Wednesday, October 19

how do tow trucks work? and other questions

I've been unlucky enough to require the services of two different tow trucks in the last five days, and lucky enough to have the resources enough to hire said tow trucks without ruining my budget completely.

while I waited for them and watched them hitch my poor car out of its paralysis, I pondered the winding tracks and ruts of specialization that make it so using huge, heavy machinery to tow paralyzed cars off the side of the interstate and back to town is the everyday work of some people and using books, libraries, and laptops to write (hopefully meaningful, possibly world-changing) sentences is the everyday work of other people.

the concept of a truck that tows other road vehicles makes some sense to me. I'm glad I know about these tools, and that I have indirect access to them. but I don't know what all the parts of a tow truck are called, I don't know at all how to operate such a truck, and I have no anticipation whatsoever of spending much time figuring these things out-- though I might be curious enough to go read the Wikipedia article about them. and their inventor. and this museum.

does Wikipedia have, in its intricate piles and piles of collected information, answers to any of the other random questions that have floated into my head lately?

for instance:

at what time or times of day do the proportions of one's shadow most precisely match the proportions of one's body? does that depend on latitude or anything? time of year? height? body shape? why would it be useful to know this (or would it?)

{ sun and shadow, fence, trees }

why is raucous applause such an ingrained and culturally dominant form of expressing satisfaction and approval after a performance or speech? is noise-making a universal element of that kind of expression, or are there societies (aside from deaf communities?) that express it totally differently, without sound?

can you train a fish? has anyone ever done it?

{ an aquarium at the National Zoo. }

someday I may try searching for other people's answers to all those questions.

speaking of searching-- I read this piece on user experience design a while back and decided that I am a searcher more than a browser in my interactions with websites. the other week after hearing a live concert on the radio and not remembering the performer's name at all, I tossed "des moines iowa social club violin live performance allan church Iowa public radio broadcast" all into Google and found it.

and speaking of other people's knowledge work-- I'm reading Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks right now. it's both a technical and a philosophical book, with various political implications to go along with all its economic implications. Wikipedia features somewhat importantly in his description of how digital networks make possible new (more efficient?) ways of producing, sifting, and distributing knowledge. very worth reading for me in my current preparing-to-write-a-dissertation-prospectus phase, and of course worth reading for anyone else interested in all the cool ways computers are changing how we landscape our information environments.

postscript: people have indeed tried to train fish, apparently.

Tuesday, October 4

conferences and art

for the past two weekends I have been whirring here and there to and from academic conferences. they were pretty fun, if a little nervous-making. the first one, two weeks ago now was in Washington, DC. having an excuse to go there was fabulous. freund Jeremiah came with me, I got to meet his most charming aunt and uncle, and when I was not conferencing, we saw as much of the city as we could drag ourselves around to see.

the brand new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

the treasury, and a statue of that Alexander Hamilton guy.

this dashing fellow, waiting with me for the streetcar to take us down H street, near Capitol Hill.

the gallery we wandered into had some interesting art.

we also took in some theatre; this is the playbill from a pretty hilarious 5-woman comedy.

an inscription on a statue outside the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. "The voice of reason is more to be regarded than the bent of any present inclination." I imagine the guy in the statue is the guy who said these words, but I didn't ever figure out who it was.

the next conference, last weekend, wasn't so much attended by fancy sight-seeing. are there sights to see in East Lansing, Michigan? if there are, I did not take time to see them. I only saw Michigan landscapes on our way there, the insides of conference rooms most of the rest of the time, one hotel room, one Thai restaurant, and one coffeeshop.

the Michigan State University conference center had this cool piece of art. I promise, it did look less gloomy in real life.

and in one of the conference workshops, I got to make this little double-walled basket out of reeds. I don't know what I'll keep in it-- maybe coins? or jewelry? or ... dried flower petals?

in conclusion, count me grateful that my life gets to have conferences and travel and art in it. I came away from both conferences with some pretty clear threads of inspiration, and now I'm gonna use the rest of the semester and year to make some serious scholarly things happen.

