Archive for the “other” Category

i’ve had a fair number of jobs in my life, and most of them have been strange in one way or another. my job now though is undoubtedly the oddest thing i’ve ever been paid to do. on paper, i’m a “research assistant,” which is a job title that sounds neat and well-defined, and probably involves a pocket protector. in reality, my job now and for the next nine-ish months is basically to write a dissertation. again, seems somewhat straightforward, but what is missing from that picture is what most jobs seem to have embedded in them: a workplace. sure, i’ve got an office on campus, and i do occasionally have to go there to print out thousands of dead trees worth of research papers, but i don’t generally work there on a daily basis. i’ve discovered that i am physiologically inclined to operate like one of those people that the old media has defined as digital nomads. allow me to quote:

Gruber and Consalvo are digital nomads. They work — clad in shorts, T-shirts and sandals — wherever they find a wireless Web connection to reach their colleagues via instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and occasionally by voice on their iPhones or Skype.

now, except for the fact that i hate instant messaging, twitter, facebook and skype, and the fact that i don’t have an iPhone, this is a spookily accurate description of my actual work day. when i’m writing and researching, it’s really easy for me to get into a mental rut. not quite writer’s block as such, but more of a brain block. i can’t concentrate, every little thing distracts me, and i end up reading and re-reading the same paragraph over and over and over. this happened so often when i was working in my office that i thought something was wrong with me. then one day some morons broke the glass in my office window and i had to evacuate for two days while they “cleaned” up the glass and repaired the window. i felt lost that first day, and ended up just sort of wandering around campus trying to find a place that looked comfortable and didn’t already have three people sitting in it and 4 more waiting to take their places. the next day i gave it all up as a bad job and decided to just go sit at a CC’s coffee shop and read.

can you guess the punchline? after a few minutes blissful and effortless concentration which i spent on reading my book, it suddenly occurred to me that i could be reading some of the millions of research papers that i needed to slog through for my dissertation’s literature review and my general exams. thus began my life as a digital nomad. i spent about 3 months at that particular CC’s, and i honestly don’t think i would have passed my general exams without it. i wrote a thank you note to the staff there, and if i didn’t know that every sane human hates graduations, i would invite them to mine.

so of course what i wanted to find out next was what does that cc’s offer that my office doesn’t, and is it exclusive to that location? naturally i saved this question for AFTER my generals were taken and passed, because i’ve read the fable of the goose who laid the golden eggs. afterwards though, i did think about it and i did experiment. i don’t have any answers really, but here’s what i’ve found.

  1. open spaces are good, but nature doesn’t have air-conditioning
  2. i like to see people, but not hear them
  3. my laptop’s battery only lasts about 3 hours, so if i’m going to be typing i need an outlet
  4. i can’t write on my lap very well, so if i’m going to be writing on paper i need a table
  5. i can read just about anywhere, just so long as it’s not too quiet
  6. loud chaotic noises are good
  7. white noise of any sort is good
  8. regular, predictable noises are bad
  9. background music is fine, as long as it doesn’t have any words that i can recognize
  10. my own music is fine, as long as it’s either instrumental or has words that are so old i don’t even hear them
  11. wooden chairs are the devil

so what do you get from all that?  well for one, coffee houses make a great deal of sense when viewed in context.  ”My” cc’s is nice and open, with an entire wall of windows (the one i’m camped at today has TWO walls made of windows. woot.) and since it’s right off campus it is generally full of students.  for the most part, these people are either doing some sort of homework or playing around on their computers, and so don’t do much talking.  there are plenty of outlets, free wifi, and tables where i can spread out.  there are always fascinatingly random sounds going on in a coffee shop, and generally some sort of innocuous and utterly unidentifiable background music.  of course there is one place that CC’s fails with a capital FAIL:  the vast majority of the seating consists of, naturally, backbreakingly awful wooden chairs.  it makes me sad.

i can deal with the horrible chairs for a few hours, and when my general exams seemed to depend on my being able to tolerate the chairs, i was able to go for a solid three months on them.  but now, i can’t manage more than maybe every other day spent in a cc’s wooden maiden.  so assuming i spend two or three weekdays at a cc’s (and that’s pretty consistent, even today) the question becomes: where do i go the rest of the time?  the answer to this really is the heart of my brand of digital nomadism: i have absolutely no idea.

