Sunday, October 19


Friday, October 17

intoxicating reasons

last week our readings for Professional Writing Theory included two chapters from a book called Lines: A Brief History. I fell in love with this book, and I want to read the whole thing, even if at the expense of the Hugh Blair and Adam Smith and all the other reading.

Lines seems to be about everything--my favourite topic. there is a section asking why musical notation and alphabetic writing are considered so differently. there are chapters on weaving vs. knitting vs. embroidery. there are illustrations of all sorts, mapping traces and threads. the connections are intoxicating.

last month my podcast-listening included a Radiolab episode called In the Dust of this Planet. it's about a book with the same title, plus a subtitle: Horror of Philosophy Volume 1. its author says something during this podcast that I come back to every now and then. he's talking about his writing process and how he came to finish this book. in the middle of all the research and work, he thought to himself, would I write this book even if no other human being in the world was ever going to read it? his answer was yes.

can I say the same about things I write?

I think so.

I think I am enough of an audience for myself. but then again, maybe my future self counts as separate human being. does that change the question? if no human being, not even my future self, were allowed to go back and read all the writing I'm scraping out of my head onto paper or screen, would I keep writing?

that's not so easy to answer. writing and reading aren't very separable activities anyway. but if they were... and if I weren't only disallowed but also wholly unable to go back and re-read... if all the lines and traces of my own writing forever disappeared into some irretrievable somewhere else...

then what?

if that were the case, would it be so for everyone else? would the function of writing be permanently altered for all of humanity? would we revert to a primarily oral culture, or would we develop some alternative system of recording ideas?

there are a dozen ways to imagine this kind of scenario. what if we all forgot how to read, and the alphabet became a string of curly artistic shapes with no definable meanings? what if there was no such thing as ink or graphite or paint or any other way of making lines on things? what if our hands weren't shaped right for holding pens or stroking keys? what if textless, animated gifs become the one and only medium of communication anyone ever uses?

would I write this even if no human being in the world was ever going to read it? 

if a tree falls, or a bird sings, or a kitten meows, in a forest or a cage or a box far far away from any observers... do those things have reasons for existing at all?

this thoughtful little post on change and sadness was written a long time ago. I've blogged every week since then, pretty much. I've been blogging every week since forever. there is a chain (a line, a thread) of checkmarks six years long or more fluttering along behind this silly little blog's march into the future.

but people say blogging is dead.

this one isn't. this internet space is not an irretrievable elsewhere. not yet. my future self, and all your future selves, can keep coming back to my silly little blog.

does that mean it, along with the trees and birds and kittens, has a reason for existing at all?

Sunday, October 12

Wednesday, October 8

the world we are creating

if there are things you love on the internet, save copies of them. this is advice that Dr. Sullivan is alway giving us with respect to our wandering research. if you even sort of think you might want to use it someday for an object lesson, class project, seminar paper, conference illustration, or article-fodder, download the thing. as endless and un-erasable as the internet seems most days, the stuff of it doesn't always stay there. you cannot trust the cloud.

(whether you can trust the integrity and/or longevity of your harddrive to any significantly greater extent is a separate though not unrelated question. all is temporary, and the scales of temporariness are complicated.)

if there are people you love on the internet, I don't know what to tell you. so far, there's no way to download people. that's probably a good thing.

early thismorning I saw people linking to a new post by Kathy Sierra. it is a long post, personal, a tad meandering, but it seems everso soul-questioningly, heart-wrenchingly important.

read it. go on. I've linked to it twice now, redundantly, asking you to read this long meandering story even if you have not been a Kathy Sierra fangirl since at least 2005, and even if you have no clue who this Andrew Auernheimer fellow (hm... he blogs on livejournal. how old-fashioned...) might think he is, and even if you, like me, find life much more effective without worrying very much about the hopeless-seeming, headache-inducing state of the universe.

