We brought home the six pullets1Or were they technically chicks?…many, many questions without answers. from the Radford Rural King on April 18, which means today marks 43 days at home, variations on heat-lamp-lit brooder box and pine shavings, then daytime hours in the run, then a chilly overnight in the coop maybe two weeks ago, and soon very soon, permanently in the coop and run. A. was generous to send me this photo today, the six in what I’m seeing as a lineup for possibly dried meal worms, possibly a dish of chopped vegetables. I’m not saying they’re spoiled; I’m just saying they’re friends, and what we know about friends is, treat them well.
Or were they technically chicks?…many, many questions without answers.
To the dataist ear, this passionate commitment to freedom and democracy will sound like a ghostly voice from an already bygone era. From the dataist perspective, the idea of the human being as defined by individual autonomy and freedom, by the ‘will to will’, will eventually appear as merely a short historical interlude. Dataists would agree with Foucault when he invokes the death of the human being in The Order of Things: ‘As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end….then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea.’ The sea whose waves are erasing the face in the sand is today a boundless sea of data, in which the human being dissolves into an insignificant data set. (43)
—Byung-Chul Han, Infocracy (2022)
No outdoor walk this evening because SE Michigan, including Ypsilanti, is observing an Air Quality Alert, which I understand to be a small time toxic airborne event—serious enough to stay indoors and take a pass on the daggered-eyeballs effect, but also just a sign of the dry, dusty, particulate-breezed moment. Ah, springtime. So instead I read another chapter of Infocracy, “Data Rationality,” which according to Han counterposes a discourse-driven “communicative rationality,” where argumentation, claims backed with evidence, and compromise toward consensus-ish assent puts gusto in democracy’s sails. In an era of data rationality, information outstrips deliberative discourse; people no matter how mightily they strive to pay attention and process events are left in the dust, overwhelmed and scattered in the haze of information overload. Bleak1Bleak is my characterization of a mood, which, like all moods, fluctuates. but discerning, Han takes this idea on a brief tour with stops at Habermas, public-sphere hopeful, then dataists Rousseau and Alex Pentland of MIT.
I suppose, based on this, that rhetoricians are now and shall remain as outsiders to rising programs in data science (e.g., Data and Decisions); the data is extra-sensically vast, and the decisions are wrought in human-machine ratios more mechanistic than neuronal, more computational than synaptic, more algorithmic than fleshly. What a grand (and routinely fuckered) time we had while the beach drawing lasted, now-insignificant data set! So, what’re you gonna do now, democracy? What are the suitable responses, and do those responses have any chance of reaching anyone who can listen, engage in dialogue, make any difference? Get it together?! I don’t mean make a difference in an Army Corps of Engineers “protect the beach face” sort of way. Reading this chapter, I’m left puzzling generatively with a sense of no really, what becomes of this? If any juice remained in the democratizing efforts of writing programs, or critical literacies, or rhetorical education, are there variations on beach-drawn faces farther up or down the disappearing coastline? Or are the dataist-guided paths reduced to two: homo economicus (good capitalist progeny go for jobs 🤑) or homo inanis (bear witness to giddyup speed obsolescence ).
Bleak is my characterization of a mood, which, like all moods, fluctuates.
The dataism of the information regime has totalitarian characteristics. Its aim is total knowledge, but the total knowledge of dataism is achieved not through ideological narration but through algorithmic operations. The aim of dataism is to compute all there is and all there will be. Big data does not recount. Recounting gives way to algorithmic counting. The information regime replaces all that is narrative with the numerical. However intelligent they may be, algorithms are not as effective as ideological narratives at excluding the possibility of the experience of contingency. (9)
—Byung-Chul Han, Infocracy (2022)
Reading back through the underlines I drew while spending time with Infocracy earlier in the week, this sprang pause because of the better-at and worse-at comparison between “ideological narratives” and “algorithmic counting.” If this holds onto a place on the reading schedule for this fall’s Rhetoric in Digital Environments, we may want to sift around for examples of these narratives and this counting. For this class, the examples should stand apart, distinguishable as oil and water, rather than sending us into the haze of a database-narrative emulsion. Some (if not all) of Infocracy will fill in as what followed from the database-vs-narrative (enemies, according to Manovich; symbionts, according to Hayles) debates of the aughts. While resisting a horse race model to explain numbers and stories quant-qual contention over the past two decades and probably longer, we will puzzle out this suggestion that algorithms “are not as effective,” and are, therefore, more forgiving toward “the possibility of the experience of contingency.” I think this means that ideological narratives seal out contingency with a higher rhetorical thread count, a failsafe weed barrier covering the front beds, a reliable fitted sheet that keeps any-all spilt Sunday morning coffee from seeping through.
