Updates

I took a nap earlier, and I dreamt that I had already blogged today -- that the post from Monday about "A Subtlety" had been today. 

I got sick today. I think either that I'm more lactose intolerant now than I was a year ago, or I'm just more used to not being sick all the time now so it hit me way harder when I drank milk and it wrecked me.

I finished writing my Division II contract for Hampshire today. That took most of my brain space. It involved a description of everything I plan on learning and accomplishing in the next year and a half at Hampshire.

/Updates

Why yesterday was missing and today was late

I didn't realize I hadn't blogged yesterday until about 1 a.m.; when I finally thought to check, it was after I had taken my pills, and I was already so close to passing out for the night that I didn't have the energy to adjust into a sitting position where I could put both hands on the keyboard. 

I hate missing blog posts. I'm going to have to look at that hole on my sidebar, on Thursday Feb. 4, for the rest of the month, plus every time I go back through my archives forever. 

The last time I missed a day was December 8. Before that was June 17. Then March 17, then January 2, then in 2014 there are missed days almost every month until May, when there are only two blog posts. Scrolling back through my calendar like that is like shuffling through a really strange kind of mental decay. I remember why I only had two posts in May -- it's because I was focusing on school, so I put the blog on the back-burner. Now, I'm in a much more intense program than I was in back then, and I'm still managing to keep up -- on the other hand, I have fewer jobs and a safer space to regroup at the end of the day.

Still, I have days like yesterday, in which I just couldn't keep enough of my mind present to get everything done, or today, when I got back from dinner and shortly thereafter passed out for two and a half hours.

Confidence and wonder in political writing (a disorganized mess shaped like a blog post)

I had a thought while doing a reading for a class tonight that I almost don't want to write, because I'm not sure how to write it correctly. Instead of that, since it's this or "ugh IDK what to blog about," I'm writing this paragraph to highlight the fact that I'm unsure about my precise phrasing and reasoning to follow.

The line that triggered the thought, from "The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project" by Susan Buck-Morss, was:

It is the "accelerated progression of economic crises" that keeps history cyclical.

It was the kind of statement that, true or not, takes a kind of brazen confidence to actually write. 

Now, I believe this statement to be true -- or, at least, I agree with the sentiment it corresponds to, more-or-less. But I hedged on "true or not" because it reminded me of a feeling that has in the past corresponded to some very not-true statements. 

The feeling was "I didn't know you could just say that," and it's kind of world-shaking when it happens to you. Less so for me now, in my mid-20s, having been experiencing that sensation repeatedly every few readings for most of my adult life, but still enough that it inspires much deeper thought than my baseline. 

This time, it produced a sudden, strong sympathy for the obnoxiously "edgy" teens who say everything like they're trying to be world-shakingly profound. It was a reminder of how powerful it is when that feeling happens to you, and it reminded me that it's really appealing to want to be able to create that in other people's experience. 

Of course, you can still be an asshole about it, and those teens usually are: they aren't trying to share in an experience of wonder so much as they're trying to assert dominance and authority by way of that wonder, and they're generally failing either way. This is why I was nervous to write this post -- I don't want to accidentally write something that reads as "I think pretentious, intellectually aggressive teenagers are in the right," and there are a lot of ideas in this post that I haven't even begun to explicate -- like, part of this thought process was originally about how the anti-PC crowd gets their ideology in part from this feeling -- 

idk. I don't know what to blog about right now. I just know I was reminded of an important emotion and I didn't want to ignore that experience just at the moment.

Dates on things

So I do a lot of readings for classes in the form of PDFs, some but very much not all of which have dates on them. Usually I don't see the dates anyway, because they're in tiny print buried on a page at the end or at the front, the part you skip over to get to the actual reading.

And usually, about a third of the way through every reading, I find myself wondering when it was written -- because that informs a huge amount of the context I should be taking from it. Was this written before X thinker totally tore these ideas apart? Should I be looking at this as derivative of Y, or a precursor to it? What historical events is this author ignoring, and what historical events just straight up hadn't happened yet?

So, I would like to make a recommendation to all my professors. (Here, on my blog, which none of my professors read. And no, I won't be sharing this with them. This is rhetorical.) 

When you're scanning texts to share sections as a PDF, take a post-it note, and, in huge sharpie letters, write the year of first publication and stick it to the first page of the reading. I think it would be a big help.

