Administrative work, in my experience, insinuates a contortional gravity into a career. This hypothesis from talking around, asking, noticing local noticings, observational. It’s not that admin wrecks you or explodes you to pieces, but its consequences can be harshly palpable. Sudden stress. Drone of email habits. Repeat questions. Repeat questions. The company you keep becomes less intellectually basket-o’-rangey-musical-instruments on ideas and possibilities; bureaucratic constraints, budgetary entrenchments, efficiencies talk–all of these shunt the counter-myth that administration can be intellectual work, guided by research and shaped by disciplinary experience (if not expertise). You check your pulse sometimes. Is this burnout I am feeling? Is this fatigue after ten consecutive years administering writing programs, first at EMU and then at VT, working under six department chairs, four deans, countless other interims and assistant-associate office holders, nearly all of them so new as to be striving on personal aspirations or so long in the rootrole as to be calcified and dreamless and forgetful. Graceless turnover; sandcastles not kicked but accidentally and clumsily stepped upon. Strikingest among the burnout symptoms in late May after year ten is the high saturation in what is motivating and what is not. Sharp contrasts, the outline of a work-life once forged around reading and writing, teaching and research. Sharp contrasts, yet another meeting with variations on title-holders late to a long-ago-begun conversation, intricate details about enrollment projections, about how labor advocacy is student advocacy, about a program’s becoming requiring (for it to go even middlingly well) horizons of development, mutualism, goodwill, and a reasonable forecast for resources. Reflection on a lull-ish early summer holiday weekend says look back and what have you become, what are you becoming–big you, polyvalent and yet-unfinished and imperfect–and then to ask is another year worth it. It had better be; it won’t be.
Turned in grades for ENGL6364 a day early, freeing up Friday the 13th for gauging under drizzlesky what tempestuous awaits in the second half of May–some administrative suspense!–as if months had halves, as if the just-in-time hiring practices over at the VPI&SU could be anything other than serial end of year nail-biter. What becomes will be, harrowing precarious at that edge of hot damn does time appear to be running short. Problems are for carrying and caring about; yet, they’re not all yours-mine.
Every June 11, calendar taps my shoulder, Do you know what today is?
Of course, I do. It’s the day my mom died. On a Wednesday. In 1997. At the age of forty-eight. *looks back at the calendar, unfazed and unflinching* What’s it to you?
I’ve written about it before, not remembering as much as returning to something temporally recognizable, a time of life and time of year faint and hollow but still capable of stinging, in the orbit of one strange loop. In 2005, making sense of Barthes’ the almost; in 2007, mysterious disappearances, a bona fide insurance coverage, resonant for conceptual elasticity, bearing on the job I worked in 1997 when my dad called out of the blue, bearing on the how death and why death questions that never gathered much in the way of answers. And then, “Have Some Soup,” an entry I still read from time to time when I’m missing her because I came close to getting it right, language being clumsy and unwieldy, minds too for the curlicued circuits of remembering and forgetting, processing loss and processing continuations, pin-pointing a few of the (oftentimes kitchen-based) clicks of “I’m here now,” “I” referring, of course, to “we.” Here we are now.
I went to her gravesite in Missouri last September. And after, posted this on FB:
Of course a Kansas City excursion includes a visit to my mom’s gravesite, what’s a burial site twenty-two years conventionally groundset in a regularly mowed cemetery at the bank of a nondescript Blue Springs, Mo., suburb. Here. Friday. It’s sunny; it’s sunsurface hot, too. Sit, anyway. Bring water. Let time teach that fuzzy edge, what boundary really?, between person and place, a body quickly and slowly (paradoxically quicklyslowly) from that to this, being becoming becoming. And then there’s just earth, prairielike, wind bending grass, or a stone performing durability, a bronze plaque, a few lines, and time’s circlings, bringing me back here without reason (i.e., reason suspended), to visit. And to find a place more than a person, wherever for now along death’s sure reaches.Facebook entry, September 28, 2019.
About that prairie wind blowing the grass blades, what’s especially striking is how each strand stands again, gets back again on its little rootfeet, bowing to the elements only momentarily, knowing strength (and I mean this as really knowing embodiedly strength). Some of that strength, I suppose, comes from grasping intuitively that we only get this for a little while. The calendar nods.