Sierra's post might not be there very long. I have made a copy of it, in case the original disappears. it's also on Wired, for the moment. (if Wired and Dropbox disappear, who knows what we shall do).

two-thirds in, Sierra shifts into saying we. "This is the world we have created."

not only does that make us sound so implicated, so conspiratorially close to culpable... it also makes us sound so finished. so final. we've hit send. we've checked enough boxes. the world has been published. editing is over and this is the product we're stuck with.

not so. please, not so. I'd rather say "this is the world we are creating."

the we is still there. I don't see any ways of getting around that we, though parts of me are tempted to pick we apart and subdivide it into some sort of graph with axes like experience, influence, responsibility, investment, and such.

all the other words could stand to be picked at too. which exact this? creating how?

in one of those neat serendipitous internet moments, the following video was posted today. Mr. Rugnetta says a few things on cultural (re)production that answer that last question. the how is discourse. pens, not swords. writing and media, not sticks or stones or construction equipment. it's actions too, of course, but what we say about how we act, and how we storify things that happen = way incredibly powerful. Sierra's story similarly notes that stories with enough inertia and spin can permanently warp one's perspective. even the most disturbingly inaccurate stories, like the kind you might hear about scaly, murderous llamas, can stick in your head and tint everything you see. all the Pratchett you've ever read will say the same thing--narrativium is not to be trifled with.

I wonder sometimes if the stories we tell about the stories we tell carve ruts as deep or as damaging. those are thoughts for future blogposts, I think.

as long as I'm being redundant today, I'm going to include another video--yes, more of this silly Rugnetta fellow and his ponderings. it's relevant, I promise. and the followup comments/responses over here are also enlightening and chewy. (my brain has been particularly hung up over the 8:40 mark. it's a part of me that's been trained to meekly accept and swallow all things as somehow divinely-permitted-side-effects-of-this-fallen-mortal-experience-which-will-ultimately-all-work-together-for-my-everlasting-good that wants to say, "yeah, shrug off those death threats, everything will be fine." what does that mean? who does that make me? am I supposed to squash this attitude? or unravel it away? maybe all I can do is wait to see how I actual feel when or if death threats are ever made in my direction, and keep my mouth shut about the concept until then.)

anyway. this whole situation--trolls, women, internet, life--is more than a story. we can uses stories and conversations and videos and blogs to reach out for little parts of it, and build what we see into some sensible structure, with sections and headings and terms lined up for convenient deconstruction. but labels make me squirm, generally. what we mean by troll and or victim obviously isn't easy. it's not even always useful. the definitional blurriness between criticism/harassment is another thing that might deserve plenty of more discussion. my own experiences of such things aren't the same as anyone else's. that's why we need to tell the stories, after all. that's why we invented ways of sharing all the crazy insides of our heads.

maybe all this talking and thinking will help. somehow.

Sunday, October 5

Wednesday, October 1

word of mouth

my phone rang (and by rang, understand that I do mean buzzed silently in my pocket) in the middle of the first panel of the conference I attended last weekend. and even though this was an expected phone call, I could not answer it just then. I was listening to talks on digital pop music criticism and massively open online educational surveillance.

the message would probably be from the owner of the car I had parallel-parked next to the night before, on Riverside Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota. it was nearing eleven o'clock at night. it was dark. my rearview mirror was dimmed. it was a tiny little smart car. I couldn't see it at all and I backed right into the thing.

I didn't see much damage, but since my own night vision was not to be trusted at that point, I took a couple photos of the car's front bumper and left a note of confession.

the message was indeed in response to that note. my head was full of dreadful scenarios as I listened... a chirpy salesfellow named Jason from Car2Go greeted me via voicemail with so much positive spin in his voice I immediately stopped worrying that I'd been just as blind to some dreadful gash on the car as I had been to the car itself. instead of any kind of angry blame, Jason explained that the Car2Go fleet was used to encountering occasional rough treatment on the streets of the city. no worries. and then he took a few extra minutes to tell me about the business, sandwiching his pitch inbetween thanks for my honesty.

since I'm not a regular Minneapolis resident I can't take advantage of this particular car-sharing service. but it was so nice and surprising to get such a happy little message that I thought I could at least blog about it. if this particular car-sharing program happens to operate in your corner of the universe, I can tell you they seem like pretty nice folks.

