Friday, July 3

desert rain

it rained today for the first time. well, for the first time since we moved here at least. there has hardly been a cloud in the sky these past two months. when the windows darkened at lunchtime today I barely dared to imagine there'd be real precipitation coming down. but the tell-tale spots all over the pavement outside were proof. and then it started pouring all at once by the pitcherful-- one of those ten-minutes-or-less storms full of thrilling intensity.

I opened the door to watch it and feel it for a moment, but the dogs barked too much.

messy ink sketch of a clocktower from the Exmouth esplanade, only it has no face and no hands

once it slowed we went for a little walk to see how everything looked. it was so lovely to drink in that rich, loamy, salted-dirt scent, with a few folded layers of flowers and grass. the clouds cast everything in more muted shades. the rain painted over it like a dark watercolor wash.

this Arizona land is the highest and most arid of all the desert places I've lived in so far, I think. it's been so sunny, and hot, with only occasional breezes to sweep away the heat, and I thought it would be this way until October at least.

but that was before I learned about monsoon season.

monsoon season is upon us. storms and torrents and towering clouds to counteract all the glaring sun and empty blue of desert summer.

I look forward to it so much.

{ previous gushing about how much I love rain: 2017, 2013, and 2010}

Thursday, July 2

on being intellectual in public

sometimes you hear about the dearth of brilliant public intellectuals these days. where is our 21st-century Marshall McLuhan or Noam Chomsky or Susan Sontag? headlines like this one seem to resonate, recurr. how nostalgic and melancholy for us, that somehow the world's society is just too big and fractured now for anyone to uniformly celebrate and respect any public figure. everything and everyone is too much undermined by shadows of problematicalness.

but at the same time, it's easier now to be a intellectual in public with the internet. public doesn't just mean on mainstream television or at the top of the best bestseller lists or in the biggest newspapers anymore. you can be intellectual on twitter (like this historian who has a pet bunny), or on Twitch (like these climate scientists), or on your own little blog (like Sara Ahmed).

all of us on the internet are more or less in public, whenever we want to be and sometimes even when we don't want to be.

do I count this little blog as part of being a public intellectual? not really. it's not quite public enough. it's not always very academic either, despite its humble ivory tower origins.

but is academic the same as intellectual? not always. you can have one without the other. academic seems more of a form to be followed-- conventions and styles you expect scholars to use. intellectual feels more inward, more spiritual almost-- of the mind. regardless of outward form, we can be intellectual as long as we're sharing our understandings of things or exploring our thoughts and reasons.

this brings me back to Sara Ahmed. she's someone I'd vote for in the category of admirable public intellectual for this century. since 2016 she's worked as an independent scholar, which makes her an academic intellectual without a formal academy. that takes guts and clout and determination. very admirable.

I'm glad she does the work she does in public. someday, hopefully, I'll get a chance to hear her speak. until then, her writing is all over the internet, and in some books and articles, and I really should read more of it.

who gets your vote for coolest public intellectual? I feel like this post could've been much longer and ramblier, full of disjointed musings about other public figures who work with thoughts and ideas in front of large audiences. Neil deGrasse Tyson probably counts, though he says some wacko things about the arts and humanities from time to time. Gloria Steinem and Jane Goodall too, though they seem like figures from the core of the 20th-century even though they are surely still using their intellects today. do John Oliver and Trevor Noah count? Oprah? what about YouTube personalities like this lawyer or the Green brothers? are they all public enough? intellectual enough? I think they are, at least some of the time. let's not pretend we have to separate intellectualism from entertainment.

maybe anyone can be a public intellectual for at least 15 minutes. and hopefully those who get more lasting attention are those who really deserve it.

Wednesday, July 1

day one, again

there are more days in July than in April.

okay, not by much. five years ago, in April 2015, I blogged every day for a month. it seems so long ago, looking back at those posts. when I was still in grad school and still single and wandering. I'd just come back from roaming around in Kentucky. I was taking lots of pictures of random outdoorsiness. I hadn't even decided about my dissertation topic.

2015 was a difficult year overall. not the only difficult year, but one that stands out. sometimes they seem to come on schedule, years like that. 2005. 2010. 2015.

it's 2020 now. there's still time for this year to be as difficult but it mostly looks like it's going to break the pattern.

now let's make a new pattern. every five years, I'll choose a month and blog every day. Sundays can still be reserved for art. the other days will be about so many other things too.