There’s a numerology blinkered all around this year’s deathdate, a numerology that lurks, gazes, hails, beckons. In its rouletted triviality, something is piqued as serendipitous, though possibly it’s a low-grade poetic flit, possibly a nothing-at-all. Let me try, anyway (not that I’ve got the time; busy AF with work, to-do list is a task-lavishing spawnmonster…though the truer truth is that for this, there’s time more than enough). Mom died when she was 48. I was a few days more than a month into being 23. And now, today, I’m that same measure, a month and six days past turning 46. Math math math, abacus beads don’t fail me now, carry the one: nearly half of this life has gone by without her. Carry on.
The implied hmm and huh in this is with what Louise Phelps wrote to me about a few weeks ago as folded time, a theoretical extension of something from Julavits’ The Folded Clock. It’s that kind of interval-ed co-experience of being an age, some age only now (in this moment for me) mirroring some age only then for another. This stirs an ordinary but marvelous experiential deixis. Then and now, then as now. I remember my mother at 46. That’d have been 1995. A year I started off spending ten–offs!–days in North Kansas City hospital, eleven staples or was it fifteen squeezed pla-chunk into the top of my head at the ER before dawn, early January. A year when I also sat scalpel and scope through three surgeries. A year when I stopped playing college basketball days before the start of what would’ve been my senior season. A year–still in 1995–when my mom was there for me a lot. A lot, a lot.
That’s all I mean by the hmm and huh: noticing a life once folded, first twenty-three years with a mom, next twenty-three years without. Onward, onward, grandbabies and (17-year-brood, is it?) cicadas. Onward looping, onward heart.
Can’t especially much sidestep or neglect to mention that this kind of look-back too means I’ve been a parent for twenty-three years, and whatever kind of parent I was ready to be or not ready to be at that age (there were a thousand generous friends and strangers looking out for us all), it’s what brings us to a now, Ph. at 29, Is. at 13, V., Ph.’s daughter, at 1. Another angle on folded clocks for how in a life they keep folding, relational entanglements and relational accountabilities (an idea best-set by Shawn Wilson), brother-sister, father-son, father-daughter, aunt-niece, and grandfather-granddaughter. Sure do believe it to be true, my mother would’ve marveled.
She’d have been deeply, wrenchingly disturbed, though, by this moment. And she’d not have been complaining but acting, perhaps privately and semi-privately (not online), to sew change. I don’t mean the pandemic, though that’s brought to the fore a measure of static and gnashing, privilege and comfort hard-checked, (ever-more-distant) family members grumping and whining about mask inconvenience and how a basic do-unto-others empathetic regard, call it civility or decency or neighborliness, gets twisted social-media-megaphonic into villainy and fascism. I miss her, but I’m relieved too that (were she with us, abacus, that’d be coming up on the age of 72), she is not around to feel the anguish brought on by such selfish nonsense as has been expressed by relatives. Linda? Oh, she’d have been pissed. She’d have drawn lines. She’d have nevermind Costco Kleenex box wept. She’d have marched. She’d have taken down with force some of this bullshit y’all kinfolk are far too casually espousing. Let me be clear: I’m not saying I knew her best, but I am saying I know this much.
Brings me to another very closely related clock-fold thread, more than a mirage in remembering well my mom’s lessons and values, her priorities for parental consciousness raising, justice, awareness, and accountability to others. Recently I’ve seen some flappings-on in certain small-ish-familial circles about how unfortunate (saddening) are the removals of confederate statues, prospective renamings, and so on. I grant that phrase, “flappings-on,” implies critique. So be it. I don’t have the slightest damn to give about the swift extraction of public monuments or public memorials dedicated anyone who tolerated, promoted, abided, or was otherwise receptive to or amenable with slavery. Clear away all of that ugly and traumatizing shit. Those markers are not teaching history. They’re signaling explicitly the persistence of a dehumanizing value system–and that dehumanization disproportionately applies to some (BIPOC) and not others (white folks). So openly and uncritically sentimentalizing or reveling in public markers rooted in the subjugation of fellow humans, it expresses a reckless and unchecked obtuseness. It’s serially injurious, inscribing legacy fear, legacy pain, legacy nastiness overtly into the commons. It’s an asshole thing to do. Seriously, fuck that.
