Thursday, October 8

still somewhere

{ a corner of the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, Wisconsin. late summer 2015 }

heart in my throat.

that's a cliche figure of speech, not one I've used in description before. choking on your own life, your own inner core. very cliche, but it feels new to me. and maybe all the idiom dictionaries say it means extreme nervousness or fear. for me though, that part of the cliche doesn't apply. this feeling is not connected to the mild terror I feel about having to decide--actually decide for my very own self in some very focused and purposeful way--what to write a dissertation about and then figure out which faculty members will best be able to help me write it. this heart-in-my-throat-ness is rather a feeling with no meaning. not nerves, not fear, not sympathy, not sadness.

surely it's connected to something, but I cannot tell what.

this, starting this fall, is year three.

it's been a long summer, a long year. a long way since January and home and crafts. I have not stayed in one place like this since... oh goodness-- even this long in one place? in one town? it was early 2002. high school. I was eighteen. three years isn't so long. three years isn't hard to look back across. but since my long-ago high school life it's been snippets of much less time:

one year in Logan, Utah
one year in Exmouth, Devon
two years in Logan, Utah
three quarters of a year in Kidder, Missouri
half a year in Seattle, Washington
eighteen months in Alberta, Canada
half a year in Seattle again
two years in West Jordan, Utah
two years in Lubbock, Texas

and now...

now it's year three of my phd. three years in this cozy Lafayette, Indiana place. three straight years with only small breaks for visiting parents and siblings, for wandering in new cities and new woods, and a bit of going to conferences.

plenty of the things they told us about year three have proven true enough. I am in a daze and not sure where to work, what to focus on. I do feel very daunted. shaky about the future, even the future of three weeks away. I am sick of coursework on a level I did not think would ever be possible. even posthumanism class in some moments seems to slap me across the face with impossible drudgery.

I left the book in my office or I'd take a photo of this, but you'll have to trust me that on its last page, at the end of what Katherine Hayles has to say about How We Became Posthuman, I penciled in an awe-struck "will I ever write a book like this?"

and underneath that: "how?"

our next book for posthumanism class is Karen Barad's Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.

I have read the preface and am already asking, again, "will I ever write a book like this? could I?"

a phd is supposed to be daunting, I guess. they don't want to hand them out to just anyone. you have to climb a good number of very tall staircases. wondering. climbing. uncertain. climbing. reading. climbing. writing. wondering.
“There are no solutions; there is only the ongoing practice of being open and alive to each meeting, each intra-action, so that we might use our ability to respond, our responsibility, to help awaken, to breathe life into ever new possibilities for living justly.”
   — Karen Barad. Meeting the Universe Halfway (x)

Tuesday, September 22

hapax legomena

I watched this latest vsauce video last week. it's full of numbers and words, fractions and graphs and corpuses of text. vsauce videos are always interesting, but this one was particularly full of things that made me think of other cool things.

it is neat to see that Jonathan Harris's wordcount still exists. not much from nine whole years ago looks the same in this internet place. nine years is a long time. but "plaid subdue glinted zoology" is still what shows up when you search for plaid. I thought for a minute that "zoology" would surely have been a hapax legomenon on this blog here, at least until today. but it actually shows up here, too.

what the hapax legomena of this blog are, I don't know. are there any? there must be. or do I talk too much about all the same stuff?

with this video, Michael from vsauce has ruined forever the hapax legomenon-ality of the quirky little adverb "quizzaciously." there is a whole sub-reddit about it. and is a website now.


people do some pretty fun things with this internet stuff. I wonder what the chances of getting a grammatical sentence out of twenty random common English words is. has given me none so far. but maybe if you add some punctuation to them, it would help.

"an by look on, get even; some have--about no... at could--than when an what a say have." maybe?

someday it could be neat to ask students to write an essay using only some number of the most common words in English. I once pondered teaching a writing class using Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea. I'll plan for it next year, perhaps, when I get back to English 106. I've never taught using fiction before, but I think I'd like to. it'd be different. and different is fun. Ella Minnow Pea is an adorable example of not only how ideologies have huge consequences on how decisions get made, but also of how limits are always possibilities.

just look at that Randall Munroe guy. he's writing a book to explain stuff. it's one of the first thoughts I had upon watching the latest vsauce. words and numbers and complexity and commonness. Munroe wrote a blog post introducing the project here. I wonder how the translators will handle this project. will they be bound to using the ten hundred most common words in whatever language they're translating into? I would assume so. how tricky.

Sunday, September 6

weighted, waiting

Wednesday, September 2


I keep seeing this particular redheaded kid walking around campus. I know nothing about him, but I notice and recognize him without any effort at all.


usually it's the intersection of Grant Street and State, the edge of campus.

I'm not over there that often... am I? bookstore, business school... not my usual scene.

but actually I do find myself hiking over there weekly or so now. I'm research-assisting for professors over in Young Hall this year. 

anyway. redheads.

one day I noticed this particular redhead, recognized him, and wondered what the chances of my seeing him almost every time I walk over that way actually were. is that calculable? hmm. that time we both walked north, up to the curb, to wait for the traffic to give us space to cross.

as we stood there, I imagined myself quoting lyrics from the Dr. Horrible song.

"love your hair," perhaps I would say, with a silly inside-joke-ish smile.

but I didn't. I didn't even mumble.

I wonder what the chances are that this random kid would get the reference, anyway. even if I sing my compliment... he might not.

talking to strangers--even strangers you cross paths with multiple times per week--seems so weird to do most of the time. the reason for it has to be either unquestionably pressing or innocuously shallow. it's either hey you really ought to watch out before you gets hit by a bus or hmm, nice day for all this awful construction they're doing, isn't it? two very different extremes.

speaking of strangers, I must tell you all about my favourite new podcast of the same name. it lives over here on this website called Story Central. Lea Thau, the host, is the loveliest. the work she does is a marvel and a half. I want a job like hers.

if I ever actually do find an appropriate path-crossing moment in which to comment on how cool and red the hair of this fellow-Purdue student stranger is, I'll let you know how it goes.

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.