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.

Friday, May 27

soaking-in and stirring-up

friend Patti and I have driven miles and miles and miles in the last week. across all the states between Indiana and upstate New York. up and around to Toronto, and back, and across and through and along. I'll put up photos eventually. there has been ice cream and yoga and wonderful views and confusing traffic and much adventure.

who was it who told me about David Antin?
{ this is a photograph of northwest Missouri from ten years ago. random, I know. }

it was someone at the Digital Humanities Symposium I went to during finals week, earlier this month. someone was talking about genre and medium and sound recordings. it was someone making a point about what poetry is, and as they did so I wrote down a mis-spelled version of the poet's name on my hand.

reading David Antin poems in pdf does not seem very fun. I will have to consult the library.

in the meantime, when Patti and I are not on our way from here to there in a car, and when I have not been writing article drafts and planning my summer teaching adventures, I have been reading various other things. books I picked up at publishers' exhibit halls, books Patti passed on to me after she read them for the tournament of books, and books that stowed away in Patti's trunk when we left the states.

a list:

Gold, Fame, Citrus (irritating in spots, otherwise good)
So You've Been Publicly Shamed (rambly yet thought-provoking enough)
Between the World and Me (I want my dad to read this)
Go Ahead & Like It (lovely, evocative, simple)
The New World (bewildering and sudden)
Our Souls at Night (sweet. poignant, even)
Bats of the Republic (a puzzle)
Information Doesn't Want to be Free (inspiration-sparking)
The Mermaid's Sister (tedious, vague, bleh)
The Blue Hour (poetry snippets, dark, tattered)

only two of those are non-fiction, everyone. and only one of them can at all be considered research/dissertation-related. but don't worry. I spent three and a half days at a marvelous Computers & Writing conference. I learned so much, took so many notes, resolved to do so many things, and have plenty of whirring ideas caged up for later use. research/dissertation-land will not be abandoned.

this David Antin fellow does not 'write' his poetry. he talks it. oral poetical rambling, recorded and transcribed, and then published.

that sort of poetry is not a thing. it is an event, a production.

but how dare we trap any piece of writing in nouns?

processes. hows, not whats. and I have so many questions about how. why? how? those are where my questioning mind goes. why speak your poetry instead of write, type, paint it?

well, why not?

I was about to wish for my summer to have just as much writing and creating in it as reading and consuming. but how would I measure that, when the reading and soaking-in is part of the writing and building? how would it make sense to compare? I could force it to, I suppose... but it might be more interesting not to.

for now, I have picked up Seanan McGuire's Every Heart a Doorway, another stowaway book from Patti's trunk. its book jacket promises fairy-tale twists in an aloof and mysterious vein, and its first section title seems to be "The Golden Afternoons." I hope it is good.

Thursday, May 12

record, erase, re-record

my babysteps into the world of LibriVox volunteering are going alright, so far. only one of the projects I've been working on has been completed this year-- a collection of Sappho's poems, translated by a fellow with the awesome name of Bliss Carman. I was the designated proof-listener for that recording. I'm also signed up to proof-listen these three other projects:

Poems by Adam Lindsay Gordon (about half finished)
The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night, Vol. 8, translated by Richard Francis Burton (just getting started)
A Chinese Wonder Book by Norman Hinsdale Pitman (yet to see any progress)

listening to poems is great. they are almost all somewhere between 1 and 5 minutes long, and very quick to check.

I've recorded some poems, too. the first recordings I made were from a collection called Gleams of Sunshine by the Canadian minister Joseph Horatio Chant. I signed up to do three of his pieces: "Niagara's Rainbow," "My Sister Nell and I" (which was kind of depressing), and "Gather the Wayside Flowers." my sections are all done and proofed, but the whole collection is still in progress.

I'm now working on recording a whole spat of poems by Francis Thompson. apparently he might have been an infamous murderer? yikes. so far the poetry I've read isn't so scandalous--just chock full of classical allusions and fanciful introspections about love and beauty. yesterday, I noticed this line in the third of my assigned series--an ode to a goddess:

"O therefore you who are / What words, being to such mysteries / As raiment to the body is, / Should rather hide than tell"

interesting to think of words as the curtains and clothing of mystery. language obscuring but also accentuating the body of thought. I am remembering conversations I've had with friend Eric, the linguist, about what language happens to do for us, and how we force it into the service of our ideas. he would probably have more detailed things to say about the potential for words to cover up just as much as they might uncover.

all these thoughts want to be linked up with my memory of this arresting and bewildering art installation, Zeno Writing. dear Patti and I saw it in Houston last month. searching for it just now, I found a nice review of the piece from several years ago.

the Museum of Fine Arts - Houston posts some words about the Kentridge installation. Amber Ladd's review adds a bunch more words. my few words here might count, if I could think of what else to say about the film. words seem inadequate. but I can think of more descriptors if I try: stark. engrossing. looped. unwinding. none of these will convey enough of the room and the sound and the feeling of the art. if you go watch this other piece by the same artist, you might get a small sense of it. something more direct than words.

