Tuesday, August 25

fall semester, 2015

is it only Tuesday?

the rhythms of rushing about from class to class to meeting to office feel all huge and different still. I'll get used to them. in a few weeks this will be all-encompassing and almost as unthinking as skin.

you'd think by this point I'd have fewer and fewer classes to list. I got through prelims, so coursework should be almost over too. it is. almost. one more linguistics requirement next semester, I think, and I'll be all done. then what rhythms will carve themselves into my brain when next fall arrives?

let's not worry about that. here are this year's brain-stretching periods: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. two seminars and a practicum. (there's also a research gig and an hourly assistant position, but those don't quite fit my pattern of semesterly documentation so well.)

Posthumanism, with Dr. Thomas Rickert
I don't need this class for anything really. but I couldn't not take it. critiquing all the definitions of "human"? yeah. decentering our models of the universe and thinking beyond all the lines between this and that, body and mind, organic and technological, wildness and artifice? yeah. I'm going to love this crazy class.

Computers in Language and Rhetoric with Dr. Samantha Blackmon
not sure what to think about this one yet. it's tying together pedagogy and technology and writing... our first readings are going to be interesting old articles (from 1986!) about the first word processing programs ever. should be fun.

Professional Writing Practicum, with Dr. Michael Salvo
my undergraduate professional writing classes changed my life, I think it's safe to say. learning how to teach those sorts of things--learning how to push students to create specific, relevant, rock-solid ideas-in-action writing--is going to be great. it's about time I took up this opportunity.

English 420, Business Writing, with... me.
new subject to teach! new students who are not freshmen! our first day went pretty well. it's an early morning class, and even so only one kid came in a tiny bit late.

Wednesday, August 19

and back

almost a week ago, prelims were suddenly over. finished. behind me.

it's a weird feeling. for so much of the year, prelims loomed like this thing beyond which nothing at all could exist. like death, almost. but I'm on the other side now and there is all this open space and crazy playground equipment.
okay, I don't mean playground equipment. I mean more phd-land. a prospectus proposal and a dissertation plan and all that. (sometimes it's like a playground. other times it's like a hamster wheel.)

but at least prelims are finished.

on the unfinished side of things are... well, almost everything else. 

these coloring pages, for example.
dear friends Trinity and Patti separately sent coloring accoutrements in their pre-prelim care packages. Patti even sent shimmery crayons.
theses tools were marvelous for giving the back burner of my brain time to simmer away with whatever problem/question/hurdle I was stuck on.

I didn't finish any of the coloring, but that's okay. there will be more stressful days when I'll want to do something semi-mindless, creative, and calming. there are plenty of pages left, and the crayons will surely last a while too.
so thanks to everyone who cheered me on and/or left me alone throughout the prelim madness. I'm glad I have you. don't go away, okay? the whole dissertation thing is not going to be a coloring book, I'm pretty sure.

Tuesday, August 4


today (thismorning at 9am precisely) is the beginning of prelim exams. I've heard people compare these exams (9 days of writing your brains out in response to prompts on all the things your phd has supposed to have taught you thus far) to climbing a very tall and arduous staircase. it's not easy, but it isn't going to kill you if you can just keep going. you've learned all this stuff, and you wouldn't be here if you weren't brilliant enough to write these exams.

hopefully this will be a metaphorical staircase with some curve to it, and neat art hanging along the way. hopefully it doesn't get dark. hopefully there are not cobwebs.

I'm going to make myself an awesome breakfast, put my hair up for good luck, log out of all my email accounts and all the social media places, make sure I have notebooks and pens for scribbly brainstorming sessions, and get to campus early. I'll be climbing this prelim staircase til next Thursday, so please pardon my absence from all the other staircases and rooms and hallways of life for now. I'll come back down when it's over.

Friday, July 24

after school snacks

yesterday, I was struck (gently, but unignorably) with an out-of-nowhere slab of inspiration. it happened without any forewarning at all, right as I was slicing some bread and digging the jar of peanut butter out of the fridge.