Wednesday, September 7

is there a collective noun for lists?

foods I should eat more often (but not too often) because I love them so much:

- brie
- beets
- gnocchi
- sweetcorn
- dark chocolate

half-finished blogposts that I need to either finish or give up on:

- one about things I did this summer (with lots of photos)
- one about my first official co-authored publication thing
- one about things facebook seems to be up to
- one about whoever Prince is, and music, and theatre
- one about urbanity (specifically, maybe, traffic, insects, and cinder blocks)
- one with a bunch of links that seem to be broken or dead now (except for this one and this one?)
- one about Chagall and repetition and shared-ness
- one about memorable vehicles belonging to people I used to know
- one about my little brother's axe handle and other technologies
- a few with many, many photos from Austin and San Antonio
- a few about generosity and gratitude
- a few about books (The Myth of Sisyphus and Spinster)

books from this year's Tournament of Books long list I still want to read:

- Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham
- Signs Preceding the End of the World, by Yuri Herrera
- Submission, by Michel Houellebecq
- The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Marra

a few things that happened today, September 7, 2016:

- I sent 3 emails and 6 text messages
- I met with several colleagues and several students
- I cut my left-hand index finger on the pop-top of a small can of ginger ale, one that Ellery left at my house after some sort of social gathering once upon a time
- I read this fascinating little article about linguistics, language, reality and aliens
- I made pie crust, and used half of it to make a peach galette (the other half will be a butternut-squash-and-onion galette, I think)
- I planned to go to the gym after choir practice but got into a car wreck instead (not my fault, not too devastating, could've been a million-billion-trillion times worse)
- I skipped choir and the gym and took a long soak in the tub instead, with one of my awesome sister's grapefruit-scented bath bombs

Saturday, September 3

more dogeared pages

longer ago than really matters to say at this point, I finished reading Lewis Hyde's Common as Air: Revolution, Art, & Scholarship. I was reading it not for a class, but to fulfill my own scholarly whimsy, which was very nice. but it was also somewhat aimless-feeling... which feeling is probably something I should work on disciplining, now that coursework is nearly behind me and I'll be reading at my own discretion for most of the rest of this academic career, I imagine. reading lists for dissertationing are under construction in various corners, I promise.

this blogpost, though, is full of quotes from most of the pages I dogeared from Common as Air. do I remember now why I dogeared them? no, not really. and looking back at them here, I don't think all of these segments make tons of sense on their own, outside of the narrative history of Hyde's book. but nobody is stopping you from going out and reading it yourself, I don't think. if you're into culture and history and Benjamin Franklin, you'll probably like it.

I have shuffled the order for the sake of giving these all a slightly more coherent vibe. make of them what you will.
"How are we to imagine the creative self? Is it an individual and unique, or is it collective and common? Myself, I think it is always both of these, and that the question proposes a false distinction." p. 178
"...where does talent come from, and what is the right relationship between it and the ego, the thing that so swiftly makes a 'me' out of the sea of the given world?" p. 203 
"Belonging simultaneously to the private and the public, we each must distinguish between what is our own (idios) and what we hold in common (koinon). The first of these terms gives rise to the word 'idiot,' for it was the Greek assumption that any life spent wholly on one's own is by nature idiotic." p. 183
that notion there is probably what keeps me from running away and living in a cave on a beach somewhere. my own inner mind all by itself, as much as I love it, would devolve into idiocy quicker than blinking if I didn't have anyone to talk to, listen to, or answer to.
"The freely choosing self is a small part of the whole; larger is the 'encumbered self,' as Michael Sandel calls it, asking that we remember how often we are 'obliged to fulfill ends we have not chosen.' ... It doesn't sound all that attractive, to be encumbered, and yet these things that constrain us (nature, family, convictions) are not things we can easily dispose of, either, and in fact accepting the limitations they bring can lay the foundation for freedoms unavailable without them." p. 217
one of the coolest points in this book, to me, was Hyde's distinctions between freedom of speech and freedom of listening. he describes the concept of a meeting hall "built to serve the eighteenth-century idea of replacing the partial self with a plural or public self, one who is a host to many voices, even those otherwise at odds with the singular being you thought you were when you first walked in the door." (p. 229)
"The freedom to listen we have in our collectivity, not in our individuality. It is a common freedom, not an individual or private one." 229
we forget about that freedom to listen part, quite often. I want to remember it more.

and then this brilliant so-what of the whole story Hyde is working with:
"our practices around cultural property allow us to be certain kinds of selves; with them we enable or disable ways of being human." 213
I love that, all its grandness and stretchy huge meaning. mm. I say this all the time when I read cool books, I know--but what else is there to say?--I want to write a book like this one, someday soon. if this PhD and its aftermath does nothing else for me but help me get to that point, then thank heaven and all the universe, it will have been worth all the five+ long years.

