is suffering, it came from man’s own action or inaction” (p. 111).

Later, she adds:

“I remind myself: This is the world we made; its flaws are our flaws; its shortcomings are our shortcomings; and the degree to which there is injustice or unprovoked suffering is just a reflection of our failures…God gave me this world, and He gave me free will. It is my world, and now, if I am able, I have to fix it” (p. 119).

Resilience requires, among other things, “distinguish[ing] between those catastrophes we can repair and those that require us to face a new reality” (p.35). I’m interested that “resilience” is typically invoked as a counterpart to crisis, as if it only emerges spontaneously in the face of a sudden unexpected event rather than persisting as a durable property of a system. Resilience is also most commonly described as a characteristic of individuals rather than groups. How we comport ourselves when wounded, however, is a matter of relationship that is fundamentally inseparable from the co-occurring internal psychological struggle.

a small slice of the middle (or, in-between the turns)

In the subfield of Communication that studies language and social interaction, one of the things we pay attention to are turns at talking: who talks when, how much, after who, about what, how often, and so on and so forth. Turn-taking is a particularly intriguing subject of study because transitions require a rather complex coordination (rarely thought about because the norms for how to do it are so internalized). Edwards quotes a line from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, Interim, about turning the world back a click or two, “just a turn and…” this or that would not have happened, “just a turn and…” we would be living some other reality. Living in the wishfulness of turning something back, however, is not resilient.

“In time, I learned that I was starting a new story. I write these words as if that is the beginning and the end of what I did, but it is only a small slice of the middle, a place that is hard to reach and, in reaching it, only a stepping-off place for finding or creating a new life with our new reality…” (p. 31-32)

Perfection is not a requirement (p. 9)

Effective systems have safeguards and backups in case of normal accidents. It seems like an oxymoron, but accidents do happen. Accidents occur with enough irregularity that they cannot be predicted and controlled, thus any comprehensive system assumes a certain “normalcy” to the fact that accidents will need to be managed. If one adopts the stance that, loosely, accidents are normal, one’s map is already prefigured to minimize damage by building resiliency in. One adapts as best one can, as soon as one can, in the best ways one knows how given the circumstances. This includes recovering from shock, such as Edwards describes:

“The Greatest Generation from World War II was not simply too humble to take credit for their accomplishments in battle (though they were often that), they were also good men too stunned that what they had seen was now part of their own life story” (p. 27).

We are all living our own life stories, and to varying degrees – depending upon exposure and attention – aware of unspeakable inhumanities being done by human beings to other human beings. We need to be resilient, not just in our own self-centered orbits but as persons in relation with the people whose lives we interact with daily, whether through the products of their work or because of direct contact.

the fullest breath (p. 17)

“The only contest we have,” Edwards concludes, “is with ourselves” (p. 212). She is mainly referring to how a parent finds the way to go on after losing a child, but she also means how a spouse recovers from the infidelity of their partner, and how one chooses to glean the most from every moment in the face of a terminal illness. Her answers, she emphasizes repeatedly, are hers alone, and every one must find their own ways to continue living in the face of pain and challenge. Resilience, however, is not only a feature of the the solo, noble human spirit, but of the community and relationships and ways of talking that guide and nurture the spirit through.  Yes, so much rides on single moments, and yet, with each breath, there is a new moment imbued with new possibilities, new paths leading to new and different places.  A friend just taught me this Albanian saying:

The minute does not determine the year.

There are, of course, minutes that do change years, moments whose occurrence changes lifepaths irrevocably and forever. Moments that teach “what it means to scream” (p. 17). But any moment, even those that require years from which to heal, does not have to foreclose the future. It may not be the future one dreamed, but it can still be worthy, happy, and whole. In a recent talk on Resilience: Talking, Resisting, and Imagining New Normalicies into Being (Journal of Communication 60, 2010), Patrice M. Buzzanell argues that “resilience is developed, sustained, and grown through discourse, interaction, and material considerations,” and lists five specific communication processes, all of which are evident in Edwards personal story.