I thought to myself--or maybe it was some brilliant current thinking itself from the beyond right into my waiting, hungry brain-- what if you put chocolate ice cream on top of this bread-and-peanut butter?

so I did.

I had in my freezer a brand new half-gallon of chocolate ice cream with chocolate chunks in it. so: bread, one layer of gooey peanut butter, and then a few carefully carved slices of cold chocolate concoction, arranged like puzzle pieces on top.

mm. yes it's worth trying. go do it. probably any ice cream would be good, if you don't happen to have chocolate.

I almost tried putting ice cream on my banana pancakes thismorning, but I didn't. maybe tomorrow. I bet it will be awesome.

I am also itching to make pizza dough, mostly because dough is so lovely to make and pizza is so lovely to eat, but there's some extra itch now because friend Erin just bequeathed to me a stoneware pizza dish. baking pizza with a real pizza stone will be even more lovely.

thinking about all this food I want to make.... I could go on forever. my new apartment has a full-sized oven and everything. I could roast turkeys! I could bake a few pies at once, if I wanted.

anyone want to come over for beginning-of-semester, late-summer, early Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, July 8

blue of kind

I came home from New Orleans to see that the walls of my apartment are no longer yellow, but blue. it's a grey-ish blue, I guess. a light steel blue, you might call it.
I came home from New Orleans on a plane, and while on that plane I read most of Frank Chimero's The Shape of Design, finally. it's not a long book. it's very good though.

chapter 3, "Improvisation and Limitations," begins with a quote from Miles Davis, and some pages later the album Kind of Blue comes up as an iconic example.

which kind of blue? I've got the album playing now, layered on top of a steady rain with accents dripping from the gutters. I don't think it matches the blue of my walls. not quite. if I were Miles Davis, I probably would have named it Kinds of Blue. one kind isn't enough.

Chimero's point in chapter 3 is that improv opens up all kinds of awesome possibilities. it's endless, it's additive, it's "yes, and..." for as long as you have time to imagine things and bounce ideas around. but they need somewhere to bounce around, too, and that's where the limitations come in. they might seem like the subtract, but they don't really. they direct and they push. they add something, too. limits are possibilities.

I was reading brilliant quotes from The Shape of Design aloud to friend Ashley on our plane journey. some of the best bits are in chapter 5, I think. it's called "Fiction and Bridges."
"An alluring, productive untruth is frequently what's necessary to get things going. ... Every untruth forks reality and opens up a gap between what is imagined to exist and what actually does. Each fabrication creates a second version of the world where the untruth is true."
irrealis. flying pigs.


jazz and New Orleans go together, I hear.

while we were there that week, a lot of people in this country of mine were celebrating a certain supreme court ruling. in our explorations of the city, we ran into a rally at the corner of Jackson Square, flags and shirts and paint and placards all rainbowed and colorful. Ashley and I listened for a while. that whole day, she'd been gushing with happiness about this decision.  

and while I may boast disinterestedness, the feeling was contagious. to see so many other people happy and grateful? how could I not be? I might pretend that this court ruling doesn't affect me, not directly anyway, and thus avoid crafting any concrete opinion on the subject. but I do too much pretending.

interestingly, a few days after the decision, The New York Times ran this opinion piece problematizing even this great equality-increasing happy moment. friend Lisa linked to it and emphasized this little excerpt concerning the way things have been and they way they might have been:
"...activists could have pursued a different agenda challenging the need for sexual scrutiny by the state, and the constellation of benefits that belong to marriage-- but they didn’t. Instead of dreaming up new forms of governance, they asked to be ruled by the ones that already exist."
hmm. that's something to think about. but there are so many ways things aren't, we could get lost in them forever. for now, bouncing ideas around in the way things are might be the best we can do.

two more quotes from Chimero's book:
"All design springs from a complex social ecosystem created by multiple parties' interests weaving together..."
"It's the words of others that teach us to speak, the expressions of life by other people that teach us how to express ourselves." 
pretending is useful, sometimes. creating, noticing, articulating gaps and then bridging them seem to be things we humans are good at, perhaps despite all our complexity. or perhaps because of it.