Saturday, August 20

fall semester, 2016

no courses to describe this time around. just teaching some of same old things, working on learning how to be a real academic.

this is the weekend before the semester officially begins, and for days campus has been buzzing with students and faculty and that grand, subtle feeling of autumn ambition and learning-ness that I have loved for so long. it has been an exciting week.

I have just finalized the syllabus and assignments for my Business Writing class.

I am making lists and planning to dedicate this much work time to libraries, that much to notebooks, just enough to the undergraduates, and all the leftover time to my research gig.

and after work I will bake and eat, and read more stories, and walk and daydream, and water all the plants on my windowsills.

in sixteen weeks I'll be better at being a real academic. and it might be snowing.

it feels so good to be where I am. lucky me.

Monday, August 8

reflections on teaching online

the online summer class I've been teaching ended last Friday, when all the last final projects got turned in. as of five seconds ago, all the grades are tallied and posted and submitted. hurrah! two weeks til fall classes start...

did any sort of learning happen over those 8 weeks of summer term? on my end, definitely yes. I hadn't taught online before. during the spring and beginning of the summer I attended conference panels galore about online writing instruction. my wonderful mentor Kelli Cargile Cook spoke about the best practices she's developed and studied over her career. friend David Grover from Texas Tech presented on his dissertation research--all about how underprepared graduate students are when they get the chance to teach writing online. at Computers & Writing, I met the brilliant and generous people behind the OWI community website. so many awesome resources and inspirations. it was terrifying, but encouraging.

I was arguably more prepared (on paper, anyhow) for this course than for anything else I've ever taught in my life. most other things I've ever taught involved sticky notes with tentative 6-point outlines and thoughts, all scribbled down mere hours before the lesson. sticky notes don't work for online classes, though. instead, there were dozens of PDFs, a screencast video introduction, a website thing, bits of Blackboard fiddling, many many emails, and many Slack messages.

the slick, fancy Slack messaging app suggested itself as an especially appropriate online teaching tool for professional writing. I'd been hearing about the app on all the podcast advertisements, and I figured my bundle of Business Writing students could benefit from some exposure to it. with help from friend Michael, I poked around and tested things out and got everything set up just how I needed it for the various sections and projects of the class. hosting the whole class within Slack was disorienting for students at first, but most of them caught on quickly and enjoyed the interface. we didn't have quite as much fun as this Zach Whalen fellow seemed to have with his students on Slack, but ah well.

as the course got busier and summer ticked itself relentlessly into the past, I found myself wishing I could be sure my students were reading the announcements I made and the updates I posted. is there such a tracking device? my search just now brought me to this detailed list of Slack shortcuts and tips. there is a way to see who has logged in to Slack-- I'll have to explore that option next semester. it may or may not tell me who has read which channels. this piece might be something to share with students as they set up their Slack accounts for my class--hopefully they'd find it helpful. I need to remember the "reminder" function and the "pin file" function, for important information that students might lose track of too easily. the user-name policy also sounds pretty useful-- one way to maintain a sense of professionalism.

benefits a face-to-face class include students seeing each other and talking to each other a lot more, instead of merely performing for me and my syllabus of requirements. I'm not sure how well my students got to know each other. I did create an "off-topic" channel and let students have it to themselves (I checked now that class is over to find 4 lonely little posts there). our Slack space stayed very to-the-point and business-oriented, a place where work got submitted and readings got "discussed" within minimum wordcounts and with little dialogue. next semester, I'll have to incentivize more student-to-student communication and discussion. this boils down to an odd form of pandering bribery and forced-ness, which my soul squirms and recoils about just a little. I like to think that as an undergraduate student I would have been utterly happy to talk to my fellow students of my own accord (very not true). who needs incentives for that? but that's my vaguely-more-enlightened and far-less-shy gradstudent self talking.