Poetics and politics

I'm in two space-related classes this semester: The Fictional House, which is a writing workshop about our relationship to the built environment, and the Politics of Space, which is about the political elements of architecture and planning.

There's a lot of room for overlap in the material here, but one overlap I wasn't expecting was in name: the textbook for The Fictional House is "The Poetics of Space."

I have absolutely no doubt that the similarity between the phrases "The Poetics of Space" and "The Politics of Space" is going to confuse me constantly all semester.

Re: Eric Shouse's "Feeling, Emotion, Affect"

In my Queer Feelings class, one of the first things we read was an essay by Dr. Eric Shouse called "Feeling, Emotion, Affect," which attempts to lay out a system for understanding and discussing human internal experiences and their expression. 

There are three categories, as implied by the title -- roughly, affect is the immediate, visceral, unconscious experience; feeling is that experience once conscious and internally defined by reference to language and past experience; and emotion is the expression of the experience (including feigned expression) deliberately to others.

To me, there's a really obvious, massive hole here, between affect and feeling.

The issue is, by Shouse's conception, an experience is either unconscious, or it is defined by language and memory. 

But in my experience, there's often a huge, days-to-weeks-long gap when an experience is noticed, and conscious, sometimes even having qualities intrinsically tied to its being conscious, during which it can't be adequately named or connected clearly to prior memories.

In this state my ability to cross-reference with language and memory is disrupted. I can think of names for the state itself -- dissociation, crisis, void -- but those names don't adequately describe the feeling itself -- and besides, the ability to tag a name to it later represents a movement from that state into the state Shouse calls "feeling," not a disproof of the state itself.

The important part is consciousness: Shouse writes, "affect is the most abstract because affect cannot be fully realised in language,  and because affect is always prior to and/or outside of consciousness[.]"  (Bolding mine.) He constrains these two conditions together: his taxonomy explicitly and firmly has no place for conscious non-linguistic experience.

These periods are a major part of my mental illness, and without addressing them any explication of my inner life would be deeply incomplete. 

I suspect this state exists in most or all people's experience, but for Shouse, and for neurotypical people without mental illness in general, it's probably generally so brief that it's easy to ignore or fail to notice entirely. But because it lacks this category, it would be impossible for me to use Shouse's taxonomy to meaningfully discuss my internal life.

Update 2: Hampshire Spring 2016

It's late. Today didn't go as well as yesterday did. I was in the wrong classroom for my first class, and wrote down the wrong day for the second. Also I found out I don't have class tomorrow and will probably have to drop the class I would have had tomorrow if it were meeting.

I'm having a converstion with my modmates about whether there should be a United States.

Spring 2016: start of the semester

Today was my first day of classes for the Spring 2016 semester at Hampshire College. I've been to two classes so far: Queer Feelings, and Narrative Frustration. Both look very exciting.

Queer Feelings is going to have a ton of writing, but the focus is all on lateral thinking and emotional connections, rather than analytic writing. One of the regular assignments is responding to a reading by writing about a song you think relates to it. I can't wait.

Narrative Frustration is kinda self-explanatory -- it's about narratives that resist easy interpretation. There are books and articles and there's going to be a huge part of the class where we choose our own frustrating works and analyze them.

Tomorrow I have Postmodernity and Politics, and the Fictional House. So those will probably be my blog topics then.

Solarpunk Press is doing other kinds of stuff now, too

Today we published "Hand-cranked mountain bikes: An interview with Mike Augspurger, inventor of the One-Off Handcycle," who I worked with at Hampshire in my Appropriate Technology class. The handcycle is a really cool piece of technology, a three-wheeled bike that's pedaled by hand and steered by shifting on a chest support, and seeks to provide the best possible athletic experience for people who use wheelchairs.

I really liked doing this and I'm looking forward to doing more.

Exhausted

The drive home today was three hours. Traffic was awful. I was already pretty tired today, but this burned through the rest of my energy and then some. I sat down on my bed to write a blog post today and I fell asleep for about 10 minutes.

The Christmasyness of everything around here is exhausting, too. There was, like, no Christmas stuff going on at Hampshire, and now that I'm back on a street with lights on every house in a house that plays nothing but Christmas albums, at all times, for the whole month of December, it's like being frosted. Like, with cake frosting. I even feel that awful tingling on the roof of my mouth that frosting causes.