Zeno Writing is remixed from a book, it seems. The Confessions of Zeno, by Italo Svevo, published in 1923, originally in Italian. the book is probably in the public domain, given that date. but its translation may not be. for whatever reason or lack thereof, there is no LibriVox recording of it yet. maybe someday, though.

my other, non-poetical LibriVox recording work includes two whimsical, rambly chapters from British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions, by Wirt Sikes, and the preface and introduction to The Art of Bookbinding by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf. these are longer book projects, so it will be a while before they're finished and released in the LibriVox catalogue.

within the next week or so I need to get to chapter 25 of Anne of Green Gables and chapters 20 and 27 of Little Women. how could I not sign up to work on those recordings?

hey, you could join in and record some too. everyone is welcome.

Thursday, May 5

the impossibility of defaultlessness

it seems so easy to be in a marvelously good mood when one is recovered from awful sickness. the work of spring semester is over. I have little margins of space all around in which to read whatever I want. and today is the first day in a week that I haven't felt like a half-rotten zombie full of slime.

so today I attended the second half of a Digital Humanities Symposium. it was exciting--interdisciplinary and spark-full--and there were pastries, too.

I might call myself a newly minted fan-girl of Amanda Visconti, a DH scholar with Purdue's libraries, who talked about her dissertation project, Infinite Ulysses. social reading, they call this. digital text, networked, layered with your reactions and my reactions and anyone else's.

socially-mediated, communal reading experience. Michael Widner from Stanford talked about it too, in the context of his project Lacuna. I have so many questions about this tool that I did not ask during the question-time of the last panel. would it work for a technical writing class? would it work for an online class? can I download it and play around with it on my own for a week or so?

during his presentation, Widner made a small aside about default settings. in building Lacuna, he and his team had millions of decisions to make about how it would function for users. as students add reading notes and annotations to these digital texts, what kind of tags should they be able to chose from in categorizing those notes? should annotations be public by default, or private? in their user testing, it turned out that unless a category tag is selected by default, most users won't select any. if readers' annotations are set by default to public, most of them stay that way. if the default setting is private, most of them stay that way. based on these observations, Widner's comment/advice was: "whatever the default is, that's what most users will do, so your defaults should promote the kind of engagement you want to see."

ah, the weight of those decisions. it's arbitrary, to some extent, which little settings are default or not. privileged, or not.

at this little comment, my brain started whirring and wondering. Widner described various options they'd tried out as the defaults for the Lacuna reading environment. only one arrangement of settings can be default at once though--that's just how it seems to work.

and then I wondered, what if we wanted defaultlessness? no defaults at all--nothing privileged or pre-set for anyone... some purely customizable, blank, open, transparent, full-of-possibility canvas of un-made decisions?

it wouldn't work. it wouldn't ever work. nobody would ever get anything done, if they had to set their own defaults from scratch.

what would 'from scratch' even mean, in a default-less world?

these thoughts reminded me of these thoughts. another word for default mode might be dominant. the default orthography for most sentences includes a capitalized first word and a period at the end. the dominant discourse about education is that official degrees from official institutions are pretty darn valuable. these aren't the only ways of working with sentences or the only ways of learning things.

my dad used to tell us, don't live your life on auto-pilot. don't walk around on default. usually the context was some kind of cleaning frenzy, and the subtext swirling around in my memory, at least, implies that a default life is one that won't stay very neat or tidy, one that might not look very respectable to any important visitors who stop by. I'm sure that's not all he meant, though. a default life is one where you give away all your choices. or one where you don't think enough about making any choices at all, even when you have the chance.

for anyone to live a non-default life, there have to be some default settings to start with, I guess. I wonder how many different defaults there are out there. mine probably weren't the same as everybody's.

Friday, April 22

stuck reading

if you would, my dear audience, take a moment and read (or skim, whichever) two pieces of internet journalism-ish writing.

first, a year-old personal blogpost by Nicky Case piece, once that I might be tempted to assign as reading for students someday. it is about rhetoric without using the word, though Aristotle's ethos, pathos, and logos are in there everywhere.
The Science of Social Change.

and second, Astra Taylor's article about the terminologies wrapped up in trying to change the world.
Against Activism.

these were recommended to me in the reverse order that I've just recommended them to you in. I read them in this order though-- they are both long (for things-published-on-the-internet, anyway), but the playful, casual tone and the sans-serif of the Case piece made it easier. the curly, dense criticism of the other was not the most enticing for my distracted end-of-semester brain.

pertinent (says me) excerpts from each:

...for most people claiming to be 'apolitical,' it's usually just code for 'don't challenge the status quo.'  
if we want to make social change, the logical content of an argument is crucial, but not enough. We need to carefully and compassionately(!!!) craft the emotional content, too.

