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dissertation writing is tough

Working on a dissertation is difficult, regardless of the topic. A dissertation about psychological trauma takes an extra toll on the psyche and ultimately, on the body. So, to deal with the stress I take breaks–and yes, sometimes those breaks involve cloves and scotch–but mostly it involves immersing myself in something different. Of course me being me, I never seem to select “distractions” that actually stop my brain from working on my dissertation in some form. After I wrote my master’s thesis (also about trauma), I rewarded myself by reading a novel. As it turned out the novel that I chose was about a woman who had been sexually abused by her grandfather. The universe has its own way of keeping me immersed in my research. 🙂

Lately I’ve been trying to watch television shows when I take a break. On the recommendation of my BFF, I started watching Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, an excellent show that I highly recommend. However, as it turns out, Dollhouse is all about the intricacies of the human mind–what it’s capable of accomplishing and what our ambition is capable of destroying. As with all of Whedon’s creations, Dollhouse is thought-provoking and often disturbing for that very reason, not unlike my research. As it turns out, in some ways it’s the best kind of break. I watch it but my mind doesn’t disengage from my overall topic; it shifts. Perhaps as importantly, it’s served to remind me of my purpose and reinvigorate me.

In the television show one character–Echo–has the unique abilities and more importantly the desire to make changes for the better, to help people. Seeing that made me remember something important and realize something more important. First I remembered that I want to help people. But there are lots of ways to help others–volunteering at a shelter, working at a rape crisis center–these are things that I could do that wouldn’t involve writing a dissertation about the rhetoric of trauma blogs. But helping in those ways wouldn’t be using the unique combination of skills and desires that I possess. I’m trained as a rhetorician, researcher, and scholar; I want to help people who’ve been traumatized; and I have the opportunity to write this dissertation at a point in time where no one else has written about the rhetorical strategies of trauma bloggers. This isn’t to say that I’m the only one who is capable of doing so, rather that the confluence of events in my life–both personal experiences and academic knowledge–make me capable of accomplishing this goal and laying groundwork for others to contribute to the research. This is my kairotic moment. It turns out that what began as leisure served to propel my work. While professional success is always a motivating factor, it’s never been enough for me. To be motivated, I must believe that I what I do will help someone other than just me. I possess the ability to do something that matters, and if I don’t, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will. Thanks, Echo.

Wi-Fi Enabled School Bus

When I saw this article in the New York Times, my first thought was: What about the kids who don’t have laptops? Happily, I discovered during the reading of the article that the school being discussed–Empire High School outside of Tucson– had started issuing laptops instead of textbooks in 2005.  In other words, all students have laptops that enable them to take advantage of the available WiFi. Because the school serves many of the exurbs of Tucson students spend hundreds of hours on the bus each year (and we all know how long drives make us cranky). As a better illustration of  why students spend so much time on the bus:

The Vail District, with 18 schools and 10,000 students, is sprawled across 425 square miles of subdivision, mesquite and mountain ridges southeast of Tucson.

School officials came up with the idea during their own long drives in which they took turns driving so that they could work on their laptops during the ride.

Karen Cator, director of education technologyat the federal Department of Education, said the buses were part of a wider effort to use technology to extend learning beyond classroom walls and the six-hour school day.

Apparently the result of the change has been largely positive. “Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.” And while not all students use their laptops for homework at all times (not so surprising), they are still occupied and, in my opinion, still learning how to use technology to behave in more constructive ways.

And for those who argue that technology keeps people from enjoying the simple pleasures of the world, I leave you with this:

A ride through mountains on a drizzly afternoon can be unpredictable, even on the Internet Bus. Through the windows on the left, inky clouds suddenly parted above a ridge, revealing an arc of incandescent color.

“Dude, there’s a rainbow!” shouted Morghan Sonderer, a ninth grader.

A dozen students looked up from their laptops and cellphones, abandoning technology to stare in wonder at the eastern sky.

“It’s following us!” Morghan exclaimed.

“We’re being stalked by a rainbow!” Jerod said.

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