I considered joining a car-sharing dealio before the semester began, during my week of carlessness. they do seem cool. I've met several folks around here who use ZipCar, and much of the philosophy behind the whole car-sharing setup is awesome. making do with less is important.

but on the other hand... part-time access to a fleet of shared, borrowable vehicles like these wouldn't have been very convenient for flying around to Minnesota and Iowa last weekend. so.

Sunday, September 28


Monday, September 22

inhale envy

Saturday I was out running errands (legitimize the new car, donate all those excess clothes, pick the last two zucchini from the garden plot) and had a few moments to kill in between places of business that open at 8:30am on weekends and stores that didn't open until 10:00. Barnes and Noble presented itself, conveniently in between these times, and I wandered in to browse.

my favourite shelves in bookstores are the ones with the blank books. there's only so long you can gush over those, though, so I also explored the games aisles and the news aisles and the clearance bins. there were tempting boxes of chocolate in the clearance bins... but I was only there to kill time, not spend any money. I'm still subsisting on the tail end of tiny slash nonexistent summer paychecks, so I'm putting off as much spending as possible until next month.

my other favourite shelves are the ones with new books. Barnes and Noble has one of these too, perpendicular to the coffee-dispensing section of the store.

I picked up and perused the first pages of a little paperback with a yellow-pea-coated girl on the cover. white block letters, out-of-focus trees in the background. it was the title that caught my eye. The Opposite of Loneliness. Marina Keegan. Introduction by Anne Fadiman.

I must admit I didn't remember any of that information over the weekend. I didn't remember what it was called or what it looked like or how it was bound. all I remembered was the twist that jumped out from the middle of that glowing Introduction by Anne Fadiman, and the reason I put the book down.

but in order to write about that, I needed to remember all the other details. an isolated, poignant twist with no detailed context wouldn't quite be a story worth telling, would it?

as anyone else would have in this forgetful situation, I turned to the world's favourite (or least favourite?) external memory aid slash search algorithm.

these are the words I ventured to feed into the search box:

writing student dies dead student publishes collection

and there I've given away the whole sad, slow, sinking, twist, so there may not be much hope of painting for you the sense of holding a lovely book of essays in your hands, of reading along about the quirks and dreams and pleadings of its author, starting to wonder, to envy, and feeling even a bit anxious to skim through this Introduction and taste the insides of this collection--to traipse right into the essays this student of Anne Fadiman's must have had such writerly fun drafting and polishing...

...and then realizing, without knowing why it took you so long, that Anne Fadiman's past tense was is not the regular, innocent past tense was.

I snapped the book shut and half-tossed it back on its shelf, not even bothering to straighten it up with its fellow copies.

her last Yale Daily News column comes up first in the search results.

a Huffington Post eulogy-esque review (or is it more a review-esque eulogy? I'm not sure) is second.

I'm not sure what made me so suddenly give up on that shiny new book. maybe, after hearing so much praise and promise, it seemed unfair. maybe the praise and promise seemed pasted-on and obligatory to me, too thick, once I knew their recipient wasn't around anymore. I felt cheated, disbelieving. maybe I couldn't swallow the implications of envying a talented but tragically dead Yale graduate.

Sunday, September 21

Thursday, September 18

foreshadowy snippets

next thursday I'll be more than halfway to Minneapolis. there is a conference. once there, I will present something (the something I didn't quite get around to blogging about in this post). I will hopefully meet some other fascinating scholars who share my geeky interest in copyright/authorship/ownership/remix/etc. I even have plans to sneak into blog-friend Gina's studio and say hello, if I can (did you know she's writing a book? it looks very lovely).

as seems usual at these times when I have so much going on and so many preparations to make in the run up to a small journey, my list (pile? collection? backlog?) of things I haven't yet blogged about but very much ought to is expanding beyond control.