Spotted last evening, April 12, 7:35 p.m. EDT, first of the hummingbirds returns to SE Christiansburg, Va., draws down the free sugar drinks we set out for such guests. Small, dark-throated, likely to have traversed at low altitude many miles. In 2022, the first arrived on April 10. More settled in unsettled, until they were dancing and diving as an all-summer-long electron field, altering Earth House’s surrounding airspace. #picaflores #hummingbirds #flightpaths #wonderhollow
Back felt well enough yesterday that I attempted to unblock the 2″ PVC line that diverts creek water to the pond. I’d attempted to free the line twice this winter, once failing fairly quickly, and the second time taking extra steps to dig out the spring-fed muck underneath the line’s only bend, then to snake from both ends with 25′ coil line. No magic in the conclusion. It was plugged at the bend, 20′ up line from where it empties into the pond, and 10′ down line from where the creek feeds it. The problem remained, but I pushed a stake in the ground and left it there until yesterday. Yesterday I was over-prepared. I’d gathered a belt of implements Wile E. Coyote would’ve admired. But then I tried again with the plumber’s coil and just kept at it, and for a few minutes the line echoed tink ta-tink, tink ta-tink, tink ta-tink before it broke through.
Not that the pond is ready to be corked and refilled. I still need to power wash the retaining wall and coat it with something I have yet to figure out, possibly Drylock, possibly a more basic masonry slurry. And that also means borrowing (or buying, but preferably borrowing) a power washer. And more research about the trade-offs with drylock versus other coatings. Trial and error. Should it be sealed-sealed? Or just laxly coated so as to hold on for a season? What is the hoped for horizon with such things?
The creek burbles along rocks, pooling in a few places before bending east and tunneling under the driveway. It’s in a zone of the yard I am now more than before thinking of as Wonder Hollow Micropark. One purpose for the park is to enjoy it and to put seating there where others can sit when they visit. Another purpose is to write a grant to get the park’s stewardship funded by an outdoors supporting benefactor. I’d guess it’s only 700 SF, a narrow strip between the steep bank of the road, the other steep bank of the mountain, and at the far end, the thicket of brambles where any day now hummingbird guests will return for summer. They showed up last year on April 10. The Micropark catches morning sunlight but is in the shade by 3 p.m. Getting to it—also getting the push mower to it—requires stepping over the creek, or edging slowly along slopes of 20-30 degrees.
The park has a couple of dead trees next to it. When the winds gust, old branches fall. It’s nothing clockwork, this slow, branch-shedding funeral. Tending to the park means piling sticks for burning, eventually. Yesterday I tried to light the heap of sticks using as a wad of scruffy stems that had remained upright throughout the winter, and they started, but then stalled. Nah. Wasn’t to be. The pile will burn another day.
I carried over a garden rake, and walked the creek, nudging free leaf-clumps, a kind of anti-coagulant pass that would by the end leave the stones showing—juts to the sky—and raise the audibility of water falling, here a couple of inches, there a foot, and then another couple of inches, and so on down. Without the leaves the creek reclaims a seasonal aesthetic more pleasing in spring-summer-early fall. Walking the creek slowly, rake in hand, I noticed two different watercress patches where the watercress is fresh and healthy-seeming, and the water courses through it with a calm adjacency, running, but running quietly and casually in contrast to the higher volume rush. Every bend is unique, but one rock in particular bears such a shallow and constant water course that it is more like a rinsed-over ramp than a part of any of the more active transitions. That one rock suggests itself as a painter, much quieter than a poet, like you could pin a sheet of paper or canvas to the rock with two stones, and let the water’s steady rinse make its marks. Creek as mixed media artist.
