- when a student blogs a learning moment, of any sort
- finding a tail feather from a yellow tailed black cockatoo on the way to work
- seeing a platypus in the river near home
- the second essay by Wolfgang Ernst in “Digital Memory and the Archive”
I should be editing a book chapter which is notoriously late. A day of meetings, administration, stress about a new subject that begins in 10 days which I’m now coordinating, and which I’ve decided to redo the curriculum. Completely. No reading list yet. New blog CMS where I’m to set up 140 blogs. Speculative pedagogy that I worry staff, let alone students, will feign an embrace while all the time wishing wondering why it can’t be like it used to be. Having to get home early so Ms. Vogmae could finish an art project to find ms “now I’m 7″ nearly asleep on the couch worn out from a sleep over and trip to the zoo. She needed my computer because, because, because, that was how we could watch Nanny McPhee on DVD. So there went the edit window. More teaching related activities. This evening the house crowded by craft group and am ensconced in the study and the interrupting of laughter, talk, and “tea?” means not writing. Then ms 7 wakes up and I am delegated as responsible parent. The anxiety of having to finish, the laxity of letting writing get out of hand and more pertinently not having the source material near or ready to hand so that the gaps, those gaps that trucks lumber through, stare back at me more resolutely, rudely, than any blank page white screen blinking cursor ever manages to do.
Things I learnt today.
That I don’t write nearly as many things as I could, am capable of, or should. That one of the reasons this happens is I figure it out and don’t particularly see the point of communicating it since what I do tend to write about is the end of the process, not the process itself. (As a consequence I get defensive and also bored when I see others being celebrated for doing what I irascibly think of as joining the dots, since it strikes me as bleeding fucking obvious, though apparently not to others.) Actually, I already knew this, but what I learnt today is that it is in my teaching, at both undergraduate, honours, and PhD levels, that an awful lot of my thinking out, through and processing happens. That if I wrote in a way that followed the ideas and connections I make with students (for for example a lecture is often a thinking out loud, in situ, from an idea as a prompt in what is an essayist form) then this would be useful for others, and productive for me.
My track record on translating that into action is very very poor.
That I had set aside time to go riding (that is cycling as in serious effort, so not a soft pedal along some bike path but I had envisaged 5+ hours), but with the temperature soaring dialled that back. Instead I got up, thought about the mountain of work I had, and found a reason not to ride. This has put me into a very poor mood. Completely of my own doing. It is a mix of none endorphins and so the mood swing that happens there, and also the guilt of not putting in the hours. This
cult guilt and loathing then easily infects the rest of my day. Net result? Saving time by not riding reduces my productivity for the rest of the day, and feel worse to boot. This is unhealthy, isn’t it?
In my position as honours program director I have been trying to pay, well not exactly pay, our external examiners by way of a gift voucher. It is fair to say it has dragged on a bit:
yes, another bloody form email. Adrian Miles, aka Ebenezer Scrooge. There’s an explanation below, but the financial wheels of the credit system have ground to a halt and in spite of our best intentions your thank you gift vouchers from amazon.com are not going to be distributed to the new year. Now, if you’re from the northern hemisphere please realise we have Christmas + summer holiday + plus end of the year (i.e. final semester) so Christmas for us is not a comma. It is a full stop, followed by an ellipsis, encased in brackets. So new year literally means anytime from the end of the first week of January (unlikely) to the somewhere near the end of January (more likely).
I apologise for this, it stuffs up you, and my 2013 budget, but there you go.
The fine print.
So it all has to paid on a corporate credit card. Being the end of the year and all the budgets needing to be spent most people were spending, so it was hard to find ‘space’ on a corporate card to pay for the vouchers. On Monday all was good, we bought them all, I ponied up and went off to Canberra for a conference. Sweet. By the time I’d got there amazon had let me know the deal was off. Card declined. I figured we must have maxed the boss’s card, so arranged to fix it all up Friday when I was back. Turns out wasn’t maxed but there was a disputed purchase on the card, (you know, the sort that might just mean something dodgy happened) and the bank cancelled the entire card, and reissued a shiny one. Except it hasn’t arrived, so we’re in limbo.
