Wednesday, October 1

word of mouth

my phone rang (and by rang, understand that I do mean buzzed silently in my pocket) in the middle of the first panel of the conference I attended last weekend. and even though this was an expected phone call, I could not answer it just then. I was listening to talks on digital pop music criticism and massively open online educational surveillance.

the message would probably be from the owner of the car I had parallel-parked next to the night before, on Riverside Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota. it was nearing eleven o'clock at night. it was dark. my rearview mirror was dimmed. it was a tiny little smart car. I couldn't see it at all and I backed right into the thing.

I didn't see much damage, but since my own night vision was not to be trusted at that point, I took a couple photos of the car's front bumper and left a note of confession.

the message was indeed in response to that note. my head was full of dreadful scenarios as I listened... a chirpy salesfellow named Jason from Car2Go greeted me via voicemail with so much positive spin in his voice I immediately stopped worrying that I'd been just as blind to some dreadful gash on the car as I had been to the car itself. instead of any kind of angry blame, Jason explained that the Car2Go fleet was used to encountering occasional rough treatment on the streets of the city. no worries. and then he took a few extra minutes to tell me about the business, sandwiching his pitch inbetween thanks for my honesty.

since I'm not a regular Minneapolis resident I can't take advantage of this particular car-sharing service. but it was so nice and surprising to get such a happy little message that I thought I could at least blog about it. if this particular car-sharing program happens to operate in your corner of the universe, I can tell you they seem like pretty nice folks.

I considered joining a car-sharing dealio before the semester began, during my week of carlessness. they do seem cool. I've met several folks around here who use ZipCar, and much of the philosophy behind the whole car-sharing setup is awesome. making do with less is important.

but on the other hand... part-time access to a fleet of shared, borrowable vehicles like these wouldn't have been very convenient for flying around to Minnesota and Iowa last weekend. so.

Sunday, September 28


Monday, September 22

inhale envy

Saturday I was out running errands (legitimize the new car, donate all those excess clothes, pick the last two zucchini from the garden plot) and had a few moments to kill in between places of business that open at 8:30am on weekends and stores that didn't open until 10:00. Barnes and Noble presented itself, conveniently in between these times, and I wandered in to browse.

my favourite shelves in bookstores are the ones with the blank books. there's only so long you can gush over those, though, so I also explored the games aisles and the news aisles and the clearance bins. there were tempting boxes of chocolate in the clearance bins... but I was only there to kill time, not spend any money. I'm still subsisting on the tail end of tiny slash nonexistent summer paychecks, so I'm putting off as much spending as possible until next month.

my other favourite shelves are the ones with new books. Barnes and Noble has one of these too, perpendicular to the coffee-dispensing section of the store.

I picked up and perused the first pages of a little paperback with a yellow-pea-coated girl on the cover. white block letters, out-of-focus trees in the background. it was the title that caught my eye. The Opposite of Loneliness. Marina Keegan. Introduction by Anne Fadiman.

I must admit I didn't remember any of that information over the weekend. I didn't remember what it was called or what it looked like or how it was bound. all I remembered was the twist that jumped out from the middle of that glowing Introduction by Anne Fadiman, and the reason I put the book down.

but in order to write about that, I needed to remember all the other details. an isolated, poignant twist with no detailed context wouldn't quite be a story worth telling, would it?

as anyone else would have in this forgetful situation, I turned to the world's favourite (or least favourite?) external memory aid slash search algorithm.

these are the words I ventured to feed into the search box:

writing student dies dead student publishes collection

and there I've given away the whole sad, slow, sinking, twist, so there may not be much hope of painting for you the sense of holding a lovely book of essays in your hands, of reading along about the quirks and dreams and pleadings of its author, starting to wonder, to envy, and feeling even a bit anxious to skim through this Introduction and taste the insides of this collection--to traipse right into the essays this student of Anne Fadiman's must have had such writerly fun drafting and polishing...

...and then realizing, without knowing why it took you so long, that Anne Fadiman's past tense was is not the regular, innocent past tense was.

I snapped the book shut and half-tossed it back on its shelf, not even bothering to straighten it up with its fellow copies.

her last Yale Daily News column comes up first in the search results.

a Huffington Post eulogy-esque review (or is it more a review-esque eulogy? I'm not sure) is second.

I'm not sure what made me so suddenly give up on that shiny new book. maybe, after hearing so much praise and promise, it seemed unfair. maybe the praise and promise seemed pasted-on and obligatory to me, too thick, once I knew their recipient wasn't around anymore. I felt cheated, disbelieving. maybe I couldn't swallow the implications of envying a talented but tragically dead Yale graduate.

