Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
It's summertime, and I can’t seem to get anything done.
I start the day with the best of intentions and sit down at my computer, but soon the distraction genres pursue me. An email to be answered. A bill to be paid. A link to follow. And it’s two hours later and I haven’t started back into the project that I’d sat down to work on.
I know, I know. Lots of people have written about the distractions of social media and how to be more productive with your day. I love those stories, and I read lots of them. They’re one of my distraction genres.
But it’s not just social media or even online distractors. Distraction genres are everywhere, and I think they're worse in the summertime, when we’re so easily distracted. Or at least I am. Maybe it’s just me.
My spouse says it’s the summertime space—the sense that the days are open, we have plenty of time, all day to get things done. After all, the days are literally longer in the summertime, at the summer solstice. I’m speculating that it’s the sun staying up later, too (curse you, Daylight Savings Time).
For whatever reason, summertime is the worst for me for becoming easily distracted. So in the spirit of the summertime slowdown, I thought I’d run through a few of the worst summertime (though not all limited to summertime) distraction genres:
While writing this post, I took a break at the student union and saw a sign that said all Coke products in the cooler were on sale for $1.25! (The campus is changing over from Coke to Pepsi—darn it! I much prefer Coke, but let’s not get sidetracked by the Coke/Pepsi debate. Another distraction genre!) Can’t pass up a good sale—even though I don’t drink soft drinks/pop/soda/Coke anymore, whatever you call it in your neck of the woods. So I had to stop in and pick up cheap bottles of Dasani and Smart Water—even though I usually don’t buy plastic water bottles or drink water in plastic, preferring to refill my own stainless steel water bottle, and I've never even tried Smart Water and had to ask what was so smart about it. But hey it was a great sale!
I think I may have a problem.
Sales are everywhere in the summertime. Ads in every newspaper, on every website that my adblocker doesn’t block, on every TV station—even cable, with its constant self-promotion between every show. Memorial Day sales! Father’s Day sales! July 4th sales! Labor Day sales! Swimwear sales! Outdoor furniture sales! Back to School Sales! (Nooooooo!!!!!)
And since I seem to have a bit of a problem in the summer, unable to pass up a bargain, those sales ads are a huge distraction for me. I enter the store with a sale that I’d never intended to enter. I click on the link to the HUGE SALE online in the midst of searching for a work source. I decide to make a quick run to JC Penney’s store closing sale to shop for my mom before the clothes are too picked over (oh, and I found a cute couch pillow, too!). I buy water in plastic bottles.
Oh, and did I mention that I’m writing this post the day that Amazon Prime Day begins? Early deals on my Alexa start at 6 pm Central time. I know the start time from frequent sales ads and reminder emails that I clicked on to Learn More. Got to get this post done to be ready!
So a big summer distraction genre for me, though I know not for all of you (please don’t judge)—sales and sale ads
Now here’s a more expected distraction genre—the notifications that pop up in the top right corner of your screen.
You know they do that deliberately, don’t you? That top right corner is the most effective distraction spot, according to the studies. And boy does it work for me. My eyes go straight to the notification, FOMO! During the work week I turn on Do Not Disturb, but you have to search for that even—it hides at the very top of the notifications tab, in that top right corner, and on Macs at least you still have to scroll up from there to see the Do Not Disturb switch. Tricky, tricky.
I just got a Notification of an email listing what will be on sale when Prime Day starts. A one-two punch of distraction genres
Did you know what FOMO meant? Did you stop to look it up? The first time I saw it, I had to look it up, of course. In the middle of whatever it was I was doing. I’m sure I could have continued on without knowing that FOMO meant Fear Of Missing Out—though I was stuck on what the OMO could possibly mean, assuming that the F stood for the other common F word in abbreviations, like FML, which I also had to look up the first time.
Somehow in the summer I stop to look up anything I hear about that’s even mildly interesting. Oh, she wrote a review of a new book on why English matters? Let’s see! The New Yorker published a Glossary of Happiness based on happiness words? Cool! There’s a podcast of boring bedtime stories to put you to sleep? I need to check it out. (Did you click on any of those links? Made ya look!)
And of course there’s looking up comparison prices for all the “great deals” advertised. I may be a sucker for deals, but I’m not a sucker.
