Nineties

Synaptic, the Berlant-Stewart exchanges, base 100 writing, volleys dealt in increments (or multiples thereof). For the spring grad class, maybe 90s or within five words. An 84 word blurb is not a ninety. At 96, it must reach elastic band to 180. Or 175. A ninety can be one sentence. Or up to 90 sentences. It is meant to conduct a tiered practice. At once, measured habit, self-aware; at once, expressing questions as questions or connections as connections. Woe omicron variant whispers, though, What even is teaching now?

Closing

Christiansburg, Va., bungalow, a short gravelly turn from Oak Grove.

Closed on this place Monday. And then had satellite internet installed, tested the landline service, scoped the attic, uncorked and drained the pond taking much notice of the cold-bloodeds contentedly murked in the early December slurry, chatted under light rain showers with the neighbor, and then on the way home—wherever after all really is home—ate Due South BBQ, the “trough” with sides of fried okra and banana pudding. These next two weeks are peak moving chaos between managing to keep pace with work and managing to transition so that bills aren’t piling up at the new place and the Blacksburg apartment for too long. It’s a welcomed change, moving to this address, what I think is the 26th place I’ll have received USPS mail in now going on 48 earth years. And it’s more rural than most for being at the end of a dirt road, not a cell signal in ping’s reach. Of those 25 other addresses, one was seven years (in high school); two trailers on Winn Road were five years apiece (when I was a tot and then early elementary school-aged). Seven years is the longest anywhere. But this hollow, if I can befriend the watercourse, the insect kin, and the reptile kin, I do like to imagine being here for a while.

Discomfort Inventory

Catching singedwhiff of burnout or year-end case of the enough-alreadies (it’s like the slows but more existentially introspective), I was looking ahead to February 1’s deadline for Faculty Activity Reports, trying to reconcile Virginia’s 60+F temperatures with December, and regrouping after an unusually challenging writing program administrative week. Sometimes you take a hard look, you know?, and remember these orbits are few, the lifting not entirely yours to heft. I keyed in the neighborhood of eight “comfort inventories” from 2004-2011, but then a decade passed and for those ten years, none. Wonder why. Today, in the spirit of FAR anticipation (FARticipation would be a whizpopper portmanteau but risks poor poor taste), keen on the feelings a’coursing through the great resignation, a discomfort inventory for 2021.

  • Chaired 2 faculty searches that brought 9 new colleagues (4 TT, 5 instructors). In the last 2.5 years, that brings it to 4 searches for 25 new colleagues.
  • Completed 2 external reviews for tenure and/or promotion. I could’ve said yes to 2 more, but I just couldn’t. In a balanced year, 3 are possible; this year, only 2.
  • Reviewed 1 book manuscript. A terrific book which I cannot wait to teach, but I wrote to the publisher this week and learned it won’t be out until September 2022.
  • Reviewed 4 articles (Enculturation, CCC x 2, Intermezzo)
  • Co-led a workshop on daily drawing for the Lifelong Learning Institute
  • Gave an artist’s talk about the pandemic bestiary
  • Prepped the pandemic bestiary for the Squires gallery, and then submitted 1 piece, which sold for $225, to the Artful Lawyer show in downtown Blacksburg. With this, I’ve made more cash from illustrations than from writing in this life.
  • Did 44 illustrations. I think? Could be more. But at least 44.
  • Gave an invited talk and teaching workshop at U Virginia in January (virtually)
  • Sent Radiant Figures into the world (i.e., published chapter and co-edited collection)
  • Taught 1 section of Technical Writing
  • Wrote 9 letters of recommendation
  • Bought a 70-year old house in a bona fide hollow and a used car (Honda Civic).
  • Drove the Michigan-Virginia roundtrip 6.5 times
  • Interim co-directed the Center for Rhetoric in Society
  • Committees: 7. Served on Comp, Ex Comm, RW, Professorial Personnel, ad hoc Teaching Evaluations, CID Advisory, and LVE Community Engagement Committee, chairing or co-chairing two of these. Must give up 2 in the year ahead.
  • Coordinated 4 Writing Program Dialogues sessions (WAVA and/or UVa)
  • Highlight of highlights: presented at the CID, “Lines Drawn Home,” with Ph. and Is.
  • Published a co-authored chapter in Composition as Big Data
  • Co-developed/co-piloted SSWPI placement system, but breakdowns have us redrawing things (generative failure, in effect). This included receiving 300 emails from first-year students in June alone.
  • Served on 10 dissertation committees; 3 who graduated in 2021; 2 new ones; chairing 2
  • Co-authored or co-sponsored 2 course proposals: 1) Food Writing and 2) Advanced Writing and Research.
  • To date, I’ve done exactly 200 transfer equivalency reviews; in all of 2020, there were 182. Up is up!
  • There’s more: promotion to professor, serving on various boards, including CWPA and WAVA, again negotiating and executing a program textbook, illustrating its cover, and so on, but this is a pretty thick-cut slice of what the year has held, and I know for casting it as I have that the volume, it’s nope not sustainable.