I'm already feeling the familiar percolating feeling of having ideas for blogposts bubble up out of nowhere. except it's of course not out of nowhere. it's everywhere-- the outdoors, the books, the news and opinions and everything else. not to mention the dozen or so draft posts I have to draw on if I feel like it. some of those might transform into real posts about public intellectuals, about the merits of owning material goods, about the word "community," about twitter threads and genre conventions, or about land and people and persistence. 

we'll see what happens.

for today, as a prologue, I want to note something about the tension I feel about all the free time I have this summer to make art, create things, to play around in various media. in May as the summer was just getting started I thought grand thoughts about all the art and crafts and making I'd get to do in late June and July and early August. I could make some art to put in those semi-useless wooden frames. or I could convert one of the frames into a loom and learn to weave. I could plan and embroider a better boardgame board of hexagons for The Plaid Identity game. I could knit something I've never knit before. sew a pair of trousers I've been meaning to sew for months and months. I could get more plants. I could practice my old violin.

there's still time for some of those things. it's only July 1!

but especially about the less practical art projects on my list, I face a skeptical interior voice of endless questions. do you really need more bits and scraps of art lying around? what would you do with that colored-pencil sketch even if you didn't end up hating it when it was done?

sometimes I manage to ignore that voice. making useless art is still okay. it doesn't matter a ton what happens to it after the making.

some of it will get blogged about. like this zine-esque poem thing:

"Sometimes / a Rich imagination / hides at the beautiful hint / of what can make you love. / find importance inside it -- / looped over / expandable / lasting and / binding "for this / add some red / as needed."

the words are from a very old scrap of a Better Homes & Gardens magazine, found with some other art scraps in a folder that my mother unearthed from the basement some months ago.

amid the smudges of various oil pastels, the collage of words says

"Sometimes / a Rich imagination / hides at the beautiful hint / of what can make you love. / find importance inside it -- / looped over / expandable / lasting and / binding
"for this / add some red / as needed."

it'll probably get lost in a folder or a box somewhere until I unearth it years from now. it'll mean something new then. but it will still be something I got to make.

Monday, June 29

both, and, oscilatio

halfway through the year.

and such a strange year, so far.

flag cake

on Independence Day this weekend, we're gonna stay home. I don't think I'll make a cake but you never know when or if a cake-baking mood will strike. (the cake pictured is from two or three years back, I think.)

what we are planning on doing is watching the on-demand film release of Hamilton at least once. very excited for that.

it's the middle of the year. halfway. for another six weeks, I'm inbetween official full-time tenure-track jobs. I'm biding my time to see what this pandemic is really going to do to the university's plans for fall semester.

from the middle of Arizona, these precious summer days are ticking along, all of them similarly sunny and breezy and grand.

Richard Lanham (one-time academic idol of mine) writes in Economics of Attention about the concept of oscilatio. it's the way we can look at something and through that thing in turns. like the screen of your phone or laptop or television. if there are cracks and smudges on the glass, you can look at them--consider the glass and its material conditions on their own. or you can train your eyes to ignore the cracks as much as possible and look through them to whatever the light behind the screen is showing.

it's been a little too long since I read Lanham's book, so I remember the concept itself much more than I remember why it's so rhetorically important. the concept itself is so interesting though.

oscilatio reminds me of something I read even longer ago from C. S. Lewis, about what it's like to look at a beam of light vs. looking along it to see the things it touches. in his metaphor, standing in the light and seeing through that light is more valuable than standing outside the light and watching dustmites dance within the beam.

that depends, I imagine. there is beauty in both vantage points. dustmites are a simpler beauty than a garden landscape, and the cracked screen itself doesn't tell you as much as all the news and social media you can read through the screen. maybe all it tells you is that it's time to save up for a new phone.

it might be impossible to look at and through something at the same time. but that still doesn't mean you have to choose only one or the other forever.

oscilatio means the skill of shifting positions. recognizing the difference. having it both ways depending on what you're after.

right now it's halfway through the year. and sometimes it's good to take out your calendar and look at this set of moments from above. June gone, July unfurling in similar languor. six weeks left til I go back to work. other times, it's better to look through it or along it. let it engulf us like all this steady sunshine. what can the days and their cycles show me? time with myself, my love, my two silly pugs. time with books and crafts and food and creativity.