Sunday, September 21

Thursday, September 18

foreshadowy snippets

next thursday I'll be more than halfway to Minneapolis. there is a conference. once there, I will present something (the something I didn't quite get around to blogging about in this post). I will hopefully meet some other fascinating scholars who share my geeky interest in copyright/authorship/ownership/remix/etc. I even have plans to sneak into blog-friend Gina's studio and say hello, if I can (did you know she's writing a book? it looks very lovely).

as seems usual at these times when I have so much going on and so many preparations to make in the run up to a small journey, my list (pile? collection? backlog?) of things I haven't yet blogged about but very much ought to is expanding beyond control.

I could make an exceedingly random photo essay using some of the photos currently saved in my blog-drafts file. that might be interesting.... but I think the photos deserve their own less-random accompanying text. forcing them into one crazy blogpost together is not what I want to do with them.

what I do want to do with them is...something else. maybe I don't know what that something else is yet, since presumably if I did, I would not have so many unfinished blog-drafts piling up. there are too many ideas for blogging. and I don't always remember all the ideas well enough or long enough to get back to them and make them fully intelligible to other humans. if I were better at remembering, and/or deciding, and/or writing in my sleep, this pile of drafts might be smaller and my blog might also be, on the whole, more interesting.

one of these old saved drafts (from mid-2011, says the blogger timestamp) has had (for who knows how long) nothing in it but the following quoted material on the subject of false memories. mid-2011, I should note, was a little while before Jonah Lehrer went and ruined his career by making up things and being lazy. he has, since that whole scandal two years ago, lost much of my respect and largely disappeared from the public eye. blogger and I kept this quote around anyway. today I've come back to it and now it is no longer languishing as a lonely little draft.

revisiting the quote and its link of reference, I was a little surprised to see that Wired has so far sustained not only this, but all the rest of Lehrer's old columns as well.

"A memory is only as real as the last time you remembered it," he writes. but that's not the beginning. the piece starts with a rambly story about drinking Coke at a football game. it isn't his story to tell, though. it's not his memory--it's totally fake. apparently "we can’t help but borrow many of our memories from elsewhere," and "This idea, simple as it seems, requires us to completely re-imagine our assumptions about memory. It reveals memory as a ceaseless process, not a repository of inert information."

processes. mm. I like thinking about things as processes. the never-ending kind are the most attractive, for some reason.

Lehrer goes on about memory and marketing. who knows why I saved this whole excerpt for my blog way back in mid-2011. today it still speaks to plenty of my own half-formed ideas on narrative power and cognitive malleability.
It’s the difference between a “Save” and the “Save As” function. Our memories are a “Save As”: They are files that get rewritten every time we remember them, which is why the more we remember something, the less accurate the memory becomes. And so that pretty picture of popcorn becomes a taste we definitely remember, and that alluring soda commercial becomes a scene from my own life. We steal our stories from everywhere. Marketers, it turns out, are just really good at giving us stories we want to steal.
stealing and inventing... honesty and accuracy... "borrowing" and "forgetting" original source material. hmmm. falsified memories, fabricated quotations? oh the foreshadowy connections we might want to draw between the words this talented science writer is using, the themes he is dancing with, and his eventual semi-tragic, very disappointing downfall.

in my drafts file, two additional words accompany the pasted set of quotes from Jonah Lehrer's old Wired article. those words are "graven images."

I have no clue what I was thinking when I added them to that tiny seed of a blogpost idea.

I have a few clues about some of my other standing drafts. some of them wouldn't be so hard to flesh out into something useful, if I'd just sit down and write.

there are photos of:
  • piecrust (filled with cheese, noodles, spinach)
  • a stack of textbooks from last fall (English 680: digital studio)
  • important Texas landmarks (the Alamo and the capitol building)
  • a stand of trees in the middle of Idaho
  • art and architecture from Chicago
  • a box of yarn (mostly shades of pink)
there are also scrambled snippety notes about desire and calculus, about teaching and failure, disciplinarity, technological shifts, and the Management of Digital Rights. I want to blog about secret codes and the meaning of The Period Store and informally conducted surveys. there is a draft containing only the words "decidedly analog," and someday I'll figure out what to write about that will fit that title.