Funny in a way not funny that the last in the series of comfort inventories was titled Discomfort Inventory and posted two years ago in April, a run-down of WTF holy-smokes how the heat then was a’rising. That playful inversion, comfort marked dis-, fuckered the numbering system so now it’s unclear whether this one is CI 9 or CI 10. Executive decision consulting with the EWM advisory board: I’m going with CI 10, so let the footnotes resolve that Discomfort Inventory Unnumbered also was counted.
Owing to an upcoming WPA hiatus (or, more technically true, indefinite but careful and non-harmful evacuation of the role) I am at the end of June transitioning to the first email-unencumbered and otherwise work-appointment-free summer months in more than 14 years, the last ten of which were lurched along with one foot snagged in that bottomless and unpredictable quicksand of administrative responsibilities, late July surprises, and then some. Feels like something…different. Notably I would’ve thrown a handful of confetti for myself on-around May 12, but I was told I must oblige an unwritten rule that pins switch-over date on The Calendar at and only at June 30. Pope Gregory sighed in relief.
Is it possible at the age of 48 to have (meaning host) new feelings, or feelings unfelt before? If so, I have and am in that standing aside from writing program administration has elicited the faintest of mixes. Not bitter+sweet only, though that’s a familiar sentiment and not entirely distinct from this particular structure of feeling. Easier to name, the bittersweet. We have the word for this paradox. Oh, your feelings are crossed up? But right now, these work-facing feelings are curiously small, faint, light, but also complexly mixed and parts wow-wonderful with parts whoa-startling—sort of like at the froyo bar where the eager but ascetic everything-topper only takes the smallest unit possible: a shred of coconut, a violet petal, a fragment of toffee bar, a speck of syrup-soaked strawberry, one boba tapioca, a sprinklet, sugar granule, a raisin if you must. Don’t overdo it. Let me not get too too too lost in these feelings.
But then again I did order a chicken coop today to make better on a commitment to a different kind of holler life here in SW Virginia. I have the good fortune of working with a few chicken enthusiasts who are sharing with me and A. every possible angle to consider, from the hazards of automatic door closers (remember that Jim Johnson article?!; it’s sort of like that one fused with this one) to the predator barriers, to the problems and opportunities with chicken trucks/mobile coops, and so on. Get the heated water vessel, I’ve learned. Expect rodents to nosh the feed off-shed, I’m told. Park them under a canopy tree in the hottest heats of summertime. And so on.
We’ll start with six chickens. 🐔🐔🐔🐔🐔🐔
I received a Red Bubble take down notice the other day because the “rights holder” complained about one of my illustrations, from the Pandemic Bestiary, #18 Write (turkey hunched at a keyboard). The takedown notice, according to Red Bubble, was initiated by Virginia Tech. I contested it, of course, because I happen to have the Procreate file, which can play back the production process, and it includes the stroke count (1,082) and the time I spent on that drawing (3 hours, 13 minutes). I suppose it must be some sort of lax image-matching AI running interference on this sort of thing, and it turns out that it can be difficult to convince an AI that you are human, or that you, as a human, made something that to the AI’s still sort of iffy matching operations presumes your “original work” to belong to someone else. So it’s not possible for now to purchase a Pandemic Bestiary #18 Write sticker for under two dollars at Red Bubble. World turns. Loss of side-hustle counter-claim pending for .35 USD. Maybe I’ll follow-up on this, continue to chronicle the very low-level hijinks. Or maybe right along with that drawing everything pleasingly digressive and light-hearted and playful will be disappeared. Fun while it lasted!
For Monday’s Food Writing class we’re leafing the last of the semester’s readings, one from Savor, on apple eating, and another from A Pebble for Your Pocket, “Eating an Orange.” We’ll have apples and oranges. Write a 90. And maybe I’ll go one step farther, time allowing, with “Four Mantras,” because the opening line is in itself a simple—perhaps the simplest—theory of rhetoric: “A mantra is a magic formula. Every time you pronounce a mantra, you can transform a situation right away; you don’t have to wait” (111).