J-E-L

Hello hot dog olive and celery savory jello.

A quick jot. An unset jello as metaphor. It was this or take a walk. The sun is setting and it’s colder than I like for walking plus I am out of the habit plus I’d rather reheat homemade chicken noodle soup and entertainlie the possibilitylie that I will walk after eating. In the dark. Prolly won’t.

Doozy workdays, mélange of administrativa and planning, picking off to-dos before they have ripened into urgencies after the holiday week. That’s the sickness and the flame, to always be working onto some mythical horizon whereupon by doubling fevers today, there is presumed to be some lighter relief in sight for sweet tea on the porch of a new house, a nap, or where to string a hammock for pretending to read in afternoon daylight. My favorite word in this paragraph is mélange but I’m dulldim as can be with accents because lazy Anglophone and tonally clumsy. Can’t win ’em all with languaging; I’ll try to do better.

That photo is meant to be suspenseful, suspended and tottering on the question of is this serious or is this playful? Is this dessert or is this supper? Is this savory or is this sweet? Department holiday party is coming up; we were pink sludged with an email about it the other day. Sign up! Declare your dish! I’ve been wanting to make a jello mold, but then some friends joked that I should make a savory jello, and I thought what better way to transform a small-time joke into an unforgettable big top laugh riot than to actually make the savory jello. Pictured here. Weiners reinforced. Medley of green pimento-stuffed olives and celery for textural offset and palate cleansing. And then some kind of jello in the middle, but what kind is it. Bone broth? Pickle juice? Apple cider?

I wrote to Ph. and Is. and asked if they would indulge me a trial run. That’s where I make something for them to learn how to make it for others. Keeps the shortcomings in the family, quasi-private, and among the most trusteds. They’ll tell me if it’s good or if it isn’t. Their palates are refined and rangy, reflective of their disparate ages and experiences. But in this case, they responded with vomit emoji and that lurching stomach churn animated GIF from Dumb and Dumber. I am listening. I haven’t taken the next step on this one. Not yet. Anyway, celery was sold out at Kroger the other day. But I still have to come up with something for the holiday party, and it’s less than two weeks away. Gelatins have a way of calling you, beckoning, blinkering into a day, reminding you that they have congealing to do. So this is more like a beginning than an end.

Perimeters

A few clicks south along a gravel road and you’re there, a property serendipity or dumb luck or the Fates queued up for a look last Wednesday, just as I was giving up on the ridiculous Montgomery County, Va., housing market. Figured I would be renting indefinitely because who can spend all that time online sifting for leads, then schedule and go for a showing, only to find “pending” by the end of the day. Escalation clauses to 50k over asking. Same day cash offers. Waived inspections. But against the grain of improbabilities, then there’s one, and you only need one.

