The Gaps

One more from Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) before I shelve it. On gaps:

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock–more than a maple–a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you. (274)

That third sentence from the end, squeak, turn the soil, a universe, but why just one? A pluriverse, maybe. Or pluriverses. These gaps and this turning, in them hints of gap statements, which imply needed inquiry, why hasn’t anyone thought of this yet, why hasn’t anyone done this research, explored shareably this wondering?

Mud Pack, Scrub

Something cathartic in stealing a couple of workblocks as a sabbatical dwindles to reface a website, update a blog, wade deep into the head-clearing work of CSS tuning. It’s every bit as much the work-in-progress it ever was, but even if it remains an unfinished mess, it is a more up-to-date unfinished mess, now living at http://www.derekmueller.net/. I didn’t have patience for an original rebuild, so I fetched a template from Pixelarity, customized it a bit, touched up the CSS, dropped it into place. Feeling pretty good about having decluttered some what had too long been lingering at the old site.

Web front April 2016
Browser Screenshot, webfront using customized Polaris template from Pixelarity.

Butterfly Zag

Monarch Butterfly, El Rosario Sanctuary, Michoacàn-Mèxico.

Monarchs are “tough and powerful, as butterflies go.” They fly over Lake Superior without resting; in fact, observers there have discovered a curious thing. Instead of flying directly south, the monarchs crossing high over the water take an inexplicable turn towards the east. Then when they reach an invisible point, they all veer south again. Each successive swarm repeats this mysterious dogleg movement, year after year. Entomologists actually think that the butterflies might be “remembering” the position of a long-gone, looming glacier. In another book I read that geologists think that Lake Superior marks the site of the highest mountain that ever existed on this continent. I don’t know. I’d like to see it. Or I’d like to be it, to feel when to turn. At night on land migrating monarchs slumber on certain trees, hung in festoons with wings folded together, thick on the trees and shaggy as bearskin. (Dillard, p. 258, 1974)

Before shelving Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, one of the small handful of books (at focus’s edge) I finished on this research leave, I flipped back to a couple of dog-ears to see if there were passages I wanted to keep, post, circulate, remember later. Remember when a blog was a good location to stash miscellaneous passages? In this one, mostly about monarchs and their migration, I must have taken as wonderful (i.e., wonderful enough to warrant folding the corner of the paper) the swarm’s seasonal navigation as it maybe? does it? draws on some faint memoria, a directional inheritance, passed along grid cells from every butterfly mother and every next one before her. Fascinating and strange to think of a group veer, much less over the open expanse of a great lake in summertime.

But of course reading the passage again–no same two ways through it twice–its emphasis on the veer, on turning, stand out. This, the sort of turn spotting that is more akin to following the turns taken by ancestors, those redirects inherited, a quietly encoded rule for monarchs next. So it’s a curious aside that extends turns–more than the multimodal turn, the archival turn, the digital turn, and so on–to that which is only remembered, ancient monuments, a mountain or a glacier. Turning, bending around figments; the butterflies know, but how would we regard such knowing? How would we judge it if we, too, were prone to such predictable and long-established path-following as this?

EMU and Real Sports

We’re in an interesting, important moment at EMU these days due to greater and greater concern about the institution’s budgetary condition and the sieve units on campus most prone to runaway spending. Ever since an HBO Real Sports segment, “Arms Race,” aired just over a week ago, the volume of these issues has climbed. In local and regional media, we’re catching various castings almost every day, many of them quoting regents, administrators, students, and Howard Bunsis, Professor of Accounting and faculty union leader, who has been among the most vocal proponents of more transparent and responsible spending. The most pointed details circulating are that over the past two years, athletics has operated on deficit (or General Fund dependency) of $52 million. Here’s a screen shot posted to Instagram from the report delivered to the Board of Regents that details how that deficit implicates all EMU students in patterned spending that obligates many of them to long-term payback via student loans. Each student who completes a four-year degree at EMU, the report says, contributes approximately $3600 to athletics, whether or not they attend a single event.