In January, on a phone call (following an email exchange) with longtime mentor LWP, I mentioned this line about mantras. She reminded me that the most reliable mantra she’d been advised to recite as an administrator came from one of her mentors: Be kind. Be fair. Be brave. Even as my WPAing decade winds down, perhaps this one can continue to transform situations. Teaching preparation situations. Absurd takedown notice situations. Chicken tending situations.
It’s March again. For the 19th year in a row, March means it is time to waste 30 minutes daydreaming about NCAA men’s basketball tournament glory by participating in the Earth Wide Moth Tournament Pick’em, Chalk Dust Pie. À la mode! So little has changed: we’re still using Fibonacci scoring with points increasing round by round (2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21). You’ll also receive bonus points for upset picks (+1 point for upsets in the first round; +2 for upset picks thereafter).
Everyone is welcome to join, so pass along the invitation. You still have a few days, but time is running out for scheduling a Zoom consultation with a certified palm reader, asking ChatGPT to weigh in on your picks, or finding a friend in Oklahoma who can talk you out of rooting for the Big 12.
So, sign up! It’s free to join this year’s group on Yahoo!, Chalk Dust Pie (ID#27652). If you have questions, elbow me with all you’ve got via email at dereknmueller at gmail.com. Invite your friends, deep fakers, frenemies, faux-frenemies, Great Lakes ystäväs, grimey gritical thinkers, census takers of holy smokes! declining numbers of English majors, good deed-doers, plumbers who fix broken pipes on short notice, grifters, practicers of chiropractic arts, rock lobsters doomed in the display tank at Red Lobster, hummingbird oglers, senses-numbed field researchers, eaters of long-expired birthday cake, people who drink double-dirty martinis but only on the most special of occasions, crawl space verminkin, Nomad internet customer service representatives, etc. The group has space for the next 49 who sign up. Egoless, impermanent stakes: reputations are made (and quickly forgotten) right here.
Today I drove again from Ypsilanti, Mich., to Christiansburg, Va., what is becoming entrenched as “the route.” Sometimes when I clock it, the GPS says 500 miles. Other times, like this morning, 501 miles. I stopped for coffee in Bowling Green. And fueled up at the Speedway just north of Delaware, Ohio. Gut-buster lunch in Ravenswood, W.V. And, predictably-oddly spotted A. driving in the northbound lanes of I-77 where our paths–👋🏼–crossed 18 miles outside of Beckley, which I still associate with the now-boarded-up Mountain State University. A. was going to Charleston for a visit with a cousin, returning again to Christiansburg tomorrow.
I listened to several podcasts along the way, like usual. The Daily, Savage Lovecast, This American Life, The Bulwark. The new season of Serial sounds promising, but I couldn’t tell whether the first episode had been released yet.
Back at the holler, it’s hello kitty with a caring scent-check to Z. (petting her too soon would elicit a slashing event). Carrying in luggage, later unpacking, shoving the bag into the attic where, thankfully, there were no mice in the traps. I pulled on boots and walked lower-to-upper loop, poked my head in the buildings, the sound of scurrying things in the rafters of A.’s studio, the soft pastry sod pushed up by burrowing kin, and noticed lost count but more than 50 robins at the milkweed patch, and put a call in at phone of the wind.
The break was restorative in that I got to spend some time with Is. and Ph., and then last evening, though I hadn’t known to plan for it, T. was over at the condo and we settled into a vigorous round of games with slime followed by an improv performance of “The Goose Who Laid Golden Eggs,” which we staged from behind the love seat with Ph. as the audience. T. picked up quickly on how the goose was threatened by greed, and so the puppets took turns expressing how the goose’s yield could serve their interests, while others talked about protecting the goose and ensuring its well-being. It’s the most writing-program-administrative of fables, but I didn’t mention work; I just enjoyed T.’s delight in the ventriloquism and staging and shenanigans.
