Thursday, December 17, 2015

Friday, November 27, 2015

As you may have noticed I haven't posted anything since May of this year, and generally I haven't much felt like writing in this space. Not even thinking of it actually, which is kind of interesting, the one day when it slipped my mind, and not thinking of it gradually became a habit. I wonder, are my blogging days over? Will I ever feel like writing an email to the invisible ear in the sky again? I don't know but whatever. You'll see my intentions in other forms on the internet and in analog, if not here again.

In the mean time the only place I've been posting on-line is to my soundcloud page, and the music I've been making with Eric and Cory. This, academicing, teaching, writing, and swimming. Later tonight I'll see a movie, and tomorrow I'll swim and do some work.

Thank you for reading. See you around,

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Update, etc. I've been busy with academic tasks, and as this blog has been inching towards, just not that into writing about things out there in the world. Instead I've been writing for classes and projects and the tiny audience of people that I work with here. On Friday, tomorrow, I defend my prospectus, and assuming it will go well (I think it will go well) I will move into the territory of ABD: "all done but the dissertation." For some reason I find this acronym glamorous and cool. ABD, for me, means that I have two years of funding to do a dissertation and find a job. This semester has been an unusual semester in that I was only taking one class, "Contemporary English" where I was basically learning a kind of system for describing English. Not exactly grammar, but something like it, "descriptive" in the sense that it's a way to describe how sentences or phrases or words work together. This is opposed to "prescriptive" in that it's not a system for generating correct language. Regardless, one thing I was doing for this class was piloting a little research study about the influence of writing workshops on a poet's poems, and was using this approach to describing language along with something called corpus stylistics to measure and discuss how a writing workshop impacts the linguistics features of poetry. The other day I was talking with a friend who writes fiction, and we were talking about losing one's ability to write, and I told here that I truly believe that the work I am doing destroys my ability to write poetry.

So, academicing and teaching, the ESL class for international teaching assistants as I had taught in the Fall plus as well as a class at the Tippecanoe Arts Federation about podcasting that I put together to keep in touch with my composition chops. It was fun teaching high school age kids. I had no idea! Academicing, teaching, and then researching and preparing to write my prospectus, which I wrote in a big rush last week so that I could get it defended before the summer starts (the prospectus is the document necessary for committee approval, a kind of plan for the dissertation / first chapter of the dissertation, before official work on the dissertation can start). Why the rush? Well, because I need to get started laying the logistic ground work, including Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, to start gathering data in the fall. And because I want to finish the story that I started writing a couple years ago and need some time to do so. And I try to detox over the summer in terms of academic work. And because next Wednesday I'm going away to meditate for ten days which also means that I will come back really happy, slightly brainwashed, and clear of the kind of energy that propels people to write long arguments. That is to say, I wanted to get the prospectus done so that I can work on other things, including my mental and physical health. Oh, and I also need to teach this summer semester which starts on Monday.

Yeah. Indiana. It's nice out. It's quiet and I'm sitting in my bedroom where I've recently moved my desk. Kamal has been staying in my office for the last week or so for reasons too complicated and boring to explain here but it's been nice to have another person around to chat with. Now I'm going to get on with preparing a very short presentation for tomorrow, look into plane tickets to California, and perform some other errand like tasks including fixing the sweet little orientalish lamp whose switch has broken. Before I go however, here are some old Anne Carson poems from the book Short Talks. I hope you are well. Oh, and also, if you happen to think of me during the next couple weeks when I'm away sitting in a dimly lit room for hours and hours on end, trust that I am also thinking of you.

Short Talk On Disappointments In Music

Prokofiev was ill and could not attend the performance of his First Piano Sonata played by somebody else. He listened to it on the telephone.
Short Talk On Orchids

We live by tunneling for we are people buried alive. To me, the tunnels you make will seem strangely aimless, uprooted orchids. But the fragrance is undying. A Little Boy has run away from Amherst a few Days ago, writes Emily Dickinson in a letter of 1883, and when asked where he was going replied, Vermont or Asia.
Short Talk On Where To Travel

I went traveling to a wreck of a place. There were three gates standing ajar and a fence that broke off. It was not the wreck of anything else in particular. A place came there and crashed. After that it remained the wreck of a place. Light fell on it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Two months ago I got a bad cold or an average flu. The other day I was visiting a friend in the hospital and the presiding doctor said that he thought he had a "street virus," meaning a common virus. I like the term "street virus." The doctor was from India. Two months ago I got a bad cold or an average flu. It laid me out for a couple weeks, but I still managed to get most of my work done. I didn't miss any teaching responsibilities, though I did cancel some conferences with students, and missed one class where I was a student. It made life unpleasant for a couple weeks, but it wasn't the worst, as I've been sicker for longer periods of time. Rest, eat, drink, and eventually get better. Always though when I get sick I have to stop smoking and the complications of not smoking, at least for my system, means not being able to sleep at night. I'm not sure why this happens, but my theory is that whatever the gizmo is that wants a cigarette keeps pestering me, such that there's a little alarm going off somewhere in the mind/body conglomerate called call "Tyler" that keeps me from sleeping. After about three nights the ringing quiets down and the physical addition of cigarettes more or less passes. The psychological addiction however is still very much in play, and eventually when health returns I find my way back into the habit via this reason or that.

Psychological is not really the right word for it though, as addiction is so much more than a dark little module that some folks, usually the poor and the weak, are unfortunate enough to pick up. "Psychological" suggests that addictions are something ugly added on to the perfect glowing spheres that are the selves at the center of our god given soul. Less sarcastically however, addiction is as much social as it is a personal choice, made up of the company we keep and the life we live. On Friday nights I usually play music with friends. One of these friends is a smoker, one is a smoker when there's cigarettes around, and one is me. The conditions of playing music are conditions for smoking, and vice versa. Neither activity would be the same without the other. Or those pictures of writers in the middle of the twentieth century sitting in front of their typewriters with cigarettes in hand: smoking genuinely helps the work of a particular kind of writing in that nicotine is a stimulant as well as an efficient way to take a break. Examples aside, my main point here is not just that addiction is a social phenomena, which I assume is a statement that most people could find a way to agree with, but that addiction is intricately tied to one's sense of identity, and that an identity in and of itself is a kind of addiction, one that is much deeper and difficult to "overcome."

If an addiction is a kind of preference, I want this or that, I want this instead of that, I only want this, only this could make me happy; or more simply, I want to feel like this instead of how I feel right now, then these every day preferences for how hot we want the water temperature to be or what time we eat dinner are also kinds of addictions. More broadly, addictions to how we want to feel are tied to who we consider ourselves to be, and the everyday highs and lows, for example, of the university instructor are a different set of highs and lows than the house painter. Just like everything else, we get used to a particular way of doing things, and given the choice, most of us will keep doing things the way we've done things. So when the AA folks talk about having to get a new set of friends, or what it means to "escape" the cycle of poverty, we're not just talking about working harder and making better choices, but we're also talking about a deeply imbedded and complex ecosystem of structurally induced identities that unless one has the resources to up and move and start over, bind us to our selves, whether we like them or not. Or to put it another way, one way to see ourselves are as a habitually formed set of preferences that luckily for us, and for practical and mysterious reasons, is aware of its own existence.

These days I'm not smoking. Not smoking cigarettes or anything else. Not because I want to be "better," a disembodied and vain attempt to achieve an imaginary ideal, but because smoking doesn't really fit into the day to day of how I've been living here in Indiana. The last three months, or year, or last three years really have been all new all the time, but in particular this semester has been the first that I haven't had ten million things to do. Surprisingly, when I have more time to relax I spend less time engaging in scientifically proven unhealthy behaviors. I guess I assumed it would be different, that if I had more time the devil would flow through me, which has been what has happened in the past. I think part of this change is that simply I've grown a little bored with all the distractions that used to occupy me, and more importantly, I'd rather work on a particular writing project or read a book or go swimming or go to bed early. Maybe this is just getting older, transitioning into middle age, but it's also motivated from the sense that I haven't really accomplished anything, and that if I want to leave something behind, since it's not going to be children anytime soon, I may as well get to work. Not that I haven't been working, but in the past it's always seemed like there was time. For some reason it doesn't feel like that anymore.

