the exclusions always matter.

It’s the anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule, thus also the kairotic moment prompting me to finally collect my thoughts around a range of social media content appearing on my feeds lately, primarily around tourism and programs of study in Sri Lanka. I’m used to seeing ads encouraging tourism in Sri Lanka, and tourism is often deployed to boost a postwar economy, especially in countries whose “beauty” is extolled. In these ads and travelogues, I find a fairly consistent discourse of (ancient) exoticism, the (ancient) beauty of nature, an (ancient, mystic) spiritualism that leans Buddhist and New Age/self-help, attended by a rhetoric of healing. And all of this discourse is harmful, exclusionary, reinforcing and benefiting victors’ nationalist narratives and revised histories, of who the country really belongs to and how “Sri Lanka” as a country should be defined: as west, south, and center, neatly cutting out the Tamil-dominated north and east. I find abstract violence in this, but it’s one thing to see it in tourism ads, or the Twitter feeds of a couple of obliviously vacationing non-local (usually white) friends, colleagues, or distant acquaintances. It’s another thing to see it embedded and produced in/around study abroad programs whose aims and destinations don’t take “Sri Lanka” as a whole, and whose promotional and instructional materials seem to gloss over Sri Lanka’s grim post-conflict realities in favor of flowers, sunsets, energy, healing, celebration, and (especially) the importance of contemplating and recognizing beauty.

As a graduate student/newly minted FT faculty member, it still feels risky to publicize my reactions to established programs, instructors, directors, but. The idea that students become implicated or trained in this way of seeing, and that scholars I admire or teach respond positively to this way of seeing. That feels like actual violence. That’s what the educator-activist in me can’t let go.

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the syllabus i can’t give you.

Inspired by Sonya Huber’s (2014) Shadow Syllabus, written as a free-writing exercise for myself, with an eye to adapting it for use in my writing courses.

This is your map for getting an A. You’re the driver, and I call shotgun, making me your navigator. I’ll tell you exactly how to get to where you’re going, but over the lulling hum of your engine, you might have difficulty hearing me.

You are guaranteed to get lost.

When I was in college, I was always lost. When I reached grad school, I realized being lost is a luxury you will one day lose.

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sc&i honors day

After four years of teaching as a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information, as I prepare to transition into a new full-time job, the Journalism and Media Studies department surprised me with the 2018 Roger Hernandez Memorial Part-Time Faculty Award! Maybe even better than winning the award, though, was how I was introduced: with metaphors about corpse shrouds and eclectic, glowing student comments across all of my evaluations.

salting the earth with hypocrisy.

It’s the last week of classes, and my course announcements, as usual, have stacked up like this:

Hey class,
Due to travel hazards/laryngitis/an ongoing family emergency/my sick cat, I will be unable to attend class today. As such, I will record a lecture in advance of our meeting time and hang out in the chat room during class to field any questions you might have about the material. As always, you can email me directly with comments.
Best,
Prof. Mani

Also featured are stories of delays: #NJTransit and #PennStation have trended at least twice this month due to massive breakdowns, delays, and crowd control issues. After a NJTransit train derailed on Monday, April 3, damaging switches and rails, train delays and cancellations, platform crowding, and overflow trains infected the entire week, including the Tuesday and Thursday I commute to Rutgers for a 2:2 course load. At Penn Station, Amtrak, LIRR, and NJTransit were all affected. According to news reports and angry commuters on Twitter, the less crowded Penn Station’s platforms and trains looked like this:

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That’s hours of delays, jostling shoulder to shoulder on the platform, followed by a standing-room only commute for an hour on the Northeast Corridor.

Thousands of commuters were doing this, so I couldn’t say it wasn’t doable. But I didn’t do it. I cancelled my Rutgers classes that week, citing only my concerns that I wouldn’t arrive on time, and we wouldn’t be able to hold class anyway.

This was true, but it wasn’t the real reason.

Coincidentally, after I returned to campus I heard from a former student that I have a reputation for canceling, and I’ve been trying to dismiss my concerns about it because I’m not sure I get to be defensive. Like a good faculty member, I am dishonest with my students about my reasons, despite insisting they be honest with me about theirs. I lie because, as long as I can power through without dying mid-lecture, the truth sounds like an excuse. I’m in pain. I’m exhausted. I just can’t.

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first blood.

Wednesday was my first day with the rising 9th grade (the students who have just completed 8th grade) at the nonprofit organization where I teach full-time during summer academics. I have them for 2 hours Mondays and Wednesdays for essay writing. It’s their last class for the day. I have all 16 kids in one group, which presumably would be similar to last summer, where I had 2 classes of 15 kids each, though each class was 1½ hours instead of 2.