While driving today I also had another small breakthrough with the next 🤷🏻♂️ thing I am slowly very slowlybituminously slowly composing; it’s the weirdest of projects for its tripartite gravity in the discipline; in death, loss, and intergenerational memory (folded-clock-like, you could say), and in my own cautious footing with imagetext paradox and the illustrated elements. It’s going to take a while, and that’s okay. But today I was thinking again about hodology, and specifically about chreods versus methods. How did “methods” catch on and hold on as the name for a researcher’s practical tools (and steps) and not “chreods”? The setups are not neatly enough aligned yet for apt, coherent description: a deeply splintered map, it’s a project about hodology, a project about gone-noting practices, a project about impermanence, about phenomenological indexicality, about (or with) hauntography, or the writing with/from what haunts, about tonglen-like clearings with geological and entomological digressions, about the first time I flew on an airplane (1980), the mysterious disappearance of more than $700,000 of Smirnoff vodka (1997), more.
The obvious pattern here is that I write Earth Wide Moth entries on breaks. This time it’s Wednesday of spring break, the middle of a week in the middle of a semester—that temporal middlemost divot for a slouch and an exhale and a say.
I was thinking of bitumin because ever since I learned of the (by now well-known?) Queensland U/Professor Parnell pitch drop experiments, bitumin comes up as a terrific example of patience and the taffy-pulled reward of studying for many years things slow, old, and transforming though inobservably so. I’m no geologist, but this solid-seeming bitumin fascinates because even while it is friable, or ready to crumble, so too is it viscous. Given time enough, it forms and relinquishes droplets to gravity. Bitumen drips, if you leave it alone. Wait for it. Wait.
This spring break, like so many other breaks I’ve shoe-horned in and amidst WPAing responsibilities over the past five years at VT, has meant once again driving 500 miles from SW Virginia to Michigan, jeans and sweatshirts shoved into a luggage, watching the weather along the route so as to avoid freezing rains or patches of snow, fetching groceries, and upon arrival generally going along with the anything-whatever of granddaughter time, Is.’s club volleyball schedule, and then some. The practice, if it can be called a practice, is to be easy with it all. Equanimity-crafted lifestyle. And this time of year, there are thesis and dissertation chapters to read and comment upon (two on Monday, two more on Tuesday), continuing teaching prep and some comments on the short-form writing we’re practicing in Food Writing, a boomeranged second-time-around review task due next Tuesday and too long put off across the accelerated and travelsome and also cough-hacking throes of February. Yeah, sure, it’s work, but I experience it as slowed down during the break. Meanwhile, the email inbox has quieted. This week it has lessened to a trickle of reply-all-good job-all-well done-all congratulations among faculty colleagues and a few one-offs about the latest surveillant impulses and precise questions people have about AI-screened computing activities disguised in the protective father logics of cybersecurity, like if robotic dogs chased aggressively a twenty-first century suspicious hermeneut. If you can imagine these as blue-skied comforts, it’s some kind of time at some kind of beach or the like.
Warming up again to the ms review is next on today’s to-dos. I first read the manuscript and wrote 914 words of reviewish guidance ten months ago, May 2022. And because those ten months since have proven to be the most locally extreme and austere in what is now a decade of WPAing, I find it’s requiring more concerted effort to prioritize and focus upon this routine work, to muster a bituminous rebeginning and to return to the manuscript so I can read every bit as generously as before. At sloth’s pace, it stably holds together; quickened, it crumbles and fragments: I get it.
Four mugs for coffee, now three, where has the missing one gone? No big, no mood, we do not even need it today. Everyday mysterious disappearance, though this one feels temporary, more a misplacement than a vanishing. La, la, la, love. Trust. Senses knew it well enough to conjure its absence. Memorable qualities of the mug: same shape and size as the others, only brown-rimmed, not grue-bleen moss, orthodontial ivory, or #b84040 baked orangery-crimson. I only drink from the blue-green one; this morning I have what I need, hot temporary. [Goodman, 1979; Puddle of Mud, 2002; Julavits, 2015]