With this in mind, I wanted to note a couple of impressions:

  • It’s difficult, a heavy chore to call for less of anything, to call for less spending on athletics or on any university venture that involves people we work alongside, because there is always a risk of it seeming a personal attack. I mention this as a former student-athlete, myself, and also as someone who worked in higher ed athletics administration for seven years. These discussions of change, particularly dollar-wise change, are fraught, intensely emotional on all sides of the issues, and therefore incredibly difficult to reduce to clear causes much less clear solutions.
  • There are lingering narratives about underdogs (EMU is down but not out), about almosts (what if this is our breakthrough year?!), about unification (we’re all in this together), and about proportion (athletics is but a small sliver of the institution’s overall spending). These circulate as commonplaces, or readymade arguments that expedite, skipping over the nuance and subtlety, side-stepping the stickier work of correcting the problems. And as such, these are the sorts of snippets that tend to circulate in the news accounts because they are reportorially convenient.
  • It is always to admit failure, particularly for those in the mix (e.g., an AD or particularly supportive regents) who themselves have sports backgrounds because the allure of sports is in part its continuous progress trope: always improving, always getting better, no obstacle too grand, etc. But this thinking is especially dangerous if it manifests as an expensive hubris or megalomania, an inflexible insistence on staying the course when there is abundant and costly evidence that it is not going well. Could EMU make a change and therefore save money? Sure it could. But there are people in this mix who hold power and who are beneficiaries of the runaway spending. As these conditions solidify, we return to the familiar patterns of a growing, better-and-better-paid administrative class, rising tuition, and institutional inertia–conditions for inflexibility that cannot help but compromise the quality of academic programs while reaching as deeply as possible into the pockets of those who are most cheated–students.
  • For these issues to continue circulating, for them to become unstuck and for EMU to take up the hard work of institutional change will require more (and more public) faculty voices than Bunsis’. Discontent has been building for at least a few years, and it makes athletics difficult to really get behind, while sapping the morale in academic units on campus (where in some very specific cases, none of last year’s 7.8% tuition increase landed).
  • I’ve attended at least one football game every year since I was hired seven years ago. Ron English was the coach back then, and I recall that faculty (perhaps only new faculty) were provided season tickets for home games free of charge. But this has not happened since. This season, for the first time, I purchased season basketball tickets for both men’s and women’s programs. I went to maybe 20 home games, total. I noticed at the football game–season opener–that tickets cost considerably more than in past years, enough to make me pause and wonder whether at that price point I would return. Exiting the stadium after that game, I walked with two colleagues, and we found that half of the stadium was not only vacant but that many of the exits were locked. The Convocation Center, where basketball and a few other indoor sports compete, tends to feel better occupied for home events, but the entire upper deck of the stadium (much like the entire away side of Rynearson) is blocked off with tarps that prohibit anyone from sitting there. These are expensive tarps, too, elaborate in their printing and designed to condense the facility’s attendees, mitigate the traffic areas for cleaning, and so on.  There are numerous minor details to point out about the experience of attending these events that I won’t go into, but suffice it to say that these small details, such as the merchandise shop rarely being open during home basketball games, resonates with an overall impression of flagging institutional investment in the fan experience. That is, the investment is purely financial; it doesn’t show up as a more compelling experience at the events themselves.
  • Finally (for now), I’ll reiterate that without pointing a finger at anyone or calling into question the wisdom of university leadership in such matters, wherever that responsibility might fall, football in particular has been implicated in some questionable and expensive choices lately, from extravagant uniforms whose digital readout-like letterforms made it impossible to distinguish sevens and ones to efforts to rebrand Rynearson Stadium as “The Factory”–a move that to this day is an unsettlingly absurd turn of events. With concession stands called “Assembly Line,” gray artificial turf, hard hats, a quitting time whistle upon major in-game events, and promotional gimmicks that put real sledge hammers in the hands of football players so they can pose as if about to swing away at loose-stacked cinder block, “The Factory” is downright embarrassing–a conceptual fumble whose oh-no-not-again weight is heavier than all of the real football team’s real turnovers (punts included) for the last decade. I’d better not go on. But I sure would hope that investing bags of money in a wobbly enterprise would take greater care than to put good, long-loaned tuition dollars behind such an unconscionable rebranding effort as that.

This is enough for today, enough for now. I’ll end with one last quotation from a news article circulating in Mlive today, “EMU AD Lyke: ‘no question’ football must improve, wants to stay in MAC“:

In addition, a report, issued by members of the Faculty Senate Budget and Resources Committee, the EMU-AAUP and the student body, points to an increase in the total full time equivalent athletic staff from 64 in 2006-07 to 85 in 2015-16. Staff salaries doubled from $3.2 million to $6.4 million as the department saw 10 more coaching positions and more than 11 “athletic personnel” added during the same time period. During that same time period, the report indicates EMU’s entire faculty increased by just 15.78 full-time equivalent personnel.

