responsibility of privilege

No one warned me about the guilt. It was all happy, happy, joy and fun. The time, they would emphasize, to do this and that and so much else. To contemplate, to reflect, to breathe, to become rejuvenated. To be free from here, they would earnestly repeat where “here” referred to a panoply of campus-related ills – pettiness, politics, and policies chief among them. But at no point was there ever any mention that being saturated in the time to do this and that and being free from that and this would result in an almost shame-like posture when someone would ask What do you do? What are you working on now? It was easy enough to sidestep the whole truth until someone in the know would proudly announce “She’s on sabbatical!” I have never wished for the earth to swallow me whole more than when such a moment occurred soon after talking with a friend from grad school who I ran into at a local grocery store. She was with her two toddlers, a packed schedule, and wondered aloud why I was in Philadelphia on a Wednesday. The guilt, perhaps, stems from the realization that everyone could benefit from the gift of this time – to have time, to take time, to find a new relationship with time.

And there is certainly time. Blissful time, seemingly boundless and nearly uninterrupted time. And with that time comes, also, the possibility-turned-obligation to notice things that were merely blurs in years past. In the house, in the news, in one’s own life and the lives of others. This is not idle time. No, to be sure this is hyperaware time during which a strange hyper-vigilance about everything and anything is emerging.

But this was not always the case. The first few months were, as has been documented here, what I assumed the sabbatical might be. Joyous. Magnificent expanses of possibilities of how to use one’s time. New forms and spaces of seeing. And what I feared – the paralysis that has been shown to follow in some post-tenure cases – has so far been avoided (rapidly knocking my knuckles to my head, on the faux-wood table in front of me), replaced instead with a flow of ideas inspired in no small part by the reading that this sabbatical-time affords.

So what has changed. People, for one. That is – and I know how bad this is going to sound – during the month of December ample time was spent with family, both immediate and extended, and also fictive – those individuals and family units whom I have known for decades – for whom a sabbatical is not only not common parlance but the concept of a break in the quotidian rhythms of life has no basis in reality. Adult obligations still persist in most people’s lives even if work-related ones are greatly diminished. I mused about as much with a friend recently while saying out loud how unimaginable it seems to me now that there are some people who can mentally manage the spate of home repairs and general home maintenance (of all kinds, structural, personal, familial) while also managing to fulfill their professional desires.

At this point, the word “choices” was silently screaming from a dark corner of my brain. For a person who lives relatively regret-free, this was a strange moment. Some with whom I engaged in conversation during these past few weeks seemed to view my very existence as confusing. I could understand this, because when I have to say out loud how I spend my days and the commitments to which I have chosen to give my time, the words are quite outside of the norm for most people. What are you going to do? How are you spending your time? You’re going where? For how long? By yourself? Their questions were asked not in malice or with disdain, but perhaps with the nascent curiosity of an ethnographer who is truly struggling to make sense of  something (or someone) thought to be so familiar that now seems to be something (or someone) strange. Yes, I will think of these as short-lived, ethnographic inquiries that were premised on the notion that there are norms and that in part they were being flagrantly flouted by this strangely situated, micro-social phenomenon called a sabbatical.

And deadlines. Whereas I wasn’t naïve enough to think that a sabbatical would actually function as a time-stopping, invisibility cloak, I was blanketed in a relatively luxurious amount of time free from immediate demands of the writerly kind. (And no, Nanowrimo was not the same at all.)  And now I am eye-deep in three writing deadlines that fall in the next two weeks. Apparently sabbatical has done little to abate my proclivities to procrastinate, despite how early these Todos begin. It probably doesn’t help that I also keep adding items to my plate, that seems magically (read: incorrectly) larger than before July 1st.

I am left then with one simple, familiar thought: With great privilege – like this relatively unfettered time – comes great responsibility.

That seems a nice idea as any to bring 2011 to a close. And while you out there in your respective corners of the world will be preparing to embrace the new year, I will be feverishly writing to meet one of those aforementioned deadlines (12/31 – did I mention that?), and pondering how to live and use this time responsibly. Thankfully I didn’t completely lose a day like the people of Samoa.