... for it matters less what we call ourselves and more what we do...
In our increasingly sorted and labeled society, activists are analogous to skateboarders or foodies or dead heads, each inhabiting a particular niche in America’s grand and heterogeneous cultural ecosystem [...]. Worse still, Smucker contends, is the fact that many activists seem to relish their marginalization, interpreting their small numbers as evidence of their specialness, their membership in an exclusive and righteous clique, effectiveness be damned.
the vagueness and politics of the word activism are not the only hangups I personally have. my own privileges (privileges of skin and body, of citizenship and education) have bred lots of apathy, it seems. it's not that I blatantly don't want to challenge the status quo... but I allow myself to wonder if it's worth the effort. it's not that I wouldn't mind if the status quo got challenged to bits... but am I haven't felt any pressing obligation to get involved. do I think I should? do you think I should?

my answers to that question changes from day to day. yes, the world needs changing. yes, it can be changed--I think I believe that. or do I? can it? if the world--or even a piece of it--changes for me or for you or for anyone, will the change stick, or will everything just change back next week?

most days, I am having too much fun thinking about all of this to do very much that might change the world in an obvious way.

maybe I'll work on this. the thing is, all the things I really most deeply seem to want to change about the world may not make sense to very many people. could we kill the custom of applauding so much for so many things? can waterslides be prettier on the outside?

perhaps that's an excuse though. change is difficult.

less relatedly, I'm also in the middle of reading this piece on humans + world + time by Glenna Albrecht. if you finish reading it before I do, tell me what you think. or tell me what you think anyway.

Saturday, April 16

one picture, two

the day is ending with gratitude, somewhat diluted. I am trying not to think so much of myself this weekend.

there was something on the radio this afternoon--something ranty and sermonizing, which tone I didn't like so much, but despite that the something still wriggled into my head with enough weight to feel worthwhile anyway--about how many humans these days seem to forget about their own capacity to create and give. why are we so busy seeking, consuming, winding distractions around ourselves? we could be so much happier-busier in making and working.

it's not so easy, of course. a life cannot be all giving. to create we must also consume. constant see-sawing between input, output. read, write. watch, do.

today I really wanted to make some things. so I got out the typewriter friend Sam gave me years ago, and I threaded in its new spools of ribbon, and I stuck in a little blank notepage, and I mashed its keys for a while, trial-and-erroring until it worked as I imagine it was meant to.

I made a card. tomorrow perhaps I will type a letter to somebody. I have stamps. I have a whole box of stationery-esque materials. this month is even National Letter Writing Month.

letters are not pictures, technically, even if they're a thousand words long.

{ gift shop display case - Museum of Fine Art - Houston }

but typing letters and scribbling pictures both count as production. making, creating, tracing after springtime and the new.

I am trying not to think so much of my self this weekend. this month. maybe I'll send you a letter. or some art. or both.

Wednesday, April 6

cats, crowbars, writing

I got to check in on friend Liz's two kitties a few weeks ago. and since it was spring break, I had a little extra time to hang out with them.
time for taking a photo or two. the grey one is Tootsie. the orange kitten is Buttercup.
there is a crowbar on the floor there, and I'm not sure what the crowbar is for. but it's there. handy.

my daily thousand words of meta-scholarly writing has gotten a little bit more difficult in recent days. the week after spring break seemed to be rough on most of my colleagues. and now conference season is upon us, plus the crazy pressures of a busy end-of-semester. but part of a meta-scholarly writing habit is letting it you about your own process and rhythm and preferences and brain-zones. everyone knows writing is not an easy task, not an easy life. sometimes a thousand words is like breathing, and sometimes it's like donating bone marrow or something.

I made a list, last week, when writing was not happening and my motivation was shredded. instead of torturing one stupid sentence after another out of my teeth, I notched down a small collection of strategies that feel productive, though perhaps in different ways. these are alternatives. they aren't as quantifiable as wordcounts, but they are something.

in no particular order, things to do when writing seems like the most pointless thing ever:

-mess around with formatting for a change. a new font or a different margin might shake loose new thoughts.
-put together bibliographical info, reference lists, or footnotes.
-switch to reading. or even work on creating a good reading list to start putting dents in.
-switch to planning or list-making, maybe for future classes/lessons, maybe for other projects.
-doodle or sketch what I am thinking or wanting to think, working on or wanting to work on.
-re-read my own stuff. take notes on old drafts or old seminar papers, noticing what it does and doesn’t do, what it could do, or what it needs.
-brainstorm, chase random new ideas around.
-switch genres—make the article into a poem, the draft into an email, the proposal into a monologue narrative.
-switch the imagined audience. write this idea to your sister or aunt or to a specific friend, see what happens.
-research or follow up on research, skimming other people’s bibliographies.
-message someone for a short pep talk. I am lucky to have so many people who are more than happy to encourage me if I reach out. this whole awesome hashtag is there, if nothing else.