Here is where the frustration builds most pointedly: in the quiet, whispered truths like this that are uncomfortable to circulate because they amount to breathing lungfuls day in and day out of some fetid campus wind. In rates of personnel growth like this comes the disproportionately burdensome long-term investment that sets the university and its most vulnerable academic programs on a (possibly) disastrous course–unchecked spending justified by bizarre attachments to notions that ESPN broadcasts will compel, what? droves of new students? more ad revenue for activities not on ESPN? sudden national interest or relevance? I don’t know. But I will continue to pay attention as this plays out and try to make some sense of it in an occasional entry.

Dr. Everythingllbealright

How do you think Dr. Everything Will B Alright signed his prescriptions?

It’s not a serious question. No. Just an aside to what I’ve been thinking and feeling since we learned that pop icon Prince died four days ago, April 21. Much too much has been said about Prince online in the immediate aftermath. “Too much,” well, by that I sound a little bit judgmental, I suppose, but I really only mean it as too much for me. Had to look away from you, Facebook, umbrella my eyes from a Purple Fucking Downpour. Too much for me. So chose instead some quiet and solitude, a quieter reflection, a few chosen tracks, and some deliberation about what are still-vibrating sound experiences.

There are only a few slivers of sound, words and phrases and riffs, that come readily, earworming quicker than any other parasites. It’s 1984. I’m ten. I have a fancy Walkman. Purple Rain soundtrack, though I hadn’t seen the movie. Sitting on a big boulder at the south edge of the lawn behind the M-20 house, a boulder big enough to require climbing but invisible from the house, curtained from view by two rows of hearty pines. White pines? And that soundtrack was a portal, a getaway to some kind of elsewhere. The doves cry lyric, “why do they scream at each other,” of course it resonated and expressed not normalcy, exactly, but a variation of whatever adolescent frustrations and messes, whatever family tangles–other people are dealing with some shit, too.

That’s the gist of Prince’s influence and the measure of his loss, for me, personally. Prince’s (as distinct from David Bowie) filled with a spiritual-sexual-everyday searching the ambient surrounds of my most private and interior adolescence. Purple Rain was in my ears, looping the same way through highs and lows, yearnings and letdowns, more. What more than what’s playing through the sponge-covered earphones wired plugged into a Walkman, what more than those sounds accompanies you through such an intensely transformative phase as ages10-13? Prince’s music was there for it, often and reliably. And so it is with his death that the world seems farther away, somehow, from that fading moment, thinner, too, in its comparable supports, although maybe that’s not quite right, either, considering the persistent artifact, tracks that play on and on and on and on and on, associative and memorial, as poignant today as they were 32 years ago. With the death of a pop icon, through the leveled too high volume of everyone expressing attachments and sadness, there’s strange refreshing of something awkward and obvious but also easy to forget, neglect: the searching, uncertain, and intensive adolescence is still in this world. In me, possibly in you, probably in everyone who still has some growing up to do.

Changeling

I spent the better part of today finally finally finally after years converting from Movable Type to WordPress. I’ve run EWM on Movable Type since 2004, and the blog has in part as a result of its cumbersome platform dwindled, faded, crept quietly into an idle corner of the web. If I don’t write into it or visit, why would anyone.

The changeover was easy enough, since I’d upgraded Movable Type in early January. That upgrade was necessary for restoring the blog to logging in. Once I could login, I could back it up. Once I could back it up, I could export it, do a little dance.

I’m at the end of a four-month research leave, with a few days to meander before closing in on the last two chapters of the book I’m working on. And with this meander, I’d like to dust off the various websites I keep up, especially this blog and my landing page for the CV and teaching dossier. I’m discovering the limits of my having kept up with HTML5, the limits of letting weeds creep in and not especially paying much attention to the interplay of various javascript modules and snippets from elsewhere.

I have a couple of IFTTT recipes I’d like to chisel free, and maybe this will spur new or different energy for Twitter, or for posting here and relaying it to Facebook. I pose this more as possibility than prediction and publish it with a shrug, a maybe, a glance out the window reminding me that it’s springtime and won’t for all the rest of the days between now and summer’s end be raining quite as steadily as it is today.

