It is no mere coincidence
I’ve been sorting back through some of my old posts at cgbvb, and thinking about whether or not I’m going to port some of the oldies here to this site. I’m not decided one way or the other just yet. I will say that, given the time I spent on job market advice and scholarly communication, among other topics, it does seem a shame to let those posts languish. The prospect of sorting through 1000-odd posts to pull them out, however, suggests to me that it’s a project for another time.
One of the things that I didn’t talk about when I stopped blogging is the fact that really, I only added about 40 or so entries after my father passed away in the fall of 2007, over the course of about 3 months. That sounds like a lot of posts to me now, but most of them are short. Maybe I’m projecting, but as I read back through some of them, I can feel myself just trying to hold on to the habit despite a deep affective resistance to doing so. What I’m circling around to here is that it is indeed no mere coincidence that my dad’s passing matches up so well with my old blog’s demise.
I don’t think about it nearly as much, but I still feel that grief and pain, and given that Father’s Day is tomorrow, those feelings have surfaced. What hasn’t surfaced this year is the strong association I carried with me between his death and the torturously protracted process that led to the publication of my first book. I’ve told plenty of people this, but I don’t know that I’ve ever said it publicly: from the time that I turned in the first draft of my manuscript (late summer 2004), it took nearly five years for it to be published. For those of you keeping score at home, that means that my dad never got to see my book, and that’s a fact that added several layers of anger, pain, and disenchantment to the emotional cocktail brewing in me at the time. When they honored my book at Computers and Writing the following year, it was very difficult for me to feel any sort of joy.
And I don’t know that that’s changed all that much. At some point this year, though, I seem to have recommitted myself to writing in a way that wasn’t possible for me for a long time. And thus here I am, writing mostly to myself, and inviting you all to read along. It feels pretty good, although it’s a different sort of pleasure than I got from the first go-round of my blog. Perhaps one of these days, I’ll puzzle that all out.
Anyhow, I’m also circling around to the fact that the final blog post I wrote was something that I never published there. Those of you who happened upon my book will recognize that post as the Acknowledgments section. Given that Father’s Day is in less than an hour now, I thought I would post it here. Perhaps it functions for me here as something of a symbolic opening ceremony, a place to pass the proverbial torch from one blog to another, and a sign that enough of my grief has passed to be able to let me write again. Whether or not those things are true, it makes me smile tonight to think that they are.
The book before you is the culmination of a long and layered history, spanning my time at three different institutions. It began as my dissertation at the University of Texas at Arlington, and while the current volume shares little with that document beyond a title and an abiding interest in the classical canons of rhetoric, it’s difficult for me not to think of this project as an inevitable outgrowth of my work as a graduate student ten years ago. In that time, however, my thoughts on rhetoric and technology have been honed, challenged, supported, and complicated by friends and colleagues at UTA, Old Dominion, and Syracuse, and there is no question in my mind that they have helped to push my thought further than I ever could have on my own. Under normal circumstances, I would take this opportunity to thank as many of them as possible; I am grateful for their support and mentorship over the years, certainly, but I believe that they will understand if I fail to mention them here by name.
While this book was in press, my father, Charles Winston Brooke, passed away after a protracted battle with cancer. Even now, some months later, it is difficult for me to write those words, or to grasp fully the facts behind them. We are faced in our lives with losses and joys at every turn—I am not so self-centered as to imagine that my own experiences in this regard are unique—but with my father’s passing, I have struggled to regain what was at one time my unquestioned faith in the sufficiency of language. I have struggled to articulate the conflicted mess of emotion and experience that has been my near-constant companion for the past year. It has not been something that I have felt especially comfortable either talking or writing about, and even now, I have my doubts. But this is what I remember:
- Saturday morning errands to the library, the hardware store, the firm
- Dad’s Club softball, YMCA soccer, and playing kickball at dusk in the summers
- Our annual trips to Missouri to buy fireworks for the 4th of July
- Youth group canoe trips to the Boundary Waters
- My father trying to learn to play the flute. Trying.
- The first Quad-City Symphony Riverfront Pops concert
- Going to Wrigley Field in the summers
- Borrowing my father’s clothes for debate tournaments
- Being able to attend any college that accepted me
- Exploring cemeteries in Indiana tracking down our family history
- Struggling to understand graduate school my first go-round
- Living in and renovating the saltbox on 13th Street
- Deciding to give graduate school another try
- Landing my first tenure-track position
- Driving the UHaul from Virginia to New York
- Watching my father be sworn in as Mayor of Davenport
- Going to Busch Stadium last summer
In one sense, I never had the chance to thank my father for any of these things. But as I spent time with him last summer, even though we never talked about it, I like to think that I showed my gratitude each day. I think it frustrated him to be treated as someone who was dying, when in fact each day was another day of life. And we spent those days doing crosswords, watching baseball, eating out, reading, catching movies, and talking local politics. For the past few years, every time I left Iowa to return home, I did so not knowing if I’d see him again, but when I was there, I was there, in the moment, nothing more, nothing less.
Through all the good times and the bad, my father was there for me, and that’s something I don’t know that I fully appreciated until it was my turn to be there for him. Here’s a final memory. In May of 1997, I received my first job offer from Old Dominion, which was contingent upon completing my dissertation. I had to choose between turning down the offer and spending another year in Texas or spending the entire summer doing nothing but writing. Without a second thought, my father loaned me the money so that I could finish my dissertation and accept that offer. Of all the layers that comprise the history of this book, one of the deepest is the support I received over the years from my father. He may not be around to read it, but he’s here in these pages. The name on the front is mine, but the book itself is ours.
Hope you enjoy it, Dad.