otium

On writing and the future of the book / bookishness

Writing?

Thinking about writing?

Writing about thinking about writing?

Thinking about writing about thinking?

Trying to write?

Have to write?!?

Trying to write without getting into any of the infinite regresses, anxieties and dreads, and Sloughs Of Despond above?

There is hope. (more…)

On research days, featuring BONUS INNOVATION: how to improve beeping reversing trucks


Skip straight to the problem of noise pollution from beeping trucks and suggestions for remedying it

Here in the Land of Literary Humanities and Other Liberal Arts (so, including maths and physics), “research” can look very different from more usual images and preconceptions:

Yes, medievalists and other humanities scholarly types spend a lot of time on Facebook, just like anyone else. Some of our sort of Facebook activity is even perfectly serious and scholarly and stuff, and much as one might expect from our research interests and their intersection with teaching & learning: (more…)

On misfortune and the joys of trees

Away last week for midterm break; would have posted something on return on Friday the 24th but our return suffered various mishaps, including a very delayed flight. So the plan to do another of the Old Talks series posts in the early evening failed. Saturday involved laundry and visiting the Mounties (all well, not to worry, we have done nothing bad or wrong). Sunday included preparation for Monday and last week. The rest of the week involved work, catching up on missed work of the week before the break (bah humbug tummy bug), making lists of things to do, ticking off things on the lists, making lists of lists, and so on.

Thus continued the week until Friday.

I am, of course, still behind on some work and just about catching up with other work.

To some extent, such is the way of the universe. But there’s been a lot of playing catch-up of late. That is not a good thing for general health and well-being, and might have something to do with succumbing to the dread tummy bug.

A good thing: the discovery of Google Keep. I’ve been using Evernote for years, and will continue to do so for notes to be kept in the longer-term. But Keep is great for rapid simple note-taking on the fly; some of which can then be transferred to Evernote as needed.

Most of my notes have not needed to be transferred there, of late. All of them have featured nice little check-boxes to the left. I like ticking boxes. When you tick these ones, a very satisfying tick appear: it’s large and has just the right angles and a reasonably large down-stroke on the left; too large, and your tick turns into a “v”; too small, and you have a slash which could be confusing, suggesting “either/or”-ness rather than a definite “YES!” You have achieved something. The action of ticking also strikes out the content of that list-item, rather than deleting it. This is not annihilation. It is accomplishment. These are two very different approaches to the same act, of ticking something off on a list.

Striking-through, as contrasted with deletion or destruction, is a different kind of linguistic silencing. This has something to do with one of the next Old Talks series posts, on le non-dit in the Romance of Flamenca.

On which topic: The next Old Talk Series post will be appearing at some point next week. Also, there will be a post about libraries, and an idea for how they might be improved as regards their online existence. There may be some ranting about my institution’s administrative-philistine ills, but I shall try my best to keep that to the minimum and focus on ideas for future positives. Turning frown upside down to make it a smile, and all that.

I’m also thinking about trees. Because there are a lot of them here, and because I have always liked them. And in relation to MLA in 2015, which is here in Vancouver, and for which I also need to send in an abstract.

This is an item very far down the To Do Lists, whose order is sadly dictated by prioritising what I am employed to do, as per my contract and what’s happening in teaching. This feels rather like an existence in a state of basic day-to-day survival. It feels like elements of “essence” are absent. Lacking, or in the background or underground; distant and hibernating rather than deceased. Fortunately, one of the courses I’m teaching is a more creative one, and about culture, so I have some sense that brain-death hasn’t yet set in. Also because the students are fab.

So, a tip to anyone else in a similar situation, that is, of much teaching and work and over-work; a life spent playing catch-up; an intermittent sense of despond and worry that it will turn to full constant burn-out and breakdown. Make sure that at least one of your courses has a component where students write comments online. (In the case of FREN 333, this is in the form of comments added to each week’s post, with the latter including a synopsis of the week’s material.) These comments are wonderful to read in their own right. They give a sense that the course is moving and dynamic, that it has energy and engagement. That it’s alive. Completely selfishly, they give a sense that you’re alive yourself: through the human interaction of conversation.*

Other survival tip–or rather, tip for moving from survival to feeling alive and “having a life”–keep reading imaginative stuff that’s not directly related to work. (Even if it starts to become related to work.) And go see, hug, talk to, and otherwise interact with trees. In a dignified and respectful way, of course; especially if they’re big trees like our cedars here, that might not take kindly to silliness. I’ve seen trees frown, here in Vancouver, and definitely also raise a quizzical eyebrow and shrug stoically. One would not wish to upset one of these very big trees.

