Sunday, July 20

Wednesday, July 16

reflexibly

what would you say was the prime of your life? the time when you were happiest, on top of the world?

somebody asked me this question the other day. it's one I hadn't thought about before, so it wasn't easy to answer. I love collecting questions and inquiries like this, though, to aid in conversational-scuba-diving efforts. for example:

-if you had a plant growing out of the top of your head, which kind of plant would you prefer?

-name your life's greatest ambition.

-what color would you most like to paint your ceiling and why?

-when or if you have children, would you rather they be dazzlingly clever and generally miserable or hopelessly unintelligent but generally happy?

-which food would you choose to be the only thing you ever ate from now on, every day, for ever?

the responses to these are usually less like answers and more like explorations of reasons and motives and priorities and hypotheticals of all kinds. much better than talking about whether it might rain tomorrow.

lately, on my travels, I've been noticing reflections. puddles. train windows. lakes. shopfronts. such surfaces make crazy collages of here and there, above and beneath, inside and outside, forward and backward. the photographs flatten a lot of that deep, shifting, photo-overlay feeling into an only slightly disorienting double-exposure feeling... but until I get around to figuring out proper gif-making, these static juxtapositions of image-within-non-image-within-image are what I have.

I once asked my physicist sister whether the reflections of cars' taillights in dark, wet streets look infinitely long, extending infinitely deep because those cars are moving, or because the car I'm in is moving, or what. she wasn't sure how to explain the optics of it all to me. I'm still wondering, a bit, how that works. maybe I should ask this guy.

of course the feeling of infinitely long, red taillight streaks and/or of a whole world upside-down in the canal water is an illusion. the look of all that space is a trick. but maybe so is everything. human eyes are complicated. optics and light are complicated.

on the wall of an Indian restaurant we visited the other day for lunch, I noticed a wallpaper pattern of the following quotation, all slanted in elegant script: "Illusion is the first of all pleasures." what does that mean? maybe I'll add it to my collection in the the form of a philosophical challenge-- does all enjoyment predicate itself upon a false sense of security, permanence, or desert? hmm.

on slaughterhouse 90210 the other day
 I saw this excerpt from Catherine Lacey's Nobody Is Ever Missing:
“We don’t get to stay in moments and that should not be news to you. We are both familiar with the concept of time, the awful math of it, how our history always gets larger, less understandable, overweight, overworked, over and over, and memories get misfiled and complicate feelings for no good reason and some people seem more able to deal with this, to keep their histories clean and well ordered but I still don’t understand why we came unstuck from those moments we wanted to stay and why the moments we wanted to forget still haunt us.” 
I've mentioned Slaughterhouse 90201 before, eh? tumblr is a strange universe, but it is great for thought-provoking snippets like the above paired with television stills. this quote goes pretty interestingly with the question I began with. what period would you say was the prime of your life? the time when you were happiest, on top of the world? out of all the moments and seasons in your ever-deepening history, which are the very best?

while I pondered what answer I would give the questioner, she told me that most people do say right now, or at least include right now in the span of time that counts as their most happy, confident time.

I wonder if that's because everything else seems either haunting and heavy or lost forever. unreachable like the sky, or mere reflection like the sky's image. in comparison with the all-encompasing now, the past and future look like tricks of the light.

Sunday, July 13

an only world

Saturday, July 12

wrapped

the trouble with all these academic books I've been speeding through this summer is that so much moreso than non-academic books, they're always incorporating ideas from other interesting-sounding books. so many references and engaging paraphrasings. not all of them are of the sort that draw me in and make me want to read even more academic prose, but some of them are.

sometimes the titles alone are intriguing enough. like The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu. or some Edmund Burke: A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. or these strange fictional pieces, He, She and It or The Female Man, both referenced/recommended by Donna Haraway.

another fiction (science-fiction) showed in up my most recent academic read to be paired with Huxley's Brave New World: Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. the contrast of the two makes me curious.

and then there is this one: The Compact Culture: The Japanese Tradition of "Smaller Is Better." Andrew Feenberg, in Between Reason and Experience, cites this book in connection with a postmodern-ish view of technology. he wonders in unison with its author whether we have Japan to credit with the advent and growing ubiquity of tiny little gadgets running microcomputers, and whether this path of development would or wouldn't have ever happened without the grand, tradition of small Japanese things. I was talking on the train yesterday with a lovely stranger named Megan and probably blabbered too too much about all these books I've been thinking about. when Smaller is Better came up we wondered jointly what sort of argument its author would need to make to convince anyone that a propensity for smallness was caused by whatever he imagined it was caused by. geography? physiognomy? genetics? I want to read the book, just to find out.

speaking of Japan and smallness and culture: sushi.
Miniature Food - Sushi
{ photo borrowed from the very kind St├ęphanie Kilgast on flickr. }

one evening the other week, friend Chris and I were wandering hungrily around Manchester and I was craving sushi. (parts of me are always, in fact, craving sushi.)

the particular island nation I'm currently hanging around in is not hugely known for its sushi, that I know of. but it is known for pasties and pies. and whenever I am in the UK I do my best to enjoy as many pasties as I possibly can. they are glorious.

and so on this hungry evening, two deeply rooted cravings confronted one another. I can't remember if it was me or Chris who suggested we get our hands on both.

