Lessons Learned

Okay, here’s might be where I flunk out of that Coursera class.

Actually, that’s an overstatement, in my usual hyperbolic fashion. However, I do have a “capstone assignment” due tomorrow evening, in which I’m supposed to craft some creative portfolio that demonstrates everything I’ve learned, both for my own benefit and for the benefit of whatever students follow along after me. It’s the kind of project that would have benefitted from regular effort over a span of time, but my report from last night should indicate why and how that hasn’t been possible.

So, in defiance of all good habits for learning, I’ll be doing this capstone assignment in a hurried rush tonight, and, in the spirit of killing two birds with one stone (and knowing that tomorrow night is for choir and not for Coursera), I’ll be doing my “portfolio reflection” a la blogpost.

Shall we begin?

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Down the Rabbit Hole

I’ve talked now and again about working as non-profit fund-raiser, and how that means every now and again I fall down the rabbit hole of some big proposal cycle.

Well, it happened again. One of those perfect storm combination of factors: an unusually short response window on a federal RFP, bisected by the holiday season, and then with the added factor of one of the main project/proposal team having a medical emergency in her family. It was the kind of thing that was completely unforeseeable, legitimately important, and undeniably the kind of top priority that pulls you off the office map. Absolutely no blame or hard feelings about that.

However, the ripple effect is that the other two members of the main proposal team (including yours truly) had to carry more effort and work longer hours to get us to the finish line.

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A Hurricane of Textuality

I guess I have some super-secret MezzoSherri playbook, where the private definition of “I’m going to post a couple times a week” means, instead:

I’m going to take two weeks off where I don’t write a damn thing at all.

I guess radio silence is sometimes unavoidable.

In part, this has been the result of living in a fortnight-long perfect storm. The last 16 days have brought me the following waves, in sequential yet overlapping order: deadlines, travel, more deadlines, illness, more travel. (Whee!!!)

Take a system already on the low slope of one’s personal energy curve and put her through that precise sequence of events and you pretty much have a textbook case of “something’s gotta give.”

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Expanding My Horizons

My decision to keep the Comics class out of the rest of my Coursera options isn’t just about the pop culture/high culture divide. It’s also a class where I have a very particular learning goal in mind. I’ve read comics and graphic novels intermittently throughout my life, but I am very aware of the ways that my reading has always been focused more on language, plot, and characterization — the things I’m good at and was trained for in grad school. This approach has always given immense short shrift to the visual content of comix.*

So by taking this class, and by choosing this particular class as the one to stay with, I’m hoping very precisely to strengthen my understanding of the visual elements of comix, and how to read them as visual documents.

Now, there’s no stakes, really, if you take a MOOC course and do it only halfway — watch only part of the lectures, or watch all the lectures while skipping the assignments. But I’m enough a believer in active learning that I usually try to do all the lectures and “homework” in the MOOC courses I take. This is part of why I try to be thoughtful about not overloading my schedule.

What I hadn’t counted on with this class is one of the main homework assignments: drawing your own mini-comic book!

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Lowering the Brow

Way back when — I mean, way back when I was right out of college and still in the musicology Ph.D. program I attended, before jumping ship to literature & culture, which was before jumping ship en toto — a few of my school friends and I took a road trip up from Philly to see a performance at the Met.

Enough years have passed that I can’t tell you which opera. It was definitely something 20th century and modern/post-modern, knowing the operatic tastes of the group members (myself most emphatically included in the tally of that preference). Strangely enough is how one of the clearest memories I have from that trip (aside from impressing the gang with my ability to surgically insert my Honda into the flow Lincoln Tunnel traffic) was something that happened at dinner before the show.

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Knock on Wood

In addition to lots of laundry and lots of sleep, one other thing I’ve been doing since getting back home from The Trip is catching up on the video lectures and quizzes for the Coursera course I’m taking about the Beatles.*

In a lot of ways this is a “gimme” course: I’ve watched, listened and read enough about the band and its members to be reasonably well-informed from the get-go. Still, it’s fun to hear this professor’s take on things, and I have learned a new thing or two along the way.

Like the full story embedded in the lyrics to Norwegian Wood.

In the song, a young mad is “had” — i.e., fooled — by a comely lass when he accompanies her to her (pretentiously under-furnished) apartment expecting sexytimes, only to be rebuffed when she says she needs to get a good night’s sleep prior to the next workday.