In a few weeks, hopefully, we’ll be able to sit outside and read under trees, cradled in tree-roots. Clearly the original inspiration for every chair in the history of furniture world-wide. (OK, plus the hammock, but it too is related to trees; just higher up in the branches and canopy.)

* no, please don’t tell me this is Freud, Lacan, Landmark, or any other quacked-up cultish perversions of simple, common-sense talking cures.

New year, back to this blog, and more reading

It’s been nearly a year; the excuse for absence has been presence elsewhere. But elsewhere turned into several elsewheres. and elsewhos, and the original poor single self found itself stretched rather thin.

There may be something appearing on here about that whole experiment with pseudonymous blogging out in the Real Non-academic World. It’s been interesting and heartening to see how discussion with non-academics works, and very productive to write for non-academics, and with the silencing of one’s academic identity and credentials. Just to see if the message can carry, regardless of the identity of the messenger.

What I wrote was read by more people per week than read most academic blogs in a year. Certain posts that have been read by hundreds more than would read an article in a small-field scholarly journal. Maybe thousands, sorry I wasn’t counting very exactly and it’s a tricky approximation to extrapolate. In the last year, the post I think was the best-written and most important in terms of ideas had just over 600 separate readings (i.e. by different people); the post read the most often had nearly 7,000; and this is a small hobby-blog, without ads or any attempts to market and sell itself and otherwise sell its soul to buy numbers. It’s still under the 100,000 readers/year mark, let alone that number per month. But still: at any rate: that blog as a whole and many of its posts individually have seen more readers than most academics—good academics mind you—will have had in their lifetimes.

Surely, this was a better use of me than having an insy-winsy piece in a small journal, for the few people who understand what I’m talking about there, people whom I know already and speak to and would have talked to about said insy-winsy anyway.

Yes, there is the important matter of quantity vs. quality: of the writing and of its readers. Unquestionably. But this important matter is all too often set up in simplistic terms, by parties at both extremes. There seem not to be too many of us in the iffing and butting middle; maybe I’m wrong, or being presumptuous in making assumptions, and there are many more moderates sharing a middle ground of complication, complexity, and compromise.

This other writing started out being about matters unrelated to this present blog and/or my work; some more contentious, some possibly controversial, but mostly harmless. And with no conflict of interest for professional purposes (no money changed hands), nor for this present online identity, except in that activities elsewhere detracted from activities here; there is a limit to one’s time and energies. My own are further hampered by a need to sleep: not being inconsequential or facetious or flippant. I have a physiological, medically-certified need to sleep for at least eight hours a night. Ideally nine. Ten at least once a week.

Intersections arose, and some general trends in the other online activities will be useful for my “proper, named” stuff and nonsense on here: reading and writing; discussion and discourse; explanation and persuasion; ideas and reasoning; the point and purpose of communication. About how writing works and what it’s for, assuming of course it’s writing that is indeed for someone else, and for and about something: one can’t assume that for academic writing. One should. Clearly. It is of course clearer if you’re writing for and in the Outside World, and a revelation to be wished upon every scholarly sort who has never ventured Out. Writing about civility and manners, urbanity, courtesy; putting it a more old-fashioned and perhaps elderly way, tolerance, toleration, decency, propriety, and mutual respect. Or: the small-scale ethics of human interpersonal social interactions. How communities work. Small-scale, individuals in networks. Anti-hierarchical. Gynarchist.

There will be more on some of that. More, especially, on issues of writing and identity: with a feminist angle (unexpectedly, given I am a human with a pulse and a brain), and the maintenance of the compulsory meta-business by dealing with inter-trans-para-nationalism, multiple identities, and the ridiculousness of what still seems all too often to be an assumed status quo, of one single unified being.

All of which sounds either too Vancouver New Age or a poor imitation of the good Sokal. (more…)

work in progress (reading, thinking, experimenting, writing)

I have been doing other things in the last couple of months. Not just collecting pretty pictures online or humming and hawing over the right shade of burgundy-chocolate-russet, with just the right balance between rich melt-in-the-mouth foodiness and bodily fluids.

Though I’ll claim that as speculative activity anyway, and therefore a good and useful deployment of my time and brain. (more…)