Ok. Counting to three. Gonna take a breath and try it one other way. Clockfold. It’s June 11, 2020. Murders of Black folks at the hands of police officers (Breonna Taylor, George Floyd), as well as documented lynchings (Ahmaud Arbery) have motivated and recharged civil rights activism, all for the greater good, nothing left to lose, and enough is enough. Breonna Taylor was 26; Ahmaud Arbery, 25. And George Floyd, 46, my age, also tall and a former high school tight end, a dad with a young daughter. A dad, dammit. They should be alive.
Four paragraphs ago I mentioned my son and daughter and granddaughter. There is so much more that can and should be said, that is being said, that must be deliberated over, acted upon, sorted out, made better in light of that last paragraph. But up there four paragraphs ago, where I mentioned Ph. and Is. and V., to those in my family singing woe-song about slipping handles on history due to the sociocultural eviction of atrocity memorials, I have only this scenario to offer. Bracket history for one beat to consider whether you would believe it reasonably safe for Ph. and Is. and V. to drive together to where I live, to pay me a visit, the three of them. Consider it carefully. Their different last names. Their different races. Their unusually different ages. Ph. driving. Their navigating state highways in Ohio, especially southern Ohio, and West Virginia. Consider it. Consider why such a road trip would be terrifyingly precarious, dangerous, risky. And then mull over what you are actively doing to make it otherwise. Give it a minute. Try.
So, here’s where I’ve veered to this morning in the clock-folding. Entirely on (circular) track. I think about my mom often, especially on her deathdate, especially in this particular moment. The personal. The familial. Can’t find in all that introspective deep digging and self-awareness any fire to relate, really? Ask what it would take to make the constant threat and trauma and springloaded trigger-happy state violence–the anguish perpetuated through structural-systemic and targeted dehumanization–personal for you, for those to whom you are accountable.
Login chances entry, entry chances rekicked essayisms: login chances rekicked essayisms. Never will be what it was back when.
Reading René Redzepi Journal (generously lent by A.S.) with a green cover and a one inch binder clip holding it together on the right because the adhesives opposite “binding” gave up, quit holding on, saying, in effect, flap pages, flap. Or the volume–a loaner–was more roughly handled than Phaidon Press Limited ever could have imagined. It’s only six years old and falling apart. Page-turn gently; the young, too, are old nowadays. Even the strongest glues are temporary. Once inside the book, there’s this:
Tuesday 22 February
While investigating Trash Cooking we’ve come upon a small discovery: the fish scales we always throw away have this brilliant crispness. They don’t taste of very much in their own right – they’re more of a vehicle for the frying fat – but it’s delightful to watch them transform from small, disgusting, slimy refuse, to completely white, glassy, brittle flakes. They will certainly go on the menu somewhere. (24)
Trash Cooking clicks with a freegan impulse and gets me thinking again about food resourcefulness, also dumpster diving, also safety-netted scrounging and foraging experiments run on pseudo-precarity. It’s a different feeling when you the fish scales are piled and never make that leap. But anyway, whatever of it, guts and discardeds, today’s menus are for the most part idling. And more, six days later:
Monday 28 February
We’ve been obsessively drying anything and everything we can get our hands on. The rest of the staff outside the test kitchen are sullen, as we’ve commandeered every device with even the slightest heat to dehydrate our products. The Dried Kitchen is such a big project, far bigger than I realized, and it’s taking a goddamn long time. It takes three bloody days to dry an endive at 60° C [140° F]. Two days for a cucumber. At some point in my fervour, I asked the boys to dry every variety of pumpkin…but now I’m not so sure. (25)
I’m not so sure, too. I’ve had a Cosori dehydrator for a few weeks, drying some of this, drying some of that. 145° F/62.7° C, four hours at a time. Lemon juice soaked fruits with chili powder, cayenne, ginger, or cinnamon added. Lemons and blood oranges. Sweet potato chips in onion powder and, after a round of drying, barbecue sauce for a second round. Mung sprouts tossed in dijon. Mung sprouts soaked in pickle juice. Apple slices. Bananas slices several different ways, including peels on. Pears with dill weed. Possibly more than all the rest, I’m looking forward to separating fire cider, one month infused, liquid to bottles and solids to puree for drying and grinding into seasoning for I don’t know what, exactly, but probably popcorn topping. April 15 will be one month for the cider, but tomorrow, Easter (4/12), seems like as good a day as any to roll free the lids from the jar tops, convert solids to puree to leather to dust. But there’s a backlog in that cantaloupe and green apples will have to wait another day or two. These and other patiences. I’ll continue these meanderings for a while, slice and season and dry and sample, eat the dried foods whether they’re good or bad, forgettable or unforgettable. And as I do, I’ll puzzle out some of this:
- Candying sequences, including chocolate coated citrus slices.