Dissoi Bracketologoi

Time for the EWM Yahoo! NCAA men’s basketball tournament pick’em – 13th annual. Like last year, we’re using Fibonacci scoring (2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21). Everyone is welcome to join this pool, which will include some of the surest, most over-confident pickers of all time. There’s no time for worrying your picks, no time for calling your fortune teller, reading your horoscope, or consulting your constellations. Sign up! Free, free, FREE to you: join this year’s group on Yahoo!,
Dissoi Bracketologoi (ID#46007)
. If you have questions, elbow me as hard as you can in the sternum with an email at dmueller at earthwidemoth.com (I’m on research leave; it will take me three weeks to respond). Invite your friends, frienemies, faux-frenemies, square dance partners, Facebook friends, advisees, mentors, bots, posthuman malingerers, artists of the contact zone, hystericists, children of the corn hole ringers, bracketoricians, Jimmie Johns addicts, discount tattoo artists, grandparents at the bus stop, etc. The group has space for the next 49 who sign up. Pride-ish stakes: reputations are made (and ground to coarse dust) right here.


Yahoo! Tournament Pick’em

Group: Dissoi Bracketologoi (ID# 46007)
“13th annual.”

Firm up your selections any time between the selection show on Sunday evening, March 13, and sometime (I’m checking) EDT on March 17.

Thirtieth Days

Still on sabbatical. Thirty days. Work rhythms have been more predictable and disciplined lately. Up early enough, write until noon or so. Out of this, a chapter takes shape–the third chapter. I just sent it off to the editor. Just over 10,000 words. Fourty-eight references. Ten original figures plus the linked-clickable animated index. Something like 44 pages. Embedded notes about “could do more this this” and “could do more with that.” Threaded through is a realization that I’ve been working on this chapter for a few years. And then up next will be a hard revision of the second chapter, hacking away at its extralong bulk, then adding back another 3,500 words. It’s basically a concept review: three concepts. And two are done; one remains. 

Thirteenth Days

Sabbatical’s rhythms have taken much getting used to. Early-day starts, writing from 6-11 a.m. worked okay for a few days. Then a headcold stuffedcold, a couple of blergy-meh days through which I could justify holding close the couch’s cushions. So supportive a couch. And into the most recent week, work obligations, trips to campus almost every day. Snowslop given to rain-washed-snowslop has thrown sideways all outdoor running routines (NNSA: Need new shoes, anyway); the campus pool will have me any time I will have it, and I managed to splash across a half mile or so Thursday evening before Is.’s basketball practice at St. Luke’s–the first practice of the season. 

But the writing, even as it’s happening, it’s the sort of textural consistency of the second half of a bag of whatever brand corn chips, recognizable even if registering as too predictable and familiar and constant a flavor–academic writing wanting ghost pepper salsa (face-melting, January-melting heat to go along with). Sabbaticals have a binge-like quality and I’ve noticed the sharp shift in a sociality (around writing) that offers solitude and awayness as amenable to productive foci, rhythms, and attentions. Writing group? Yeah, maybe.

Not sure I can say with good-enough accuracy what the accumulative wordcount is right now. A chapter is developing, probably just under 5k words in, with the second half’s sections more conceptually clear to me because they accord well with recent conference presentations on turn spotting. And the digital installation–the motion chart–has been in sight for several years now; it wants more data fed into it, but that’s doable, amounting to a few more coding sessions. Not that the explanation of its methods and its making, much less the analysis and focal examples require the extra data. The motion chart wants it, is all.

And the week was also punctuated by settling the details for a talk at MTSU in early March, a talk and workshop, both, which I’m looking forward to with the right ideas, the right energy. Disciplinary Discourse Networks 1984/2014, the title a play on Kittler’s epochal media archaeology. And not that I will have time to develop the threads to Kittler in any especially explicit ways, it’s enough to make the theoretical nod, especially as it gets at methods, modeling, and eras in disciplinary emergence: discourse communities flourished in the 1980s because structuralism (including infra- and post- prefixed -structuralism) was especially upset and churning. Much more to this distinction, more than I’ll labor through here (or in the talk, for that matter); suffice it to say that we’re readier than we’ve been in some time to create the simple visual models that accord with insights into disciplinary discourse networks–semantic, bibliographic, affinity-based, choric, career-emplaced, and so on. And particularly for newcomers, I hope growing compulsions toward depth and complexity fetishism (qua ecology fascination-asms) don’t entirely occlude these simple visual models and what’s especially generative in what they do, the framing they provide, the footings they sponsor, and so on.