This shift has something to do with being here in Indiana, getting trained in ideas and habits that will help me create capital for The Man via research or indirectly, by teaching students. But it also has to do with the lack of identities, socially constructed (see above), to hold me. I'm no longer responsible for taking care of animals, for keeping my ambiguously alive father in mind, or for being a boyfriend. Because my friends and siblings are now grown up with kids of their own, I'm also freed of the responsibilities of being a friend or a brother who is constantly in touch or a son (not that I'm not, or can't be any of those things but it's not as big of a responsibility these days for various and complex reasons). Imagined or real, the world keeps moving, and these days it feels a little empty, especially in Indiana. But the upshot is that all this means I can get on with the work, of writing and of developing an academic identity (and discovering all the little ugly habits that come with it). But back to smoking, on and off over the last five years I've dabbled with quitting. In the Fall I quit for close to two months. Two Januaries ago I quit for a month and half. Before that I had quit periodically after being sick or attending a long meditation course. If I actually stay quit this time it wouldn't surprise me, but if I don't I will try not to get mad at myself. I mean, I love smoking, and I certainly will miss it, and do miss it, but I also miss my cat and my dad, and recently I've begun to miss the endless possibilities of being young. Onward,

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Briefly about Indiana, generally I like living here. It's cheap and relatively peaceful, and is a good place to study and write. The landscape around where I live is relatively flat, but there are some hills and valleys to hike through, and the Wabash is constantly changing throughout the year. Sometimes the river is high and flooding, sometimes low and calm, and sometimes frozen and full of geometric chunks of ice on their way down river. The food here isn't so great, but I've come to appreciate the biscuits and gravy, and the  fresh apples, and the rich and meaty bar food. I'm not much of a cook these days anyway, but the eggs are good quality and the milk doesn't taste bad. Around where I live the community is surprisingly diverse, and generally I've had positive interactions with most of the people I come into contact with, both at school and around where I live. Politically however, Indiana is different than anyplace I've ever lived, and though the cost of living is cheap (and one of the cheapest places in the country to buy a house), as is the price of food, the recent law passed by Governor Pence that allows businesses to refuse service to same sex couples is kind of gross, and more than a little backwards. It's embarrassing to live in a state that passes laws like this, and makes me want to leave as soon as I possibly can.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

When I was in college, my favorite professor, Professor Peterson in the sociology department, one time remarked in class that all of the news was just entertainment, including the front page. He argued that asides from the business section, everything in the paper, from politics to sports, was reportage after the fact. That if you wanted to know what was going to happen in the future, reading the business section was the only way way to do so. Dutifully I've tried to look at the business section over the years since, reading what I can and applying my limited understanding of economics to what this or that merger means. Naturally I don't get very far on my own, and rely on the commentators to think for me about what's going to happen in the future. 

Last night while making dinner I was listening to the Diane Rehm show. They were talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between twelve countries, including the United States. I'm not going to get into the details, the pros and cons (it's said to be bad for labor, but good for stabilizing the dollar, and other economic abstractions), but one thing struck me about the still in progress agreement: the people involved have been working on this since 2005. That's ten years of negotiation, which is a long time to work on anything. Ten years of work requires a tremendous amount of stability and financial investment, and a huge number of people and communicators and economists and analysts and regulators and lawyers and business interests and politicians. That is to say, because of the amount of money at stake for something like this, a lot of long term planning goes into it. 

Here is my point: work on this scale, the ten or twenty year scale, is different than the scale that most of us work on, i.e. planning by the month, or if we're lucky, the year. The price of wool from Peru imported into the United States, as decided by trade agreements such as these, impacts what kind of clothes people will wear, and in turn, the trends and cultural commentary that follow from these trends. Much of the time we talk about cultural shifts, i.e. shifts in attitudes, but I wonder how much our attitudes are influenced by the materials we have access to. All this a kind of "determinist" view (i.e. there's nothing we can do about it on a large scale), but I think this is essentially what Professor Peterson was talking about. More generally, I don't think people think much about the future, beyond our narrow interests. And in terms of the material constraints of time and money, we don't often have the resources to imagine and enact the other ways that things could be. I'm not alone in noticing this trend. At any rate, I need to go to work. See you.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jinx keeps looking at his water bowl. Yesterday he went into the bathroom and peed on the bathmat, which, in contrast to Kitty Girl's decimation of my bedroom rug during her final weeks, is considerate. In my mind I imagine he observed me giving her a hard time about peeing next to my bed, and thus does his best to avoid upsetting me. I'm not sure, but I think the reason he's in the bathroom in the first place, never one of his regular destinations, is that he's trying to drink from the toilet. On occasion in the past he could maneuver himself onto the toilet seat and lower his head into the bowl for a fresh taste of water. Eric told me that cats like their water to not be next to their food, and so for his cats, he places water bowls throughout the apartment. It makes me think of lions on the plains of Africa on TV, the muddy little puddles where all the animals congregate. I imagine the half-eaten corpse of an antelope rotting and tainting the water, and in my mind I assemble the logic of time worn cat habits passing down from generation to generation.

Right now he's drinking from the little white bowl by the back leg of the chair. I'm sitting here with him, above him on the same chair, in front of the heater while he sits on the edge of the pile of blankets and towels set between the radiator and the space heater. When I take a drink of water from my clear plastic water bottle, he looks up at the water in the bottle, and then looks at me. He looks back to his water bowl. I take another drink and the same sequence occurs. So I take him into the kitchen and pump saline into him. It's his last night on earth unless he starts eating. Two nights ago, after resisting for a long time, I finally force fed him, watering down some beef paté and sucking it into a wide nozzled syringe. I put the syringe into the corner of his mouth, forcing it open though Jinx resists little, and shoot the 10ml of brackish liquid towards the back of this throat. I do this four times, making it through about a quarter of a small can of cat food. About three hours later, in the middle of the night, he throws it all up into a puddle on the hardwood floor.

He must be so thirsty. I can't imagine what that's like, but I imagine that when he looks to me, he's telling me he's thirsty, and asking me to do something about it. "Please take care of me." But there's little I can do. And I hope he understands that. It's these moments of alertness, when he looks at me with a question in his eyes, that trick me into thinking there is more to do. That I should do, and I remind myself that I am his caretaker, and of what needs to happen. A year and some months earlier, taking care of Kitty Girl in her last days was a learning process; and though I did my best, I probably let her go on a little bit longer than I should of. The night before I put her down I asked Stacy, my neighbor who is a vet, to come up and take a look. Stacy picked her up and put her skinny body on my dining room table, performing a quick veterinary exam. Pushing her fingers into KG's body, her belly and undercarriage, looking at her teeth and into her mouth. KG smelled and her fur was unclean, and there was little piece of cat litter stuck to her nose. “I think it's time,” said Stacy, telling me what I needed to hear.


I took Jinx to the vet today to be put to sleep. In the morning we stayed in bed and when he got up, I got up. I brushed and flossed and came back to find him standing by the heater. Most days in the past, when I got up he would stand by the bathroom door, or sit on the bathmat, waiting for me to finish and go into the kitchen and feed him. It was our routine, and I think we both enjoyed it. Today, as it's been since he stopped eating, he went and sat by the heater. It was off. I looked at him and he looked at me. I turned it on, and went off to complete tasks. I called the vet to make an appointment, ate breakfast and wrote a few emails. Ola texted and said she wanted to see Jinx and give him a pet before he went off to the vet, and I spent the next hour before she got there sitting with my back against the radiator next to Jinx, petting him with my left hand and scrolling and typing with the right. This is the thing that Jinx and I did together most often, though usually this occurred on the couch with the computer on my lap, reading and writing while he sat next to me.

He purred as I pet him. I tried and failed to remove the bit of dried food or vomit that had been stuck to the corner of his mouth for the last four days, too old and dry to untangle itself from the white fur on his lower jaw. At this point it didn't seem to matter. He was always better at grooming himself than I was. But he seemed happy which was impressive considering that he hadn't eaten for sometime and was breathtakingly skinny. We sat in the heat and enjoyed the morning by the big window in the dining room. It was a sunny day, and though the light didn't touch us, it fell on the table and the entry way to the kitchen and it was warm and comfortable and not unlike the many mornings that had come before. I didn't cry, and Jinx didn't do anything but occasionally lift his head up to direct my hand to a more pleasurable zone, or stand up and slowly reposition himself next to me and the space heater.

Ola came by and we sat for twenty minutes, chatted, talked about Jinx, his condition as I understood it. She'd heard it before, that he wasn't eating, was severely dehydrated and unable to absorb water due to the advanced state of his kidney disease, had hyperthyrodism and a urinary track infection; all of which were being treated by different drugs and saline injections. None of which I administered the previous day asides from the saline. After consulting with his vet, our friend and neighbor Alfonso, I decided that Monday would be the day, and there was no point in smearing cream on his ears and shooting antibiotics into his mouth anymore. He refused food to the point of walking out of the kitchen as soon as I opened a can of cat food. The only thing he seemed to want was water, and his body was done absorbing it. Jinx is a tough cat, so part of him doesn't notice, so focused as he is on having an excellent day. But he was making decisions about not eating, was dehydrated, and it was only going to get worse. “It's the humane thing,” said Alfonso.


