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 christies.com)

one day in sydney

in total, i spent 3 nights and parts of 4 days in sydney on my way back from tasmania en route back to the states. what follows is a brief listing of where the wind took me on one of those days, with some images from the day included below (a more complete collection of pics from oz here. note: the pics are at best ok and at worst terrible. why? because i realized too late that my camera battery was dead and therefore i had to resort to a blackberry-ipad camera combo to document my trip. not terrible, but definitely not great!)

Early to Mid-Morning

Walk north on York after leaving my hotel. The air is cooler than yesterday, clouds blanket the sky and a light mist and steady breezes make me thankful for the scarf around my neck and the umbrella in my bag.

Coffee, blueberry muffin from window cafe on York St. As I walked up, I inadvertently interrupted what looked like a familiar flirtation between a thirsty male customer and a friendly female barista.

Walk across the Harbor Bridge, on the lower, commuter side. I walk briskly like the Aussies around me, each moving with a purposeful stride. The non-residents are easy to spot; they/we pause to look at the brilliant views of the opera house, the central business district (CBD), the Circular Quay (pronounced “key”).

Follow foot traffic over bridge and into North Sydney. Descending the stairs, I am struck by the almost carnivalesque colors in this part of the city.

Admire the wood stain work on a series of benches. After snapping a couple of pics, I get the attention of a thin man who looks to be in his late 50s who is busy sanding the surface of a picnic table. He wears a construction vest with neon yellow stickers over his grey sweatshirt. When I ask if I take a photo of one bench, he blushes and nods; his face becomes redder when I make an appreciative remark about the craftsmanship of his stain work. He points to the collection of benches and tables in the small area where he is working and tells me he worked on each one. He is smiling even as I walk away.

Luna Park. Full of artful and unexpected views of the familiar Sydney skyline, a giant moonface entrances, ferris wheel and other artifacts reminiscent of boardwalk topography: games, prizes, and rides. All empty, likely awaiting the blossoming of spring into summer where visitors will be plentiful.

Back across bridge. Collect a few more pics for my “Benches” photo essay.

Late morning to early afternoon:

Set out across town toward Paddington. As I walked through the city center, across Hyde Park, and in search of a café I had read about, I stumbled onto a large protest going on held by public workers in opposition to the wage caps and job cuts being imposed by the New South Wales state government. Teachers wearing red tees bearing the slogan “public education for our future” and correction officers in light blue with the slogan “we face what you fear.”

Walk in search of and in the direction of At Perry Lane. I meandered through town with a vague sense of my destination, which was a café I had read about as a much touted must-visit spot in the Sydney café scene. On the way, I found Ampersand Book Store and Café. I stopped in, fell in love, started reading a biography of Wittgenstein that was poking out of one of the many full bookshelves. I was getting hungry, so I decided to head to At Perry Lane (APL) and stop back at Ampersand on the way back.

APL closed. Apparently under new ownership, not yet re-opened. And yes, it was really good – according to the two employees working in the adjoining clothing shop. A part of me is bummed, but after snapping a couple of pics, I happily headed back to Ampersand for lunch and more time in the magnificient, cozy basement, shelf-lined room.

Lunch at Ampersand. Mine was a “Vegie Brekky” – that’s vegetarian breakfast sandwich to you and me – an earl grey tea, and a trail mix cookie. I was served my lunch in the magical room and I spent the next hour catching up on a few emails (courtesy of Ampersand’s free wifi) and reading most of the first chapter of the Wittgenstein biography. I also had delightful chat with a man who initially engaged me to ask about my iPad – did I like it? Was it useful? What did I use it for? – and we ended up talking about his son, a musician who is currently finishing up a three-month stay in Brooklyn; about a play he was writing based on his time living in Rome – he has called many parts of this world home at some point or another, including Tokyo, London, and New York; and he explained that he was here dropping off some books given to him by his daughter for which he had received a $30 credit from Ampersand. While we chatted, my new colleague from Scotland, who was also part of the Tasmania conference, let me know he was in Sydney so we decided to meet up at another café near the Circular Quay. I finished my lunch and came to a good stopping point in the story of young Ludwig, and, after purchasing a ticket from the convenience store next to the bookstore, hopped on a bus (the 380) back to the city center.