and i don’t just mean that on each non-cc’s day i wake up with no real clue of where i’m going to land for the day, i mean i don’t even remember where i was on my last few off-days, and i sometimes don’t even know where i am when i’m actually there.  i mean i generally know where i am when i walk in, because i see the sign and whatnot.  but as soon as i hit my groove for the day, i am completely lost.  for instance, one of my occasional haunts is a sort of tex-mex joint called Qdoba.  they’ve got an excellent chicken taco salad and free wifi.  when i know i’ve got other things to take care of in the morning, i will often head to qdoba around lunch time and just stay there for the day.  when i first sit down i’ve got a taco salad in front of me which is a pretty vivid reminder of where i am, but as soon as that’s gone, i’m lost.  i will sometimes come out of my typing trance reaching for a coffee that isn’t there, or i’ll hit the print button and be shocked when my computer claims i am not in fact on campus near a printer.  then i’ll look up and be completely disoriented for minute, recognize my surroundings, and go order some guacamole.

this might sound vaguely frightening, but it’s actually extremely liberating.  since my actual environment is completely inconsequential (so long as it conforms to most of the above list of rules) my entire notional reality exists only in and around my work.  i can move from place to place in a given week or even within a given day, and never interrupt my trains of thought.  i am so free from mental distraction that i lose all sense of time and place.  it’s marvelous.


so what on earth was the point of this post?  clearly no pictures of caroline are forthcoming, and this stuff was in no way called for by anyone i know of, so why is it here?  and what does the blog title mean?

well, this entire post up to this point was an illustrative experiment.  i had planned to write a very specific sort of argument to prove a point i wanted to make, but instead i decided to just demonstrate precisely what i wanted to prove. see, this post started as a reply to a comment brandon made on the previous blog entry:

Brandon says:
September 1, 2009 at 8:38 pm

You see, your problem is that you have standards.
Once you get past that, it becomes easy.
People have a remarkably low threshold for entertainment value.

and here is what i had initially STARTED to type in reply:

i’m not yet quite able to inflict upon my readers the worst of the inane drivel that plods through my brain every time i stare at a blank page and attempt to write something in english.  i don’t know if you could say i have “standards” as such, but i do seem to have an internal literary critic perched just over my mind’s eye who is very quick with his biting sarcasm.

see? i’m not even sure what that last sentence means, but that’s what i happens when i let my fingers do the thinking. as soon as i go back and read it over, i have no idea who wrote it or why. and i write pages and pages of this every work day.  i know this has been happening for most of my conscious life, but i currently blame grad school and the pressures of writing for a nerd-based audience.

so there you have it.  a fairly straightforward reply to a straightforward comment.  or at least it started that way, and then i blacked out for a second and allowed my fingers to just wander across the keys, and they went off in some obtuse direction that still doesn’t make sense to me.  i recognize that a single sentence isn’t really enough to see and analyze the pattern, and so i conceived of this little plan.  i copied all of that stuff and pasted it into a new post window.  then i typed in a working title that, while trite, seemed to make sense and actually relate to the topic.

and then i turned my brain filters off.

the result is the above 1700 words which are about… i can’t really even remember now that my filters are back on and i’ve taken control again.  regardless, the point i was trying to make is basically this:  if i had to i could post every friday with complete and utter ease.  in fact, i could crank out a couple thousand words every single day without fail.   but the sacrifice…  is it really worth it?  i mean, honestly.

but i don’t think it’s actually a question of standards.  when i write with my brain, i don’t really write to a certain standard or worry overmuch about stylistic and grammatical considerations.  what literary flourishes do occasionally appear in my writing are essentially just coincidental.  when i’m searching for words to express a specific idea, sometimes things pop into my head that sound good, and sometimes i just write, you know… words.  like that.

the issue is more about whether i will write with my brain or with my fingers.  i have no idea if the external reader could tell the difference between the two products, and in fact i don’t even know if i could tell the difference.  i’ve never read any of this stuff with a critical eye, so for all i know they are indistinguishable stylistically.  but then, that’s not really the point.  the point is that i have some degree of control over what my brain writes.  i’m infinitely slower, and i often have to look at the ceiling for a minute to figure out how to start a sentence, but at least i can predict what the product will look like with some degree of accuracy.

when i’m letting the fingers do the talking, i stare at the ceiling too.  but it’s because my brain has blacked out and is busy watching the pretty colors dance on my eyeballs while my fingers type away furiously, free at last.  if only i had never learned touch-typing…

so that’s the deal.  brain-writing takes forever, and i use most of my brain-writing time to try and crank out a dissertation that will be readable by other academics, so getting one blog post out a week is just barely feasible.  finger-typing is fast, but i have precisely no clue what the result will be.  so what’s a harried grad student slash proud daddy to do?