Social relations and ways of talking contribute to individual resiliency but it is still, in the end, the individual who has to learn breathe deeply – either again, or perhaps for the first time.  If Elizabeth Edwards’ life had played out along her original fantasy script, she admits:

“I don’t know..if…it would have occurred to me that I had never taken the fullest breath I could. It had been diaphragmatic breathing, matching my inhaling and exhaling to some rhythm I wanted, some song that fit my life at the time, or I thought did. I had never had to find my own rhythm, never needed to search for my own cadence…For all of the times that followed those carefree days…for all of the pain I endured, at least I learned … what it meant to breathe for myself.”

Dedicated to Alec Kent
and the family who survives him

reading the demon: simultaneous interpretation and the in-between

Voices from the In-Between: Aporias, Reverberations, and Audiences
Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
University of Massachusetts Amherst

DSCN0783“When I saw you with the laptop,” Cecilia said to me, “I thought you must be really far behind on your presentation.”  More or less! I was in my “live” discourse and dynamics mode, self-interestedly collecting connections with other presenters (or at least with their topics). I wanted to show as well as tell about my findings and speculations based on the research I’ve done concerning language, meaning, and simultaneous interpretation.  The conference would have gone by in a blur for me, otherwise. As it was, I had a handful of heartfelt conversations with fascinating human beings, beginning at the banquet, smuggled into the quiet of rehearsal/prep space in presentation rooms, and during breaks over the abundance of food.

Warning! Relationship implied!DSCN0792

Huda did not believe that I really wanted to quote her presentation. “You really are dangerous!” exclaimed Nimmi, before vanishing back to Texas. Jiwei questioned the possibility of as fluid an identity as I propose – that I am ‘called into being’ by the interactions I have with others, especially those that are overtly communicative. (I’m not saying its easy, only that it can be extraordinary.)

The keynote presenter, Vittorio Marchis, emphasized the importance of ritual to memory, explaining the mind’s need for regular re-freshing of knowledge and society’s need for icons representing history: lest we forget. He took us on a romp through Italian magazine covers in the era post-WWII, showing what he described as “the bearable weightness of things” in-between the use of images of current scientific progress and fine artistic works projecting images of the future, which he described as “prophecies.”

As far as invoking a certain quality of timespace, what more important social ritual than eating together? Juan checked in on everyone as we dined at the Faculty Club; the exuberant conviviality carried everyone through the cold rain we had to traverse afterward.

With the theory, you can move…

Nimmi set the tone for a great day by busting the title of my talk: “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” Could be! Her Rumblings included a quote from KS Maniam that struck me as a description of how I do action research.


I’m going out there, into the … incomprehensible….”

When I got to this slide during my presentation, my peripheral vision detected Edwin nodding. I hope I haven’t taken Maniam’s words out of context, but I was gratified at the evidence of resonance that my usage fits what others experience when I’m “on.” (It’s not like I know where we’re going, either!) Nimmi was on the panel Negotiating Hybrid Identities with Xuefei and Huda, and (it seemed to me) they were all engaged with exploring the search for a center – for some thing or some way to ground be-ing – you know – living awake on this planet right now, wherever we are, with whomever is there, too! Huda’s presentation on Ghada Al-Samman suggested one’s orientation to time is relevant, as in, does one look to the past or the future for points-of-reference? A debate was inspired by Xuefei concerning whether “assimilation” can be construed as a mix of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ features or needs to be understand exclusively in the negative.

Industrialization, Race, and Displacement

Darlene asked me, later, about her claim of experiencing the brutality of displacement even though it happened four centuries ago. I think there is a qualitative difference between people who have suffered physically just to survive and those of us who have had that part soft, but I agree with Enhua’s response that it’s all about when industrialization happened to hit your family: this generation or several generations back. The cumulative effect of migration having occurred in historical time for most white Americans appears most obviously in the disconnect from the land. I am not atypical, having parents who met in a city distant from where they grew up, and then continued to move around.  I have no home rooted in place; only the sensibilities of comfort I create for myself in the spaces I happen to be.