I went out and started my car to warm it up. I went back inside, and got out the big cat box that Jinx flew in when he came here from California. On top of the box are labels, still affixed from KG and Jinx's travels across the country. One of them is written in Dara's handwriting; our addresses, an official declaration of the boxes' contents, using words like “consignee,” and other statements of pet health in airport legalese. Dara wrote two hearts, one on each side of my name, and every time I look at it I feel a small jolt of warm nostalgia. There is another label however, which I think Amy made, judging by the unabashed personification of cat voice, that makes me happy and sad, simultaneously:

Buried in the living room closet under a pile of empty cardboard boxes is Kitty Girl's box, which is a little bit smaller and of a different color. Her label reads, “My name is Kitty Girl, please take care of me. I'm with Jinx.” Happy because it's true, and is still true in a way. They were together and symbiotic most of their lives. Sad because. Sad because I don't know, and I don't have the words to describe it. I grabbed one of the new towels that my sister had given me for Christmas, tags still attached, and put it into the box. I put on my coat, zipped it up, and picked up Jinx. I kissed him, cried a little, hugged him, and put him into the box.

On the car ride over I opened the boxes' cage door and he came out. Stood on my lap and looked out the window, his shaky legs searching for stability amongst the constant jostling of the road. After a few minutes he got back in the box. When we got to the vet they took us into one of their examination rooms, two wooden chairs, a metal table jutting out from the wall, a counter top with a sink against one wall, and some cabinets above. There were two books on the counter top, big colorful children's books, one about about dog heaven and the other about cat heaven. I let Jinx out on the floor and he roamed, inspecting the room. After about five minutes Alfonso came in and explained how the procedure was going to work: first there would be an injection of a sedative which would render Jinx incontinent, and then about five minutes after the sedative had completely taken effect, another shot would be administered, straight into his heart, and it would be fatal. Alfonso asked if I wanted more time with Jinx before the first shot, and I said yes, and he said that he'd be back in about ten minutes. At this point Jinx was on the metal examination table, sitting and looking around. He was slightly agitated but continued to sit. As Alfonso put it later, he didn't seem to have any idea about what was going to happen.

I petted Jinx, spoke quietly in his ear, told him that I loved and admired him, thanked him for being such a good friend, and for taking care of me, especially over the last couple of years in Indiana. He purred, and for the last time I got that little dopamine rush of love from him that had become an everyday part of my life. I leaned over from the chair I was in, buried my face into the white fur on his chest, and hugged him and cried. I sat up, and for the first time since Kitty Girl died, I said her name out loud: “Kitty Girl. We're going to go see Kitty Girl,” and his ears perked up, and he looked around the room, checking the corners and the door. For the last year I never once said her name in his presence, not wanting to prolong any hope that she was still around. The only time I ever saw Jinx despondent was that first month after she died, slouched and constantly yowling and searching the apartment. There was a sad question that hung in his eyes during that time, and I was saving the act of saying her name aloud until I could provide an answer. There is an idea in Buddhism that the quality of one's last thought before death is the quality one carries with them into the next life. I imagined the river we all return to, and the thought of Kitty Girl acting like a beacon in the formless rush of death.


Alfonso came in along with an assistant to administer the first shot. They injected the sedative into his back leg, and left me alone with him. I picked him up and held him as the sedative took over. He kept smacking his mouth, as if all of his saliva had dried up and he was trying to jump start its production. He was still alive, but there's no telling where his mind had gone. His eyes were wide and fearful. After some struggle, his body relaxed and became limp. “Jinx and Kitty Girl, Sweet Jinx, Jinky...” I said as he drifted into incontinence. Soon Alfonso and the assistant came back, they took him from my arms, laid him onto the table, and administered the second shot. I took some comfort in believing that he wasn't able to fully feel the needle sliding into his heart. They left again, and at this point Jinx was on his way out. I sat with my hands on Jinx's still warm body. Five minutes later, Alfonso came back and with a stethoscope listened to Jinx's heart, still barely beating. His system had been running for so long, and predictably, for Jinx, always a fighter, it took some time to wind down. After a couple more minutes it was done. Alfonso scooped Jinx's body up in the towel that Jinx had been laying on, and took him out of the room. Before they left I arranged with Alfonso to have the vet send me the bill, and I walked straight out of the office, got into my car, went home to my apartment and started writing this story.

The first couple weeks I was constantly reminded that he wasn't here. Not when I ascend the stairs with my bike over my shoulder, sleeping on my bed or by the radiator or on the couch. Not in the kitchen waiting for me to feed him, or walking into my office with his crooked body, head tilted to maintain the balance he lost after his stroke four years ago, coming to see me and what I'm up to in my office. Not on the couch sitting between Cory and Eric when we're playing music, or intensely staring at me from across the room for reasons I can't imagine. When I walk through my apartment I open my mouth to speak, to say something to him, something just to say, or say his name, or do a little song and dance, and I'm reminded that he's not there to bear witness, and I fall silent. My audience for casual speech, the everyday and thoughtless blabber perpetually emanating from the brain, always talking and in love with itself and its talking, is no longer here. The constant interaction him and I shared is an absence I can feel. If one thinks of endorphins, the little biological pleasures one gets from touch, from being touched and talked to, the physiological structures of our identity, the sudden disappearance of these pleasures is akin to withdrawal from any kind of addiction. It's tempting to seek a quick fix. Like Methadone in place of Heroin, people ask me if I'm going to get another cat. “No, I don't think so. I'd like to see what life is like without one for a while.”

Jink, Jinky, Jinxman...I'd say all three in row directly into his ear in succession, my hand simultaneously scratching his chin and his other ear from the other side. I wanted to remind him of who he was to me, to build associations of pleasure with the words I used to call him. Like a lover calling out the others name as they ascend together, the work of imbuing language with meaning, every word a potential storehouse of limitless memory and feeling. He would call me too, a particular yowl when he wanted me to come over and pet him, and four out of five times I would comply, happy to be wanted. Say my name, say my name, and it's not like any of this was premeditated, but these were the habits we fell into. To be wanted, and the repetition of this want carving out a path in not just in the heart or the brain, but in the body of the everyday. I speak, or think to speak out of habit, and stop myself from doing so. The thousands of times I turned my head as I rounded the corner to see if he was sitting on the couch. The anticipation of pleasure as I look up from my morning sit to see him sleeping in the warm depression of where my body had been. It is not these thoughts or habits in and of themselves that are painful, but the minute and constant stifling of my impulse to connect. Writing is one way to rewrite these impulses, and thus, I write,

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

 R.I.P    -Jinx-    1993-2015

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Hi. Happy New Year. Let's have one okay? Okay. Now that that's out of the way, to continue with the discourse on Jinx, I guess what I'm trying to say, and kind of have been getting at without explicitly saying so, and pardon the slightly unfocused writing that maybe is a result of a) not investing as much time as I have been in writing in this blog and being out of practice when it comes to writing essayistic narrative, and b) not totally knowing how to get at this vague sense of what it is that I'm trying to say, and maybe a way to read the previous two posts are as drafts that helped lay the ground for my main point, which is: I've been dreading taking Jinx to the vet and beginning a regimen of care, such as injections, mixing medicines with his food, rubbing solvent on his ears (something to do with hyperthyrodism), and squirting anti-biotic into his mouth because I don't want our relationship to change. This is selfish, I know, but to take care of another being like a doctor  requires a certain kind of relationship, and I don't want Jinx to think that when I pick him up, I'm going to do something unpleasant to him. I think of KG sitting on my lap, as it was, seemingly, her preferred cat/human interaction zone, and how when I initially started injecting her with saline it was on my lap. Pretty soon she stopped sitting on my lap.

More generally, change is difficult, especially when it comes to important relationships. The last semester was, for me, a kind of shift into accepting and imagining my future as an academic. I'm not sure where or when this happened, and obviously it's been a gradual process, but something has changed, where now instead of fantasizing about creative projects I find myself fantasizing about research questions. My preference is to pick up an academic text rather than a book of poetry or a novel. When it comes to writing, some of my fears have come true in that I find that I'm thinking more about arguments, ideas, and scholarship than I am about the "liminal spaces" (a trendy word in poetry from ten years ago) from which to start making the poetic, and mercifully indeterminate connections between things that much of my writing on this blog has started from. CD said to me once, twelve somethings years ago, that I wrote in a remarkably "unpredatory" way (I was always proud of the characterization). I wonder if she would say the same thing now. It seems my academic identity, after two and a half years, has grown to the point where it's becoming my primary identity.

The reasons for this shift are, I believe, a combination of unpredictable life events and the disciplining of the PhD program. In the last year and a half I've experienced a number of losses, including a cat, a father, and a lover, i.e. a shift in important everyday relationships. In the last six months or so, I've also noticed that I've stopped "making phone calls" to people in "California," and invest the majority of my social energy into people who live in Lafayette. Thus, through a combination of bonds that have fallen away, and new ones that have come to take their place, my day to day consists of different kinds of conversations and interactions than the ones I was having. At the same time after two and a half years of intensive classes, intensive academic writing and now, getting into research, I've been learning the specifics of academic work. I think the big shift came over the summer, after studying and taking and passing prelims, somehow, I began to think of the work I was doing not as the necessary work of graduate school, but as my work. I came here thinking that I just needed to get through, get out, and then go back to teaching and writing with health insurance and a steady gig. Now I'm beginning to imagine another kind of future, and it's one I never could have predicted.

