If you find yourself with a slice of free-time, I highly recommend the December 3 episode “Left Right Black White” by the Strangers podcast. A part of Radiotopia—which comprises additionally wonderful podcasts—Strangers is hosted by Lea Thau.
In the Dec 3 episode, an academic tells her story. She just landed a tenure-track position at an unnamed school in an unnamed department in New York City. As the only female in the department, she felt isolated; her Chair criticized her teaching and she could not get any traction on her publications. She was spiraling out of control.
Then she started playing Empire, an online war/strategy game. In the game, you join an alliance of other gamers, build up your empire, while collectively attacking others and defending your own. So, it’s like the real world of high-stakes geo-politics without the psychological, psylogogical, economic, and social ramifications of war. Somehow, even though she was relatively new to the game and admittedly a so-so player, she found herself on the number one alliance.
She describes herself as the “stereotypical, Whole-Foods-shopping-NPR-listening liberal” and the majority of the people in her gaming alliance are conservative people who are convinced Obama is a closet-Muslim who has usurped the presidency. In the chat room, talk would sometimes turn political. Ignorance, almost hateful, indictments directed toward Obama hurled by people hiding behind a screen name and a keyboard.
This is not my story to tell—listen to the podcast—but what stands out to me in the episode is how the video-game helped the speaker get her academic life under control. The episode ends positively and the speaker attributes her current academic success to navigating this gaming community.
This episode caused my mind turned to the great work our friends and colleagues have done on the importance of extracurricular writing to curricular writing, the importance of charting the full map of a person’s literate life. Here I am particularly thinking of Kevin Roozen’s piece in Research in the Teaching of English that traces a graduate student’s use of comics and fan-fiction to gain a foothold on challenging rhetorical theory. The theory of Kenneth Burke wasn’t making sense to the student. So she leveraged what she already knew and loved—a popular comic strip Spy v Spy—and rewrote it vis-à-vis Burke. Voila!
The podcast wasn’t directly about writing. The speaker did not say that how she navigated the chat room helped her navigate the nuances of an academic literature review—though Roozen would be stoked if she did.
Instead, I make this connection to a slice of scholarship within composition and rhetoric because as much as we might want to delineate between work/life and strive after that much-desired and rarely fulfilled work/life balance, there are times where the two beautifully coalesce, inform each other and better each other. My world of composition and rhetoric has theorized how this happens—this merging of worlds—with writing and literate development. But the speaker in the podcast is talking about much more than writing; she is talking about ontology; she is talking about how what she did for fun, away from the judging glares of her colleagues, helped her make sense of her colleagues and form a community with her colleagues.
The work and the not-work are both needed to fully be.