I'm definitely going to have to find a different kind of energy here than I had going for me at Hampshire if I want to get anything done at all this break, because as I am now all of my energy is going into actively not figuring out which awful Christmas song is playing by the sound distantly penetrating my bedroom door.

I missed a day (also finals update)

I've been working on finals a lot lately, and my days have otherwise also been pretty packed, with general end of semester stuff. Yesterday, one of the consequences of that was that I missed a blog post. 

So, to make up for it, I'll try and get two blog posts in somewhere this week. For today, here's some of the stuff I've been working on:

The four spiraly ones are for my Weird Fictions final. The last one is a map of my home town and modifications I intend to make, for my Green Cities final.

The Martian, Kindred, and neurodivergence

I saw The Martian last night, with Faith. We're probably going to write up our thoughts on it for Solarpunk Press, but there was one thing that stuck out to me that I want to talk about here. It's the same thing that's been sticking out to me in class discussions about Kindred in Weird Fictions: people without chronic mental health issues are weird.

Here on is going to contain spoilers for both the movie The Martian and the book Kindred.

In a class discussion last week, the professor had us consider the scene where, after being stranded in the 1880s for five years, Kevin (the protagonist's partner) was so frustrated by seeing his typewriter that he smashed it with his fist.

We talked about how massively upset he must be, to cause a reaction that strong. It was a weird conversation to be having, because Kevin's reaction sounded to me like a remarkably restrained management of a mildly bad emotional experience. Being frustrated by everything around you within the first few hours after a five-year-long trauma sounds to me like a tiny, trivial reaction. Kevin was going through an experience I have like twice a year, on a good year. His reaction to literally being stranded out of time was about on par with my reaction, last weekend, to having a stressful class period.

In The Martian, the main character, Mark Watney, copes with having to survive for an anticipated four years alone on an entire planet, using the resources meant to last for a few more weeks, without any reason to hope that he'd get so much as a conversation with another human, for months at minimum.

Being able to survive that seems absurd to me. Not because of the technical challenges, but because Mark Watney seems to have a superhuman capacity for retaining a sense of hope: to the point where he can leverage that hope against the feelings of loneliness and doom that I would have found unbearable within a week.

It occurred to me that a person selected for a Mars mission would necessarily be someone who passed psych evaluations designed to filter for exactly that quality, so it doesn't feel like bullshit in terms of plot. 

In both of these cases, though, I found myself realizing, well into the story, that the characters in the story are neurotypical, and have no chronic mental illnesses, and that means they have access to a set of abilities entirely outside my life experience. I found myself wondering why the creators had chosen to make the protagonists neurotypical, before it occurred to me that they would never have made that choice: if the story isn't about the mental state of the character, they'd never make that a part of it.

I feel like the next beat in this blog post is a sort of call-to-action about the representation of mental illness in media, which is important, but these thoughts are unsorted so I don't have anything clear to say on that front. It's just weird.

"W"

I withdrew from a class today. It's literally the last day I'm allowed to do that: if I had given it a couple more hours (when the office that handles these things closed) I'd have to take a "No evaluation," which is the Hampshire equivalent of an F. Instead, I get to take a "W," which means the same thing everywhere, I think.

Friday night, after I blogged, I fell asleep from exhaustion for about two hours. Then I woke up, and I didn't go back to sleep until the sun came up. Every time I closed my computer, turned off my light, shut my eyes, my head flooded with anxiety about class. So in the afternoon when I woke up, I wrote an email to the professor explaining what was wrong and why I was withdrawing. In the five hours following writing that email, I got more work done (especially self-care work) than I had in about two weeks. So, I added another 300-ish words in a postscript and sent it. (It ended up being about 1000 words long.) 

I feel like I learned a lot from that class, and I may write about that more later, or share parts of the email. But I think very importantly one of the things I'm doing better about now is controlled failure: I could have stayed in that class, and maybe done okay, and let my other three classes' work suffer, damage my personal relationships, and just generally live in a state of constant anxiety. This loss, this incompleteness -- it was already there, manifest in my circumstances and the kinds of control I had and didn't have. It feels like I've packaged up another month's worth of personal loss into a neat little "W" rather than let it spill everywhere.

Congealing schedules

i think I'm starting to get the hang of the schedules that are shaping my life at Hampshire. When things are due each class, (just remembered a thing that's due Tuesday while I was writing this) And Solarpunk Press stuff is starting to fall into place faster and with less struggle (right in time for new, unanticipated challenges to pop up) and I've started to manage to block out time socially with slightly more consistency.