Choosing what we carry

I met Maria waiting for the panel on Authorship and Narrative Techniques. The next day I would be stunned by her story, shocked by the contrast with our joyous first encounter. Meanwhile, Cecilia’s presentation, Blind Spot: The In-Between-ness of a Child Narrator sparked a lively post-panel discussion and reminded me of the interpersonal communication tool by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingram, the Johari Window. The dynamic processes of feedback (sharing what I know/perceive about you) and disclosure (telling about myself) are so important! (It crosses my mind, now, to wonder if there is a parallel with the Chinese “mirror” that Enhua mentioned, in which one is supposed to see one’s true self?

Navigators of the In-Between

DSCN0789Morna labeled us conference participants as “navigators of the in-between” while folks debated whether a child could be wise in the ways depicted by Lya Luft, the  author of O Ponto Cego, featured in Cecilia’s talk.  The Q&A following this session was the one I found most stimulating.

A quote from Herman Melville that Brian had used kept floating through my mind, in reference to the space of a sailing ship (one of its chronotopes): “We expatriate ourselves to nationalize with the universe.” From this forward-looking perspective (which I appreciate despite its reliance on the nation), I went to the panel on Theorizing Coloniality and Postcoloniality, where the gaze of the presenters was focused keenly on the past.

Where do creoles come from? Beccie enthused on her problematic. I’d like to think about this more in contemporary terms – when/why/how do new languages still come into being (or are we killing off this possibility as surely as old languages are dying?) Juan noticed the power of the colonizer everywhere, and Loc Pham’s description of the Vietnamese ‘non-identification’ strategy intrigues with the evidence of such apparent non-resistance being a powerful mode for preserving cultural integrity.

A frontier that unites rather than a barrier that divides

I’ll be honest, sometimes the theorizing gets too abstract for me – yes yes I know, as if my work doesn’t go there too (grin). Still, I’m with Javier when he said, “The fundamental issue is not to come up with a perfect name, but to understand what is going on and ____”. Funny, my notes stop there – did I not hear the rest? Was I distracted by someone or something else? For me it is the understanding in order to act, or even misunderstanding but still acting so as to stay engaged with those who are different than me – and together finding ways to be here and move on with attention to the implicit as well as explicit relationships. This is what I heard in the Personal Narratives of In-Between-ess shared by Maria, Claudio & Marcelo, and Elena: no matter what has happened to us – childhood trauma or adult humiliation – we must bear up, dig down, find an ethical way to go on.

The In-Betweeners

I was thrilled when Edwin said I “might be on to something” with the distinction I drew between interpretation and translation (dissertation forthcoming). And I’m eager for any uptake on my conjecture that the postmodern condition, defined by David Harvey (1990) as time-space compression, is the historical moment when white people figure out WTF we’ve been doing with language. The next time you’re reading social theory, just notice how many times the word “tension” is used, and then see if you can figure out “what” is “in tension” with “what”? Social theorists deploy “tension” as if it is self-explanatory and obvious (sortof like how people throw around the term “dialectic.”) An engineer (for instance) would be quite unlikely to discuss tension without its complement of compression.

If language (language use, language-in-action, English, Vietnamese, Chinese, Portuguese, literature, poetry, rhyme, whatever you want to include in the category) is the social means by which timespace has become compressed, then it is only through language that we are going to be able to un-compress it.  I support Vittorio Marchis’ conclusion:

“We need more time to talk together and find solutions.”

Interpreting for Accuracy

As interpreters and translators, our goal is to be both accurate and precise, however I suggest that the material with which we work – language – is inherently not amenable to the achievement of both goals, simultaneously. It seems to me that what interpreters do (in the face of uncertainty about a particular meaning in a specific social interaction) is select the highest probability ‘meaning’ for the context of the situation and according to the character (if known) of the speaker. I am not versed enough to know whether translators rely on established discourses to the same extent, but my suspicion is that they do: on what other basis can one decide among the range of potential meanings for any given snippet of text?

follow-up to UMass Translation Center

Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off.