my course was 99% asynchronous, and I so wished that I could have all 17 of my students in one channel at the same time. more focused, immediate discussion could have been way more useful. all the best online courses I've ever taken have included a synchronous Skype or chat-room element. but the way online courses are marketed in this program means students sign up expecting to work at their own paces and not expecting to show up to be counted at any particular time. because of that, I didn't feel like I could design a course with much, if any, synchronous discussion time in it at all. this summer, I asked students to sign up for one-on-one video conferences, so at least there'd be a sliver of synchronous discussion. this worked pretty well. for next semester, I may consider assigning small-group conference meetings, perhaps to discuss peer review work more directly. the institutional constraint here is a challenge to work around. perhaps it deserves to be brought up with my supervisors and program directors. we'll see.

this weekend I talked with a few potential community partners about linking my fall Business Writing assignments to their local, real-world business contexts and needs. it's lovely to know people who run small, local businesses in this lovely college town. wish me luck getting myself organized to incorporate some of those ideas for the next batch of scattered, disembodied online students.

Thursday, July 14


on the bus the other morning, a fellow hopped on at the 7th street stop and sat down with a dense, serious-looking paperback. not much later, a woman at 3rd street waved for the bus and sat down next to the man with the paperback. she wore a pink skirt. she had her own paperback--a more colorful one than his. she put a hand on his shoulder and kissed him, and they both settled in their seats to read as the bus turned some corners and crossed the river to the west side of town.

it was a nice moment to observe, the niceness of which reminds me somewhat of a time last Christmas when I watched my little sister and her husband discuss complicated beyond-me modeling software of some sort-- technical things, math and physics and methods of calculation.

the niceness of observable well-matchedness, I guess it is.

Thursday, July 7

a negative amount of sense

I don't know enough about anything. I don't know enough. this is both true and an excuse to stand back, to distantly question and wonder, to pretend for a while to put myself in other people's shoes and to still fail at understanding why they do this or that, and then to shrug those other perspectives away because I can't know enough about anything.

I don't watch the news. I get news filtered through friends and internet icons. I stay out of it; I have the privilege of class and skin color and education enough to stay out of the news and let my little life sail on. the most affecting mishap I've had to personally deal with lately was watching one of my cute handmade clay bowls slip off the counter and shatter into pieces. I'll make a new one. it'll probably be just the same as the old one.

what are broken dishes when meanwhile, death threats and gun violence and rape and bigotry, brutality, corruption, hatred, and anger seem to fill the world and the internet? there is all this anger and rage and tragedy, all swirling around my privilege and the blissful ignorance it tends to afford.

have you seen this video?

I keep re-watching it, wanting to re-watch it and re-watch it as if my re-watching it might mean that everyone else were watching it, learning something.

I should be grading student drafts, and working on my own drafts, yet I feel like I have to write this instead. and what do I really want to do in a post like this? what can I even hope to halfway-decently attempt, when writers more invested and more practiced and more attended-to than I will probably ever be are already saying more powerful and more meaningful things than I could about this latest ugliness?

I remember marveling--two years ago, November 2014--at this court decision. it made negative amounts of sense. I don't know enough about anything, but I remember that I started looking at uniformed officers differently that year. I told friend Chris, as we watched people on twitter rage and mourn, that I wanted to walk over to our municipal building on 6th and South Street, where all those cop cars are always parked outside, and I wanted to stop at least one officer and ask them questions, and hope they'd sit down and take time for answering. I didn't. I haven't. I still pause when I see uniformed officers, still wonder to the end of the sky what they think about all of this swirling injustice and death. I'm sure there would be miles of red tape, or at least buckets of busy dismissiveness, if not paranoia about whether I'd be likely to spin their comments into some kind of sensational media story.

I am not a journalist. I don't watch the news. I have too many silly podcasts to listen to. today, it happened to be this one from a Sporkful series on Other People's Food. an interview and an audio collage about segregation. about the negative amounts of sense that used to mean strictly separate water fountains, train cars, restrooms, and--more happily--about the activism that eventually changed things.

my instinct is to question. my reactions are questions. why? why? why not talk, and listen, and leave your weapons out of it? why make excuses, why not call this systemic awfulness what it is? why not confront the racism in it? wouldn't it be better to confront and wrestle with, rather than ignore and excuse and backpedal and victim-blame and cover-up? why not trust people? why not put some real faith in the "innocent until proven guilty" principle? why panic? why suspect the worst? why put this woman in handcuffs, why not trust her to keep cooperating? why not trust people? why not treat people like they are, can be, will be good?