And, of course, the semester is almost over, and I'm going to have to solve for winter break then figure out a whole other set of classes in the spring.

i may-or-may-not be slightly overwhelmed. I'm managing, though. 

"Kindred" by Octavia Butler, and enjoying reading

I finished reading Kindred this morning. I was reading it for a class, and I was excited for it because I hadn't read anything by Octavia Butler before and I kept putting it off.

I have a lot of thoughts about it, but I'm going to let them filter through my classwork for a while longer. 

On one hand, Kindred was hard to read. It's about the experience of slavery in 19th Century America, and I don't feel confident enough to say "It doesn't pull punches" but it did plenty to make my guts twist up for a whole variety of reasons.

On the other hand: This was the first book I really tore through in, like, months. The first book I couldn't put down. That I didn't find myself reading the same sentence over and over again.

Kindred was familiar territory: Octavia Butler is a science fiction writer. She writes in that genre-y way that I'm at home with, she gave me the information I wanted when I wanted it and made it easy to trust her about what she was withholding. The other books we've read this semester, and the other works I've read lately, mostly haven't been like that. Dracula tended to lay things out refreshingly early, but it was deeply different than the SF/F style. Never Let Me Go was just a straight-out literary novel. It occurs to me that both of those books were written with a hypothetical audience: Dracula is a collection of documents written by the characters, Never Let Me Go is the protagonist telling stories to the reader. 

In Kindred, Butler just tells the story. It's first person, but it isn't written like it's something Dana (the protagonist and viewpoint character) wrote. There's no sense of what was going on in her life when she decided to sit down and write this book, who it's for, what she'd do with it if she had the manuscript. There's no narrator's detachment from the moment of the story. Dana's not an unreliable narrator. She's barely a narrator. She's first-person as an extremely close third-person.

I hadn't realized how tired I was getting of works that perform themselves as an artifact that exists in their own worlds until I realized how much of a relief it was to read something that had no trace of that quality. It adds so many layers of things to think about: The motives of the author, and therefore their reliability; the quality of their memory, the audience they were considering. Those qualities can be worthwhile but often it feels like they're unnecessary. In Kindred it felt like Butler knew she was asking the reader to do a hard thing, to face the reality of enslaved life, and didn't ask us to do any extra work to get there. 

Even as I write this, I fear I'm over-stating the case against texts that exist within themselves. Maybe it really is just that I'm sick of them right now. But I think there's more to this thought, and it's an aspect of works that I'll be keeping an eye out for now, as much when it's absent as when it's present.

~This is Halloween, this is Halloween~

Tonight is Hampshire Halloween, which is apparently a big deal. (There have been a handful of people I've talked to since I came here who know of Hampshire only as the place with the really huge Halloween party.) I'm pretty excited. I also don't really know what I'm going to be doing. I've got a friend coming up from Salem, Mass. (cuz I figured it's Halloween, and they live in Salem, Mass., so they probably want to be anywhere but Salem, Mass. right now.)

I'm pretty proud of my costume. I'm dressing up as a Perfectly Reasonable Scientist Who Happens To Disagree With The Ethics Board About The Necessity Of Human Trials On Speculative Immortality Research.

I will post photos, I promise.

(Also: Yeah, Nightmare Before Christmas songs are going to be stuck in my head from now till Easter.)

Academic hypertext

I mentioned yesterday that wikis are a great format for academic information, and I've been thinking a lot about the formats of academic writing lately. 

It seems to me that the central conflict in academic writing is the tension between providing enough information that someone who came to the text to learn can find their footing in it, and leaving enough out that it's not an intolerable slog for anyone already reasonably familiar with the subject. Some writers do a better job of navigating this than others -- and some prioritize different hypothetical audiences than others.*

There are all sorts of strategies for dealing with this. Footnotes and endnotes can nest extraneous information that might either be essential to someone who isn't familiar but boring to an expert, or extraneous nonsense to a novice but interesting to an expert. Some writers spend huge stretches of time exhaustively covering everything they can think of, anticipating that the reader will just skim past once they get the idea. Some include appendices, charts, supplementary material, etc.

But with a printed work, it always boils down to a single fundamental problem: in the end, there can only be one text. What's printed is printed, and it's up to the reader to learn how to interact with that text. The author has to decide who to optimize for, and how to give the readers on either side of that optimization the tools to make the piece work for them.