- How to get the wire racks to more readily release the dried foods, including better uses of sheets, oils, or parchment.
- Chopping/chunking fruits for baked goods reintegration (e.g., strawberry or banana nib brownies or chocolate chip cookies).
- Homemade granola bars.
A friend whose dad died not too long ago just the other day statused about how the loss of a parent ((((stuns)))) you with new base time, increments reset. If it had a sound, it would be the kind of droning low-tonal yawp-hum that would make clockfaces crack, gears melt, springs and innerworkings wrench and bend, digital and analog both, no matter. How long has it been since they died? How many week-months? How many day-years? Nevermind BCE, nevermind Christ’s West.
Apropos for a Monday, today makes twenty-one years since my mom died. It’s nothing to cake about. Seven-thousand-and-some days. 183,960 hours. An e-annotation+8 in seconds. Googling these figures, I learnt too there’s a country song about this duree, “Twenty One Years Is A Mighty Long Time,” but I didn’t listen to it. The Earth flips axes (re-begin your geocoding, GISers!), but you can figure out how to walk it right-side up, footfalls alternating, gravity adequate again. Even if it takes a defiant while. There are mysteries without shits to give about them. Like, I don’t know why I mark deathday this year. Who even cares! Mother’s Day was okay. Some years you really feel it on a birthday or Mother’s Day. Some years, deathday. Probably because of the moon. Wounds long-healing have good days, good hours, bad days, bad hours. For twenty-one years and probably for longer than that.
I return to campus tomorrow, May 2, following a research leave that relieved me teaching and service responsibilities at EMU during Winter 2016. The four month leave allowed me to put the finishing touches on a collaborative monograph and to get the other book I have contracted with the WAC Clearinghouse #writing series substantially closer to a full draft. At the start of the sabbatical, the introduction and first chapter were already sent off, in the editor’s hands (these amount to 57 ms. pages). Over the past four months, I submitted three more chapters, which amounts to 129 ms. pages. I still have some work to do on Chapter Five, which I plan to send by the end of May, and Chapter Six, which I’ll turn over by the end of June. With that, a full draft of the monograph and then on to other things. I just turned off my email autoreply, and I’ll be in Pray-Harrold 613M tomorrow for most of the day, doling out numerous emails related to scheduling for this year’s first-year writing sections. Before the leave officially officially concludes, I wanted to capture a few impressions about the sabbatical, its accomplishments, and its occasional struggles.
- Winter 2016 was only the second semester in 18 years that I didn’t teach a class. And the summer ahead, which is filled with administrative responsibilities, will be only the second summer in 16 years that I won’t be teaching a class. These patterns crept up on me; as I counted them and as I write them here, it seems like too much. I understand better than ever before the risks of burnout (or call it boredom, disinterest, complacency, checking out, whatever), and I have realized this winter how precariously close I have been to shrugging off many of the priorities I held when I started began down this career path during doctoral work.
- As this was my first sabbatical, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect about work rhythms. The nearest I’ve come to having this kind of time to devote entirely to scholarship was all the way back in 2008 when I was working on the dissertation. A sabbatical takes some getting used to, and I suspect this is especially true when the leave is taken from a quasi-administrative post, such as directing a first-year writing program. The interim director and associate director did a fine job, as far as I can tell, but the hand off involved a fair amount of leading communication, pointers to where various documents were stored, how to handle everyday operations, and so on. Likewise, as the return from sabbatical approaches, there has been in uptick in email, requests for scheduling various things for the first half of May. I’m not sure I was especially well prepared for the fuzziness of transitioning onto sabbatical and back off again, particularly as relates to this administrative work. And the lessons about how to transition on and off more gracefully, although they are fresh with me now, probably won’t be especially helpful when my next sabbatical comes around.