At 5.8 acres in an unincorporated part of the county, I thought it was a long shot. Right-priced. Low taxes. House plus a small guest cottage in back. Pair of workshop-studios. Went to see it. Another prospective buyer crowding in behind us, arriving early as we walked the perimeter, much of it across angular inclines then declines of as much as 200 feet, what in this region is, if you’re talking about the landform, known as a hollow, and if you’re talking about the auditory call-across-a-distance, then it’s a holler. Hollow or holler, it’s always only pronounced holler. Neither a valley nor a cove, a holler comes with a watercourse and little to no flat land. So I put in a good faith bid and waited. Extenuating circumstances had me waiting an extra day and then part of another. On Friday night, a decision: there was a second matching bid, but if we’d waive inspection, it was ours.

Aerial (drone) photograph with approximate property boundary added for southside Christiansburg house now under contract.

The waived inspection doesn’t worry me too too much.

Offer accepted and heaps of paperwork in motion, we went again this evening, a week later, to walk the perimeter again—having also done so on Saturday when we met the sellers who spend 2.5 hours generously going over the finer features, in addition to some idiosyncrasies I’m going to need reminded about. The water pump especially. For the creek or the pond. The electrical configurations for the two wired garages. The quality of HughesNet versus HollerNet. The spigot buried in the front yard. The location of the septic and drain field. Dwelling sorts it out one way or another.

But bears! This evening while walking the perimeter, there a mossy shelf, maybe 15×30-feet, there a knuckled ledge overlooking the holler, there a place for chickens, there a hoop house and garden, there a series of hooks for ladder storage, and there a dispatch of bear scat. And another. I think? I mean, what else? And it’s not like there is a cell signal available to Google bear isht til you get back to the apartment later on. No apps for identifying it definitively. Seller said they’d had a bear pull a trash barrel better than three-quarters of the way up the embankment. Presence of a bear or two accentuates a holler with special caution ahead of moving and planning. But they’re no more worrying than a waived inspection, and obviously they aren’t especially concerned about the location of the septic or drain field.

Whatever It Was

The worst of the past week’s viral blast has passed. First symptoms showed up last Tuesday, 9/14, and as of today the onslaught has dwindled to a cough. Now, with the deepest of deep inhalations possible, there comes an exertional tickle, what you’d imagine a balloon at its limits feels like could it feel anything at all. I’m in Michigan, and on Monday morning, I did try to set up a phone consultation with my doctor in Blacksburg, but the receptionist put me through to the scheduler, and the scheduler told me Doc was out sick and nobody else in the practice would be available to talk with me until at least Thursday. She wanted to make plain that she wasn’t a nurse but said, free advice being free, my best option was to monitor my O2 levels and to drive myself to a local Urgent Care if the fever roared back or if O2 levels went below 92. Saturation was 92 upon waking up Monday morning, but it hasn’t been that low again since. I just now checked it, and it was 99. On the mend is what I think that means.

Was it Covid? Was it not Covid? Omicron variant, maybe, or pi (n.b., this is me being playful; I really don’t know whether these are valid variants, and I have no reason to believe any specific variant was to blame). The PCR test administered on Thursday afternoon returned a negative reading by late Friday night. So what. I didn’t pursue another test. Here are a couple of things I learned (or wish to hold onto):

  1. The certification of illness as Covid or not Covid matters for mitigating transmission. Had I known definitively that it was Covid, I would have had slightly clearer protocols to follow insofar as isolation/quarantine. But I did that, anyway. There was no particular relevance otherwise in having validated whether this was a breakthrough case or not. I was vaccinated with Moderna in early April and early May. I was sick in a special and distinctively severe way in mid-September.
  2. In the midst of succumbing to this particular virus, the surest decision aids were 1) loved ones checking in with me regularly and reading back to me impressions of just how dilapidated I seemed to them, 2) a good thermometer, and 3) an oximeter. Loved ones could text and ask about my temp and O2 levels. And among the three decision aids, I could more or less lucidly make judgments about whether it was time to go to Urgent Care or an ER.
  3. The two scariest nights were when I did not yet have the oximeter and when I turned in nighty night having read among many accounts of Covid (breakthrough cases and regular cases) about how dark and long is the night. Raised doubts, small questions about seeing another day, and those questions can grow from one hour to the next. This was not quite an “oh shit, I might die” scenario, but it played out at a narrower edge of self-attentiveness than I’ve dwelt at in some time.
  4. About the symptoms: most were erratic, clutching and releasing from one hour to the next, then redoubling and doing the same with rangy intensity for the messiest 72 hours of the ordeal. Peak temp was 101.7F/38.72C. I don’t have a scale here in Michigan, but I’d guess I shed 5-8 lbs./2.3-3.6kg (from my usual weight of 213lbs/96.6kg). O2 was from Saturday through Monday between 92-95. One reading of O2 came in at 87 on Saturday. The morbilliform-like rash was the most unfamiliar and unpredictable symptom. In varied densities, it appeared everywhere except my hands and feet, with especially dense clusters on my torso. But it was only faintly uncomfortable; more like my skin reporting that something deserving of a fever was brewing on the inside.