Happy New Year!!

Bonus: the smooth sounds of Nancy Wilson. enjoy!

unsolicited sound advice (from the internet, not yours truly!)

It isn’t clear whether the universe is trying to communicate something of importance to the earth’s inhabitants*, but the delivery of multimodal missives and messages that have flitted across my various inboxes, feeds, and walls reverberate with a degree of measured urgency. Thus, in the spirit of the coming new year and sharing the wisdom, I’ve collected a few of them here.

1. A straightforward, no-nonsense, slightly admonishing-toned list of 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself (via the blog: Marc and Angel Hack Life: Practical Tips for Productive Living). Among their recommendations:

Stop trying to hold onto the past. – You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one.

Stop wasting time explaining yourself to others. – Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it anyway.  Just do what you know in your heart is right.

Stop being ungrateful. – No matter how good or bad you have it, wake up each day thankful for your life.  Someone somewhere else is desperately fighting for theirs.  Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.

2. A reminder to have compassion because We’re All Doing the Best We Can (via HuffPost)

3. Philosophy brought to life in The Cave (An Adaptation of Plato’s Allegory in Clay) — made me revisit an earlier post about shadows and looking. Well worth the 3.4 minutes it takes to watch & listen to the clip.

4. Advice in the form of a questionnaire that Vanity Fair claims is in the style of Proust and his contemporaries and responses to which may be quite revealing of one’s true character (if such a thing really exists). These questions were posed to the President and First Lady by Barbara Walters in a recent tv interview, resulting in some odd moments. A preview of a few of the questions:

  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  • What is your greatest extravagance?
  • On what occasion do you lie?
  • When and where were you happiest?

More than enough to ruminate on as 2012 approaches….

*Yes, I’m procrastinating — blogging even as one of those pesky, year-end deadlines looms large.


Friend.ship. A ship of friends?  Ship of fools? Bateau d’amis ou de fous?

Pronounced: frend-ship.

Two short vowel sounds. “e” like feather or let or Jeff. “i” like lip or listen or whither.

When do we know we are friends with someone? Can we still ask that question when the word “friend” itself is both noun and verb? (My greatest bone to pick with one Mr. Zuckerberg is not about the sudden and neverending changes to his social networking site, but rather to his contribution to the addition of the ugly term “friended” – while most other natural shifts in language amuse me, this one just aggravates.) One does not befriend someone anymore — or at least not in the traditional use of the word to evoke a sense of accidentally happening upon or intentionally pursuing someone’s connection to your life. One such on-screen instance of befriending comes to mind, perhaps because of this nostalgic time of year: The way Nickie Ferrante sidled up to Terry McKay to strike up a conversation aboard a cruise ship, in part, I like to think, because he saw a glimpse of something familiar he recognized in her (and not just because he recognized his cigarette case), and likewise, she in him; a glimpse that blossomed when Terry met his grandmother, Janou. [If I’m very good, and finish my other work in time, I just may allow myself to take advantage of the instant play version on Netflix.]

“I want you to be my friend,” an eight-year-old may to another eight-year-old. And so it is decided. But are they friends? How long does this last? Is friendship a discursive declaration? A felt sense? An inclination?  Once friend, always friend? Perhaps. Not.

There are people — and I am thinking of three in particular right now — with whom I haven’t been in regular, that is to say weekly, monthly, or even yearly — contact for close to two decades. Yet each interaction, however sporadic, accidental or intentional, feels meaningful. purpose-full. joyous. There are others with whom friendship has taken on a veneer of obligation. Perhaps we sat near each other in elementary school and memorized one another’s breathing patterns or the backs of each other’s heads. Or maybe our families were friendly once and to discontinue this trend in a next generation would be anathema, not because one’s companionship is missed, but instead because it is what is expected.

Who could be a fan of the obligatory friendship? Friendship with too many rules offends my sensibilities. And yet this is the fodder of many films about school, adolescence, and life, itself – in this way, friendship is perhaps more insidious than peer pressure. Yet, I also hold close Clarence’s words of wisdom that he shared with George Bailey; “No man is a failure who has friends.” (And at the same time I think of conversations I have had with young men who were incarcerated who were forced to confront an often cruel realization that friends who were numerous “on the outside” numbered quite few when they went to jail or prison.)