I thought about what an interesting combination that would be--a tray of pretty sushi laid next to a few golden-crusted pasties with grease paper around them. but why not? after all, the concepts behind both are so similar. you can put almost anything at all in a lovely pastry crust and call it a pasty. and just about anything wrapped in rice and nori counts as sushi, doesn't it?

you might argue that seaweed paper and buttery pastry crust are not at all anything like close to analogous. but why not?

we discussed this a little bit. pasties come in many regional varieties. I've learned that in Scotland they're bridies. there's a whole list of alternatives and realted food items on wikipedia. you might even expand that list to include things like burritos or tamales or dumplings or eggrolls or wontons. they all fit the pattern: savory something contained in a bread-like skin.

but does sushi truly fit? now that I've thought about it more, I'm not so sure. sushi involves savory bits wrapped in a perfectly decent grain... but it's not quite bread-like, is it? plenty of other differences pop up, too. the whole thing isn't cooked. it doesn't stay all wrapped up and self-contained, exactly--you have to slice sushi first. and it generally isn't the thing to eat sushi with your fingers, though I suppose there aren't really rules against it.

so what do you think? does sushi belong in this category? does it matter?

in the end we despaired of finding good enough sushi, so we raided Tesco for grapes and crisps and pita bread. the excellent photo of pasties + sushi on the same picnic platter has not yet come to be. I still think it should though. one of these afternoons...

Sunday, July 6

plant pots

Friday, July 4

the great affair is to move

I didn't know this was going to happen, but I spent a good chunk of my week in Edinburgh, sleeping in a hostel bunk and pretending to know my way around the old town.
this is the Waverley railway station from above, surrounded by gardens and trees. yesterday (which is not the day these photos were taken on, actually) I sat there watching rows of benches and acres of grassy spots fill up with teenagers with guitars, young families with strollers, students with coffee, and various other folk not so easy to peg as one sort of person or another. we had some rare bright blue skies and plenty of sun.
usually you don't find such nice parks abutting giant railway stations, do you? this one makes me quite happy anyway, whether it is the only nice railway-adjacent park in the world or not.

my explorations of Edinburgh included countless strolls up and down the Royal Mile, one lengthy morning brunchtime of scones and writing in this charming Belgian cafe, two somewhat adventurous educational visits to bridges and archives, a handful of peeking into museums, one plateful of haggis...
...and two lovely evening hours of a most entertaining, inspiring literary pub tour.

friends Kaitlyn and Justin and I learned a bunch of things about some celebrated Scottish wordsmiths and reveled reverently in the reciting of various snippets of classic prose and poetry. I added a few new items to my endless list of books to read. a rambly synopsis (not comprehensive in the least) of things learned and/or pondered upon:

- Robert Burns once wrote love letters under the pseudonym Sylvander to a lady who insisted on calling herself Clarinda instead of Agnes McLehose. you can read a bit about their passionate letter-writing (and listen to any other Burns poem you fancy--they give me goosebumps, some of them), if you have a minute. I wonder how serious or how playful they were in their correspondence. which of them pined more for the other? were either of them merely playing along, safe behind pen and paper and propriety? some Burns scholar may be able to guess. are there any accomplished Burns scholars in my audience?
{ the talented actors, reciting a perfect mix of poetry and history. there was even singing. }

- they say Sir Walter Scott invented the modern popular image of Scottishness, did you know? it was hisevent planning on the occasion of King George IV's visit that made kilts so cool. he's also got a humongous, spiky, old monument along Princes Street--the largest of any monument to any writer anywhere, apparently. why haven't I read a thing he's ever written?

- Robert Louis Stevenson died in Samoa after having lived there with his family, telling stories and meddling in politics. his writing Treasure Island makes more sense, knowing how much he loved traveling. I noted a quotation on one of the plaques in the basement section of the writer's museum: "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints." the sentiment there reminds me of my father. I didn't always appreciate dislocating one's self for the sake of nothing at all, but thankfully I've come around. the feather-bed of civilisation is over-rated.

remind me, next time, to blog about pastry crusts and seaweed.

Sunday, June 29

hello, needs


Friday, June 27

stuffed and unstuffed selves

today I will officially be moved out of and moved on from this little porch and the tiny apartment behind it. it's been practically empty since Tuesday, thanks to the muscles and work ethics of a handful of not-thanked-enough colleagues and friends.

in the meantime I've been indulging in the gooey, unsettling, intoxicating fuzz of being uncentered from almost everywhere and detached from almost everything but a suitcase.
in a few hours I will get on a plane with that suitcase and I will end up, bright and early Saturday morning, in Manchester.

what will I find there?
will I take useful, people-containing photographs of any of it, or will I be too distracted by weird-looking, random, faceless corners?

will the things I take photographs of and post photographs of and scroll backwards through photographs of next semester or next year, will those things and their places mean something more because I took time to capture the shape of them in pixels?