These aren’t actually a huge distraction genre for me, but I know they are for lots of others. I know that because of all the “improve your productivity” stories that I distract myself with. I’m happy to check Twitter and Facebook once a day or so, and I’ve just signed onto Instagram (a late social bloomer, I guess). And I look up stuff on Twitter when something is happening—linking it to the Looking Up Stuff distraction genre. But I know others receive Notifications about posts to their favorite social media sites, so they have a double whammy for those folks. And FOMO of course.
For many people, social media posts are their number one distraction genre.
And in the summertime, it must be much worse. Barbecues, days at swimming pools, kids’ camps, complaint about the awful heat. So much to see, share, and like!
For me, as someone who works in a university, emails actually slow down in the summer. So my response time to serious work emails generally slows down, too. Except for one thing—in the summer I start to believe that I can clear out my Inbox every day. So every email that comes in becomes something I must respond to, read, delete, or file.
That’s a good strategy generally, or so the productivity-boosting distraction genre tells me. But I combine that goal with summertime slowdown. If it’s a mailing from a subscription or newspaper digest, it will contain something I’d like to read, so I stop to read it before deleting. Or it’s a query from a student who needs my answer before moving on with his work. Or it’s a sale ad from one of my favorite shopping sites! You see how it all comes together?
You should have seen this one coming. All that shopping! There must be bills. But I’m actually just talking about the usual monthly bills.
In wintertime, I deal with bills efficiently, setting them on my desk after sorting the mail each evening, then paying them on the weekend when I sit down to pay bills. In the summer, when I have this sense of leisure, I see the bill on my desk and think, “I should pay that bill. It will only take a minute with online billpay. And I’m right here. And it’s right there.” And so I pay that bill before I get to work on the project that brought me to my desk in the first place.
I realize it’s sounding a bit like I’m a shopaholic, but I can assure you I’m not. I might be a bit of a sale-aholic, but I keep that compulsion suppressed during the fall, winter, and spring, when I’m far too busy to follow up on any sales and I rarely shop for anything. But summertime, oh summertime when there’s an illusion of space and time. Summertime, when I am easily distracted. And the distraction genres are there to get me.
I’m beginning to suspect it’s all about efficiency. In the rest of the year, life is about getting things done, and getting done the things that most need to be done. So bills, emails, looking up stuff, social media, notifications, and yes, especially, sale ads—all those distraction genres wait until I have time, and for some of those—sale ads and social media and looking up stuff—I never have time.
They are distraction genres, after all, and I don’t have time to be distracted.
But summer is all about distraction. The days stretch longer, the light is brighter, people come and go on vacations, and we all have a hard time buckling down. Except for those whose work picks up big-time in the summer. I know some of you well, and your situation is different. For those of you I know, wintertime is when you most need distraction genres.
In those months, whether wintertime or summertime, the distraction genres are there for us, all of us, responding to our distracted situation, fitting our need for distraction, fulfilling the purpose of being a little less purposeful. Just for a little while, before our distraction genres go back to being a distraction from our efficiency, when we need to read those articles on
5 Ways to Boost Your Productivity
#1 Turn off notifications
#2 Ignore sale ads
BTW Notification: Amazon Prime Day has the Amazon Echo for $89.99 if you buy it through your Alexa voice ordering! Save $90!!
In the US, it’s a bit of a holiday weekend, with the 4th of July coming up, and it’s summertime for many of us, so I thought I’d lighten up a bit this week and talk music. Native American music and musicians. And their musical genres
(Side note: I felt distinctly uninspired by US Independence Day as a topic this year. If you have ideas for me, please share!)
I spent the past week in Lawrence at my adult summer camp known as the Free State Festival. That means I spent the week watching films, listening to music, catching comic performances, and participating in discussions of ideas raised by those artistic performances. If you live in Lawrence, I hope you know what I mean and I saw you there. If you’re not fortunate enough to live in Lawrence, then I hope your city has a comparable arts festival.
Film, music, and ideas all came together for me with one topic at Free State Fest: indigenous music (aka native music, Indian music, Native American music—those terms are a topic in themselves). I heard a panel in a “happy hour salon” (drinks and conversation) on the “Influence of Indigenous Music.” Then I watched the film Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, which included an abundance of music as well as a documentary film experience. (I also heard live music from the Los Angeles band Chicano Batman—definitely not an indigenous music group or musicians, but a genre-expanding band for me that kept me thinking about musical influences.)