Happily, the past few weeks have been spent time in the company of friends who raise questions, allow the space to wonder, give hugs (literal and metaphorical), and feed the soul. We who have friends amongst whom we move and live and dance and play are fortunate indeed. (One unexpected challenge of sabbatical — particularly if one leaves the geography of one’s friends — is having sounding boards and comrades at the ready; thus, these moments become just as precious as the time that time away affords.) Given the possibility of this tenor of friendship, the bad behaviors of individuals who perform the most wicked form of friendship of all, that which is laced with false humility and conducted behind the backs of their “friends,” is especially disappointing.

How might a tendency toward the prudent, then – that is, toward erring on the side of fewer rather than many whom we call “friends” – fit with previous musings on living with an eye toward the possibility that anyone, any stranger, may become a friend. Is it cautious optimism? Measured citizenship? And what to make of work that is borne in friendship, and friendship that is borne through work?

Confucius — “To have friends coming from distant places, surely that is delightful?”

It is, indeed, delightful. Leaving all involved full of delight. Friends who emerge from unlikely moments, the seeds of whose friendship were planted ages ago, even if they’ve only just sprouted.

Apparently it all boils down to seeds and sprouts.

the year in pop — 2011

i was waiting for it, and was going to write some musings about DJ Earworm’s pop music compilation that i look forward to each year, but then i read the musings of slate‘s forrest wickman and realized that i could just post a link to his piece.

or you could just watch this year’s video as you fight post-holiday-family-tour-sugar-rush food coma and await 2012

boom, boom, BOOM!

(thoughts on friendship and the magic of cards currently brewing…)


good tidings and good intentions

woody guthrie‘s new year’s resolutions (via @boingboing)

woody guthrie's 1942 new year's resolutions

i especially love the sketches made to emphasize the resolutions — see for example next to #31, the outstretched hug and kiss (Smack!) to the world on the bottom right.  and #15 — “Learn People Better” — couldn’t we all use a lesson in that?


fetes and mingles

What makes something — a place, a language, food — feel like home? And, perhaps conversely, in what ways do our assumed homes — that is, those sites or locations that bear a resemblance to our external appearances, our practices, or otherwise involuntary markers of (un)witting affiliation — continue to make us feel like outsiders? (And is home simply a utopic notion with no real expression in the world, as we are always necessarily searching and seeking homes?)

These were the questions on my mind as I awoke this morning, questions I’ve wondered about for quite some time, questions, I suspect, I have carried with me from mon enfance and into and through the strange landscapes of adolescence and adulthood. These questions also presuppose a certain privilege — that one has experienced glimpses, and in some instances long stretches, of home-ness despite brushes with the counter, that is a rootlessness, diconnection, a distinct lack of belonging. What amazes and amuses me about notions of home and belonging is that insofar as each word can open up a vast abyss of questions and seemingly endless inquiry, so, too, can one’s sense of home shift in the blink of an eye. Or, as in the case of last night’s Fete de Noel, with an easy grin.

The scene: the annual Christmas party (I’m assuming annual, although this was my first time attending) at the local Alliance Francaise where I am currently enrolled as une etudiante. I was on the fence about attending. While I can carry on conversation with relative strangers and find true delight in learning about the lives of others, I found myself momentarily hesitant as I approached the building. I could still go home, enjoy the brisk walk back and pick up some seemingly ubiquitous holiday popcorn on the way. But fate, in the form of my former teacher ML, intervened and once she said “Bonsoir!” to me, there was no turning back. So into the building we walked together and we rode the elevator to the 7th floor where the sounds of chatter (that my friend E might call “frenchified”) spilled out of the Alliance suite into the hallway as the elevators door opened. ML made her way to the restroom and left me to make my way into the crowded set of rooms, people numbering easily into the 30s and 40s. The lovely C instructed me as to where I could leave my jacket and bag — this would kill a couple of minutes. The open spot next to the water cooler seemed fine, and there was only one other bag in the near vicinity; most others had placed their items on the sofa. Better here, I thought, for easy retrieval and slipping away.