I read Katie King's Networked Reenactments last week, as part of my summer reading. at one point, King references the fact that we own all these devices, and we are only some of what they can do for us. the wonky-seeming direction of that be-verb strikes me. we are only some of all those networked machines. and today, when this afternoon I saw the digital soliloquizing of Aral Balkan along similar lines, I decided to put the two together and muse about technology and selfhood for a while.

Balkan says that we relate to our devices as to some kind of "extended mind." your memories are over here, in your typed-up to-do list and your instant messenger chat logs and that journal you've been writing in for more than a year.

your stuff, whether it is pixelly digital stuff or paper and ink stuff or nuts and bolts stuff, is part of how you work. you could survive without most of it, probably, but you generally don't, do you?

in the textbook I'll be teaching from this fall, there is a section about this stuff/self relationship featuring an essay by the guy behind this online ebay project from the early 2000s (friend Shara, take note: Mr. Freyer is at least superficially channeling our fictional icon of minimalism, Larry himself). interestingly, included on the sold list is the domain name itself: allmylifeforsale.com. it now belongs to a university art museum.

the fact that we can own and buy and sell things like domain names is quite fascinating, since those things boil down to so many ones and zeros connected up with a bunch of other ones and zeros. the world is made of information (or so says the current reigning metaphor), and controlling that information = power and glory and fame. maybe.

your stuff and your information = you. numbers, gadgets, memories... but how do you know which things are yours, or which things even can be yours? how do you know when it's your stuff? with a car or a sofa it's pretty easy. but do you own those instant messenger chat logs? exclusively?

in this live talk Aral Balkan gave some months ago, he speaks of a digital self, and asserts that a digital self deserves rights and privacies and legal protection (from massive corporate information-grubbing entities like the Google and the Facebook) as much as a physical self does (presumably from abusive maniacs, ruthless criminals, and/or human traffickers). upon my first watching of the talk, I really wasn't sure what the term "digital self" could really mean. I was trying to think of it as a new, separate thing. but if my digital self isn't separate at all...does that make it easier to conceptualize? maybe.
there are many, many questions hooked around all these concepts. I will keep pondering them. Balkan conveniently pointed to a relevant dissertation (from a fellow at University of Plymouth, even) titled On Why We Should Treat Data As If It Were Physical. someday I will read it and try not to wish I had written the thing.

somewhere it is written that there's no such thing as immaterial matter. no matter how intangible they seem, all these memories and fleeting experiences and unstated expectations and all the data floating around as we record and interpret it all can't exist outside some physical system of flesh and blood or screens and light to make it manifest. so it matters, and it is matter.
most of my stuff--sofa, shelves, and notebooks galore--is sitting for now in a few Lafayette spaces that I won't see or touch for a whole four weeks. I'm about to unplug and power off this little macbook for the day, too. I'll be separated from those sections of my self for a while, which sort of means that being in two or three places at once isn't as impossible as it sounds.

Sunday, June 22

concept


Saturday, June 21

extemporaning

arguably, summers (and weekends, so the following is doubly true for summer weekends) are for reading outside in the grass and taking aimless walks all over town. which is part of what I did today.

the background music to this early evening excursion was a mix of songs by The Killers, The Beatles, Dispatch, and Barenaked Ladies.
I meandered over to the useless side of that parking lot next to the bus station. the side that leads nowhere at all, where one might feel a little out of place, or even delinquent simply for not having any real reason at all to be there... and I walked along all this chainlink marveling at the train (so huge) and the graffiti (so colorful).
who wrote all these things? are any of them local artists, or do the trains get their faces painted in other, far-off counties? or both?
and is there a way to tell which bits come from whom? there is a literacy in it all that I can't thoroughly access.
I found the juxtaposition of all the blocky markings on the stolid, utilitarian train next to so much bubbly, curving, spray paint, as well that of all the green bushy weedlike-stuff along the fence foregrounding the carefully unobstructed, quarantined tracks, quite interesting elements in my casual photographs.
who was it I was recently talking to about trains and graffiti and art without audiences? or was that what we were talking about? do any of you readers remember? anyway, this here is the episode of 99% Invisible that came up during that conversation.
I want to say this one said "oink," but I really, really don't know.
is it sort of like drawing things in the sand, leaving a mark and then walking away? do those two things have anything more than their transience in common?

along with worrying about where all the decoration on the outsides of these trains came from, I could worry about what's in them and where it's going to end up and why.
I've been paging leisurely through Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work this summer.
de Botton's whole first section chronicles (with a bit of extra, romantical detail, we might argue) the comings and goings of barges along the Thames, all full of cargo from opposite hemispheres, ready to be unboxed and distributed to a thousand supermarkets or department stores around the UK.
trains are not barges, and a railroad in Indiana is not the Thames, but both the river and trains generally have some romance about them, don't they?
river barges probably get some graffiti, too. I wonder if it lasts as long as train graffiti.