Afternoon to Evening:

Police and Justice Museum. I had a couple of hours before meeting B for coffee so I wandered a bit then saw on my google map that I was near the Police and Justice Museum. Given the complicated history of Australia’s origins, it seemed like an interesting option. The featured exhibit was on the uses of various forms of surveillance to identify and pursue “persons of interest.”  This quote by Oscar Wilde, emblazoned in one of the exhibit rooms, seems to say it all: “One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted.” A part of me did not want to document this visit as I had the rest of my travels through this country. But there were a few images and visuals that compelled me click and capture, if only to ponder further as time passes.

Coffee, flat white. Le Quays, where my Scottish friend and I were scheduled to meet, was closed for the day so we wandered a few steps away to another coffee shop and each ordered a flat, white coffee. We sat outside, taking in the chilly air that was refreshing after the day of walking that each of us had experienced. Another option worth an afternoon’s exploration that I learned about was the Botanical Gardens just steps away from where we met.

Dusk walk thru CQ. My coffee companion and I walked in the direction of the Circular Quay where the ferry terminals were located, and paused to take in the city at dusk on a cloudy day in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House.

The opera house. After bidding my colleague goodbye, I rushed back to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes and rushed back out again in hopes of securing tickets for that evening’s showing of La Boheme. My colleagues had encouraged me to ask for the “concession” fare, so when I approached the box office – in record speed, if I may say so! And whizzing right past scores of people all heading in the direction of the opera house for one of a variety of happenings taking place there that night, in addition to the opera itself. – I inquired about available tickets and concessions. The ticket agent asked to see a university ID, which I readily produced, and she handed me a considerably reduced ticket. I walked away elated that I had secured a seat (and feeling the slightest bit funny that she may have mistaken me for a student). I was early, so I took in the scene around me and from various vantage points in and around SOH before finally taking my seat.

La Boheme. I have always loved the music of this Puccini creation, but until this viewing I did not pay close attention, I think, to how the Italian had been translated into English. I admit, the stilted translation bothered me. But only momentarily after which time I got swept up in the performances, the story, the emotions, and the stunning voices of the performers. It was a special treat to discover wifi inside the opera theater, which I took advantage of during the intermission to quietly exclaim to my sister a few others that “I was watching La Boheme inside the Sydney Opera House.” While I’m easily delighted by life, I find that I’m not easily impressed by the usual, iconic world attractions that are foregrounded in travel books and tourist guides. SOH was an excellent exception to this rule.

Veggie Udon, a hotel room, reflecting on the day. If it hadn’t been raining, I might have followed the advice I found online to go up to the 36th floor of the Shangri La Hotel and get a drink while taking in the city view. But I left SOH feeling quite full in many ways, so I opted instead for a quiet end to a busy day. The restaurant next door to my hotel prepared a fantastic veggie udon soup which I consumed while relaxing in my hotel room. It was my last night in Sydney, in Australia. I was already thinking of what I would do on my trip…

moma paintings

on my latest stroll through moma‘s painting galleries, the ones on the 5th floor to be precise, i was struck by the simplicity of the titles (albeit translated from spanish or french). it’s a new thought: simplicity. just saying what it is without the worry that doing so might not fully reflect the complexity of the thing. because the complexity is readily evident, in spite of or because of the title simplicity. pieces that make you want to say “yes, it’s that and also so much more…” — like you are called into the worlds contained within the painting because you want to tell its painter that the title has only scratched the surface. and just like that, you have given yourself over. you can’t help but interact with the layers of paint, history, brushstrokes, stories carefully hung in front of you. behold:

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moma mia

stopped into moma to check out the francis alys exhibit recommended to me by a friend. there were no photos allowed, however i jotted down this sentence penned by alys when describing his film that depicts 500 people walking up and over and shoveling bits of a sand dune to move it a few inches (to signify that sometimes the reality — especially for social change in complicated political contexts — can be summed up this way: “maximum effort for minimum results”):

“Any undertaking requires to a certain extent a postponement of both desire and reward.”

the rest of my time during this open-late saturday at moma was spent with my friend duchamp and other duchampian explorations wherein chance leads the way.