one of my flaws is a tendency to look at everything--time especially--as a scarcity. there's only so much of anything, and the everything I want to cram into my life is a glacier of potential that completely dwarfs the handful of moments I can hold in my brain at once. but that's only one way of looking at it. in another sense, time is a constant. even if I can't cram the everything into it, I still have plenty. life is a brilliant candy store of possibility. I want and need to stop focusing so much on the what ifs and might have beens.

this is the gorgeous, uncertain middle of the year. there is light and dark. screens and shadows and stories to look at and to look through. so it goes.

and here are a few other things that I am in the middle of right now--

- replaying Horizon Zero Dawn. it's one of the first videogames I've ever touched that feels like more than a game somehow--it's easier in this shiny, open-world design to get lost in exploration, combat, questing, and so on. I like it. the sequel looks very neat, too.

- reading the old science fiction novel Dune. I'm not sure what made me want to read it after having heard vague praise of it for so long. it's good though. very engaging and well-constructed.

- editing various projects on the side. some computer graphics analytics, some organizational leadership stuff, some orthodontics, some social work. editing is almost always fun.

- working thoughtfully through this workbook, slowly. it's not easy, and not enough, but it is important stuff. it feels important for me and for the world. it also led me to the author's podcast: Good Ancestor, which is quite lovely stuff.


Sunday, May 31

summer is for being outside



they call this piece of geography The Granite Dells. from a distance, the rock formations look like orange mounded towers guarding the water, huddling together in confident solidarity.

we currently live less than three miles from this gorgeousness. every time we drive within view of it I gape at how striking and beautiful it is. how grateful and happy that view makes me.

on Wednesday we went wandering around some of the trails out there. there were lizards scurrying about, and we saw a few rabbits. also a disc golf course, but that's not as cool.
someday we'll find a canoe to borrow and spend a day out on Watson Lake, hopefully not getting sunburned.
someday we'll plan a weekend of camping somewhere out here in this beautiful desert, whenever the National Parks decide to open their campgrounds up again.

Wednesday, April 29

generosity and gratitude

basically we have one week left in this quaint little Louisiana town.

no, we haven't managed to sit ourselves down to watch Steel Magnolias yet. should we still try? (part of me does want to.)

one week!

and there is so much to do. food to use up from the fridge. piles of things-we-don't-need-anymore to organize and donate somehow. fragile dishes and art and knickknacks to wrap and stuff into boxes.

if times were even a tiny bit more normal than they are now, we'd have a goodbye party. we'd schedule in plenty of time to visit one last time all the friends we've made here. we'd go out to that Mexican place one last time. have another end-of-semester karaoke thing. 

but times are not very normal. so instead of all that... what will we do?

I'll distantly and carefully turn in my office keys next Monday morning, distantly contrive to drop off  a few spare houseplants and some spare yarn at a few dear colleague's doorsteps, and perhaps write short goodbye notes to leave in everyone's mailboxes on campus. I'll assume, for now, that campus will return to something like normal eventually.

right now, there are thirteen days until grades are due for Spring 2020. not long after that, my contract with NSULA will officially end. the summer will start to uncurl and stretch its scaly paws, and I'll have three months to play and write and daydream before my next job starts in August. will those three months go by as slowly and weirdly as the last eight weeks have gone by?

right now, I am lucky. my contract with the new institution was signed a few weeks before all of this happened. we've been able to find a new apartment and afford all the headachey moving expenses, so far. I can do my job remotely, for as long as I have to, without too much trouble.

we are lucky, so far. 

my students? most of them are hanging in there, keeping up with things despite everything. this semester has been the opposite of ideal in about a thousand ways. it's been seven weeks since normal classes in normal classrooms. some learning opportunities have worked out okay and many others have not worked out very okay at all. but by now we've adjusted our earlier definitions of "okay."

through all this uncertain weirdness, I've tried to be as generous and patient and responsive with all the students as possible, even moreso than usual. I don't know yet how that generosity is going to finally and concretely translate into course grades next week. I hope to still see evidence that learning about professional writing has been attempted by all the students, whatever else is happening. I hope to read some thoughtful and thorough reflection from everyone before the end. learning is more important than grades.

despite all the important considerations reflected in this recent post and this less-recent post, I'm not sure if all my students will pass or not. I'm not sure how far my responsibility to be generous right now extends in relationship to students' responsibilities both pre- and post-pandemic. maybe all of these things need their definitions adjusted, too.