That much I’d understood. But this next part was the part I’d missed: when he wakes up the next morning alone, the song’s narrator sets the girl’s apartment on fire in revenge for the (so-called) cock-blocking.

To quote Paul McCartney (the co-lyricist), looking back at many years’ distance:

[A] lot of people were decorating their places in wood. Norwegian wood. It was pine really, cheap pine. But it’s not as good a title, Cheap Pine, baby…

So she makes him sleep in the bath and then finally in the last verse I had this idea to set the Norwegian wood on fire as revenge, so we did it very tongue in cheek. She led him on, then said, ‘You’d better sleep in the bath’. In our world the guy had to have some sort of revenge. It could have meant I lit a fire to keep myself warm, and wasn’t the decor of her house wonderful? But it didn’t, it meant I burned the fucking place down as an act of revenge, and then we left it there and went into the instrumental.

He sets her apartment on fucking fire. (Who knew? Okay, bad question: evidently everyone in the world knew but me.)

Norwegian_wood__by_CyberfishTalk about a disproportional response to sexual rejection. In his discussion of this song and the story its lyrics tell, the professor said something mild about how the song could be seen as “sort of misogynistic,” and I found myself spluttering at the computer screen, “you think?!?”

I kind of get why the professor chose not to open up the topic for much further exploration. Although some elements of historical and cultural context are inevitably coming into the discussion, his chosen approach is primarily to be taking a musicological quasi-close-reading approach to the stylistic features of the songs and albums — melody, harmonics, orchestration, lyrical complexity, etc. At some level, I suppose I could be thankful he at least called out the misogyny of the scenario, rather than allowing the song’s portrayal of sexual entitlement to remain normalized.

Still, I am so wishing I had magic access to Paul McCartney right now to ask some follow up questions. When you decided that in the song’s world, this guy deserved his revenge, did you mean to portray that as a reasonable response, or an UNreasonable one? You were about 23 when you wrote the song — do you think you’d want to tell a similar or different sort of story if you were writing about sexual miscommunication and rejection today? What acts of friendliness are permitted between two individuals before one is seen as “leading the other on”?

Alas, my press pass is expired (on account of me never having one), and I still haven’t made an appointment with Mr. Ollivander to collect my magic wand. So my curiosity will have to remain unsatisfied.

By the way? Check here for a handy-dandy chart that’s been making the rounds to let you know when a woman owes her partner sex. And despite the geneder-specificity of the graphic, it really cuts both (all?) ways: no individual (gender-inclusive) ever owes another individual (again, gender-inclusive) sex.


Image credit: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Isn-t-it-good-Norwegian-wood-165422713

* Yes. I am an epic nerd. I’m okay with that.

Getting My Nerd On

It’s been a long few weeks at work, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that I’m choosing to enjoy a quiet Friday night at home rather than going out. (This decision is aided by the unfortunate fact that Mr. Mezzo is going INTO a long week or two at his job, so he’s still in his office as it nears 8:30 PM.)

Still, I daresay my chosen form of Friday night relaxation helps prove me to be the Grade A nerd that I truly am.

And how am I choosing to relax? By digging into the materials for the Coursera class that started on Tuesday but that I haven’t yet had time to look at. (See note above, re: a long stretch of crap at work.)

Some number of months ago, I became aware of the field of behavioral economics.* It became something I wanted (eventually) to learn more about as a way to deepen my understanding of human decision-making and all the ways it functions emotionally rather than rationally. I even bought a book on the topic (Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely) that has, to date, been gathering dust on the shelf.

But now Prof. Ariely is doing a Coursera course titled “The Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior,” which seems like a great way to dip my toes into this topic. And it’s being led by the same guy whose book I wanted to read and whose research I wanted to learn about. How cool is that?!

So I registered — it’s free after all — and when the class kick-off emails arrived a few days ago, I just bookmarked them for when this difficult work-week was over.

Which it now is.

So I have saved the Week 1 readings into a Dropbox folder, downloaded the Coursera app onto my iPad, and am about to crawl into bed to start reading and watching video lectures.

I haven’t yet decided whether or not I’ll do another castor oil pack while I’m lying down to “do my homework.”**

* A story for another day.

** Do I live the glamorous rock star life or what?