Wednesday, June 24

supernatural or subnatural or both

everything in the world today looks like art.

lines of cut grass. fluffed and fraying cloud-piles above the trees. rust along the rims of wheel wells on all the cars parked along this shady street.

it sounds like art, too. cracking twigs. singing birds. even the drill some guy is using to repair some bit of the third-story windows of the Purdue Memorial Union.

the artistry of all that is probably just in my head.

last Friday I went to go see a delightful outdoor performance of The Tempest. this play is such a lovely one. and the local young folk who put this show on did very well. it was funny, it was paced smoothly, and it looked beautiful. the weather was fittingly grey and the backdrop of trees and bike-trails very easily became a random Mediterranean island for an hour and a half.

one of the most interesting features of this performance had the sprite Ariel played by four actors. four young girls with braids and flowers and ribbons in their hair and fluttery woodland-ish outfits. they had great singing voices. every moment they were on stage they moved, swaying, dancing, creeping and flitting from here to there across the corners of the set. sometimes they spoke individually, sometimes in chorus. one of them played the violin a few times. very neat.

I'm currently reading a book called The Rook. one of its characters is also a supernatural being called Gestalt--either quadruplets sharing one mind or a single person sharing four bodies, depending on which way you want to think of it. three of the bodies are male (two identical and one fraternal), and one is a woman. they can be in multiple places and do four things at once, but it's really only one human, with one identity. weird.

it was pretty cool to encounter two fictional four-part people in the same week. I wonder if they'd be friends if they met. both seem to have a streak of mischief in them. but I'm only partway through The Rook. Gestalt is starting to look like a villain, but it's too soon to be sure.

Tuesday, June 23

usable pasts

one thousand blogposts. it would be cool to make a chart or map or diagram of them all.

I found these old sketches last week in old notebooks. the old notebooks will help me (presumably) study for prelims over the next six weeks.

the sketches are pretty much just there. not relevant to studying at all, really. I took photos of them and have thereby transferred some of their inky randomness onto the internet. I think they were drawn sometime late in 2013.

I keep coming across this phrase, "a usable past," in academic books, mainly, where authors use it to hedge around the reality that the true past is and ever will be inaccessible. our biases will always cloud our memories--personal and cultural. the biases of past peoples don't exactly help clarify reality for us either.

I wonder in another thousand blogposts how I will look back and read the things I'm writing here. already the ten years of this blog stretch off into foggy, familiar, fuzzy, foreign places. are they usable, now? will they be usable still in ten more years?

probably to someone. but it's hard to say what for...

Friday, June 19


disappointment paralysis: when all narrativium sloshes from one side of your life to the other and spills away uncontrollably, leaving you to tremble at the center of it and wonder where the story is going. when things aren't making sense, nothing is fitting into a plot quite yet and there aren't any conflicts to address (they've all walked remorselessly out the door on you) and you can't find any of your props (they've all misplaced themselves in distant, locked rooms) and your character list seems suddenly erased (subject to immediate and serious revision for no reason at all).

it's a feeling I can't quite keep in my head to describe. a robotic feeling. a half-turned-off immobility of a sort. a creaking passionlessness attended by drifts of lethargic, unmotivated thoughts. from that place it seems like the story will never un-empty itself back into any useful channel.

have you ever felt like that? like you could almost relate to this guy here?
Marvin, the paranoid andriod
{ photo by this kind soul on flickr. }

but seeing all these June lilies in all their gorgeous smeary, speckled orange...
even if they aren't my favourite flowers, seeing them everywhere has been sort of awakening.

they didn't show up in any bouquets. they just seem to be in everyone's yards this time of year. nodding and swaying and sprawling because it is June and they are June lilies. and in my noticing of them there is something not exactly, but almost sort of akin to what the flowers at the bottom of this old blogpost had to say.

by itself it isn't much. but it makes the ramshackle haltedness and sticky ground where we are feel more like a pause in the story arc than an utter abandonment of it. flowers and fireflies. still worth smiling about.