I haven't read Kathleen Fitzpatrick's (who keeps a very nice blog) new book Generous Thinking yet, but I want to. the whole idea-- generosity, open collaborations, re-imagining our institutions so that they serve more people more equitably-- feels so lovely.

despite the loveliness, I can't help but ask questions. who can afford to be generous and in what ways? what are the little hidden costs of personal generosity? it seems so cynical to ask such things.

in terms of my students, I can definitely afford to be outrageously generous about their grades. I hope the students and their brains can afford it too.

in terms of everything else, I can probably afford more than I think I can.

right now, there's just enough time to ponder everything I'll be leaving behind next week. there's time to feel a few puddles of regret and a whole mountain range of gratitude. we haven't been here long, but friends and colleagues and students and neighbors have been very generous to us. lucky. grateful. and hopefully, in my own ways, just as generous.

Sunday, April 12

easter


this is an old sketch that's been sitting in a blogger draft file for a long, long time. 

Easter 11 years ago had the same date as this Easter, somehow. 

and what about Easter might I still find meaningful and lovely now? 

life and flowers.
springtime.

excuses to eat good chocolate. and share it. and be in the sunshine.

 

Sunday, April 5

favourite


Thursday, April 2

family pieces

last month, there was a funeral.

it was the first of my grandparents' funerals that I've been able to actually attend.

I worried for a minute about the cost, the time, how I'd find a substitute for my undergraduates. and after that I worried a little about the risks of traveling by air during what has now become a rather more alarming global pandemic.

but being there last month felt more and more important than any of those worries. I'm glad they didn't stop me.

in the week leading up to this family gathering, my aunts and uncles asked us to write down some of our memories. mine are flickery at first, like an old-school slide projector. the more recent ones are smoother.

my very earliest memories of Grandma and her home and that whole side of the family are of the basement with seemingly endless bedrooms. every corner of that basement was made up to welcome a whole bundle of little grandkids. there was room for all of us, it seemed like. I remember so many bookshelves and books. under the stairs, along the hallways-- books everywhere. on my own bookshelves now I have a book that I must have "borrowed" from Grandma at some point. The Best Known Works of William Shakespeare--pages of Elizabethan drama in double columned layout, in a tattery black cover. I devoured most those plays as a teenager. how grateful and lucky we were to have grandparents that lived right down the street from the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

I remember tagging along with Grandma to a summer writing group on the SUU campus at some point between college semesters. I was trying to write some good short stories. Grandma worked on poems and song lyrics and things. it felt like such an honor to be included in that.

we talked about family history, too. before I went off to study abroad in England in 2003, Grandma gave me a folder of family trees and other history, so I would know what names to look for if I had a chance to explore the areas our family came from. even though I never did make it to any cemeteries or archives or genealogy centers in Kent, I loved having those stories and names anyway-- hints at memories and lives that predate me and everyone I know.

last summer Jeremiah and I were able to visit and spend two or three days with Grandma, playing cards just like always, doing puzzles, singing a few songs, sitting out on the porch in the mornings and late afternoons. she was as welcoming and lovely and serene as ever, though the house was so much quieter and calmer than it was when we are all little grandkids. I'm going to miss those visits. the house.

the idea of Grandma not being there at all in more-- all her things boxed up to be given away, all the space so empty and different-- it's still a little unreal.

 { 1928–2020 }
 
just a few months ago, I wrote Grandma a postcard from Prescott, Arizona. I was out there for a job interview (for a job I was later offered, and accepted). I hope it put a smile on her face when it arrived.

I wish I'd called to share the news about the job-- it meant we'd be moving 16 hours closer! we could've reveled in that prospect, enjoyed the happy thought of seeing her more often. but in between the job offer in mid-February and my official acceptance at the end of the month, she passed on.

as empty as her absence leaves us, there's still plenty of family in sunny southern Utah. it'll still only be a six hour drive from where we're moving this summer. there will still be reunions. and family will always include Grandma.

Sunday, March 29

daffodils for now