Somewhere around the middle of last week, this blog reached its FIFTH ANNIVERSARY! It's hard for me to believe that five years have passed since I began writing here, in late February 2005, primarily as an experiment (a blog post every day, for a year), but they have. The posts have dwindled in recent years as I've had more heaped on my plate, but I always treasure the exchanges with readers that have occurred, and appreciate everyone who still is motivated, even occasionally to drop in.
As I was originally typing this entry, I'm figuratively floating high above a certain midwestern city. I say this because I was able, for the first time, to seamlessly integrate Skype into one of my courses, and it worked without a hitch! As part of my "Situation of Writing" class, I thought it would be nice to have the course's current students speak with a fairly recent university graduate who's working in publishing, and one of them, poet, fiction writer and critic Jeannie Vanasco, graciously agreed to do so. An assistant editor at Lapham's Quarterly, and and formerly worked for TriQuarterly, The Poetry Foundation, and the Paris Review, Jeannie also took this course when she was an undergraduate major (in both the poetry and fiction tracks), and I thought she might have some great and useful insights to offer the students. She did. The hurdle I foresaw, however, was the technology; while I regularly incorporate a host of electronic and online technological components into my courses--from using Blackboard for discussion groups, as a library, and as a posting site, to subject-specific blogs in the past, to Twitter now--and while I have used PowerPoint slides and still images, and screened streaming films (we'll be watching Martin Ritt's great film about the blacklist period, The Front, starring Woody Allen, next week), and last spring even utilized lots of YouTube clips, this was the first time I'd tried Skype. It worked perfectly. We were able to see Jeannie clearly and without any onscreen pixillation and few sync issues. She also was able to hear most of the questions the students asked without a problem and her voice came through without distortion. This has me very excited about using this for future classes, including one next quarter. I know it's old hat to some, but I felt like this was a huge step and am still very cheered by it.
The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are now over, and, perhaps for the first time that I can recall, I didn't watch a complete broadcast of any events after the opening night stadium entry of the athletes; I may have caught a few snippets when changing the channels or clips on the news, but unlike in prior years, I didn't sit through hours of speedskating, bobsledding, the alpine skiing events, an ice hockey match, or any figure skating. When I noticed people tweeting about Johnny Weir's fanciful costumes, I had to look online because I'd missed the performance in real time. I note my not-watching not to feel superior or register my alienation, though perhaps a bit of the latter is part of the mix, but just to point out how much I think my own interests and patience have changed. The narcissistic, jingoistic, and at times saccharine human-interest coverage of NBC's commentators, coupled with the tape delays for maximum advertising impact, were bad enough, but it also seemed to be the case that, despite the horrific death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Olympic Committee and games organizers were more interested in getting on with things than seriously and realistically addressing the problems with that venue and others (such as some of the alpine hills, where a dangerous bump at the bottom of the downhill course initially led to devastating crashes among the women's elite skiers). Perhaps this was just my perception, and I realize a lot of money was riding on these games happening and not being delayed or postponed at all, a death or two or none. And I'm aware that any participating in lugeing or alpine skiing or any other similar sport realizes the perils involved. I also realize that NBC, having paid billions, has the right to feature the games however they want, and if it's Bob Costas mocking countries' outfits or freestyling with mind-numbing digressions, so be it. Nevertheless, Kumaritashvili's death and the daily athlete-and-medal hype, which extended into newspaper accounts, left bad tastes that I could not get past. (Yes, the US won the most medals, and Russia's poor showing has sent President Dmitri Medvedev into a tizzy; Canada, however, led in golds, a nice home victory.) I debated whether I should watch yesterday's Canada vs. US ice hockey final, and decided not to, only to learn that it was a thriller. But I don't feel I missed anything, even if the US had won. In 2 years the summer games will be in Rio de Janeiro and in 4 years time there'll be another Winter Games, in Sochi, Russia, and all of the hoopla that beset Vancouver will be forgotten, though, I hope, not Kumaritashvili and his very sad, preventable death.