Another from Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, what somewhere has been called series whose figments bear strange shadowforms of H. P. Lovecraft:
“Should we go back?” the surveyor would say, or I would say.
And the other would say, “Just around the next corner. Just a little farther, and then we will go back.” It was a test of fragile trust. It was a test of our curiosity and fascination, which walked side by side with our fear. A test of whether we preferred to be ignorant or unsafe. The feel of our boots as we advanced step by careful step through that viscous discharge, the way in which the stickiness seemed to mire us even when we managed to keep moving, would eventually end in inertia, we knew. If we pushed it too far.
But then the surveyor rounded a corner ahead of me and recoiled into me, shoved me back up the steps, and I let her. (58-59)
Dog-eared, a page and its few lines I at first associated with initiates, treacherous descent, down a squish stairwell, footfalls better lace up your boots. But the shambles memory cast as “I would say” or “the other would say,” a whatever dialogue, both of them knowing forward means down deeper and down deeper means longer back. Or end. End in inertia. And with this it’s not only initiates down a staircase into the unknown below but a tandem pursuit-non-pursuit, a companionable procession whose interruption–please someone shove–they both seemed to be ready for, to welcome when, let’s return, let’s go back up again, it came.
I jetted into Paris earlier today (a skyroad begun in Detroit and continued after a brief layover in NYC) for the Writing Research Across Borders Conference at Paris Ouest La Défense. Time changes meant six hours evaporated as I arrived in Paris at 1 p.m. local time, what felt like 7 a.m. EST. Factoring in that it was a red-eye spent in Air France coach, my body’s “felt like” time was even earlier and later: WTF Standard Time. And now it is both 6:30 p.m. local time and 12:30 p.m. back home. Time for supperlunch (no, I won’t be asking for supperlunch at a restaurant, unless, maybe that’s a Fr. word?)
The conference is fully underway, but I didn’t make it to the hotel until 2 p.m., and by then it was clear I would arrive late to the conference’s afternoon sessions even if I hoofed (or subwayed…still figuring out how that works) directly to Paris Ouest. Instead I followed what I could on Twitter, unpacked, and figured out the few streets I wanted to follow to go looking for bearings. Fitbit doesn’t know we’re in Paris, France, so we attempted to walk off some of the jet lag along the 8.4 km mapped here.
And noticed: so much dog shit on the sidewalks; newsstands selling paper publications; two kids playing on top of plastic garbage bins near the park, one stopping to “pay the water bill” publicly; two different passers-by who politely asked me in French for help or directions or if I was having a good day or, truthfully, I have no idea. I tried to say something like, “Pardon, no francais,” but neither of them waited the ten minutes it would have taken me to figure out such an elaborate response.
Above all, the brief tour on foot reassured me with an orienting sense that I almost always lack when landing in conference city I haven’t been to before. Now that I am clearer about space and direction, I suspect the next several hours will be devoted to re-harmonizing with time.
Another week in the desert would have been nice. Three days wasn’t enough even though I spent it well: keeping the time and announcing substitution intervals for 15-minute basketball games, noshing on Veggie Navajo tacos from Tuuvi Cafe, catching up with some of my oldest friends (also best-kept, considering I see them almost every year), and generally just soaking in Native Vision. I played basketball for the first time in eighteen months, first in Thursday’s “All-Star Game” and again the next day when Tuba City HS cafeteria lines were so long following the group photo at the football field that rather than wait and wait and wait in the crowd, I took to the gym next door, rebounded for shooters until they invited me to play 2-on-2. Telling time during the camp was its own puzzle: Tuba City doesn’t heed daylight savings, while Moenkopi (across the street) does. Suffice it to say that following the paper itinerary or arranging casual meet-ups (e.g., Let’s meet at 8) proved confounding. I still don’t know what time it was. Lost. And I wasn’t alone in this time warp, which was comforting but also added to the confusion. I went for a short run on Saturday morning. Aimed for just three miles round trip, but I turned back after I found myself attempting the third or fourth shoulderless curve along a canyon edge. Nah, not going out making a decision between the grill of an F-150 and a dive down a steep cliff. Such a slow jog, too. New shoes. Hills. Mile-high oxygen. Stopping to remember the views. But I picked up the pace when, on the return trip, Aggressive Alpha of the three scruffy dogs fenced in only by two strands of barbed wire slipped his loose yard and appeared genuinely interested in chewing whichever is the slower of my two legs (or claiming one of my fancy shoes as a new toy). Yeah, I ran faster then, ran into the road a bit, too. Dodged (“Don’t make me kick at you!”). And back in the hotel lobby, another time warp: mistimed breakfast, a bus driver asking me and only me if we were going to be ready at 8TubaCity when it was only 8Moenkopi. I might’ve felt reassured by a nearby wall clock, but there were who cares two of them side-by-side reporting different hours, a bi-temporal crevasse in spacetime.