- I’m reasonably pleased with my productivity on sabbatical. I didn’t travel much–only a couple of out of town trips, primarily for conferences and an invited talk and workshop. I asked around, and some colleagues said things like, “don’t expect to get anything done during the first month” and “remember to rest.” These were helpful reminders, and now looking back, I suppose I could have worked harder and gotten more done, but I am more or less still on track with the timeline for the book, and I don’t at all have the sense that I squandered huge chunks of time.
- Sabbaticals are isolating and on some days very strange. This much free time? I worked out. I read a few books that don’t have anything to do with my writing. I shitted around. Watched TV. Cooked. Dabbled at home improvement stuff. I regard most of this as run of the mill and routine–nothing here I would describe as radically transformative. The bouts of isolation got me thinking a lot more about social balance, about how much of my social world is constituted by work interactions, conversations with colleagues who are also friends. But sabbaticals are socially bizarre in that people want to leave you alone and respect your time, which is at the same time, of course, estranging from familiar routines and conversations that can prove supportive or generative. At one point I considered trying to convene some kind of writer’s group, but after talking to another colleague who was sabbaticalling at the same time as me, I decided better of it. No need to attempt to be a social leader at the same time my purest focus should be on the book’s development.
- I can’t say yet whether I am fully restored, recharged, rested, and ready for what’s ahead. I jump back into the directorship of the first-year writing program, and while I was away there were a handful of institutional changes that make my return cautious insofar as I can’t quite tell how some of these questions will settle out (most of them relate to labor; who teaches composition as well as how composition sections are weighted for equivalencies). I thought long and hard beforehand about extending the sabbatical for four months through September 1, the start of Fall 2016, and while I could have chosen this alternative, by returning early I am able to earn additional pay in the summer months and continue as director.
Now having listed these few notes, they re-read to me as banalities, though not as too banal to post, if only so I can return to them in a few years when I put in for another research leave. And I think I will. That is, I know people who swear they don’t want or need a sabbatical, but as I have been reflecting on this time for the past ten days or so (the reprieve window of repatriation and conserving effortfully to make the most of what remained), I regard this time as invaluable to my well-being, to my research and scholarship, and to my sense of reinvigorated responsibility as a tenured professor. It surprises me a little bit that I am both excited to return to campus and that I got as much done as I did. I suppose that in itself is as much conviction as anyone can have about a sabbatical’s worth.
I’m in Tampa this week for the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication–an event I’ve been attending every year (except one) since 1999. This year I proposed (and was accepted to present) a poster, and after several hours of finessing for more white space, shifting elements around, and tinkering in Illustrator, here’s what I’ll be standing next to for 75 minutes this afternoon.
Somewhere along the way, even though I did not mean to, I lost track of how many Mother’s Days have piled up too-many-one, too-many-two, too-many-thirteen since June 1997, the month and year my mom died. I could run the numbers wicked-quickly through the tenth year or so, not that anyone ever asked, “So how many years has it been for you, without your mom?” There are years when reminiscences (reminen-siezes?) laced with grief dulls the which-year math and other years when the exact count blazes brightplain again. This time the year-count is a Mother’s Day whatever. Someone abacus-else can bother with it.
Ruth Margalit’s “The Unmothered” made its deserved rounds yesterday. I grabbed the link and dropped it into Pocket, retrieved it this morning and read on my phone through no-really-my-eyes-are-tearing-from-allergies while the morning’s water heated toward boiling. The article offers a reflection on Mother’s Days for the unmothered, those whose mothers have died, those who experience faint and sometimes gripping pangs of absence through this tribute-holiday’s memory work. Read the article if you want to. Or put it in Pocket for later. Either way.