all of these options are important for me to build into my scholarly processes, alongside a word-count-based writing habit. one whole thousand words a day is semi-ambitious, and it isn’t always going to be as easy as I have so far boasted. but it's a process. maybe today, while I am here and there, between normal and conference, this blogpost counts as scholarship.

speaking of conference time, I'm banking on this conference to pour light into my academic soul this week, to pull me back in. let us hope it will be good. inspiring. brain-sparking and thought-spinning and network-proliferating.

Friday, April 1

squirrelly bicycles

it has been a very mottled day, with striped skies. rain and sun, rain and sun, wind pushing each layer out of the way for the next, over and over, tearing springtime petals from all the blossoming tress along its way. the contrast of grey and gold in the clouds has been gorgeous. the contrast of brash chill and humid heat on my skin is less gorgeous.

last April, I wrote something here every day of the whole month. it was a different semester. different office. different rhythm.

but last April I also saw bicycles in trees.

must be an April thing.

this April, I might write letters instead of blogposts. do I have enough stamps for that? maybe some will be electronic letters. we'll see.

Monday, March 28

the rest of the stories

the very oldest old draft in my blogger file of draft blogposts was last edited sometime in 2011. only that is no longer true-- I am editing it now. and by the time you see these words, the draft will no longer be a draft at all, and my editing will have been and will be very past.

before I reopened it today, this draft had two very short lines in it.

1. a link to an old post on a blog that sadly no longer gets updated:

2. the words the survey.

a third thing, the thing I wanted to blog about today, is something newer. something my dear clever sister linked me to the other day: a deep, detailed slideshow summary of a book called How to Have Crucial Conversations.

can this amelia girl create any insightful or meaningful link between all three of these snippets? I think she can. you'll have to let me know if it works, or what.

dear friend Elsie, many years back, was the one who first linked me to the Miss Nemsis blog. I binged on the archives for a while--those days being the golden age of blogging--and found myself drawn to this librarian woman who had lived in England once upon a time and who held fascinating opinions about books and who daydreamed in grand, romantic directions. her lively comments section was once a thing of envy. for example, see here.

and now her blog is covered in dust (or at least has been since two autumns ago), but mine is not. yet.

the Miss Nemesis post from 2009, "Commemorating One Year of the Thermostat War," must have spun to the top of my mind when I began working on the survey. The Survey. my survey. an informal, random, semi-widely distributed survey, it was. despite all my digging around in old google docs, not a single shred of this project has turned up. but I know it began in 2011 and that it consisted of a single question--
what's the hardest/worst part of being married?
I sent this question to almost all the married facebook friends I had. I sent out very random emails to any relatives and acquaintances I thought might not mind my nosiness. I brought it up in dozens of conversations, and still do occasionally, when I think of it. in 2011 I began compiling answers in Google Notebook, which even moreso than Miss Nemesis's blog, is now no longer a thing. I vaguely remember transferring them all to a document somewhere, and formatting them nicely with introductory commentary and everything--but it seems to have been lost. or perhaps I cannot remember what to search for, or where.

someday, hopefully I'll find the thing.

it took me multiple days to click through all 244 slides of Mattan Griffel's summary of How to Have Crucial Conversations. it must be a pretty hefty book. I wonder if I'll ever read the thing, or if those 244 slides covered it all well enough.

some sections of it seem like marvelous principles to teach a class of would-be technical communicators. maybe in this century, even if it is no longer the golden age of blogging, all of us are technical communicators at least some of the time. not many of us live outside of technology anymore, if we ever did.

one of the sections that poked at me with the greatest effect was all about how powerful stories can be, and how much attention they deserve.

I was chasing more than a single story with that survey question, five years ago. up to that point there had been mainly fairytales and rose-tinted spectacles, thin and sparkling. marriage is like this; relationships should be like that. flowers and birdsong, pastels and sugar. those can be lovely stories, of course, but they aren't enough. no single story every can be enough, no matter how awesome or detailed or long or meandering it might be. the more stories, the better. I guess I'm still trying to cram as many of them into my life as I can.

Saturday, March 26

weekly again

my current journal has completely blank pages. which means I use it as a sketchbook every now and then. sketches are useful both for rejuvinating dying pens and for clearing my head.

many of you have probably seen this new internet corner I've begun carving out for my professional ivory-tower self. there isn't much there yet. so far only an excerpt from this old post and a placeholder 'about' page. and some links.

what else should I put there?