Ok, next: Locating the bar. I said hello to the woman who had conducted my placement test. Talk to me now, I wanted to exclaim! I remember the difference between the passe compose and passe simple! And I can almost remember all of my subjunctive conjugations! But instead I followed my Bonsoir with the most banal of small talk: “Ah, voici le vin!” And poured myself a half plastic cup worth of pinot noir. From there I made my way into one of the smaller classrooms, that I had used on a few occasions after class to Skype with my research team, where there sat one of three cheese platters, assorted breads, a pasta salad, haricot verts, and a large bowl of raw tomatoes — as a decoration, I suspected, when I saw similar formation of clementines in an adjacent classroom.

For several minutes I stood against a door jamb adjoining two rooms, content in my having made this outing, exchanged a few french pleasantries, and enjoyed the late autumn evening air. Having committed to taking an early departure after a quick rotation around the other rooms, I started across the main room whereupon I ran into my current teacher J who greeted me with a jubilant “Bonjour!” and, after introducing me to two other students to her right — Michel et Robert — she immediately instructed us to gather close for a photo and before any of us could protest, she had us raising our glasses with a toast of “Sante!” as the moment was captured in the form of digitized bits of pixelated information.

This moment — of introduction, of orchestrated camaraderie, of (likely somewhat) booze-induced socialization — transformed an otherwise tolerable evening into truly enjoyable one. For the next two and half hours conversation flowed easily and often in varying degrees of comfort with the French language. I heard a Southerner parler-ing from across the suite with great animated conviction; spoke with a Wharton MBA student who had spent a few years living in Switzerland as an adolescent and who was brushing up on her French in preparation for a move to Senegal because her husband, also a student at AF and who works for the State Department, is being transferred there; and the very lovely, positively magnetic Benjamin qui est un professeur de Francais, who somehow managed to convince even the reluctant amongst us to join in the caroling — another first: choral singing of Silent Night en francais.

The rest of the evening, conducted almost 90% in French, was as enjoyable as it was instructive; and in a strange way served as a book end to another mixed group gathering that I attended today, this time of old family friends (about which I’ll write more extensively later, but for now, suffice it to say that subtle differences even in how someone asks how you are doing — interestedly versus accusatorily — can invoke or supplant a sense of home!).

While peppered with instances of organized socializing, this sabbatical has been a model of the bliss of solitude. Parties, those strange artifacts in which people willingly (sometimes) participate, challenge this oath of solitude — challenge the fairly amiable individual to engage not merely in idle chatter for purposes of mindless, mutual adherence to social convention but to help construct an experience that does not make one yearn for a return to one’s solitude.

Happily, both occasions fell largely into the latter category, filled with laughter that binds new acquaintances and the kind that evokes shared past memories; and conversation motivated by genuine interest in another person. (I credit much of my fete de noel meaning-full talk to the very lovely Benjamin who posed questions with ease and seemed to instinctively understand these musings of home-ness and belonging; in contrast, la fete avec des familles was, at times, hampered by stifling interlocutors, despite the charming toddlers who proved to be quite able conversationalists.) To be fair, both fetes had moments of the former as well. In these moments of momentary displacement, I wished to be sitting alone, with a latte or pot of tea, a book near me and with implements of writing at the ready.

To wit, in both form and content and for its reflective as well as projective tone, I appreciate Rilke’s musings on the subject — as found in one of his letters to the young poet Kappus where he writes:
“We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.”

I might add to Herr Rilke’s observations that while it is also good to be social, this too, is a difficult endeavor; and to be done well, one requires apt partners, a healthy curiosity, and perhaps a general expectation that there may be something marvelous yet to be discovered, a home to be found(ed) — where the sweets are sweeter, language is a site of openings, food more comforting, and an easy smile between friends and strangers opens up glimpses of home.

manhattan triptych — part 3

We slip easily into routines – our bodies, our reactions, our expressions, what we are pulled toward and that which we resist. And when those routines, of thought or practice or being, are jarred by story or facts or experience, they give us… they give me pause. We become invested in ideas and opinions, and those around us become invested in our having our ideas and opinions. And thus the balance between maintaining consistency and resisting complacency is an especially delicate human dance.