well, generally my primary defense mechanism kicks in and i just upload the most recent photos of caroline and attempt to build some sort of post around them.  it seems to work ok, though i have to add the photo-sorting time to the brain-writing time, which means these posts tend to take upwards of 4-8 human hours to complete.  i know that these posts are generally satisfactory, so i intend to keep them in my blogitory toolbox.  but there’s got to be something more substantial every now and then.  after all, if that’s all the blog is going to be, then i may as well replace the front page with a single link to the flickr account and just start adding witty descriptions to each uploaded picture.  and nobody wants that.  right?  … right?

of course there’s always the cooking posts, but those take even longer to write and require completely conscious writing.  i’ve got two or three in the works, but they can’t be relied on for weekly output.

so what’s the takeaway message here?  well, so long as you all (mom) are content to wait on my brain to write things, and are ok with the occasional paragraph of finger-generated nonsense, i think that we’ll be just fine.  i may never find a magic day on which i can always post something, but hey, variety is the spice of blogs.  that and cinnamon.

and i suppose there’s a bit of a warning implicit in this post.  if in the future you notice my posts start to veer off into bizarre territory, like tributes to glove types and missives on the wonders of having fingernails to protect you from dangerous slicey things, then it’s just possible that my brain is no longer in charge.  don’t be alarmed, just calmly leave a supporting comment and then alert the authorities.  they’ll know what to do.

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so i’ve been thinking.

see, riley-n-fam seem to do most of their interesting stuff on weekends, and consequently updating the blog on sunday nights makes perfect sense for them. everything interesting for the week is now done, and it’s pretty fresh so the writing can come a bit more naturally.

but we don’t have weekends. due to the erratic work schedules that control our lives, our “days off” vary each week, but generally fall on what normal people would consider the work week. friday marks the last day of said work week, and thus it seemed to make sense as a day for me to update our blog every week.

plus as an added bonus i’d get a two day jump on brandon’s posts. of course when we do family stuff together, it actually flips into a 5 day lag, but whatever.

but i dunno. fridays have some issues. i’m always tired by friday night, and while the ipod’s alarm DOES remind me to do the post, if i’m pooped and haven’t composed anything in my head yet (like today) then i end up just pumping out some token drivel to satisfy both the alarm and my guilt complex. now i do have a few unfinished posts that i could always just polish up and publish in a hurry, but those are things that i have been working on long enough that i want to finish them properly, not in an exhaustion-fueled fever dream of a rushjob.

so i’m left with this: off-the-cuff prose about nothing in particular, written mostly out of a sense of obligation, as well as a bit of hard-headedness. i think a bit of that stems from the fact that i’ve been having to prove to myself lately that i CAN work on a deadline, after years of living the more-or-less timeless life of a grad student.

anyway, i do have one or two things to catch you up on (at least those of you readers who are not my mom or my sister), as about a year of caroline-ness is missing from this blog.

first off, over the past year and a half i’ve spent many long evenings trying to figure out how to approach the issue of musicality with caroline. i figured she had a very high chance of possessing musical talent, and i also assumed that she would at least be interested in the fact that banging on certain devices makes sounds. thus it seemed like the piano might have some chance of entertaining her. sure enough, when i first held her in front of the piano and showed her how to make noise, she was fascinated. from about 4 months on, i think she viewed the piano as a pretty neat noisemaker that daddy would sometimes get her to play with.

but at some point in the past few months, around the time she first started walking as her primary mode of locomotion, something changed. instead of waiting for me to grab her and go play for a bit, the newly-mobile caroline would just tear off to the piano and yell at me until i would walk over, lift the key-cover, and turn it on. she would sometimes wait for me to then pick her up and sit her on my lap on the piano stool, but now she is even tall enough to start playing whilst still standing on the ground in front of it, which happens more often than not. she still gets better access when sitting on the stool (with or without a parental lap) but she just has to get a jump on the actual playing i suppose.

i know all of this is more or less useless without pictures, so here’s a play session from a couple weeks back:

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i can’t tell you how proud this makes me feel. i picked up that piano a few years ago at an absolute steal of a price, and it’s gotten enough use out of me and various other band members that it paid for itself long ago. but now, seeing how much caroline likes it, i almost feel that i robbed the place that sold it to me. i think i can live with it though.