Back in Phoenix, or Scottsdale, later Saturday watched the Heat top Boston in the ECF, again with friends who, before we witnessed a shouting match at the bar and went our separate ways for the next day’s early a.m. flights, reminded me that I have to go back again next year. For being, as always, energized and humbled by the event, I can’t wait to go back again next year. And the year after that.
Another week–another hour–in the desert would have been nice.
Harnessed beneath the floating future British metropolis, a star whale labored against zero gravity, acting as a gentle, unassuming engine to carry humans toward some uncertain destination. This is a near-spoiler, I suppose, since it gets at the gradually unraveling premise of “The Beast Below,” the second Dr. Who episode to air this season– Sat. night on BBC America. For the second consecutive week, I watched, not fully sure whether I would grow bored with Who’s kitschy special effects or impatient with the show’s fantastical excesses. Yet, like the week before (unlike some), I was pleasantly surprised. I thought Episode Two was well done–well enough that I recommend it: an army of creepy fortune-telling machines (think Zoltar Speaks with extreme mood swings: called “Smilers”), a blaring, flickering civics quiz after which participants have the option to forget or protest (mass, self-selected forgetting preserves the Queen’s authority; too much protest dethrones her), and, of course, the city’s hefty, bottom-floor host, a schizophrenic giant merciful toward the children but unkind to adults. Enough.
All the more striking in this episode was the unmistakable family resemblance between the star whale and the withering, abused avanc in Mieville’s The Scar, that massive underwater creature yoked to Armada as their floating conglomeration of warped hulls and things drifted toward the water’s edge.
Following last night’s red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York, here I sit in JFK, awaiting a-w-a-i-t-i-n-g my connecting flight to the travel destination nightmare better known as Syracuse. I only chose this flight on jetBlue because I had a voucher from last year’s CCCC in New Orleans. On the way home a year ago I had no choice but to stay over an extra night (put up on the airline’s dime at a divey Days Inn). I also accepted a credit for the full value of that trip, good for one year. The short (and miserable) of it is that I’ve been sitting in JFK since 7 a.m. this morning, holding out for an 11 a.m. hop upstate: home again (for a few more months, anyway). Only: delayed! I’m trying not to look at the monitor over gate G9 because every time I look the staffBlues bump the boarding time ahead another 15 minutes. 12:00 p.m. 12:15 p.m. 12:30 p.m. I’m afraid that if I look again it will roll over to 12:45 p.m.
No, I can’t really complain about the free wireless in the fancy new jetBlue terminal. It’s nice, very nice. But I can say, plaintive though it it sure to sound, that these hours of waiting are intensely uncomfortable, time slowed to a creeping pace, after flying through the night for the first leg of the return trip.
I started the day at the YMCA. D. took Is. to "Short Sports," where
Coach Tina yelled out colors and then everyone ran to the hula hoop of
that color and put one foot inside the circle. The hula hoops were lying flat on
the floor, like big Os:
O O O O
O O O
O O O O
Meanwhile, I went to the fitness room and ran on the treadmill until I fell.
You’re probably thinking I ran 10 or 11 miles, was tired, stumbled from fatigue.
Not so. And in case
you are worried about me, I’m fine, although I later realized the skin-matter
from the full length of my left shin must still be pasted to the conveyor belt.
That, or some poor soul fresh off a jog has it stuck to the soles of their tennis shoes at this very moment.
I don’t even like running.
Tomorrow, it will be Tuesday of Spring Break. Time to pack!
Because later this week I will jet to San Francisco for the annual CCCC convention,
making it the second consecutive "break" I’ll spend at a conference in SF. I’m
counting on a powerful wave of enthusiasm to sweep over me, oh, sometime late Wednesday.