Returning to my college campus for a few consecutive days – the longest stretch since moving out in August – I noticed a few things that worried me, namely how quickly the sharp, tight ball of muscle pain and synaptic strain took up residence once again at the base of my neck. I had returned to attend a few meetings. I thought I was relaxed, and while my time on campus was peppered with joyful visits with dear friends, the lesson is clear: I’m not ready to come back. Go back. To return. And even as sensorily stimulating as the Apple is, especially at this time of year when commercial and residential buildings alike are a’twinkle with veneers of jubilance, I boarded my train home without an ounce of longing. The city will still be there when I return eight and half months from now, and in the meantime, I’ll try to soak up the slower, calmer, smaller pace of the other “wheres” this strange journey will lead me; and in doing so, practice a more meditative everydayness that thickens the proverbial, protective coat that takes years to develop and minutes to wear through without proper care.

cities made visible

i spent part of the past 24 hours moving in and out of the cityscapes described in italo calvino’s “invisible cities” that are being brought to life by artist colleen corradi brannigan. read more in an article about this effort and check out the mixed media masterpieces on the artist’s website. a few faves embedded below, as well.


especially inspiring and oddly reaffirming because during my initial dive into the work of sebald earlier this year, i kept sketching and drawing (in anticipation of painting) some of the books’ discursive and narrative genealogy. the words literally take you places. [insert favorite place/space/travel phrase or sentiment here; a simple one for me: “oh, the places you’ll go!”]

manhattan triptych — part 2

Friday in the Apple

Pre-9:00 am subway ride; the closeness of strangers. Who needs a coat with the heat emanating from thousands of riders?

Cart coffee: small, milk, 1 splenda. In a familiar, blue and white cup. Damn my environmentally unfriendly ways.

Joyous, affirming morning. [insert your own description of a meaningful, “life-giving” in contrast to “soul-sucking,” morning outing; mine played out in Soho]

Stumbling onto an tasty eatery with patient servers, easy audibility that did not overwhelm conversation, and boasting not one but two requisite, quintessentially NYC, microscopic spaces with the right accoutrements so that they could still be considered bathrooms.

A visit to one of my favorite haunts.

Stopped dead in my tracks by several pairs of heavy feet pounding the pavement with urgency a few milliseconds before the aural assault of a hyperactive siren screamed from inside and outside an unassuming, navy blue sedan – whose sound and then sight momentarily resembled an average Saturday night in a strobe-friendly, techno disco – turned the wrong way and chassis-blocked a young man near 8th and Broadway. I joined the few hundred onlookers, unsure of how to see what I was seeing – as resident or tourist? As advocate or citizen? As ethnographer or activist? If those are even fair dichotomies to draw, which I’m not sure they are.

Spontaneous meeting on the street with my sister.

Getting stood up at the LPQ, because the email system at my college/university never delivered my confirmation email to the person who stood me up.

Seeing Roller Girl coming out of yoga class, wearing her characteristic look of bemusement, a ponytail, and dark track suit with red piping as she held the door open for a few fellow yogis.

Crushing, suffocating, potentially anxiety-inducing swell of humanity on the Times Square subway platform; where people move not out of will but due to the onset of spontaneous peristalsis as bodies become pulsating masses of contraction and release.

Time to go home.

manhattan triptych — part 1

Renunciation Form

You –
of flesh, blood and bone,
who art without paper bearing apt signature –
have been relieved of your existence.

I –
seated comfortably (as I shift uncomfortably) behind double-plated, bullet proof glass,
practicing the cacophonous melody of my protest song –
can’t help you.

The full weight of a paperless life bears down
as the outdoor dampness swirls toxically with
ancient spices and newborn impatience
in the belly of the building’s foundation
as flag and facade are displayed proudly above.

She –
shielded by the laminated wood of the plastic coated, paper adorned, chest-high barrier,
purporting to provide information –
might help you.

The woman in lavender and pink,
her hair the hue of water that has been sitting for too long in rusted pipes,
wills it not.

