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.

that would be sad. 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.

Friday, June 5


I did mean to write yesterday, but the whole day rushed away around me and there was too much doing to leave time for writing. such is the glory of summer spontaneity. there was music and running-into-colleagues and chatting and sitting in the shade and running errands with dear neighbor Lena and meeting friend Liz for Shakespeare.

93.2% of the things friend Liz and I ever do together involve Shakespeare. that's just how things go. I love it.

last evening it was this performance of Antony and Cleopatra. I hadn't seen the play yet. I probably read it once upon a time but that hardly is the same. words on a page are no real preparation for the passion and humor and blood of live Shakespearean tragedy.

it was an interesting show. characters all impetuous and full-hearted, dancing, proclaiming, vowing and worrying and lamenting. all so mad with feelings. Cleopatra's dramatic, insecure devotion is both hard yet easy to relate to. Antony's love-born madness even harder, but so textured and ragged and tangible in its performance. from the first scene, the two of them looked so wrapped up in happiness and each other. but they are also wrapped up in war, and thus they become a little bit doomed.

today I'm thinking about feelings and stories.

no story is totally accurate. not a single one could ever be as detailed or as messy or as true or immediate as actual life. Marc Antony and Cleopatra were historical figures and they lived real lives. the story we saw on stage last night was not an echo of those lives, not a record or a reenactment. Shakespeare was not trying to be educational. and even if he were, accuracy and exactness are not really the point of stories. or of any kind of art. it's impossible. the idea of a true story seems almost an oxymoron.

I really like telling stories, and I've recently had occasion to wonder why this is. what is so satisfying about lining up moments and drawing little threads of narrative between them? why is piecing together this and that observation into a coherent beginning-middle-end so much fun?

no answers. but I suspect some part of it is because there is a power in it. telling stories is powerful. storyteller and audience both get some sense of mastery over what life might mean. making a story out of a complicated, unorganized set of memories becomes a way of controlling the vastness of the whole universe around us. I think we are allowed to expect some stories form each other, to expect to share and shape all the work of sense-making in whatever modes we can.

and when we can wrap and weave our feelings into these stories, and share some of that visceral, consuming emotional color with other people via some bundled beginnings-middles-ends, that's even more powerful. or it can be. sometimes it doesn't work. feelings are complicated and personal. they don't always translate well.

my own fits and flights of irritation and of delight sometimes fit into amusing and/or poignant stories. it's satisfying when they do. when I can write them and rewrite them and re-explain them all to myself on paper, in words, out loud. it seems very useful to me. I think I've written about this before, in a previous life, from a different sort of crossroads.

and when the feelings and the narratives don't quite seem made for each other, that doesn't stop me from trying. maybe with enough revision, enough rewriting, enough additions as my experiences expand, they will all make useful story-pieces someday.

Tuesday, June 2

more of more

there are more miles on my car. there are more freckles on my face. more states on the list of states-I-have-visited-or-at-least-driven-through.

more waves of glorious possibility and excitement and hope.

more candy. from this adorable little candy/toy/comic shop in a town called Ypsilanti, Michigan.

more games. Bananagrams and Set and Ticket to Ride and Catan. maybe I'll work on Portal 2 a bit, inbetween studying for exams?

more tofu. like at that Thai place last week, or at the Vietnamese place a few days later, and also that very lovely fried tofu pasta red-pepper garlic thing we made last night. way good. three weeks and three days ago I began a second summer of meatlessness. there will be no excuses for actual haggis in actual Scotland this time, I promise. but I might eat fish every once in a while. cuz sushi. yeah.

speaking of fish though, this is an interesting thing to read, full of research and stories and thoughts. maybe I should learn all the names of all the fish someday. or at least the edible fish. the alphabetical list here doesn't seem too crazy long.

I also want to learn the names of trees. and the names of pasta shapes. why?

so I spent almost a week in Michigan and just got home today. my brain is reveling in that shifting, transient sensation of having recently moved between brand new territory and old, comfortable territory. it's not quite disorienting, and it's rather pleasant to notice that hmm... the windows here at home don't face south, they face west. they are not pretty bay windows with bench seats around the inside. these floors in my apartment are not beautiful hardwood.
and those roads outside aren't Huron Street and Washtenaw Avenue. the river just down the hill is just the Wabash, same curves and mud as ever. the traffic humming and rumbling by is normal, local Indiana traffic tracing its way around all the same roads you trace your way around when you drive from here to anywhere nearby.

but yesterday you woke up somewhere different after a whole string of days waking up there, and it became familiar enough. all those streets and bridges and Michigan license plates. Ypsi is now a little lightbulb on a big, beautiful, mostly blank map.

I should get a large wall map of this country someday, or maybe of the world, and mark all the other places with lightbulbs. places where I know some people, places where I've seen a few sidewalks. places with some important, personal, experiential resonance of some kind.

while I was in Michigan, June arrived. now there are fewer days left of this glorious summer break. fewer days of farmers' markets and fewer days of reading whatever I want. fewer days for figuring out how to prepare for preliminary exams. fewer days left to wrangle a new syllabus together.

let's quit talking in terms of fewer for now, though. more freckles. more smiles. more ice cream. it's still summer for a good long while yet.

Monday, May 25

listen to this and this and this

tomorrow, a drive to the east and the north, to Michigan. exploring and helping friend Chalice settle in a bit.

today, packing and cleaning house a bit, and thinking about all the writing I said I would do this summer. is my head in writing-mode? sometimes.

I've also been catching up on things I bookmarked to read later. I've had time to wander into nooks and crannies of internet places I didn't have much time for during school-time.

a good chunk of these nooks have been audio nooks. like this song. mm. and I listened to this interview with Lynda Barry the other day. I brought her book Syllabus home from Kentucky with me and will spend some of the summer flipping through it for teaching inspiration. could I get away with having my students all choose code names to use in my class? would that be interesting? hm.

more listening awesomeness: The Allusionist. the most recent episode is about the word brunch. if you have any sort of affection for words, etymologies, or the webs of interwoven meanings among this or that family of phrases, you must go put some of this podcast in your ears. it's pretty great stuff.

one non-audio nook is The Pastry Box. they publish daily short essays on lots of life + internet topics. I tend to like them. maybe you will too. Eric A. Meyer's piece from earlier in the month got me thinking about my habit (or should I call it a weird talent?) of remembering really random dates, some conventionally significant and others very not. September 25 was the day my friends and I in sixth grade all decided to wear our hair in pigtails. April 5 after midnight was the day that one boy said "...but how about a goodnight kiss?" and February 26 was the first of a few breakups with that redheaded, too-tall, long-gone first boyfriend. August 7 was the end of summer semester a few years back.

these are some that I can remember without checking a calendar, without looking at timestamped status updates. plenty more dates and events, significant and non, are at my fingertips if I want to look them up. journal, planner, social media. lots of records are being kept. life + internet = data, piling into great huge piles.

and that all reminds me of this book, Demiurge, two chapters of which live in a little online alcove here. friend Chris linked me to it a while back. I haven't read far. not sure what to think yet, but data and copies the control/regulation of those things are the scary futuristic themes of this story. of course I am intrigued.

so much to read and hear and consume. also to write and bake and give, along the way. I don't know if my balance is quite right, whatever that means. my head is in writing mode sometimes and in listening mode other times. all the modes are allowed to blur together, I think. hopefully my head doesn't get too confused living in different modes all at once.