I think that’s it, just about everything worth sharing.

Covid Not Covid and Other Diagnostics

I’ve been hosting a virus, posing as a walking symptoms checklist, and sicker than [vivid hyperbole] for now going on five days. Thought I’d get down a few notes about what it is, what it isn’t, and what’s ahead, offering as pretext that this is surely the sickest I’ve been in the past decade and perhaps in all of my adult life. Unless that’s just how we remember sickness: today’s blergh always outmeasures those blerghs who thrashed us but whose thrashings are only accessible through undocumented recall. Allowing for recency bias, I’ll say it anyway. This is a solid multiple more severe than the worst flus and about even with the walking pneumonia I hosted for a few weeks in my late 20s.

Here’s something of a timeline: Last Sunday, drive to Michigan, tired but steady. Monday, typical workday of email and meetings, all remote, but not feeling especially much like myself insofar as energy goes. Tuesday, had a shower and afterward noticed spots on my torso. I’m not prone to rashes, besides poison ivy, and this was very faint, not especially itchy. I made sense of it by imagining that Ph. had picked up some Dollar Store Gain knock off washing powder for soccer gear and used it to “clean” the towel I’d happened to use. Therein something didn’t agree with my delicate porcelain skin. (No, I was wrong; sorry for even thinking such a thing was possible, Ph.!). Went to Is.’s volleyball match at Northville, masked the entire time. On Wednesday, the rash had expanded, and I was beginning to feel symptomatic: sniffles, achiness, acute fatigue, intense headache, shortness of breath. There was more rash around my torso–stomach, kidneys, upper glutes–and appearing but somewhat lesser on my arms. I picked Is. up from school and learned there that volleyball practice was cancelled for 9th grade and varsity teams due to a positive Covid result for a player. JV (that’s Is.’s team), however, would have practice. As my own symptoms expanded and intensified, I decided to schedule a PCR test for Thursday afternoon; Is. already had one at approximately the same time, and although she was feeling pretty much fine and although she would be able to get an antigen test on Thursday, we had a plan. Based on my symptoms, including the rash, erratic fever, and muted/masked sensations of smell and taste, I anticipated a positive result from the test.

On Thursday, I had just one meeting, an interview with a colleague doing research, and I was able to show up for it and keep things on track. But outside of the meeting, I was increasingly waylaid by and concerned about intensifying headaches, deepening fatigue, an expanding rash (about 30% of my body by this time), and more trouble breathing. The breathing issues were all dry, for the most part, like lung capacity is being slowly drawn down until you are only able to fill what feels like half or one-third of normal capacity. There’s a parallel anxiety in this, right?, due to the known respiratory challenges faced by Covid hosts. Being vaccinated (Moderna, April 6 and May 6) and otherwise healthy leading up to the moment of infection, I was visited by thoughts (to say nothing of readily accessible news clips) about those who don’t make it through the night. I was also reading up on morbilliform rashes and hoping for a quick return on the PCR results.