in unrelated news, caroline hates grass. or more specifically, she hates walking on grass. she’s always gotten along with nature for the most part, at least to the point where she would often urge her steed (read: the parent carrying her) towards some piece of the natural world so that she might examine it more closely, touch it, and perhaps even attempt to consume it (banana leaves are evidently worthy of chewing on. who knew?). but as soon as she started to walk, she discovered that most of nature is surrounding by this spongy and awkward green stuff that is much harder to walk on than nice concrete and flooring. if some cruel dad-like person picks her up and drops her in front of, say, some mint plants, she will gladly grab and devour a leaf or two before looking down and discovering that she is surrounded by the horrible green travesty that is grass. at first this inevitably resulted in her throwing a minor fit and daddy getting dirty looks from one or more of the women in the house.

now she has started to make a sort of peace with the grassy world. she still doesnt want to walk on it if she can possibly avoid it, but she’s discovered that standing on it is fine, and furthermore, she even has some limited power over it. specifically, when she is confronted with small and manageable patches of grass (our front yard) these days, it seems her first instinct is to bend down and start removing that which is directly in front of her. i guess the thinking is that if she can just carve a path to wherever she needs to go, then grass isn’t really that bad. of course her first foray into this little destructive worldview was less about pathfinding and more about trying to eat the grass:

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and discovering that it is not nearly as tasty as mint leaves:

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i don’t know what her next step will be, but i’m sure she’ll eventually figure out how to peacefully co-exist with the grassy world. and if not, at least i know there will always be someone in the house willing to cut the grass, though perhaps it might end up just a tad shorter than one might prefer….


ok, so i DID start writing this post on friday. i know its now monday, but i just wanted to point that out. the exact same thing happened this weekend as happened last weekend: i start a post on friday, but can’t finish it and decide to finish over the weekend. the weekend becomes impossible to manage, and suddenly its monday. i think fridays are going to have to go. i don’t think that sundays are necessarily going to work any better for me, but i AM going to find a day that works. i’m going to play around a bit over the coming weeks, but just note that i will not be holding to any particular post-date for now. i’m going to maintain the one-post-a-week rule, as i consider that to be inflexible. and hopefully i will be able to settle on a new day that actually works.

i actually started writing two different posts friday, so i have about 50% of another post done already. if i get a chance, i may try to finish that one in time to try out a new post day this week. if not, it will get rolled into next week.

and just so i don’t close on a semi-downer, here’s reminder of caroline’s first experience with musical instruments (or at least their cases):

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those pictures are still awesome.

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Ok, it’s been an insanely busy week, and I don’t yet have the REAL post ready. I just wanted to put something up to prove that I can actually keep a constant posting schedule, or at least start one. That, and the iPod alarm wouldn’t shut up.

More soon, i promise.

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Ok so I know I missed the very first scheduled Friday update, which one might think would not bode well for this whole rebirth project. However, I do have a pretty fantastic excuse: I’m in Milwaukee at the largest national conference for people in my discipline, presenting a paper and hunting for jobs. In fact, I started writing this post while waiting for the third of the four job interviews I had today.

So yes, I did feel slightly guilty friday when the alarm sounded to let me know I was missing my first promised update, but I decided I had to prioritize for now.

The good news is that I started writing friday’s post on the plane to milwaukee, and so I’ve already got material written for next week. It’s cheating a bit, but who’s counting?

Annnnyway. I’m recovering from interviews now and getting ready for receptions and such, so I shall have to sign off here.

I will post more a few days and 25 degrees in the future… God I’m gonna miss this weather….

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So Caroline and this blog are both growing older at the breakneck speed of roughly 24 earth hours per day, and we’ve yet to hit a dozen posts. While completely average for my usual pace of upkeep, that is pretty pathetic for a “web log.”

So I’ve decided to try something radical.

Salient points:
1) I always have my iPod with me
2) I’ve actually gotten pretty good about using its calendar to stay temporally organized (thanks largely to my teaching schedules at TPR)
3) there is a wordpress app available for the iPod/iPhone
4) I totally hate typing on the iPod’s keyboard

These facts taken together have led me to this point, here, which finds yours truly tapping away at the awful iPod keyboard in slavish obedience to the commands of the calendar’s piercingly shrill alarm. So it worked this once.

What I hope will happen in the future (the alarm is now set for every Friday, but that may change) is that the alarm will go off, my wrists, eyes, and soul will shudder at the memory of typing this whole post out today, and I will sally forth to the nearest available computer and type out a blog post on a nice plastic keyboard, just like our forefathers once did.

Or I’ll just suffer through another agonizing tapfest full of typos and apple’s “helpful” suggestions. All in service to the newly reborn blog.


My thumbs hurt already…

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betcha can’t guess which state this picture was taken in two days ago:

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Read the rest of this entry »

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