Not to say that I'm not going to write in this blog anymore, or stop working on non-academic writing and music, or that I'm going to let Jinx die because I don't want to be his doctor. I'll continue to do all of it, continue to work towards pulling all these threads together, and continue to balance the strain of what I don't want to do with my own agenda. More later on what that agenda consists of but right now I'm going to go eat dinner with mi familia. Here is a poem for the old year by the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanag. I'll let you know when I find one for the new year:
Cat in an Empty Apartment

Die—you can’t do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here
but nothing is the same.
Nothing’s been moved
but there’s more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,
but they’re new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.

Something doesn’t start
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet’s been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken:
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,
just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do to a cat.
Sidle toward him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I have two theories as to why Jinx has lived so long. Three theories actually but I have nothing to say about genetics. Anyway, the first theory is that his middle years were spent in relatively spartan conditions, cold San Francisco rooms crowded with other cats. Thus he appreciates the life he has: plenty of space, warmth, permission to get on the bed, and wet food. My second theory is that he's always been around other cats, and now that he's alone, he finally gets to be the "cute cat," something that he's observed throughout his life but as an alpha male always in the company of other cats, his responsibilities have prevented him from being the baby. Cat fun fact #1: domestic cats follow the same kinds of gender roles that lions follow. The job of the females is to go out and hunt, and the job of the males is to protect the territory, including the lionesses, from other lions. Thus male cats sit around and boss everybody around while the females are social and hunt. From a contemporary perspective this arrangement makes the males look lazy and chauvinist (multiple-wives, periodic domineering gestures), but it seems to work. Cat fun fact #2: cats are the least evolved mammals. Meaning that they've had to change/adapt very little over the hundred of thousands of years they've been here .

I first met Jinx at Melanie and Collin's apartment. Amy and I were cat sitting while they and the kid (singular at that point) were away. There were four cats: Boo, Kitty Girl (KG), Jinx, and Kitty Buddy. I had an immediate liking for KG, who was cute and soft, a little heavy, and a her blue eyes were a little cross-eyed, that, combined with the serious expression on her face made her extremely cute. She would jump up on my lap and dig her claws into my legs and I petted her and she purred and she had found herself another admirer. Jinx, on the other hand, would just sit, either in the doorway or down the hallway, and stare. Sit and stare, usually right into my eyes. It was unnerving, and my initial impression of Jinx was that he was a creep. He bullied the other cats, either wapping them with his paws as they walked by or making them get up from their spots to steal their warmth. In relation to humans, he would jump up on counter tops and dressers and seemingly, intentionally knock things off onto the floor. Yet, at night, in the big bed, he was the only cat who would lay close to me, and would position his then heavy body, to lounge in the space between my legs. 

Part of what makes Jinx Jinx is that he's a big cat. Long legs, really long feet, and strong and stiff limbs that could probably do some damage if he wanted them to. In San Francisco Mitch, the neighbor across the hall, also had two cats. We (Chris, my roommate, me and Mitch) would leave our doors open so that the cats could intermingle and explore. At first the cats would just sit across from each other, stare, and hiss. KG never really expressed much interest Mitch's cats or his apartment, and typically stayed out of sight in my room. Meanwhile Mitch's cats would make occasional raids into the apartment, looking for KG (the only female of the four cats) or trying to score some cat food when Jinx was sleeping. Jinx, who never really cared much about food, eventually started going into Mitch's apartment and laying down on the couch. Like Russia in the Ukraine, there was nothing Mitch's cats could do about it. Or in Oakland, Jinx would wander down the rickety wooden stair case in the back and sit in the court yard amongst the picnic table, the orange tree, and the rotten oranges that fell from the tree. When I started to hear noises, I would come down and inevitably find Jinx sitting calmly, staring at another cat. Said cat would be hissing, arching it's back, and freaking out. All this is to say, since there aren't any more cats around, no KG to protect and not much interest in meeting other cats, his role has changed.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Today I took Jinx to the vet. I've been putting it off for some time both because of financial reasons as well as for holistic health reasons. It's been clear for a while that Jinx has the same thing that Kitty Girl had, and that many cats get when they get old: kidney disease. This means that his kidney's are worn out and not processing fluids, which means that he gets severely dehydrated and isn't absorbing nutrients. He also has hyper-thyroidism which I'm only beginning to learn about and from what I understand leads to weight loss, a rapid heart rate, and vomiting. All three of which are something that Jinx has been experiencing in the last six months, and have been particularly pronounced this last month. He's really skinny right now. Skin and bones. He's had a wobble in his walk since his stroke about four years ago, but now the wobble occasionally morphs into a stumble, and when I saw that it was time to go to the vet. 

My experience with Kitty Girl: $3500 for six more months on Earth to be jabbed once and sometimes twice a day with needles; puking everywhere, pissing everywhere, and above all else, not seeming particularly happy or comfortable during this time, made me wonder what good the treatment was doing asides from keeping her alive a little bit longer for Jinx and I. Or in other words, I'm not sure the treatment the vets and I were providing really did much. Of course I don't know, and the first time through this I decided to take the advice of the experts. The second time through, now with Jinx, I'm approaching things differently, thinking more about this whole process as end of life care rather than as a disease to be treated. After all, he's pretty old (as was Kitty Girl, who was 19 when she died last year), and has lived a full and good life. The quality of his life, though he's been peeing a lot and losing weight for the last year or so, has remained pretty good: he walks around and yowls, eats cat food, sleeps by and with warm things, and hangs out when guests come over. Even though he hasn't looked like a full bodied alpha male for some time, his symptoms didn't seem to impact his actual day to day.  

But as of today it's official: Jinx is sick. I can pay for the treatment, pay for monitoring the treatment, and keep taking him to the vet, but at the end of the day there's not much that can be done about kidney disease in older cats. I believe once we start thinking that's something is wrong, and begin off loading our own care to other people, i.e. trips to the vet, we start breaking the things that keep us who we are, i.e. our routines. I witnessed this in the case of my dad, who once he started going to care facilities, and especially once he started staying overnight at care facilities, his condition worsened exponentially. Within a year and a half after "checking-in" he could no longer remember who any of us where, and I suspect, who he was or used to be. In this sense, to avoid the vet is also to avoid death, physically and mentally, and I didn't want to introduce the idea that there was something wrong into Jinx's ecosystem any sooner than absolutely necessary. There can be value in drawing things out, but above all else, when it's time, I want him to move forward like the cat he is: strong and wise and dignified, rather than like the sick cat he is becoming.


As I write this Jinx is at the vet right now getting an all day fluid treatment. For the first time in some years I'm sitting in an apartment where there are no other living creatures asides from the little slow stink bugs that occasionally crawl across the top of the couch as I read or watch tv on my computer. It's quiet, and the urge to look towards Jinx, to walk over to wherever he is, say something and poke him, harass or pet or kiss him on the top of his head, will probably take a while to let go of. In a way Jinx has been my best friend for a long time. Unlike Kitty Girl who I loved and took care of as one loves a child, Jinx and I have always been buddies. Not exactly equals, but at least on my part, I've always respected and admired him. Like I wrote before, he is not unique in many of his attributes, but he is a good friend of mine, and I do the best I can to take care of him, as he has taken care of me.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jinx communicates. When I come home sometimes he is waiting at the top of the stairs, and yowls when I begin to turn the key in the lock. Yowling. The light is off and I put my bike on my shoulder to carry it up the stairs, and he's at the top, yowling and trying to lead me into the kitchen. I can't tell if he hears me pull up on my bike, which seems unlikely, or if he just happens to be at the top of the stairs, sitting in the dark by the warm radiator. What goes on when I'm not there? This morning I got out of bed and found him sitting in the back hallway in a patch of sunshine, he was looking up in the air and waving his head around. I said, "Hey," sharply, and he turned around and yowled. I think I caught him doing something but I don't know what it was. And so I did my routine, him following behind me as I made my way to the bathroom, flossing and brushing my teeth while he sat outside of the bathroom door by the radiator at the top of the stairs. We are both entirely predictable.

He does the typical cat thing, yowling when I go through the motions of feeding him. He didn't used, which I figure was because Kitty Girl would do it for him. He would just sit there mute, watching, while she laid it on me. I used to think that he was less interested in food, but I think he was just participating in the division of cat labor: KG does the food thing, he does the big cat protection thing. So now he sits by his food and water, watches me and yowls as I open a can of cat food, yowls, and yowls when I set it in front of him. Of course I'm not silent either, and I'm either singing to him, songs about cat food; discussing our relationship, of feeding him and other pet related burdens; or spouting joyous, cat related nonsense. He is, in this situation, a captive audience, and watches me with an attentive look on his face. It's nice to have an audience, and I wonder if I my constant talking to him encourages our constant inter-species dialogue. 