Did you read—
Have you visited—
Oh no, not here—
words force their way out of her mouth,
she’ll show them; off she walks, mid-sent—

Paperless existence.


a world seen, a world heard

just one of several (of millions) photos that tell the story of this past year — as documented in buzzfeed’s 45 most powerful images of 2011.

Christians protect Muslims during prayer in Cairo, Egypt. -- Source: @NevineZaki

as other collections of images come past my inbox or twitter feed, i’ll share them as well. i am also eagerly awaiting this year’s pop music remix — another take on a single year. in stark contrast to the arresting impact of the above image and the others in the 45-list are the yearly pop music remixes by dj earworm. my favorite is the 2009 remix.

completely different than the effect of, say, a song first heard at one age or in a particular year that comes to have new meanings upon subsequent rehearings. a relatively recent find are the songs of annette hanshaw to which i was introduced through my viewing of the curiously entertaining mixed media film, sita sings the blues. (i offer no other commentary on the film other than recommending a viewing; works even if you don’t happen to be familiar with the hindu epic, the ramayana.) here’s one of my hanshaw favorites as included in the film:

saturday afternoon with a three-year-old

Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
~Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943

In went a small notebook with the letter H on the front, surrounded by an orange background and white polka dots – part of a birthday gift. Then, a leaf newly plucked from the bush outside the house. Followed by mini-colored pencils that were no longer encased in the jewel case carrier in which they were presented as part of the aforementioned birthday gift. Some of the sky blue is tested out on black pavement before it, too, goes in. Finally, the fire engine red metal pail is ready to be transported and the toddler of the hour leads the grown-ups into her house but not before commanding her mother to hurry up and please open the door. The exquisite autumn Saturday bids farewell to us temporarily as we retreat into the open arms of a living room that, too, is squarely toddler domain. Only inside the warmth of a house does the outside chill reveal itself in the form of a shiver that has been building and awaiting the perfect time of release. Once inside, the pail and its contents are emptied into a miniature, metallic, silver and red, real life replica shopping cart acquired during the previous holiday season. The contents, which have grown in number inexplicably between the short path from the front porch to the inside foyer – and expectedly for the adults but as a shock and surprise for the toddler – fall through the square holes. The toddler is undeterred. A grass green pencil takes a ride through the obstacle course of objects and falls again at her feet, but before it lands two other pencils (taupe and violet) and a plastic, yellow screw top cap (belonging either to large tube of something or is a gear looking for a home) have also been unwittingly launched only to land, unceremoniously, again and again on the hardwood floor below. And once again the items are gathered into the shiny, metallic, red pail which is then placed, using its rounded, silver colored steel handle, into the top of the cart where, in an adult sized cart, the same toddler might sit with her legs dangling out of the back. As before, the adults, who have been talking and watching throughout this performance, are led into the living and as they continue to talk while seated on the boomerang (not quite L) shaped sofa, are made to share the coffee table with a determined toddler. Where must these items go? Which to address and engage with now? Which to save for later? Before any of that can be answered, the items must be laid out on the low, glass top table with rounded edges. The pencils here, the notebook there, the yellow screw top and wooden faucet… perhaps to the right of the notebook. Yes, that seems right. Each of the sixteen, slim, colored pencils are placed in succession to the left of the notebook until the display comes to resemble the desktop of a mad genius. I half suspect that Einstein was moved toward a theory of relativity when he wondered how to make sense of the co-existence of objects that were chewed, organized, manipulated, represented, mildly wet, and remained a mysterious anomaly all in the same space and surface!

Baby Genius surveys this makeshift workspace with scrutiny, surveys the surrounding room for what attention is coming her way, and appears to survey her own simultaneous acts of surveillance. Sensing, it seems, a time for a change, the maitre d’objects composes a new organizational scheme and proceeds to take two items at a time and rearranges them with varying placement on the cardboard box that sits, unopened, a foot behind her. The height is even more perfect and the red pail remains empty a little while longer as pencils, gears, notebooks (there are now two, one large and the other pocket-sized), a single leaf, a few coral colored berries, an assortment of plastic in various shapes, a larger, thicker, pinker colored pencil, and a piece of string – spoiler: the string is not an actual object, but one that thought it could hitch a ride on the Great Object Express; it was sadly mistaken and summarily discarded. – find new temporary residence.