What I especially loved from the film and the panel was the wide range of musical genres that American Indian musicians have contributed to. Major Native American figures shaped the music of rock, blues, jazz, folk, heavy metal, and more. And native musicians today play the whole gamut of genres from pop to rap, country to electronic dance music, and hybrids of all with traditional musical genres.
And why not? As Rhonda LeValdo said,
We often get stereotyped into one genre, but we don't all play the flute (nothing against flute players)"
More about the salon and her panel soon.
The film Rumble toured us through guitarist Link Wray’s incredible power chords that influenced rock guitarists forever. I loved hearing his account that he’d come up with it when playing at a record hop show and was asked to play “The Stroll.” “I don’t know the stroll.” So he came up with something to fit that beat, creating an instantly recognizable opening chord and rhythm (play it, you’ll know it):
Don't let that picture fool you. "Rumble"—the only purely instrumental song ever banned for being too subversive. A beat described as resembling a gang fight so well that many US radio stations refused to play it in 1958. True, it’s no Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim “Jets Song” from West Side Story
Bahm Bahm Baaaaaahhhhhhhm
"Rumble" was also a song—as were all the power chords of Link Wray—that could incite new guitar sounds from John Lennon, to Jimi Hendrix, to Jimmy Page, to Stevie Ray Vaughn, to any punk band or rock musician playing today, whether they know it or not. So testified many, many musicians in the film.
And the film Rumble did more than introduce us to Link Wray. It explored many of the genres of music that have been influenced by Native American sounds and rhythms. Ulali, a capella singers of indigenous chorales and the many combinations of African and Native musical elements, from the Southeast to New Orleans. Rock guitarist Jesse Ed Davis. Songwriter and musician Robbie Robertson of The Band and more. The folk singer of protest songs Buffy Sainte-Marie. Guitarist Robbie Robertson of The Band. The incredible drummer for Ozzy Osbourne Randy Castillo. Musicians who wore their native heritage visibly and proudly. Each of whom changed music in some way.
Even more expanding for my awareness was the salon panel before the film and commentary after, especially the contributions of Rhonda LeValdo. As host of a radio show “Native Spirit” on KKFI, professor of Media Communications at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, and journalist, Rhonda LeValdo opened the salon with a sampler of indigenous music from a variety of genres. Yes, we heard what she called at one point “powwow music,” and we heard indigenous musicians creating rap, rock, jazz, country, blues, pop, and EDM. And the influence of drums through it all. As far as I can tell, there is no genre that doesn’t have indigenous artists contributing to it.
She probably says it best, on her KKFI show site, where she lists the genres her show includes as:
"Northern and Southern Powwow Music, traditional tribal music as well as Stomp Dance, Peyote Native American Church, Rabbit Dance, Pueblo Music including Buffalo Dances, Basket Dances. Contemporary style including Indigenous (Blues/Rock), Arigon Starr (Country/Rock), Rap, and Hip Hop."
It knows no bounds. Nor should it.
So take a listen to some of the greats who influenced music of many genres—every one with Native American roots. I’ve included links to every one, but I’m sampling just a few to keep this post from taking five hours to load
Charley Patton and the blues. One of the great moments in Rumble is watching Pure Fe, a member of Ulali and a traditional acapella singer, listening to a recording of Charley Patton and her eyes lighting up as she recognizes the vocal style and rhythms of her traditional music in his blues. Can you hear it, she says with delight? So I ask you, can you hear it?
Mildred Bailey, musical stylist and model for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett
Jesse Ed Davis, guitarist for Taj Mahal, with George Harrison et al at Concert for Bangladesh, and more
Jimi Hendrix himself, proud of his native origins as well
Buffy Sainte-Marie, protest song writer and folk singer, perhaps most famous for “Universal Soldier”
Robbie Robertson, songwriter and musician for The Band and more
Randy Castillo, incredible drummer for Ozzy Osbourne and Motley Crue, who I'll end with since he may be as far from the stereotype of native music as possible but taking us back to the drums and the rhythm that the panelists and the film repeatedly mentioned as so central to Native American music