Build your wings on the way down.

~Ray Bradbury

Meaning(s) of Action Research

I got closer to an actual definition during the blog commentary that followed my first talk on paradigm consciousness.  Julian provided a terrific stimulus when he wrote, “I get the feeling you are discussing the research of a system with the consciousness of being within that system.”

What keeps returning to mind is Edwin’s German translation, “All scientific research is action research.”  He utilized one of German’s functional strengths to establish a context of comparison, yet he remained uneasy with the need to invent a new term. I have felt uneasy with de-limiting the notion of ‘research’ only to the scientific, as the broader motivation is to show all uses of language (in any sense, research or everyday living and working) as a force that generates effects. The entire discussion of all the translations has continued to percolate: what do such translational moves accomplish?

Two weeks later (!), I finally had the aha about the meaning of “all research is action research.”  Where we got hung up, I think, is because of the focus on translating, instead of on interpreting. Julian’s insight struck such a responsive chord in me because of the ever-present challenge of distributing one’s attention: if you’re looking to the left, for instance, you simply cannot also see what is happening to your right. In group dynamics, this plays out most starkly at the division between “content” and “process.” The whole notion of paradigm consciousness is to develop the perception to recognize the juxtaposition of different frames and – ideally – begin to learn how to tack back-and-forth among them as suitable for one’s aims.

All research has consequences.

Or, to put it more neutrally: All research has effects. I’m willing to bet (and I invite everyone to try!) that this interpretation of the claim, “all research is action research” is easier to work with, and more clear to convey, than the tight linguistic mapping attempted during the workshop.

I am not forgetting that I offered no help! The honest truth is: I did not yet know – myself – the most concise way to convey the meaning of the claim! And here you see the heart and soul of action research as always-and-forever in motion. This understanding provides the criteria, I believe, to distinguish the essential difference between “translating” and “interpreting.” Translation presumes a static target, and its goal is precision (in the engineering sense). Interpreting, however, presumes a dynamic process (at least relatively so, I know we can quibble!), and thus relies on the possibility of iteration (i.e., turn-taking to build clarification and mutual understanding) in order to generate greater accuracy.

Engineering precision vs engineering accuracy

I am finding the language of engineering quite useful to muddling through some bits of the tangled morass of social theories – be they critical or otherwise.  This site illustrates the distinction between accuracy and precision very well. As interpreters and translators, our goal is to be both accurate and precise, however I suggest that the material with which we work – language – is inherently not amenable to the achievement of both goals, simultaneously. It seems to me that what interpreters do (in the face of uncertainty about a particular meaning in a specific social interaction) is select the highest probability ‘meaning’ for the context of the situation and according to the character (if known) of the speaker. I am not versed enough to know whether translators rely on established discourses to the same extent, but my suspicion is that they do: on what other basis can one decide among the range of potential meanings for any given snippet of text?

My observation is that if you listen carefully to how interpreters and translators talk about our work, it winds up – more often than not – that we privilege precision over accuracy. I would describe this as an empirical feature of our professional discourse. I suspect we do this because it is reassuring to interlocutors, who are generally even less inclined to consider the trajectories of their utterances (written and spoken), if they are even aware of communicating in patterned ways.

And herein lies the power of interpretation and translation: we know these patterns – even if we have yet to figure out the extent of our own participation in them!

Make NERDAs the linguistic minority (proposal)

the future

Building on the potential for a paradigm shift is matter of recognition, marketing, and design. These processes can proactively influence each other, interacting and changing through the development of a project. All are contained within the conception and application of strategic planning.
Strategy has to involve conceptualizing the outcome in two different yet complementary ways. First, you must imagine what you want in terms of place. In the case of the next national conference of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID, US-based), the physical location will be some hotel in Atlanta, GA, but the more important issue is how the space of the place will be designed and implemented in order to generate the desired kinds of intercultural interaction. The second dimension that must be considered is time. By time, I do not mean the logistics of scheduling or considerations about the length of the event or even its parts. These are obviously important logistical factors that require detailed attention. However, the most important temporal factor to consider is how the conference contributes to long-term patterning of habits and attitudes for engaging in intercultural social interaction.