I could make an exceedingly random photo essay using some of the photos currently saved in my blog-drafts file. that might be interesting.... but I think the photos deserve their own less-random accompanying text. forcing them into one crazy blogpost together is not what I want to do with them.

what I do want to do with them is...something else. maybe I don't know what that something else is yet, since presumably if I did, I would not have so many unfinished blog-drafts piling up. there are too many ideas for blogging. and I don't always remember all the ideas well enough or long enough to get back to them and make them fully intelligible to other humans. if I were better at remembering, and/or deciding, and/or writing in my sleep, this pile of drafts might be smaller and my blog might also be, on the whole, more interesting.

one of these old saved drafts (from mid-2011, says the blogger timestamp) has had (for who knows how long) nothing in it but the following quoted material on the subject of false memories. mid-2011, I should note, was a little while before Jonah Lehrer went and ruined his career by making up things and being lazy. he has, since that whole scandal two years ago, lost much of my respect and largely disappeared from the public eye. blogger and I kept this quote around anyway. today I've come back to it and now it is no longer languishing as a lonely little draft.

revisiting the quote and its link of reference, I was a little surprised to see that Wired has so far sustained not only this, but all the rest of Lehrer's old columns as well.

"A memory is only as real as the last time you remembered it," he writes. but that's not the beginning. the piece starts with a rambly story about drinking Coke at a football game. it isn't his story to tell, though. it's not his memory--it's totally fake. apparently "we can’t help but borrow many of our memories from elsewhere," and "This idea, simple as it seems, requires us to completely re-imagine our assumptions about memory. It reveals memory as a ceaseless process, not a repository of inert information."

processes. mm. I like thinking about things as processes. the never-ending kind are the most attractive, for some reason.

Lehrer goes on about memory and marketing. who knows why I saved this whole excerpt for my blog way back in mid-2011. today it still speaks to plenty of my own half-formed ideas on narrative power and cognitive malleability.
It’s the difference between a “Save” and the “Save As” function. Our memories are a “Save As”: They are files that get rewritten every time we remember them, which is why the more we remember something, the less accurate the memory becomes. And so that pretty picture of popcorn becomes a taste we definitely remember, and that alluring soda commercial becomes a scene from my own life. We steal our stories from everywhere. Marketers, it turns out, are just really good at giving us stories we want to steal.
stealing and inventing... honesty and accuracy... "borrowing" and "forgetting" original source material. hmmm. falsified memories, fabricated quotations? oh the foreshadowy connections we might want to draw between the words this talented science writer is using, the themes he is dancing with, and his eventual semi-tragic, very disappointing downfall.

in my drafts file, two additional words accompany the pasted set of quotes from Jonah Lehrer's old Wired article. those words are "graven images."

I have no clue what I was thinking when I added them to that tiny seed of a blogpost idea.

I have a few clues about some of my other standing drafts. some of them wouldn't be so hard to flesh out into something useful, if I'd just sit down and write.

there are photos of:
  • piecrust (filled with cheese, noodles, spinach)
  • a stack of textbooks from last fall (English 680: digital studio)
  • important Texas landmarks (the Alamo and the capitol building)
  • a stand of trees in the middle of Idaho
  • art and architecture from Chicago
  • a box of yarn (mostly shades of pink)
there are also scrambled snippety notes about desire and calculus, about teaching and failure, disciplinarity, technological shifts, and the Management of Digital Rights. I want to blog about secret codes and the meaning of The Period Store and informally conducted surveys. there is a draft containing only the words "decidedly analog," and someday I'll figure out what to write about that will fit that title.