Dog-eared in PrairyErth, a book I was reading last summer:
But the stories didn’t work very well for me, and I walked on, the sky dimming like my mood. Then I remembered that in the little rucksack I carry on my tramps, somewhere among the notebook and pencils, binoculars and magnifying glass, camera and canteen, field guides and raisins, was a thing I’d bought a few days earlier and still had not used: a truck side-mirror, the small convex kind you stick on. I’d recently read about an eighteenth-century traveler’s device called a Claude glass that served to condense and focus a landscape and make it apprehensible in a way direct viewing cannot. When the English poet Thomas Grey first crossed Lake Windermere, he reserved his initial view of the other side for his Claude glass by blindfolding himself on the ferry. Maybe my mirror could rearrange things and show me, so memory-ridden, what I was having trouble seeing.
I pulled out the thing and walked slowly on, watching in it the hills compress and reshape themselves into something different, and what happened was strange and invigorating: in the glass the Chase prairie somehow took on the aspect of my first views of it, and I began to feel again the enchantment of those early encounters. By looking rearward, it was as if I were looking back in time, yet I was looking at a place where left was right, a two-dimensional landscape I could see but not enter: the prospect was both real and impossible, it was there and it wasn’t, and I entered it by walking away from it. If I turned to look, it was gone, something like the reverse of the old notion that when we turn our backs the universe suddenly disappears, to reappear instantly only when we look again. If I extended the mirror far in front of me, I–or a backward image of me–joined that turned land, a dreamscape that could exist only in my palm, a place behind I could see only by looking forward: I was hiking north and traveling south. And then, stumbling along as I was, I realized that ever since I’d come down off Roniger Hill and begun walking my grids I’d been traveling much the same way, and I realized that forward or backward didn’t matter so much as did the depth of the view, a long transit at once before and behind: the extent of cherishing depends upon the amplitude of the ken. (268)
This is William Least Heat-Moon on memory and perspective-two faculties that have, more than others, given shape to my day: a productively clumsy practice interview on campus this morning, the sawing and propping of a Fraser Fir in the living room, and intermittent, melancholic jabs in remembering that my mother, had she lived past 48, would have turned 60 today. So: I could have used a Claude glass–or a truck side-mirror–deliberately to adjust my perspective at a few different points–a mirror trick to help me vanish momentarily from the Syracuse landscape, reverse directions, “rearrange things.”
Is. asked to play this song over and over and over today. And at
lunch she kept saying, "Tee-ka-lee."
To cap the semester, a meeting tomorrow and a mock in-person interview
on Friday. Mock: I am to sport a turtleneck and then all of my questioners
heckle me about the answers when it’s over. Kidding aside, I’m grateful for
In the spring I will be teaching an online section of WRT205 associated
with University College. I have some decisions to make. Today
I’ve been thinking about a focus on attitude: worldview, manner (a
split of Burkean agency), and so on. I saw something about Carol
Dweck’s Mindset, but it also could tie in with a whole range of stuff:
cool studies, believing/doubting, standpoint theory, perspective.
Due to my insufferable pre-course-configuring nomadism, tomorrow I will be thinking something else, no doubt. The semester begins
January 12, which means I have until 11:30 p.m. on January 11th to make up
WRT195ers finished last week with Pecha Kucha presentations–re-makes of
their six week sustained research projects. The switch from the
textually intensive "paper" to the visually intensive and improvised
presentational-performance: a hit, and something I’d definitely like to do
One of the presentations included the uncanny (and unintended)
substitution of "digital naives" for "digital natives" (on a slide). I know
Weinberger has mentioned "digital naives" before, but it was sort of a
surprise fit here in that the point was made in the context of the adeptness
of "digital natives."
My bags are packed and ready for MLA later this month.
No, no they’re not. That’s a joke (a real side-splitter, I’m sure,
for anyone both type A and on the market). But I do have the itinerary
for a trip embedded in another trip: first to Detroit by car, then to SF by
plane, then back to Detroit by plane, and "home" to Syracuse by car.
Is. has been busy at the whiteboard sketching humanoids.
Ph. and I whistled into the Syracuse train depot yesterday afternoon; we’re
home from the excursion to the conference. Everything is unpacked,
laundered, put away.
I have plans to put the paper to an mp3 and sync it with the slides. I
can do this, of course, because my talk was scripted. It’s endlessly
reproducible as a result. But recording will have to wait until I shake off the
cough-inducing tickle that has been getting the best of me all day today.
Sure, I could delete out any of the hacking and rattling that makes its way into
the mix, but why? I’ll just wait it out.