material rhetoric

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(un)intended meaning

I don’t want to take on the task of dissecting meaning, but frame my thinking on meaning in a series of vignettes from the last two weeks. Maybe this won’t make sense.

(un)intended meaning

Driving home from CCCC’s in St. Louis, we listened to a podcast of Radiolab titled lost & found. One of the stories was about a young woman who was hit by a truck riding her bike to school, resulting in blindness (in addition to her being born deaf). While she recovered from the trauma of the accident, she was absent (in nothingness) – she couldn’t see, but didn’t know why and she couldn’t hear because she wouldn’t let her loved ones or hospital staff put in her hearing aids (fear. she didn’t know where she was or what she was or what was surrounding her). No one could communicate with her until her boyfriend began to write conversations with his finger on her hand. It was a powerful story, the type that makes you realize what you take for granted (senses) – communication. Despite the happy resolution, the story had a different meaning for me – transporting me back to when my uncle was fading in the hospital from CJD. A man who was brilliant, exuberant, a photographic memory, a generalist with fascination for knowledge, and one of my biggest supports in becoming an academic/educator throughout the entirety of my schooling. (This is the uncle who would race from Ann Arbor after he got off of work to read my brother and me a bedtime story. He always got there after my parents had tucked us in, but in to the house he would come, the three of us squeezed in my bed to begin the transition into sleep once more.) He talked to anyone, everyone, about any and every thing. There he was, literally fading away from disease, his body and his mind. Everything that I knew as him. Black holes where cells should be (where he should be). For months he couldn’t communicate with us, first losing the ability to talk, then to write as the seizures got worse. No communication from him meant the doctors communicated for him, for his symptoms (misdiagnosis. too late, nothing to be done), giving him electroshock treatments despite communication from my father that prohibited such a course of action. Not communicating, not heard, not acknowledged.

A young man paused on the sidewalk as I stopped my car so he could cross the street. He signed to me, “thank you”. I understood his gesture because I recognized it, but if I didn’t, then what?

I drove past a huge American flag on my way to school. While driving, it is a pastime of mine to look at American flags to take note of lack of care (tattered edges which aren’t supposed to be allowed) or lack of know-how (improper hanging/display). This activity comes from my father and brother, both Eagle Scouts. This flag was folded in on itself, but not in a clean half (hotdog style), more on a diagonal. The result was a field of stripes turned red and white gingham – the official print of summer picnic tablecloths, which are not limited to the 4th of July (the only day most Americans pay attention to the flag).

I listen to Emily Haines’ album “Knives don’t have your back” in the car. “Our Hell” plays and despite the upbeat tempo, I assign the meaning that it chronicles a relationship dissolving. But I find myself smiling to the line “our hell is a good life” thinking about myself as a collective “we” of graduate students. Burdened and busy but buzzing and making it. I assign the meaning to them as well.

I am a lighthouse. I borrow the structure as metaphor to describe how I feel this week: my face the lamp, casting illumination about because I am so happy. I presented at the Graduate Research Fair and people are interested in what I am doing. People ask me questions, tell me I should have a gallery installation, and refer to my communication as art. What it means to me is a sense of belonging, what I am doing has meaning to my peers, professors, and academic community.

Last week at CCCC’s I received news I didn’t want to hear. My rejection letter for a graduate assistantship delivered via voicemail by my mom while I try to sit politely in a session. I feel defeated, but hands pull me back up. The metaphorical one that is the guidance and support of my professor and the literal one that was an introductory handshake to Geoffrey Sirc (whose text English Composition as a Happening is a reference manual, map, dialogue, and ticket to happening scenes. It is beyond meaning for my work (for me).) I don’t think they know how much I needed their hands then.

The intentions of (un)intentions.