He is so skinny these days, like, really skinny, and I consider it a success if he eats half of what I put on his plate. We suspect (as in, me and my veterinary neighbors) that he has the typical old cat kidney disease illness, and so I've been injecting him once a week with saline solution to keep him hydrated. When I stick the needle in his back, holding him between my legs and my left hand lightly wrapped around his neck to keep him from bounding off, his eyes are wide with what seems either like pain or fear, and I speak quietly into his ear tell him that it will be alright. When all this is done, 100 milliliters a fluid later, and I pull the needle out, he bounds away and yowls. So loud. Like the worst thing in the world just happened to him. KG just took it in silence but he fights and resists and lets me know that he doesn't like it.

This is one of the things I like most about Jinx, his unabashed lack of pretense. I believe this is what has kept him alive so long. When he wants something he asks for it, and if he doesn't like something he let's me know. He is consistent and mature in this regard. If he wants to go onto the porch he stands by the door and yowls. When he's cold he'll wander around and yowl. When he wants food he'll sit by the bowls and look at me. When he wants a pet he'll get onto the couch, walk over, and paw at my arm. Granted this is what cats generally do, and I'm not saying that Jinx is special. He doesn't jump through boxes or know any tricks. But, he seems to understand the word "no," or at least the concept, and if he's asking for something, it's fairly easy to communicate to him that I can't give him whatever it is at that particular time. In this sense, Jinx is a good communicator because he listens. I try to listen too, and we negotiate. He is not smart, but he is wise in this regard, and he engages me in ways I can understand. I admire him and I think he admires me. He comes when I call him, and I think this says a lot for a cat. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jinx is 21 years old. Melanie, his first owner, got him in 1993 and he came to live with Amy, Kitty Girl, and I in Oakland in 2006. When Amy and I parted ways and I moved to San Francisco I left Jinx and Kitty Girl with Amy. Every Friday, when I would go to my weekly therapy appointment, I would arrive to Oakland a couple hours early so I could hang out with the two of them at Amy's apartment, taking a nap on the couch while they slept on my legs and chest. When Amy moved in with Steven, I took the cats into the small apartment on Valencia that I shared with Chris. After a couple years I moved back to Oakland and took the cats with me to a large-for-a-studio apartment just west of downtown. The cats and I lived comfortably there for a year and then Quintin took the cats for the summer of 2012 while Dara and I were in New Mexico, and by August I had officially moved to Indiana to start the program here. The cats spent August and September at Amy and Steven's flat in San Francisco, and then in late September, with the help of Dara, Amy sent the cats via airplane, SFO-->Cleveland-->Indianapolis, and I picked up them up and drove them to my apartment in Lafayette. Kitty Girl died last September and since then Jinx and I have been living the life of bachelors. I never intended to have cats or be a cat person, but that is what has happened.

Jinx is 21 years old. He's skinny and kind of scraggly these days. He still yowls frequently, though not as habitually as he used to. He mostly spends the day sleeping and during the warmer months he settles onto the blanket on the porch. These days it's gotten cool in Indiana, and Jinx doesn't want to go outside. Some days he sleeps on the couch, and sometimes on my bed. Most mornings he gets on my bed around six and most mornings I'm happy to see him, and invite him to lay on a the pillow next to me. When I get up I floss and brush my teeth and he'll sit on the little blue rug in my bathroom or just outside the door and wait for me to finish. I'll watch him in the mirror sometimes and he's usually looking around at the things in the bathroom: the metal trashcan, the dripping toilet, the shower curtain. Rarely does he look up at me, or the parts of me that I think are important, like my eyes or my head. I feed him, and then either start making breakfast for myself or if there's time, do some sitting on the floor of my bedroom. Either way, he'll go back to my bed, climb up the little stair case that I made him, and lay in the imprint of where I was sleeping. It's not unusual to come home after work and school, eight or twelve hours later, and find him sleeping in the exact same spot I saw him last. "Hey buddy," I'll say, and sit down next to him, and kiss him on the top of his head and scratch his ear.

When people come over, on a random Tuesday night or sometime during the weekend, he'll usually be sleeping on the couch. They will sit down and pet him and say thinks like, "Jinx is such a sweet cat," or "You're so nice Jinx," but I know that Jinx used to be an asshole. Now in his old age, dependent on me to take care of him, unable to bully other cats and too rickety to jump and run and cause trouble like he used to do; no longer capable of being an alpha male with no more cats around to set his identity against, he lets himself be babied. Maybe this is what he always wanted but now that Kitty Girl isn't around, he does the things that she used to do. When it's cat food time he'll yowl. He never used to say anything or seem particularly interested in food. I can pick him up and sling him over my shoulder which he never used to let me do. And when I'm moving around the apartment, working some on the couch and then moving to the office, he'll follow and make a bed for himself close to wherever I am. None of these behaviors are unusual for a cats but they are unusual for Jinx. Thus he changes, like we all are capable of doing, based on what the situation dictates. Without Kitty Girl Jinx has become a sweet old cat. I was worried about how he would adapt to not having her in his life, after 20 some years, but he, above all else, is a strong and resilient creature. I am lucky to have him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

In the qualitative methods class I've been taking this semester I've done a couple observations on the #3 Lafayette CityBus, the one that stops directly in front of my apartment. After a good four weeks of reading about observation, some history of qualitative research, practicing observations on campus, and writing up these observations, I went and rode the 3 around in a loop, sat, took notes, and did my best to practice "low-inference" observational techniques, i.e. observing and describing and interpreting with as little judgment as possible. Instead of saying the little girl looked excited, a (not particularly skillful) low-inference observation would be something like: the little girl with long brown curly hair in the puffy blue jacket bounced up and down in her seat and smiled. Fiction writing teachers call it "showing, not telling", and when it comes to gathering material one can use for later analysis, the more in-the-moment assertions of value we can remove from our observations, the better. Of course we can't entirely remove the act of inference all together (for multiple logistical, linguistic, and philosophical reasons), so one does their best to minimize how much we bring into the act of observation. 

This pruning of judgment/opinion/preference reminds me of some of the directives that S.N. Goenka uses when discussing Vipassana mediation. That when practicing Viapassana, a kind of full body observation (Vipassana translates as "to see things as they really are") that amongst other things, one develops sensitivity to what's going on in the body on a moment-to-moment basis. Part of this practice is to regard sensations "equanimously," meaning that we can observe pain (such as sitting still for hours on end) as much as we can observe pleasure (such as eating a piece of cake), and that to observe them with equanimity is to learn how to react more evenly to the constant cravings and aversions our lives generally consist of. "Just observe" says Goenka. Of course this, like low-inference observation, is very difficult to practice with a monolithic consistency, and failure is frequent. Thus, part of the meditative practice is to not to dwell on these failures and start again.

Or even in terms of writing, one thing I do when I write is stay wary of language that contains unexamined judgments. This could be as simple as limiting the use of adjectives in the sense that most adjectives overtly assume some kind of intrinsic value (e.g. happy, sad, fluffy, red, green), or in the case of writing about people, avoiding attempts at describing the "inner" motivations of anyone, including myself. So as, descriptions of another person's behavior or what they said at a given time is fair game but what they might have been feeling or why they might have done something is not. Granted when I begin to talk about larger, faceless entities such as "the media," I get a little bit sloppier in my writing (since "nobody" will get upset) but generally I try to write within these constraints. I also have to remove the word "that" a lot from my writing but that's another problem.  But anyway, the basic directive is to try and describe what I know for certain, the "facts" of what happened, and avoid speculating on the unseen or unheard. This means my job as a writer is to observe and report rather than "creatively" write. Or as John Cage wrote,"Privilege of connecting two things remains privilege of each individual (e.g. I: thirsty: drink a glass of water); but this privilege isn't to be exercised publicly except in emergencies (there are no aesthetic emergencies)."

Thursday, October 09, 2014


You can’t expect
the milk to be delivered
to your house
by a bluebird
from the picture book
you looked at
at the age of four:
he’s much older
now, can’t carry those
bottles ‘neath his wing,
can hardly even carry a tune
with his faded beak
that opens some nights
to leak out a cry
to the horrible god
that created him.