Sunday, September 14

broken in

Friday, September 12


these are my folders full of sketches. (I want to say folderfuls. like handfuls or bucketfuls or something. can we make folderfuls a thing? okay, cool.)
fat, overstuffed, manila folderfuls. I am pretty sure this is most of them. others might be scattered around various other notebooks or piles, but these here constitute the closest thing to a sketch archive that this disorganized amelia girl keeps. the sketches are mainly sorted according to the size and shape of the paper they were drawn on. it would of course make more sense to categorize the things by date or by theme, but I just have this feeling they'd take up too much space that way. they take up enough space already. 
plenty of these things have been digitized at this point. don't ask me which ones. don't ask me when.

there are too many. I have been blogging one every Sunday since 2009.

the digitized versions don't weigh anything... I don't think... (or do they? do stored gigabytes technically have any mass?)

but as I wondered how much the paper-and-ink collection might weigh, I realized that I had the tools with which to answer that wondering.

my little kitchen scale says the whole pile weighs eight pounds and almost twelve ounces. there are entire human newborn babies that don't weigh quite that much. and these are only most of my accumulated sketches. I wonder how many sheets of paper are really in this huge pile. I'm not going to count them though.

there is an almost-memory I keep thinking about, from somewhere in my almost-tween years, when I was a young girl scout. mum and I were visiting neighbors, hawking cookies. I noticed all the similarities in every doorstep conversation, every description of the caramel-nut-cluster Juliettes. I may have even commented, in a clueless, judgey, childlike way, on how silly it seemed for this articulate parent of mine to be so, so tiresomely repetitive.

this memory (half re-upholstered with inaccuracies after all this time, I'm sure) adds to the shame I feel about having eight pounds of sketches to choose from and yet redundantly posting at least a handful of them more than once. as if someone might have missed them the first time. as if I couldn't bear the thought of those particular sketches not being seen by as many eyes as possible. as if the internet is in need of even more multiples of even more images of mediocre quality. none of these as ifs are true. I am not worried about my silly sketches being missed or being lonely. I have no excuse at all for littering my dear blog with duplicates. as yet un-remedied proof of my carelessness is openly available here in exhibits 1A1B, 2A2B, 3A, and 3B. and there have been more cases; sometimes I do catch them and replace the repeats before too much time goes by. but who knows how many I have yet to notice.

tiresome repetition is all in the eyes and ears of the beholder though, really, which is a thing I recognize much more maturely now than I ever did as a not-quite-tween-year-old. if the doorsteps are new and the neighbors lucky enough to be unspoiled by your cookie-spiel, you probably don't need to worry, no matter how clueless your selectively-perceptive daughter might be.

the internet is not a series of separate doorsteps. this blog makes a very different and less forgiving context than a neighborhood, I think. reposting stuff--even if from bouts of inattentive blogpost scheduling, and even if my distracted, forgetful brain does give the stuff a new title--feels intolerably lazy. I might owe my tiny audience here an apology or two. or my tiny audience may not have noticed, since one random ink sketch per week most likely doesn't count as high-priority web content.

nevertheless: I am disappointed in my distracted, forgetful self. one day I'll automate the sunday scribble posts entirely, and then things like this won't keep happening. 

Sunday, September 7

duck face

Friday, September 5


has any one ever written about how headphones have done for music what widespread literacy and silent reading practices have done for books? i.e. make them very private, internal experiences instead of communally shared ones?

speaking of headphones, there is this new podcast (maybe I'm too into podcasts, who knows) by Mike Rugnetta of PBS Idea Channel) called Reasonably Sound, and the newest episode is all about those fancy noise-canceling headphones. the most interesting bits focused on what sorts of biases and assumptions about the world, its contents, other people, etc. had been baked in to the technology. that was his phrase: "baked in." listening to the episode on my way to campus thismorning I learned that noise canceling headphones take all the noise of the world and reverse its own wavelengths to insulate a wearer's ears in a bubble of whatever they want to focus listening on. that is a very interesting technology.

what counts as noise and what counts as signal is always an interesting question. the cicada chorus outside usually fades away while I'm not paying attention to it. if there's more important audio input happening somewhere, that stuff gets tagged signal and everything else doesn't matter so much. it's still there though. ambiance and texture.

we have this cool ability to zoom in and out like that, mushing ground and figure, text and context.

for the writing lab practicum I'm taking this semester, we've done a bit of reading on the differences between polishing writing as a product vs. perfecting writing as a process vs. empowering writers as writers. does the process ever end, leaving us with a solid, finished, unimpeachable product? of course not. and can a writer be a writer with out any writing (whether we mean the verb writing or the noun writing)? your identity can't breath in a vacuum. everything you are (have been, can be, will be, might be) comes about as a slow event, just like all the other everythings.

despite all the never-ending, brain-stretching, headachey expanse of work this phd thing has in store for me, I am trying to make time for random and non-academic periods of creativity. this blog sort of counts, maybe. the weekly Starcustard ritual Chris and I have engaged in counts too. but really I mean analog creative efforts. messing about with paper and cloth and glue and yarn. making things. growing thingssticking stuff to walls.

I live in my own head so much of the time, listening to the noiseless (hopefully signalful?) words of my own unvoiced thoughts. headphones aren't to blame for this bubble. maybe the crafts and flower pots and randomness won't quite pop the bubble either, but they might give these quiet, interior brain-spaces some different ground, a different frame, or at least a few stimulating bits of new context.

Sunday, August 31