These kids are angry. They are hot. The air conditioning in the school is often broken or barely effective, and the past couple of days have peaked at 102 degrees. The last time I worked with this group, during ELA prep in afterschool program, DeVon threw a metal folding chair at me, or at least in my direction. I’m still not sure how it just barely clipped my shoulder, when I was too startled to really move all that much. I’d chaperoned this group on field trips before too, and witnessed Shaun shaking hands with the skeletons at the Bodies Exhibit. My first class with them was on a 101 degree day, for 3 hours, from 1:00 to 4:00. I know some of them by face but I haven’t earned their respect yet. They don’t know me as someone who will stick around, or someone who gives a damn. Mainly, all they’ve seen of me is that I can’t command their attention in the classroom and I can’t project my voice enough to drown them out.

So I wasn’t entirely surprised when, after I was left alone in the room with them, DeVon and Shaun, who are friends, started play-fighting.  

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when we were (never) treated fairly.

“As I got to know my adjunct colleagues better, I began to see these largely invisible, voiceless laborers as a hugely diverse group of amazing teachers.  Some are employed at full-time jobs in education or elsewhere, some are retired or supported by wealthier others, but far too many are just barely surviving.  While instances of dumpster diving are rare, adjunct shopping is typically limited to thrift stores, and decades-old cars sometimes serve as improvised offices when these “roads scholars” are not driving from campus to campus, all in a frantic attempt to cobble together a livable income.  Some adjuncts rely on food stamps or selling blood to supplement their poverty-level wages, which have been declining in real terms for decades.”

Brown, “Confessions of a Tenured Professor”

I’d read “Confessions of a Tenured Professor” in Inside Higher Ed a while back, but it left me too incensed to coherently think—not because of Prof. Brown’s views on the situation (which I think is commendable, as there’s so little published on the subject in widely-viewed forums, let alone in such a nuanced manner)—but because the subject itself is one that fills me with rage and despair. Today my friend C. forwarded me this article in The Atlantic, which compounded my rage by asking the impossible-to-answer question: “Why Does Academia Treat Its Workforce So Badly?” After frothing at the mouth for a moment, I thought that maybe I should attempt to think about the issue beyond just “fuck this.” So here I go, take one, from the top.

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the glass isn’t bulletproof.

Last Wednesday, there was a shoot-out at our site. A few coworkers, kids, and I had entered the center. I was starting to help a 9th grader with her resume. The fan was whirring in my ear. Then came the popping sound. One of my coworkers dove down immediately, sprawling, followed by another, who grabbed and shielded a kid as he fell, taking the impact on his shoulder. I dropped next to a man whose name I didn’t know. We were shouting for the kids to get down as they kept spinning on their swivel chairs, checking their email, working on homework. I heard 5 shots; some people, who were still in the foyer when the shooting began, heard up to 8. We phoned parents and asked them to come pick up their kids. We asked them to bring ID. In retrospect I wonder if this might have been in case a gang member came to pick up someone in a mostly gang-affiliated family, since some of the kids spoke very loudly that day about having brothers who’d shot someone, or been shot, in gang shoot-outs before. I helped a usually bubbly 12th grader arrange a ride home with a friend’s parents. I overheard kids muttering, “Man, they buggin’, I gotta go home, I can go myself, this shit happens all the time here.” I helped a 9th grader print his homework. I lent my phone to a 10th grader I’d helped the previous day; after I’d edited his essay, he exclaimed, “Oh man, I’m so happy!” and hugged me. He lived in a decent neighborhood and had never heard gunshots before. He asked me if I was scared: a loaded question. Other kids were listening. I hedged, “No, but it will probably seem more real to me later.” He seemed to respect that. He told me he was scared. That he didn’t quite understand what had been happening, and that to keep his mind off the fact that we were in danger he’d kept doing his homework. Then there was a strange moment of disjuncture where we both looked at his computer screen, which was left on the YouTube video he’d been watching when the shots began: a gameplay demo of an unreleased Xbox shooter game.

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authenticity and approaching literature

I’ve been thinking about the question that I brought up in class on Monday, about the impact of fiction versus nonfiction, and how genre shapes our reaction to a given piece of literature.  I have to say I was surprised at the prevailing sentiment that nonfiction delivers more of an emotional “punch,” if you will, than fiction—but then, this is the most common approach to the issue of genre.  So why was I surprised?

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“what’s the point of literature?”

So I had my first-year writing literature classes read excerpts from Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. And my students had a difficult time understanding the content as well as its arrangement. The most common initial responses to the reading were “What’s the point?” or “Why did she even write this?” I tackled this in class, but since it came up towards the end, I tried to wrap up the discussion online in the following post. This was drafted in 30 minutes on the NJ Transit train, so it’s less polished than I would have liked, though it did end up modeling the kind of writing I encourage in their Zero Drafts.

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