Not Even Related to a Deaf Adult: Buffered by Monolingualism
That would be me, and we NERDAs compose the largest percentage of the membership of RID. Most of us do not understand what it means to be Deaf. We want to understand, and we sure try hard, but our reality as native, hearing speakers of English in the United States is one of extreme linguistic privilege. No matter what other oppressions we may experience, we communicate with the same language as nearly everyone one else around us. NERDAs need to understand that we are affected by living in a society that has done more, historically, than any other country to enforce monolingualism. Unless you live or work in a dense urban city, it is quite possible that you never hear another language spoken in day-to-day living. Most Americans are protected from exposure to even tasting what it might be like to not know the language that would enable you to talk with your neighbor, your child’s teacher, shopkeepers and salespeople, peers in your classroom or a club, not to mention the doctor, police officer, realtor, banker, or the waitstaff at a restaurant where you must guarantee that there are no nuts or shellfish in the dish you want because you don’t want to risk anaphylactic shock.
NERDAs certainly cannot conceive of the intrapersonal, deliberate, conscious planning necessary to predict when and where and for how long we’ll need an interpreter, do not know the calculus of deciding why and for what reasons we’ll need an interpreter, and never have to weigh the costs – time, focused mental energy, unpredictable emotional surges – that come along with deciding, “Yes, in this situation I do need an interpreter,” or “No, in this situation I can manage without an interpreter.” Nor do we have to deal with the fallout from misjudging any of these factors: such as discovering an interpreter is necessary when it had not seemed so, or that the need is much longer/shorter than anticipated, or that the whole effort was a complete waste of time.

Atlanta 2011: Experimenting with New Norms
National conferences of professional associations occur for very specific reasons:

  • to further the organization’s business and
  • to provide members with professional development opportunities that are not available at home.

A critique offered by one of the other participants in the small group DEAF-FRIENDLY brainstorming sessions (described in the August 9 entry, “Embrace Change, Honor Tradition (RID 2009)” was that the conference focuses too much on training. In the immediate moment, I was most aware of the turn-taking dynamic – how her comment did not have any relation to mine – but I soon realized that her observation is significant. Why are we designing the national conference like an extension of an interpreter training program? Granted, many RID members are still in the early phases of their professional careers, but if we design the conference with students in mind, we generate a comfortable and familiar container for learning as usual.

No wonder, then, that many interpreters arrive and proceed to engage in comfortable, familiar, and usual ways! An alternative would be to take MJ Bienvenu’s deconstruction by reversal to the extreme. This would create a professional development experience that would use the capacities of our national organization to the fullest potential. We already have the technology:

  • knowledge of Deaf culture
  • linguistic fluency in ASL and English
  • professionally trained ASL-English interpreters
  • extensive experience with interpreter request systems and accommodation services…

What we need is the will to apply the tools in an altered configuration, and a rationale to convince people to come.

A one-time experiment of mutual discovery
Instead of following the dominant, inherently oppressive model (accessibility provided for the Deaf), we reverse it (accessibility provided for the Hearing). This would generate an experience like none other. In some respects it would resemble an ASL Immersion retreat, and in some respects it would resemble the environment at residential schools for the Deaf. What it would offer is the intellectual and empathy-building experience of being the one who has to ask.
There would not need to be any commitment or promise to continue: we can see what happens, evaluate it, and then decide. If the storming phase re-emerges – so be it, that will be an honest, deep indicator of the organization’s developmental status. If we do establish a foundation for new norms, well, that will be incredibly exciting and everyone who attends will have bragging rights for the rest of their life:

“I was there when…!”

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
Anaphylactic shock (Embrace Change, Honor Tradition (RID 2009), Reflexivity