Don’t think I’m
the bluebird, or that
you are. Let him get
old on his own and
die like a real bluebird
that sat on a branch
in a book, turned his head
toward you, and radiated.
                    -Ron Padgett

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A brief note on the protests in Hong Kong, a.k.a. Occupy Central; that late last week there were reports of counter protesters inciting violence and sowing confusion. Stories such as this one in the New York Times and this one in the LA Times were typical of the stories published by large media outlets on Thursday and Friday, the headline in the Times article reading: "Some Hong Kong Residents, Weary of Disruptions, Find Fault With Protesters’ Methods." To say nothing of their cause, the reports of violence initiated by other residents are revealed later in the articles to be suspected paid agitators. And so, when it comes to big, wide open protests such as the ones taking place in Hong Kong, it is remarkably easy for a few "bad apples" to break some noses or windows and give those who are watching events unfold reason to turn away. In my own experience during Occupy Oakland  this was indeed the case, as these instigators often got much of the media attention, or as they say, "if it bleeds, it ledes."

Civil disobedience is not a new tactic, and it has been used in the past to varying degrees of success i.e. the Civil Rights movement or India's independence from Britain. Sympathy for a cause, which in turn translates into policy, can be won when the cause is presented in a way that moves the public. In more recent history, Donald Sterling's sale of the Los Angeles Clippers and Ray Rice's banishment from pro-football are clear examples of how quickly things change when put under intense public scrutiny. That said, it's much easier to judge the rightness or wrongness of an event captured on video rather than the complexity of a massive political protest. My point in making this comparison is that the powers that be are well aware of how quickly opinions move and how easily these opinions can be swayed. Insert a few trouble makers and people quickly find a reason to no longer pay attention to this or that. More bluntly: it is much easier for federal, state, and local governments to encourage trouble, infiltrate movements, and destroy them from within than it is to negotiate.

Divide and conquer tactics like these were developed to topple enemy governments and are now being used domestically just as the weapons developed to fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan are ending up in the hands of local police forces (see Ferguson or the West Lafayette Police Department's armored troop carrier and its recently acquired collection of M16 rifles). The tear gas being shot at the protestors in Hong Kong is the same tear gas being used in Missouri and Oakland (Literally. Like, it's the same brand). And while I could dive further down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole, the reason I bring all this up is to underline the danger in believing the muddied truths of contemporary journalism, especially when it comes to representing the motives of those who don't have PR people to write their statements for them. Thus, I read the reports from Hong Kong that speak of confusion and a disagreement amongst protestors with a grain of salt, and I wonder what movements like these can do better to steel themselves against these inevitable divide and conquer tactics and the unsympathetic media coverage they will attract.


I could go on but I'll stop here. Chances are that if you agree with me you already did, if you don't then whatever I write is not going to change your mind, and if you have no idea what I'm talking about you already stopped reading by the middle of the second paragraph. Over the weekend I went down to Kentucky to visit my uncle who had major heart surgery a couple months ago. On the four+ hour drive there I was listening to the Daniel Kahneman book Thinking, fast and slow and he talked about the findings of a study in psychology that found that even if we know better, statistically or factually, we don't change our beliefs. But, the study found, we change our beliefs when we're genuinely surprised in a real life situation, such as when we see somebody do something totally "out of character," or at least, our idea of their character. But anyway, I digress. Have a lovely week,

Saturday, September 27, 2014

When it comes to writing I'm not sure what to say these days. There's a fear in the front of my mind that because my interests and everyday concerns have been wrapped up in school and "research," my writing in terms of literary-ish modes will shrivel up and die. Take the way that I've been writing papers or responses so far this semester, typing fast with little worry about quality or trying to impress my professors or peers. More of a concern about the content and the ideas and getting it done without much consternation. After writing through the summer in this mode, and after the intensive experience of a nine day high stakes test, I wonder if my approach to writing academically has been cauterized a little bit, which as I said, is more concerned with content rather than style. (The man across the stress is swearing at his lawn mower as I write this: "I'm so fucking tired of this," as he bends down to futz with the engine...). I believe that a mode of writing is a physically ingrained habit and dwelling over word choice, the truest way to say something, or being hyper-sensitive to cliche for the sake of originality is a mode that develops through the repetition of intention, i.e. develops over time. To put it another way, I worry that the kind of engagement with ideas that seems to be part of academic writing, of having already decided in some sense where one is going before you start, is going to carry over in other kinds of writing. Academic writing, or at least the kind that I've been trained in, is predatory writing, and I'm pretty sure that's about as far away from poetry as one can get. 

But maybe these kinds of concerns assume too much: that there is a something like a self to mess up. Philosophically, spiritually, I don't believe that there is (something to mess up), but I do try to be careful about what kinds of practices I dabble in. The other day I was reading a kind of convention guide for writing literature reviews and when it was discussing the stylistic features that one could begin a paragraph with I deliberately skipped it, believing that to read it would actually be bad for my writing; that to contend with known rules of how things are done limits the possibilities for what you might do. After knowing the rules one either follows them or not, but at the end of the day we still position ourselves in relation to the rule. Maybe this is silly, but there are some things I would rather not know, protecting the little jewel of my beliefs like a hen protecting her eggs. Then again, it seems like an even deeper display of faith to learn practices that conflict with ones beliefs, and then make a decision about the right way to do thing; the "don't knock it until you try it, man" school of thought. I have a hard time arguing with this approach, but some ways of being have a powerful impact on our beliefs, i.e. the politicians and academics who want to change the system but instead become absorbed by it. It's nearly impossible to notice the subtle, controlling influence of the systems we willingly subject ourselves to in the name of progress. 

My interests have been more political lately, which, second to love, charges my batteries; digging into the forums on Ferguson last week at Purdue and continuing to read and think and talk about the contingent labor problem in higher education. I'm leaning towards a historically oriented dissertation right now, investigating the value of language teaching (be it writing, speaking, English or other) within a Democratic/capitalist frame work as far back as Ancient Greece and how working conditions / economics have affected what gets taught. There's so much change happening at universities now, I guess my thinking is that I need to understand how we got to where we are to better be able to come to solutions that don't tread the same didactic ground. In another sense, I'd like to spend some of my remaining time here writing a story about how teachers are valued in "The West." In other school news, my research partner and I finished our data collection (or will Finish on Monday), and now we have a massive amount of data to go through which ultimately will be about the differences and similarities between American and international students when it comes to the kinds of teacher comments they prefer. In other words, when they get their papers back from teachers, which kinds of comments are useful and which are not. Over the summer and during the month of September we had four hundred some students take a fairly involved survey and now we need to figure out what it means, and I'll let you know. But it's exciting, and a novel experience, to be doing this kind of research. I should go now, as I need to clean up a bit before going to the big city tonight (Indianapolis!) to see the movie Boyhood, which I've been excited to see for some time and then totally forgot about once school started. So much more to say but it will have to wait. Hope you're well,

Monday, September 01, 2014

A quiet morning in Lafayette. Labor day, and the cars that usually start coming down Main at seven still aren't coming and its ten now as I sit down to write. I imagine all the people who don't have to be anywhere, work or church or school or wherever there is to go when they wake up, and I'm laying with my chin on the pillow watching the wind push the curtain away from the window, and the dim light of the overcast sky floods the dim room where I sleep. The voice of narration, this one, begins without an effort, and instead of moving towards the day or continuing to look out the window or calling for Jinx, I start speaking to you, as if you are here. Describing not just the morning, the perfect quiet that occasionally descends on this small town in Indiana, but the past month and all that's happened. I don't do this every morning, or hardly at all these days, but today it began before I woke up so I figure I may as well.

Last week school began and the Sunday before I returned from my post-prelim travels. It was an easy week since I don't have to start teaching until this Wednesday, and school was just classes. Three classes in the Second Language Studies department so I can finish both my secondary area in Rhet/Comp as well as get an ESL certificate to officially prove that I'm international student competent. I'm looking forward to these classes as a seasoned graduate school student, and am not worried about the work load or the work itself. My days of performance are over for the most part, and I don't feel the need to prove myself in class, such as the vibe was in many of the Rhet/Comp classes: a thick lair of performance anxiety obscuring every discussion. I'm most excited about the qualitative research class, a class that I've wanted to take for the last two years but haven't had time. We do ethnography, actual ethnography, in the form of observations and interviews, rather than spending the bulk of our time reading theories about ethnography. Three linked assignments across the course of the semester and I was thinking about doing an ethnography of the veterinary clinic's waiting room or if that gets nixed, of the bus. People with their animals and public transportation, both things I love mixed with observation, i.e. the work of writing.