Hypertext has the capacity to deal with this problem. Works could be made intricately variable -- not in a choose-your-own-adventure way, but in a choose-your-own-depth way.

I'm imagining a slider at the top of the page, that says "Jargon level." There's a check box next to it that says "Highlight," and a drop-down that says "Advanced." Slide Jargon back and forth, and the text substitutes sections of dense jargon with much longer segments fully explicating** them. Click highlight, and all the words, lines and paragraphs that either have changed or could be changed light up. Hover over the highlighted entries and it could show you what they would be substituted with -- so if you want to see the jargon in context but need to keep checking, it'll always be right there; and if you want to read the expanded version and know what jargon you're missing out on, you can see that, too.

Under "Advanced," you could select substitutions from a list: say you struggle with the word "Explicate" but otherwise pretty much get the jargon, you can just turn on the expanded version of that word. Or say you have a word or phrase that you frequently mess up that doesn't have a programmed alternate version: you can type that right into your copy of the book. "Ambiguated" could become "Made ambiguous," if  you struggle with that kind of verb form. "1.8 billion" could get a parenthetical phrase after it saying "(1,800 million)" and "9 trillion" could get "(9,000,000 million)," if you struggle keeping track of large numbers' relationships to each other.

You could set up favorites, or download other people's favorites. You could get modified versions of old texts, that let you dip your toes into the complexity of the original while providing a fluid safety net to toss you a line when you need it. You could read versions of texts that are prepped to let you know that the words in a particular part means something different in the context than you expect them to, like in legal texts or very old things.

You could get books that have your trigger warnings in them, so you can brace yourself right before the relevant scene, without having to put that alert in the book for everyone who doesn't share your triggers. 

This direct, hands-on access to the structure of the text could make academic writing massively more accessible. It could also help make it more collaborative, if the authors let their books take on a life of their own.

Vitally this doesn't ever have to harm the integrity of the original text. You could always have a setting somewhere that says "Author preferred," that gives you the version of the text the author feels best represents their view. That might be the one with all the jargon -- but I bet pretty often it would be the one with the jargon followed by the explication, because if you're going to have a version that counts as the truest one, why not the one where you get to say "This is exactly what I meant by..."

And I would imagine it would always be obvious, when manipulating the text, whether you're applying filters that came with the book or filters you brought in from elsewhere. 

Ooh, and imagine having these in really introductory classes? Like, being handed an original Shakespeare in seventh grade, masked over to the point of being a basic, middle school level summary? Imagine being a curious kid with an interesting assignment, and being able to start clicking away at the settings, revealing layer after layer of increasing depth. Imagine being able to see, right in front of you, in your half-a-page worksheet, the whole academic landscape underlying it.

Being able to control how the text reveals itself to you means you can make yourself maximally comfortable in the text, and it means you can make yourself feel safe and confident in your ability to approach it. Furthermore, it gives you a strong, tangible sense of the degree of abstraction you're working with: because if you don't understand the core material, it helps to be able to find out the nature of that non-understanding. The summaries and explanations can help you articulate your confusion even if they can't resolve that confusion for you. 

This is probably my least clear, most convoluted post in a long time. I think I might try and rewrite it with some hypertextual elements soon.

*That is to say, a text that is inaccessible to non-experts is not automatically badly written, although that's a whole other topic that's worth attention on its own. My use of the word "accessible" in this parenthetical is deeply ambiguous.

** "Explicating" is an example of a word that would change if you slid the jargon slider on this blog post. It means to break apart and explain a piece of media that was written in a way that is clear to someone who's accustomed to the corresponding background information, but unclear to people outside that group.

Hampedia: Hampshire's wiki

My college has a wiki! It's pretty cool. It's also not super maintained, though: most of the pages I've seen are pretty out of date.

I've tried to get into Wikipedia, as in editing, but it's pretty intimidating. There are a lot of people there who seem to have a much better idea of what they're doing. But a local wiki feels much more accessible to me: notoriety has a much lower bar, if it exists as a requirement at all; I have direct access to the sources for a lot of the information (like, I filled out the QCA Game Night page today while at QCA Game Night and talking to the person who runs it); and I know way more of the stuff in the first place.

Also, a wiki is such an amazing format for gathering information at a college. In a system based entirely on citations (the internet/hypertext) it's probably the thing most based on citations.

I'm hoping to be able to get involved in revitalizing the wiki this semester. I will update on that if/when I get to do it.