Tuesday, June 16

let's go

it is the season of fireflies. the intermittent glinting of those little bugs is one of the most marvelous parts of living in this sticky, expansive midwest land. a few nights ago we went walking around the celery bog in West Lafayette at sunset, and before long the whole wooded area around the marsh was sparkling. fireflies everywhere.

I don't have any pictures of that night. photographs of such a night wouldn't look real. they wouldn't be satisfying or magical in the same way being there was. if I were good at and/or patient with photography in general, maybe I could end up with something like this. but I'm not. and as cool as that photo is, that's not what walking through the woods watching fireflies wink at each other is like. maybe a video would get closer, but even then I'd expect it to be way unsatisfying.

I do have some pictures of Turkey Run State Park, where friend Lena and I hiked last week. are they more real-looking?
do they capture the dance of stream-reflected light, gently speckling up against the rocks? not quite. nor do they capture the feeling of moss-scented breezes or semi-slippery stones along the trail or thick June sunshine settling through all the tall, tall trees.
let's go back and hike some more. let's go every week this summer and memorize the trail maps. let's kayak Sugar Creek again once or twice (remembering sunscreen this time) and let's bring picnic things and stay all evening if they'll let us, watching fireflies and stars come out. we can take more photographs. or not.

Wednesday, June 10

might as well

I think it is a cardinal there building a nest outside my bedroom window. she flies away when I move too suddenly, so it's hard to get a decent look. watching the nest take shape in the crook of those little branches is pretty awesome.

will there be baby cardinals hatching, eventually? that will probably be awesome too.

every time I startle that bird into rushing off, every time I interrupt her nest-building, I wonder if she'll be gone forever. if she'll abandon the work and find somewhere less window-adjacent to build a little nest. so far she keeps coming back, and the twigs keep accumulating.

it would be sad if she left. but I'd probably understand.

slowly, I have been working on designing classes for fall semester. I'll be teaching a new approach to English 106, and I'll be teaching English 420 for the first time, too. it's going to be crazy, I feel like. hopefully good-crazy and not overly-stressful-crazy.

teaching still (and might always) feels like the hardest and most mystical thing. planning one's teaching is a little more concrete and manageable, as far as planning goes, but there is still a made-up-ness to it, a pretending, a humongous hopefulness with sprinkles of optimistic assumptions on top that still makes it really hard.

did you know syllabus isn't even a real word?

I might possibly be in one of those whyamIevendoingthis? sorts of moods again. yep.

summer has given me time for reading random books, and here is one of them. Syllabus by Lynda Barry (she has a tumblr where she posts class notes, too). I blogged about one of her other books many years ago. my relationship to this one is a little different, my place and my wants significantly shapeshifted. the way Lynda Barry does art isn't gonna be the way I do it. the way Lynda Barry teaches won't be the way I do that either, no matter how much I might pine for her style and concision or how much I admire the slice of her prompts and questions.

using Syllabus for a textbook would be pretty neat, but I get to use this for one instead. it is fat. colorful. we'll see how much the students complain about it.

they'll complain no matter what textbook they have to buy, I'm sure. students are funny and I don't know if I will ever figure out what exactly to do with them. maybe that's okay.

outside these syllabusy readings and note-takings and thinking and such, I've been reading other things. I did finish friend Sam's copy of Metaphors We Live By. yesterday I got to the end of Tim Ingold's Lines: A Brief History, which I have because of my Professional Writing Theory course last fall. it was too short. I'll possibly have to go read more Tim Ingold books to make up for this.

these whyamIevendoingthis? moods try to get in the way of life. I'm learning not to let them. why read all these books? because I like to. why bother thinking about how to engage your students with words and ideas? because even if I don't remember them all, I had teachers who must have done something like that for me and I can't thank them enough. why bother writing this stupid article draft? I have a few smart things to say. even if they don't matter any huge amount, this knack for observation and description might as well do something scholarly while it's here in this gradschool space.