Prelims got done by mid-August and now for the next three years my time here is what I make of it. Though I haven't found out if I passed prelims, I figure I did. Not because I believe what I wrote is totally awesome, but because I wrote thesis statements, topic sentences, made coherent arguments for the most part, cited other people's work, and generally answered the questions that were asked of me. If they were good answers or "right" answers I could not say, but its done and I feel an amazing sense of relief. It's hard to describe how oppressive the prospect and the actual studying for prelims was, but in retrospect it's been coloring my entire grad school experience thus far. To be done with the actual test and with the core courses required for my degree is to be free, and now the work is to rediscover an agenda with the new mind that all this work has built. At the same time all the politics of fitting in and being of this program have suddenly vanished. Halleluiah. But there's still a lot of work to do, and I should probably get on with it. My friend Christian, whose wedding I went to just before school started, wisely said the other day that the sooner you get your work done the sooner you can start in on the things you really want to do.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Below you will find a link to Snow White, an album of music I made with Ableton Live and a sampling rig over the course of the last year and half. It is sample heavy music, a "mixtape" in the hip-hop definition of the word, i.e. using so many parts of other people's music that there's no way I could sell it without getting sued (not that anyone would actually buy it). But it is an album in the sense that it has a beginning a middle and an end, runs about forty some minutes, and has been worked over diligently and thoughtfully over a long period of time. Here are the liner notes: 
A poem in music and sound, built around the following samples and musicians: Cory Russel on guitar, "III" from Born Into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward by A Silver Mt. Zion; Nas, Mendelssohn, Derek Fisher, Pajo playing “Horror Business”, Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow (book), Billy Holiday, Ron Artest a.k.a. Metta World Peace;; The Tree of Life (movie); “The Singing from Mt. Eerie” by the Microphones, David Pajo (again), 21st Century Flute Music, “Tititoli” from the Good, the Bad, the Ugly Soundtrack, Stars of the Lid, and Snow White and the Three Stooges; Sparklehorse’s “More Yellow Birds” + Nite Jewel’s “One Second of Love” + Cornelius’ remix of “Windy Hill” by The Pastels + Some Hendrix; D; Aric Naue on guitar, Aesop's fables; “The Skye Boat Song” and “Donald Blue” from The Best of the Black Watch (London Records, 1975),  as well as select moments from Snow White and the Three Stooges (Columbia, 1961); pieces of Roberta Fleck’s cover of “Sweet Bitter Love.”
Click on the link in orange below to be led to a Dropbox folder that will enable you to download the album in one swoop. After clicking the link look for the "Download" box at the top of the page. If you would like a hard copy send me an email and I'll send you a CDR (which will have better sound quality since the download is made of MP3s). Thanks for listening.

And have a happy August. I take my big test next week, and then will leave for parts beyond, Wisconsin and California, and hopefully, after all of this is over, will not be so grumpy. See you then,

The True Encounter

"Wolf!" cried my cunning heart
At every sheep it spied,
And roused the countryside.

"Wolf! Wolf!"—and up would start
Good neighbours, bringing spade
And pitchfork to my aid.

At length my cry was known:
Therein lay my release.
I met the wolf alone
And was devoured in peace. 

              -Edna St. Vincent Millay

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This morning I got up around eight. I woke up around six something but thought I needed to get more sleep, for my health, the idea that I could catch up for lost time, which as an idea has been propelling me for some time, trying to get back to something I had lost instead of simply moving forward. Easier said then done. This could be the story of the summer or the entire year, a series of unfortunate events that has left me in a constant state of "why me?" Planning for failure and falling into the habit of waiting for someone or some thing to wrap its perfect wings around me. The few years before I moved to Indiana I had come to an uncommon place in my life, feeling content with not just where I was materially as an adult, a teacher and writer capable of taking care of myself (and two cats), but also as a person who had figured out, though a long course of trial and error, how to maintain a reasonable level of health and happiness.Yet now I am not so sure I actually had any answers, and am thinking this forced recalibration might be a good thing in the end.

These days I am tired of myself and my stories. So bored of eating my daily meat cake of anger and sadness. Do I have a right to be unhappy? I suppose, but then there is the rest of the world: my students and my studies, writing and hiking and making jokes with friends. There is loneliness and then there is the fan spinning above, the little clicking noise it makes and Jinx sleeping on one end of the couch. The noises of birds, bugs, and cars as they drive down Main. These things in the world that when I take care to see clearly shifts the attention away from my self, making a positive or negative sentiment just one more thing to set on the coffee table (or the internet) for display. On Saturday my uncle had a heart attack and by Sunday evening the date for his double by-pass heart surgery had been set. He's my father's only brother and an important person in my family and to me. His health has not been good for some time, living with diabetes and its long term impact: near blindness and a set of missing toes on one foot. But he has been there for us over the years, one of the funniest people I know, and especially since my dad went away, been looking out for my brother and sister and I in various ways for the last fifteen some years. At my dad's service in February there was no other person in the world I wanted to be sitting next to more than my uncle Jim.

So on Monday morning I cancelled my appointments and drove down to St. Joseph's in Lexington. I met my cousin outside the hospital and we sat with Jim in the afternoon. My sister flew in around five, and more family came until it was time to go to bed. I volunteered to stay with Jim through the night (we all did, but I insisted) until his surgery the next morning at 6AM, and everyone came back and saw him off before the procedure. The messages the doctors had been telling us were mixed, and we were all worried. Another Carter family medical emergency, and at this point we all know the drill. Jim was distressed, understandably, to be put under when there was a real possibility he would not wake up. It's hard to imagine what this feels like. But the surgery went well, and yesterday, Tuesday, by 6PM the news was good: his heart was working, though at reduced capacity, and he was waking up. It will be six to eight weeks before the doctors will know if his heart is strong enough for him to lead his normal, everyday life. So, for the first time in a while, the worst possible outcome did not happen. I had forgotten that was possible while I was dwelling deep in my wounded ego. Prelims are in six days and I'm glad that instead of going to a funeral and wondering what I could have done better, all I have to do this week is study rhetoric, teach a few students, play some softball (the tournament begins this week), and do some laundry. Onward,

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On Friday after work I went up to Chicago. I met up with Nate in Hyde Park and we drove up together to Cole's art opening, standing around the gallery, chatting with random art people, and later, having a few beers at a bar near downtown, we capped the night off in Cole's studio before heading back down to Nate's. It was a nice break from the monotony of studying (and now prelims are only a week a way and to be honest, last week I kind of slacked off). Saturday morning Nate and I got breakfast and walked by the lake and around the neighborhood. Our conversation centered around a discussion of Orange Is The New Black, which both of us had recently been watching, like the good Times readers that we are, bending some of our interests to the cultural Zeitgeist/hype machine. Regardless, I've been enjoying OITNB (as it's abbreviated) and in particular have really been into the Piper Chapman character both for the obvious reasons (charming, beautiful, entertaining) as well as how her character has, to my mind, been a vehicle through which to critique the selfish desires that can co-exist with "good intentions," and illuminate the unseen consequences of a particular American lifestyle. Or to put it in a more narrativistic way, I read the personal change that Piper undergoes during the first fifteen or so episodes as a kind of karmic reckoning for a particular mode of charm that usually goes unchallenged.

Some of the first conversations Piper has in the show are with Officer Healy, who tells her that she is like him (a white, seemingly educated and middle-class person, "normal," etc.). Later an attractive female guard tells her the same thing, that the only difference between her and Piper is that Piper got caught, implying that most everybody is guilty of criminal activity but only some are punished. Piper herself, early on, makes statements that coincide with this outlook, feeling like she didn't belong in prison with the other inmates who not only looked different than her, but acted in ways indicative of their less privileged backgrounds (for more on this idea, see Bourdieu's Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, an empirical study which suggests, amongst other things, that people from working class backgrounds tend to favor the literal pleasures of "base" desires; cheap beer, sex, action movies, as opposed to the deferred pleasures of contemplation; conceptual art, literature, and opera that are favored by those in the upper classes. These specific aesthetic preferences mix together more now in 2014 America then they did in 1979 France, but Bourdieu's point is that our preferences, however cleverly masked, are shaped by economics more so than the intrinsic qualities inherent in a given form of entertainment or person. To put it another way, the pleasure of distance, deferment, or something like irony, is enjoyed from a position of relative power). 

As Piper establishes herself inside the inescapable walls of the prison she relies on her physical desirability to attract "protectors," but also uses her wit and charm to defer the inevitable problems that come with assuming one's intentions, rather than our actual impact on those around us, are what matter. Early on (spoiler alert) she offends Red, the inmate in charge of the kitchen, by spouting a fairly typical complaint: "the food is terrible," and thus, stops being given food. Eventually she does Red a favor, concocting a soothing back rub (since Piper was getting into the business of making high-end lotions before she got sent to prison) and the episode is resolved. This is one example of the kinds of interactions she continues to have, which as the first season progresses, shows her learning that the rules of prison are considerably different than the rules outside of prison. As the show depicts it, a person's status in prison depends solely on the materials at hand. One cannot use their social status to protect themselves (i.e. I will sue you) or trade in future shares (I'll just put it on my credit card) to acquire what one needs. That if you want something of material value you need to have something of material value on hand to trade for it. Another inmate gives Piper the ingredients for the lotion because the inmate is in love with Piper. Thus while Piper is able to get out of Red's bad graces, she creates another problematic relationship along the way.