On Friday, I also had just one meeting. Third day significantly symptomatic, with everything intensifying. Utterly unpleasant. I sat through the meeting and even spoke up a time or two but noticed that utterances were clipped and quakey due to irregular and unreliable lungwork. Sententia, don’t we know it, need wind or there’s no setting sail (aside: I think I remember Crowley and Hawhee noting that sentences as units of thought were also units of breath, the lengths of which were determined by lung capacity; up next for me, much shorter sentences). Nobody could tell because Zoom, but I was drenched with fever sweat by the end of the one hour call. Good times. I decided then that I’m taking some time in the week ahead just to find footing with whatever in hell is going on. On Friday night I couldn’t sleep because lungs were all kinds of unpredictable and unreliable and uncomfortable. At 12:45 a.m., the text arrived saying the PCR results were in. I checked the CVS portal: negative.

By this point in the week, the few people prone to worrying about me were really starting to be concerned. A. very graciously had sent via Instacart a bounty of deliverables that arrived on Saturday–Vernors, Gatorade, stuff for grilled cheese and soup, so much of what I needed. And in a second order, a Pulse Oximeter, which is a jimmy jammy whose function is to readout pulse and blood O2 levels. I was so far fogged by this point that I couldn’t even set the thing up because I couldn’t figure out how to get the batteries lined up in it. When I did, pulse was 83, O2 was 92. That’s low. Not quite rush-to-the-hospital low, but quite low. I timed the number of inhalations I was getting in one minute: 14. That was solidly where it should be, between 12-16 on average. And then I also called my primary care physician in Blacksburg and found the number then called the on-call physician at Carillion to ask a few questions: If this isn’t a breakthrough Covid case, what is it? And how compromised does my breathing need to be before I go in? The answers, with all due respect, were very textbook, along the lines of how I am in good health and how I am not at risk of dying, so it’s best to rest and hydrate and wait it out. Two telltale indicators backing this stance: 1) my fever only went as high as 101 F and it hadn’t locked in at that point for long, so there wasn’t a steady, prolonged, or especially alarming fever associated with this, and 2) I didn’t have any throat soreness, so although the cough and shortness of breath were serious, this didn’t sound like strep or measles or scarlet fever or Covid.

Today’s Sunday, Day Five of this round of symptoms. The rash is fading, but seriously, folks, let me tell you that if you’d seen the rash, it’s alarming. I took photos. I won’t post them here yet, not today. But I thought I should have them in case they prove relevant for anyone else trying to sleuth through whatever this is. Whatever this is. That’s the other significant issues weighing on me now: I don’t know what it is. Not even a family of possibly associated diseases. Cold? Flu? God help us all. Rubella? Measles? Doesn’t add up. I’ll call my doctor tomorrow to talk through this, but I don’t know that anyone will care because by then I will be more definitively on the mend. About the mend: for the past 48 hours, the worst of the symptoms are that I have coughing fits and related headaches. I can’t sleep at night because of this shortness of breath. I also can’t talk. Every utterance beyond four words is followed by a painfully intense coughing fit.

I have more to say about all of this and also a to be continued. I’ll try to return and write through more of this on Monday or Tuesday.

Pig

This here is a short piece about how children say what they say and it sticks. “Short” because of the number of words. Short so short it might also be called “flash” because this piece happened in one sitting and didn’t take much time. Very little rethinking. Very little editing. “Piece” because that’s a way of saying unit of writing that’s not essay or article or blog or tweet or chapter or status update. What is it to always run away from the stale names for units of discourse (units big enough to be called genres and not small enough to be waysided as low order minutiae).

🔝 That is a slow wind-up. But I’m gonna let it stand, “short piece” or “flash” being a writerly hit of Fuckitol.

When Is. was a wee and knee-high–age 2 or so–having begun to compare sizes of things, she recognized I was taller than many other fully grown adults, and putting height+BMI descriptors to work, came up with the name for me, Daddy Biggie. Some days, maybe it was Biggie Daddy. It was cute and descriptive and earnest. Fine by me. And delightful, a source of joy.

Some years later, now that T. has so swiftly grew to be wee and knee-high–age 2 or so–upwelled the question, what’ll be the names she’ll use for grandparents. She has awesome grandparents. The local ones, incredibly giving and loving. I just so happen to be T.’s least-known grandparent, also the grandparent who lives farthest away, who is most tattooed, most Virginian, and so on. Tallest. Because I am at a distance of approximately 500 miles removed, living the farthest away from where the everyday action is there in SE Michigan, time and proximity are precious. Profound are the lessons in time’s passage and in missing.