The red pail does not wait too long and the express continues, lured by the siren call of the miniature (although not too much smaller than city-size), wooden kitchen setup along one wall in the adult kitchen (perhaps grown-up kitchen or life-size kitchen is more apt?). The living is strangely quiet with only the conversational voices of the over-three crowd filling the room.

But not for long.

you can take the girl out of the campus

But apparently she’ll just find another campus to go to. Attending a symposium on media, theory, and production that flashed up on my twitter feed a week ago. I flagged it, rsvp’d, still wasn’t sure I was going to attend. So glad I gave in to my inner nerdish curiosities because I have been rewarded in the first panel alone — see anime-like graphic of Inspector Gadget that someone shared in order to talk journalistic multi-tasking. (will try to find a version on web, but for now grainy iPad pic will have to suffice.)

11348 – meta post

somewhere in the adirondacks
on a train, somewhere in the adirondacks

December 1st. If I follow from the declaration made in the first post on this blog, today is the first day of the sixth month of my sabbatical. Wow. The recent completion of NaNoWriMo seems a good a time as any to arbitrarily declare this as the chosen point in time for an in-process, sabbatical reflection. And perhaps doing so will make me feel a bit better about not quite “winning” NaNoWriMo — or, in everyday parlance, failing to reach the 50,000 word count one needs in order to wear that moniker proudly. How much did I write? Well, I’ll get to that. Soon.

This is my 101st post (I kind of like that #100 was all about natalie wood). While having dinner with a couple of nights ago, t described this manic posting practice I seem to have developed as prolific — certainly a nicer word than manic, to be sure. Where, I wonder, was this sprinting ability while I was writing my dissertation? When I’m struggling to write that conclusion for a chapter? Or even when pulling together a comment for my other blog? The culprit or catalyst, depending on perspective, may be audience with a side of time(liness).

Audience: How liberating it is to write without audience, or at least not on that is pre-defined and looms large over your every word? Very. This is the —

[begin digression] as i write, there is a couple sitting on the green olive stripe colored sofa across from me. the young woman, im guessing in her early 20s, wears a turquoise knit hat on her head that hangs oh-so-casually off of her parietal lobe. her paramour, a young man with shoulder length, dirty blonde hair wearing not one but two hoodies, sits next to her with alternating looks of brooding and fabricated wonderment. a few moments earlier, they were locked in an embrace, his head buried in her shoulder, for nothing short of 5 minutes — i kept looking up, they kept embracing. they are preparing to leave now, after double hoodie has been served a large mocha with whip cream and chocolate drizzle as his companion watches him lick the whip cream with the awe a dog owner might have for her pet — wonderment at every, slightest thing. [end digression]

I think I was saying something about writing … Oh right, writing free from the ghosts of audience past, present, and future.  I didn’t write into “my novel” everyday in November — and yes, I’m not going to be able to drop the quotes because it seems inconceivable to me to assign something penned by these tired fingers a name that might imply a kinship in some way to the words penned by many others that have evoked adoration and illumination. Despite slacking occasionally and not achieving the 2,000 words/day that would have ensured “winning,” I found myself thinking about the stories in the story constantly. I am, once again, moved to reminisce about my friend A who is the example I often refer to when urging my students that they must “know” their data. She would carry with her binders in which she had collected and organized transcripts, fieldnotes, her own journals and ongoing analysis and, always one to make the most of a moment, if ever writers block struck her she would read into her binder — I think there were ultimately more than one. Two? Three? No matter, she would read and rereread and reread again. She read the words of her research participants as one would a compelling novel, with great interest and with the sense that new interpretations were possible with each new reading. She reminded me of my grandmother’s practice of reading a few texts multiple times, specifically texts that had both religious and cultural foundations. In one year she may have read them each half a dozen times, with the reading, she would insist, different each time. [Insert Rosenblatt-ian reference to reader response and aesthetic reading here.] And lucky for her grandkids, she would share choice excerpts from time to time as we gathered to hear her version of how this person vanquished another or how magical fantasticalism could seem perfectly quotidian.