Piper continues this trend, of solving one personal problem by creating another one, pissing everyone off along the way, and so Piper continues to defer the referendum on why she is there. This chain of events continues up until the last episode where (I'm serious: spoiler alert) another inmate is going to kill Piper and Piper, having alienated herself from everyone around her, has to deal with it herself. The experience changes her and we see a shift in how she relates to people, her prison experience, and the outside world. The violence she engages in to save her life causes her to reexamine her self-conception, and that maybe, in fact, she is not as "normal" as she thought she was. As season two progresses we find Piper at a kind of peace with the fact of her incarceration, which, as I interpret the show, comes from the viscerally induced realignment of her identity. That indeed, she too is a sinner, and is not above her responsibility to others; regardless of her other virtues. More politically, the kind of deferment that Piper practiced, masked by a sheen of middle-class health and common sense, is widely accepted in the States: taking out massive loans to go to school, starting a company that doesn't turn a profit for its first twenty years (Amazon), justifying the purchase of eighty dollar cheese because you work at a non-profit, or assuming that when we run out of oil scientists will find us another power source. Deferring the consequences of our pursuit of happiness until another time, which as some would argue, is what capitalism and Democracy as we know it has been founded on from the beginning.

One thing that OITNB does really well is depict the cultural and material practices of "liberals," Piper's fiance as a prime example. From The New Yorker to Whole Foods, a wish to do good awkwardly aligns with the practice of defending one's economic turf. Or more simply, that "success," i.e. winning in a capitalist society, always comes at the expense others. I'm definitely not above any of this, and arguably am a prototypical example of this kind of person, one who reads The New Yorker and, say, works under the pretense that if I work hard now I'll be rewarded later. But as as I've been watching the show these are some connections I've been making. Nate and I talked about all this stuff as we walked around Chicago yesterday, and while my reading of Piper above is largely literary. I am charmed and awed by Piper, and want her to do and be well, yet on the other hand am bothered by how she uses others to get her through. Alex, her ex-girlfriend, calls her out on this at one point towards the end of the first season, accusing Piper of doing anything, using anyone, to avoid being alone. But in the end Piper's change, a real and significant one that ultimately leads her to a better way to live and be with others, happens because she runs out of options. Abundance is a good thing, but sometimes it keeps us from moving forward. At any rate, it's Sunday afternoon and I think I'm going to take a nap now. ttyl.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The last week has been unusually cool for the middle of July. Mid-60's and overcast, no rain and nights that require at least a hoodie when the window is open. On Friday evening, sitting at my dining room table, playing cards with a couple friends, I unsashed the window curtain to find, sitting in the middle of the gold/brown fabric was a big black beetle, probably a cedar beetle, or as the entomologists on the internet call it, a Sandulus niger. It wasn't bothering anyone so I just left it (after taking a picture and posting it to instagram). Slow and seemingly innocuous. Vague memory of luck and scarab beetles and the story that Jung told in relation to synchronicity, about finding a golden scarab knocking at the window when his patient was talking about a dream about a golden scarab. This morning, Sunday, I picked up a pile of worn clothes to put into the laundry basket and found the beetle sitting there. I got an empty jar from the kitchen, covered the beetle with the jar, and slid a piece of junk mail between the beetle's feet and the wooden floor. I carried him/her downstairs and showed it to my neighbors who were sitting on their porch. I lifted the jar off the piece of paper and the beetle sat there with us as we chatted. Eventually I took it accross the street and released it into the dirt beneath a row of hedges. Beetle just sat there and so I nudged it along with a stick and it started moving and burrowing into the dirt and I left it there. 

I went back and sat with my neighbors but continued thinking about the beetle, wondering why it was in the apartment and what it was doing underneath the pile of dirty clothes. With the unseasonably cool weather maybe it was warmer under the pile, or maybe the beetle liked hanging out in my apartment? Or maybe it was friends with those two ants who were hanging out on my stove in June or maybe it was lost. Or maybe it knew exactly where it was and what it was doing. It doesn't matter really, but as I was sitting there, I wondered if I should have kept the beetle. If it wanted to be in my apartment maybe I should of let it be there. Who am I to presume that a big black beetle (with a greenish tint) is better off underneath a shrub then underneath my dirty laundry? Maybe this beetle and I were destined for each other and I speculated on possible long-term scenarios, keeping the beetle in my little flower garden on the porch or in a glass tank on top of the mantle so we could continue our story.

Tangentially (eventually), I saw the movie Snowpiercer last night and really enjoyed it. It's science fiction, about a train that travels around the world carrying the last living people on the earth. A silly premise and a long story, but the movie is also thoughtful critique of class warfare, a surreal and intense action movie, and a kind of Buddhist parable (the director is Korean but the actors are mostly American). I bring it up because it also offers some insight on narrative and drama, suggesting that aspiration couched in the realm of improvement (self, social, or otherwise) more or less just keeps the train going. The revolutionaries can overthrow the dictators but eventually, and inevitably, all we're doing is starting the story over with a different cast. Constant jostling for power on both a macro (free markets) and micro (an argument between two people) scale is another kind of entertainment, something to do for and with each other as we speed towards the end. Of course these stories of success and failure are what give our lives meaning, and meaningful lives are what we (sorry to generalize all of humanity) generally aspire to live. But meaning upon reflection, and thus purpose, remains contained entirely within language. I don't know if this is good or bad. On the one hand it's silly to fantasize about the beetle and how it and I may be connected in a deep cosmic way. Yet on the other it gives me a kind of pleasure when I do. It is nice to feel that someone has put me at the center of a story. Alternatively, on neither hand, jumping off the train (of language, humanity, etc.) is certainly not a life path I've been encouraged to pursue (and I don't mean suicide by "jumping off the train"). At any rate, it's a thoughtful and entertaining movie. I'm going to stop here and go to bed. I'm going to the dentist tomorrow. Goodnight.


Postscript: Oh, and one more thing. Friend/Poet Matt Turner has some poems on Dennis Cooper's blog. Matt was living in China for the last five, six some years and now is back in the States. Here is the link, and here is a very brief excerpt:
Some say we should enjoy the rain, and our soaked boots. I don’t have an opinion on it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday in Indiana. A little past noon. It's been raining this morning, nothing serious, but the cooler air feels good and Jinx and I are sitting on the couch. In a minute or an hour or so, whenever I get done writing this, I'll work on a practice prelim answer to keep pace with the study group and make new material that hopefully I can use towards the real prelim come August 4th. Prelims work like this: there is a 24 hour component, five questions, each limited to 1200 word answers, and each question is from one of the core classes. Then, after a day break, we're given 7 days to write a 20ish page paper on a topic chosen by the department. It's a nine day task and begins in about three weeks from now. Since the middle of June I've been studying, rereading the important texts and reading the things I hadn't read during the semesters, taking lots of notes, thinking ahead to how I'm going to answer prelim questions, and trying to build a workable framework for each class in the sense of understanding the movements within, say, rhetoric from Ancient Greece to the Romans, or composition/rhetorics development during the Enlightenment and how it's been carried over into higher education in the U.S. It's a lot of work and stressful.

And while I don't want to say, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, that it's been miserable during these last four weeks, it kind of has been miserable. But this is what I've been told to expect, that studying for prelims is not fun, and like most of the things that I've been told by people in the program who have been there (done that), they're right. It's hard to imagine that sitting in a chair or in a library reading and writing on a sunny day in July could be stressful but, well. Or the very act of studying, as opposed to say, writing what one already "knows," is a kind of a lowering, and so to hang out all day with the idea that I don't know enough about, say, the transition from 18th Century rhetorical treatises to transcendentalism or Deluze's Control Society in relation to Derrida's theories of deconstruction put me in a constant state of not being quite good/smart enough. This wears on me, and while maybe some can maintain a degree of confidence in the face of daily self-immolation, I find the whole process demeaning and disorienting. As most people say after prelims, they didn't want to read or pick up a book for a while after the ordeal had passed. So tired, is the claim.

But I understand that it's a "hoop" (as people call it) to jump though, and on the plus side I get to reconsider and relearn this material in a more concrete way. If I'm ever in a position where I am called to teach a class on, say, post-modern philosophy, I'll be in a better position to do this. Um, so yeah. That's what I'm doing these days. In less bitter news, after the day's work (including teaching, which, thank god, puts me in touch with human beings) is done, I've been taking evening hikes along Burnett's Creek, sometimes solo and sometime with friends. A canopy of trees covers the valley and at night all the fireflies come out. They don't land on me, or bite or eat my food. And when the sun sets all of a sudden they're everywhere, like I'm walking through a city at night. I wonder if they can distinguish the different hues of each other and read them as we read people walking down the street. Which lights call us out of ourselves and which don't? Now I will eat some lunch and get back to studying/writing/Summer.