To the question: What’ll be the names? To be fair, I was consulted, but I credit her aunt Is., now 15, with cementing the reference and supporting, developmentally, T.’s referring to me as Pawpaw Biggie. Pawpaw is a name for a yellowfruit, it’s true, but it’s also afoot and circulating as a southern-regional variation on grandpa. Heckuva lot better than “peepaw,” another variation. And “Biggie,” well, that also stands up to time, descriptive, earnest, delightful, a source of joy.

I really do think T. gave the name a good faith try. And yet morphemes morph. Pawpaw Biggie next Pawpaw Piggy. When in May I picked up Is. from her house, T. in the doorway expressing sendaway wishes said, “Bye, Is.! Bye, Pig!” And then in a recent text message, Is. wrote so share with me that when T. was going to sleep, lulled by a who’s who tiredness litany, “x is going to bed; y is exhausted, too,” she asked, “Is Pawpaw Piggy sleepy?” Sure is sleepy, child. And smiling. Who on this earth gets to be called Pig?

Figure 1. It’s June 2021 and we’re at Go! Ice Cream in Ypsi., T., Is., Ph., and me getting our order together, here gesturally describing the bowl option relative to the cone option. (Photo by Is.)

A serendipitous enunciative event is pig’s alliterative click–Varaha snorted!–and it is there, penned up top among the finest mudrolls of 2021. With it have been unexpected echoes, too, for one a reminder that my mom had a pigculiar interest in swine–more a collector’s persistent return and accumulation of tchotchkes than a researcher’s study, but valid all the same: a hand-made rocking pig, piggy banks, and for some years a real interest in getting+keeping a pig as a pet. Dream what you will, now as then. I don’t really want or need anything more from this Pawpaw Piggy moment than to note it, as if at a trough well stocked with discarded cabbages and other random table scraps and memories, weird fuel sourcing smiles every time after all. 🐖

Anise Hyssop

Figure 1. Anise hyssop, purple and abuzz with pollinators, mid-July thriving in front of Ypsilanti condo.

Next to the place where the over-zealous condominium association leadership by proxy of some hack “arborist” removed the crooked and wise sugar maple a couple of years ago, last year I dropped in a few anise hyssop starters, a gardening feat for someone so passively and disinterestedly tending to the outdoor spaces at this Ypsilanti condo. I could and probably should do better. And yet I also find appealing the unkemptness, the uneven and grass covered stone edge, the anything-whatever arbitrariness of a holly and a lilac keeping watch, a misshapen cedar hedge, lemon balm, sage, and leafy etcetera, green etcetera. I assume most passers-by shrug and nobody complains to me, so it is fine. The mess is honest.

About those anise shoots: they are full, vibrant, and alive with hope. Unexpected! Especially unexpected is the high level of bee activity from dark of morning to dark of evening, bees gooping pollenspecks until their collectors are heaped, glowing orange packs what? maybe half their body weight. The condo and its immediate surrounds are so modest they hardly call for a deep map. Flaking brown brick. Vinyl windows out of warranty. But the years here, even the choppy recent years with months between stays, and behind the weird calendar of living in two places are these paradoxes of banal magic–always there but awesomely there when the attention is slow and direct. Being at the condo for a few unhurried days in late July, I have more time for that kind of attention-giving, slow and direct. If summer holidays had resolutions, this one now–today–would include a rededication to that slow and direct attending, refilling on that edge of humanness haloed and intersurrounding where heavy bees pull at purple flowers next to a front porch step.

Hail Possible

Figure 1. Office window during a heavy rainstorm.

Shanks 315, a Thursday afternoon, sideways rain crosshatched with 45 degree angled rain crosshatched with vertical rain crosshatched with my own break from letter writing crosshatched with a curiosity about whether this WordPress app I’ve had my my phone since forever will actually Thunder! Lightning!

Brought my umbrella, good thing. Will walk home between 5-6 after the rain has passed, good thing. App works for posting, good thing.