Thus, the audience in part for these masters of rereading may have been first and foremost themselves. Were they inclined to read and learn more? Did they find the characters, storylines, and events compelling? Was the story something they would want to read? What was missing? So perhaps a humbling finding, if you will, of this month-long autoethnography of mine is that (for me) to write consistently, let alone well, the source material has to be cultivated, nurtured, sat with, dreamed about, talked through (either alone or with disinterested others — informed audiences are for another time), sketched out, repositioned, viewed from multiple and unexpected horizons, questioned, considered, studied, and brought to life with touches of grace and fallibility.

Time(liness): A’s practice of rereading and knowing the stories also leads into the second catalystic culprit that hit me over the head in a Duh-like move this month — time pressure can not only be a good thing, but such a feature might be best used well in advance of actual deadlines. Now sure, I’ve tried to give myself “false” deadlines before. It’s really due November 1st, when the “real” (read: set by someone else) is November 15th. Friends and colleagues are way ahead of me on this matter, some of whom submit things in advance of deadlines. Such a practice continues to amaze and astound me, but at least now I am beginning to gain a glimpse of how such a practice might be possible. (Don’t let it be said that you were not warned about the sheer multitude of Duh-like moments to be read in this post. Thus, the reader would do well to pace her eye-rolling. There are more to come, I’m sure!)

It helped to feel a part of the larger NaNoWriMo community, and in this last fortnight to have encountered the NaNoWordSprints tweets. It’s the ethos we strive to accomplish with writing groups and other collective composing endeavors, but the reality is that the time we know it takes to accomplish the aforementioned “knowing” of the stories often butts up against the time-suck activities with which university life is replete. A third hand or factor in this equation of time is the steady stream of deadlines and demands on time, and thus too quickly writing becomes just one more thing to do — and in the tenure dance, the very important thing to do [shoulder slump] — instead of what it has been for the last month: a space in which to get lost, in which ideas danced and so, too, did the characters.

For those of assume many other roles in addition to that of writers (i.e., colleagues, committee members, dissertation advisers, counselors, sounding boards, cheerleaders, critical friends — sometimes in the same day) — if we even allow ourselves such a title to begin with — such a process of knowing, breathing, and living with the stories that may lead to writing may not always be realistic. Perhaps it would if we weren’t implicitly — and in more than a few cases explicitly — told that quantity of publications (nevermind any adherence to what else may result from writing) is paramount. And when one is facing graduation with the goal of just getting the thing done, you may want to channel the inimitable A’s ability to draft whole chapters in a single weekend. (If I remember correctly, a selection of sugary treats were integral to this maneuver. It also helped that she, as noted above, knew the hell out of the stories she was crafting.)

To write fewer but better, to write with abandon, to give one another break and not hold take one another to task for every utterance (even as in some instances every utterance matters), to make words count, to be quiet more often than we talk.

But as long we’re talking word counts…

My final NaNoWriMo word count: 30404.
Just for kicks, I also tallied up the word count for my November blog posts: 11348.


The Final* Word Count for November, 2011: 41752.


*Not including emails, reference letters, handwritten notes and letters, scribbles and musings made in my trusty notebook — my vade mecum** — flickr albums created, photographs that have resulted from a rekindled relationship with my digital slr, out of state jaunts, museums visited, books read, and films viewed…
**sometime last year or the year before, my friend D spotted a notebook*** in my hand and remarked that it would be unusual to see me without one, that it was my vade mecum: an object someone carries with them always. what a lovely latin turn of phrase, not only for its aural simplicity but also for its implicit endorsement of the practices in which a ruminating flaneur/se is most at home: meandering and making sense.
***the art of yoshitomo nara, which was the focus of an exhibit at the Asia Society last year, adorned the covers of my notebooks during the past two years, the penultimate tenure year (henceforth PTY), was signified by the pyromaniac. the next year, the year when yours truly was under a microscope, but at least the process was out my hands, i took solace in the princess of snooze who floats below.
Yoshitomo Nara -- The Princess of Snooze (image courtesy of