These are among the gem passages–a small bouquet of excerpts I want to press into the blog the way my grandmother used to press violets into the binding-folds of thick books for preserving. They’ll save here, so I (or you and I, anyone) can re-read them around this time next year or the year after that:
Trust me, I’m too aware of the fact that my mother is gone to wish her here in any serious way on Mother’s Day. But does the holiday have to be in May, when the lilacs are in full bloom? When a gentle breeze stirs–the kind of breeze that reminds me of days when she would recline on a deck chair on our Jerusalem porch, head tilted back, urging me to “sit a while”?
They say time heals. It’s true that the pain wears off, slightly, around the edge, like a knife in need of whetting. But here’s what they’re missing: It gets harder to explain to myself why I haven’t seen her. A month can make sense. (I took a trip; she was busy with work.) Even six months is excusable. (I moved; she’s on sabbatical.) But how to make sense of more than three years worth of distance? How to comprehend that time will only drive my mother and me farther and farther apart?
Yes, I remember thinking. Yes, yes, yes. This wasn’t delayed grief, after all. It was simply this: grief keeps odd hours, the most painful moment at the most abstract moment. Strangely, I began to think of Barthes (whose relationship with his mother famously bordered on the Oedipal) as my grief buddy. Largely preferring books to people around that time, I discovered that he wasn’t the only one.
I started to italicize, add emphases-mine, and then ended up italicizing the mother-loaded hell out of these few lines, so back-tracked and thought better of it. An almost of italicizing, done and reversed back to nothing special. All of it equally special.
And this is all just to say–as if I have anything left, much less grand-culminating and insightful to say about this Mother’s Day or “The Unmothered,” that these sentiments operate with unpredictable, potent acuity over a life. I suppose I might have been dreaming just such an idea when this photo from April 1975, me not quite a year old and lost in The Big Nap, when this photo of her–so impressively alive, happy, and mothering as to make it unthinkable that it would ever be otherwise–was click! taken.
Our CCCC roundtable wrapped up a few minutes ago (exactly :05, according to the entry-scheduler’s timestamp). Eight of us planned and proposed this as a session that would be delivered simultaneously in Indianapolis, live, and also via Twitter, using scheduled tweets with the #4c14 hashtag with links to YouTube versions of the presentations, complete with closed-captioning. I finished setting up the scheduled tweets a few minutes ago–on Monday the 17th–and thought I may as well embed the full playlist into a blog entry, too, both to capture the event here and to circulate it yet again for anyone who might have missed it.
I’m sure there is more to say about it–both about the mix of pre-tenure WPA perspectives collected here and also about the production process involved with planning and putting together the slidedecks, audio files, and transcripts. I’m also interested in when this is delivered and circulated in time. How many nows? With any luck, there will be time enough for thinking through this more and considering the value in session-wide durable artifacts (hyper-deictic time capsules) after we’re all tick-tocking on the other side of this busy week.
The WIDE-EMU 2012 countdown widget ticked to single digits earlier today, which means I’m past due–delinquent!–with the Phase II teaser for a session called “Clocking Composition: Exploring Chronography with Timeline JS.” My co-presenters, Joe and Jana, have written smartly about what we have planned, and when we met a couple of weeks ago, we decided the Phase II piece may as well be a timelinear representation of the conference program, which is what we’ve created, since I would be working on the ordinary program, anyway.
I’m more or less pleased with the result. I suppose I’ve tempered my enthusiasm because I’m still learning quite a bit about Timeline JS, figuring out whether it’s better to tune style in-line or adjust it in the CSS files. Earlier today, for example, I asked a colleague to check out the time-lined version of the program and much of the text on the landing page was clipped, unreadable. I adjusted, and the new version should scale more elegantly to smaller screens, but, well, these are the nuances that take more time to get to know. I plan to continue experimenting with Timeline JS this fall in part because we”ll be using it for a project in ENGL505 soon.
Before next Saturday’s conference, I need to duplicate enough copies of the Timeline JS sandbox files (basically create about 10-12 .html pages and create the openly editable Google spreadsheets that will feed into each of them) and figure out the best way to make these accessible during the session. I doubt we’ll dig too deeply into how to set this up on a server or why to consider abandoning Google spreadsheets for JSON, but I suppose we can drift in these or other directions as suits all who attend next week.