Sure there’s a lesson in there, feel free to use :-)
So ended by work year.
I had wanted to write about taking the country train to the city. Late morning hinted spring sunshine during the school holidays. As we get closer to the city the teenagers. Brash dirt talk of the boys. All beer, cars, muscles and faux sex. Marks me with the grey of thinking I was never like that. Nah. Worse.
We have a lemon tree in our rented backyard. They can be a tad pithy, and this time of year we have a glut of these delightful, aromatic, astringent things. Last year I tied, with an old coat hanger, a childs play bucket upon the front fence and filled it with lemons. Strangers would stop, put a couple in their bag and continue either on to work or home. If we were there they’d ask, with a rising smile “are you giving these away?”, or “can I have a couple?”. Just sharing with the neighbourhood. A little nice thing to do. (We should all aspire to do little nice things, don’t you think?). One day the small pink bucket could not be found. Never mind. Chalk it up to losing things, after all as anyone with children (of any age, I suspect) knows there is a lot of stuff, and it walks.
Lots more lemons. OK, bigger bucket then. My best bucket. Not that cheap wire handled thing you get from the local $2 shop but almost German in all its moulded solid complexity. My favourite bucket. Sit it by the front gate, lots of lemons there now. Over a day or so the bucket empties. I fill it again. Then it happened. It walked. I reckon it was at least 1/3 full, which is what? two kilo’s of lemons? But the whole bucket? Now I am using those cheap plastic shopping bags from the supermarket. Two have gone so far.
It’s like an episode of Seinfeld. Should this person (because surely it is the same person) know that it is only the lemons, not the buckets and bags, that are being given away? Do they know this anyway and so, well, have added theft, as if not minding giving away lemons means I’m good for a bucket too? But what really pisses me off, perhaps even irrationality, is that they take so many of the lemons each time. If you really need two kilo’s of lemons a time, go buy some. The idea is to share them, a few at a time. Some part of me thinks this is a deep breach of the rules of engagement here, the ethics of the exercise. To take them all for yourself is not just greedy, but immoral. I guess it is what we try to teach our children, when there is a plate of fairy bread everyone should get some. It isn’t yours. I’m not sure why I care as much as I do, since I am giving them away, but I do.
Perhaps I’ll put a sign, asking for the bag to left.
I have a really bad habit of distilling ideas and points down into nuggets, kernels, that then I just think others can unpack. The slides I made for my lightning talk did this, and while crude (that was part of a deliberate aesthetic) I was proud of them not as illustrations, but as propositions. All good. The mistake I made was to not realise (since I am not, really, a story teller) that since these were propositions that the way to present this was to tell the story of these slides, of these nuggets, to unpack them. Instead, as I was working through what to say, I wrote out the story of each of these points, as a quick word sketch. I didn’t intend to present like that, they were more notes to myself letting me know why the slides were as they were, my story to myself. As I was doing this, and thinking about how to distil this down into five minutes, I had to this bright flash of intuition where I thought, “cool, I can turn my statements into aphoristic propositions too, and so my five minutes will be this sort of reflective, dense catalogue of propositions to engage with”. This is the same mistake my students make, and which I correct. Alas, so easy to see it in others… The net effect of this is to in fact double the density of the kernels, and so you end up with one layer of abstract propositions (the pictures) and then on top of that a second. One does not help unpack the other, it just complicates. This I think was a sadly missed opportunity. (That’s the self critique.)
Now, moving on more generally.
My background is out of media studies, cinema studies, and then via hypertext theory and practice (aka digital humanities) back into online interactive video. The things that I have inherited, no, that got me hooked on hypertext are two really important qualities. The first is the recognition that (to paraphrase Ted Nelson), that everything is deeply intertwingled. This is what Will Luers referred to in his presentation yesterday as “deep contingency”, that trying to decide ‘what the story is’ reduces all of this intertwingled beautiful complexity into, precisely, ‘the story’. As if there is one. An arc. Three acts. I revel in the way that things are interconnected, inter-related. the threads, thoughts, lines of flight, escape, retreat, that can be woven through ideas, things, the world. (Note, this is precisely NOT the loss of structure, it is just a different structure to the straight arrow of this-then-this-then-this. They are story trails, they express of themselves ideas.)