I keep thinking about my interactions with uniformed officers. speeding tickets. warnings. nothing bloody, nothing that warrants any screaming. I keep thinking that if I were pulled over for a burned out taillight, I would have been trusted to stand and wait and do as I was told--no handcuffs, no guns. more patience. I would be suspected of nothing beyond failing to maintain a tiny lightbulb within my vehicle. my skin color makes it safer and calmer and pretty much normal, if inconvenient, for me to interact with law enforcement people if I ever have to, and that is puzzlingly unfair beyond unfair.

what am I doing with a post like this? I am reacting. I don't know enough about anything--not about any victim or any officer, not about what the weather is like in Baton Rouge or in Minneapolis this week, not about the political or legal webs within which the cities I've lived in are being maintained, and not at all enough about the biases that insidiously sit in my own head. I do not know who wrote all the news articles or what kind of slant their publishers may have expected. I do not know exactly what kind of methods were used in compiling which kinds of data from what sources. I do not know if the world will ever be different enough from the depressing way it is for certain groups of people in this country.

but ever since this Hank Green fellow made this video about democratic engagement I have been meaning to use up some paper and ink and stamps with more pointed and purposeful reactions to things. now is all there is, so it may as well be now.

Wednesday, June 29


this is the song playing in the background:

it's from the best Muse album--my most favourite one because it was my first--the one called Absolution, and it is playing downstairs because freund Jeremiah put it on. he is making lunch. I am writing. (blogging counts as writing--it so does. especially when it's been three weeks since I last wrote anything here.)

so: an update. people use blogs for that sort of thing, it seems. I more usually use mine for pseudo-academic musing, but today, an update. there are drafts waiting for finishing, of course. one about facebook, one about the word "defense," and three about books I've read or am reading. snippets about human-technology, about collaboration and commitment. those will have to wait til next week. or next month.

for now, a string of memories and memories-to-be from various facets of this amelia's life.

I visited northern Michigan a few weeks ago. it was a glorious mix of misty, cool, drizzly summer shower and sparkling, steady, beating sunshine. there was hiking, dunes, kayaking, lakes, and plenty of laying around on a beach reading.

I'm teaching an online class. it is pretty nice to teach from wherever, wearing whatever, responding to students as needed. we are three weeks into this eight-week course. I hope we all get through it happily and that some sort of learning happens on all sides.

my research team and I designed a pretty poster to hang at a conference this summer. not my typical communication/English/humanities conference, but the American Society of Engineering Education conference. the poster is there this week, along with a few of my colleagues. I'm staying home to write and write and write an article or two or three.

dear Chris and I chipped away at a few more levels of Portal 2 on Friday. every six or twelve or nineteen months or so, I manage to make time for a videogame. keeps things balanced.

dear Chalice visited last week, too! we wandered the sweltering little town of Lafayette for a few days, exploring a few restaurants I hadn't been to before, dipping bread in peppered olive oil at one I hadn't been to for many months. it was a grand few days hosting her and Dan. 

most of the corners and edges surrounding these fun bits of my life are eaten up with writing and meetings about writing. I like it that way, even if it means I'm always, no matter what, inhaling and exhaling the feeling that I should be writing. 

Sunday, June 5

summer weekend, so far

it has been a week of ups and downs and chaos, post-vacation highs and crunch-time woes. but slivers of wonderfulness got mixed in with the rest. luckily.

new pots for some plants. rain in the morning.

farmers' market wandering, in all the drizzle.

I bought one pumpkin-chocolate-chip muffin to go along with my daydreams about chai and frothy hot chocolate. and I came home with interesting-looking jam (peaches and strawberries and cherry and cranberry and raspberries? that is so much for one jar of jam), a big pint of tart strawberries, and some veggie pasta.

it rained more and more and more on the way home.

and then the day got eaten up, mostly by all the summer teaching prep, but also a little bit by LibriVox recording. more poems.

earlier this evening I saw the very first firefly I have seen since last summer. always delightful, the glow and fade and flight of those bugs. there was one, then another. I didn't stay out to see more. tonight, the sight of fireflies flying is entangled with old memories that surprise me with their rusted, pokey edges, un-kempt, un-sharpened, but cutting enough even after sleeping so long underneath so many others.

still, fireflies. enjoy the fireflies while they're around.