That’s the first thing. The second? That hypertext was small. It used small scale software, that you made good hypertext writing hypertextually – so that it was a practice as much as a form. And from this that it was, well, polite. It did not assume ownership of your screen, your time. And in the early days it thought like a novel. You could pick it up, read a bit, but it down, and come back to it. It rewarded your return (I’ve written about that elsewhere in the ‘hypertext reading’ section of this book chapter). This really matters. A novel does not take over your desk, or your time. I choose when to read, for how long, and when to come back (if I ever do). I decide. Hypertext recognises this too in relation to structure (it mentors, models, facilitates ways of finding and disclosing poetic structure, but you decide eventually), but also in relation to my time, my computer. It is my time. My computer.
So, last night over dinner I was mulling over a mediocre beer why it wasn’t feeling like this was my tribe (I came to Montreal thinking that this might be the academic community that I would grok with, and I was realising that it perhaps wasn’t). I am not a documentarist, though I make what I think of as non fiction works. I work often in video, but they are small, formal propositions that, well, are about making a proposition, they certainly don’t have anything to narrate. I make Korsakow films, though that’s more from the point of view of the qualities that I guess I’m describing here. No, what I realised is that so much of the work here is still, at the end of the day cinematic. It wants all of my attention. It needs all of my computer screen (probably most of the CPU too).
This then leads to all those questions about how do we keep people there? How long do they stay? Wrong questions, no matter what the answer is. It is the web. It is open. Stop thinking of your stuff as a gated community. We learnt long ago that sites that don’t like out, that try to keep people in, don’t work (just ask Rupert about what a great idea MySpace was, and for those that don’t know, MySpace when he bought it was closed, no RSS, no way to bring outside stuff in, and so on). People will give as much attention as they wish, and as they can. This really does matter. Twitter works because it is ambient, I can leave it running (as w have at the conference), it adds value, it has a small footprint (in bandwidth, screen, and attention), and it works precisely because of this – not in spite of this. I have seen, what, 20 major web non fiction projects in two days. If each wanted me to treat them like they intend, let’s say even as casually as a bit of TV (in terms of my attention) then that’s at least 20 x 30 minutes. 10 hours. I do not have 10 hours ready to hand for your work. I just don’t (and I’m paid to actually study your stuff). Who does? You cannot work in this environment if your starting question is that I need people to be here for an hour because, well, it really matters.
Now, this does not mean you can’t make something that is deep, rich, and has hours and hours of material. Because it will find an audience. This group over there will love that 5 minutes. This other group, that other bit. This emerges over time. But only if it can be found. This means bits need to be granular (accessible and addressable in and of themselves) but also that you need to think (this is only partly the case but will do for my deeply dogmatic rhetorical purposes) like a novelist. No, not a linear story. But that make things that people can return to, and that the work rewards me by letting me find more, understand more deeply, because I have returned. This is the lesson of blogging. We return, we find something more and it grows deeper. We learn about the life world of the author, their point of view, their ideas. Depth comes not from the first visit, but the returning visits. (This is also the case with all the original hypertext fictions, read them once they’re just, well, random, but read them two and three times, and then you start to get the patterns, structure, curves. And this is not about interpretation, it is about finding the form of the work only through visiting it again.) This happens in video blogging, where small and short form rules (and I don’t mean that rubbish on that reinvented global TV station YouTube).
It is my screen. Right now, and it’s only am on a Sunday morning, I have my blog editor open, mail, twitter, two web browsers a visualisation tool, Photoshop, and Omnifocus (sort of to do manager). I jump between my blog, the browser (I’m reading a live text feed of the current stage of the Tour of Italy, a bike race, as it unfolds), my email client and new tweets as they arrive. You want me to use your work, you need to fit my ecology. Or recognise that your domain is the installation, the museum, and the gallery.
Most of what I’ve seen are beautiful works, but they risk being monuments in an age where the sketch, the minor (in Deleuze’s sense) and the ephemeral are our contemporary forms.