Once Folded

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:

Stone and grass and engravings.

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.

Good Ideas

I like much of Steven Johnson’s stuff, and undoubtedly I will pick up a copy of his latest book project, Where Good Ideas Come From, though probably not until next summer. As I watched this TEDtalk, though, I’m dissatisfied with how little work on rhetorical invention surfaces here. Johnson’s “liquid network” is an intriguing metaphor, indeed: drink together, think together…eureka! Or, sometimes, “I’ve got nothing. May I have another?” But I wonder whether this “natural history of innovation” will do much more to advance thinking about how good ideas happen than did Karen Burke LeFevre’s Invention as a Social Act (1987), a book whose premises have by now become a given for contemporary rhetorical thinking. This “noodling around” and “hacking” is fascinating stuff, especially when such innovative acts are paired with vivid, thoughtful anecdotes, a storytelling strategy Johnson deploys with distinction. Since Johnson is great at making theoretical concepts accessible, maybe this new project will be a good fit with existing work on invention. On the other hand, absent some acknowledgment of a larger family of ideas related to invention, e.g., “systematic serendipity” (via Merton via Halavais, a concept we discussed yesterday in ENGL326) or contingency (an alternative to managerial rhetoric Muckelbauer develops smartly in The Future of Invention), the originary “where” from which good ideas come will remain partial, incomplete, problematically runny.

Allowing that I haven’t picked up the book (!), I look forward to reading it with these few provisional concerns in mind. In that sense, I guess this amounts to some sort of TED-motivated pre-review. Furthermore, I wrote it while sitting all alone in my campus dorm-office, which probably means good ideas here are few, far between.


Reading this evening about the 19231 beginnings of the Great Outdoor Fight in Bakersfield, Calif.:

Figuring that where there was noise, there must surely be money, [Ken]
Crandall decided to make the G.O.F. an annual event and become wealthy by
selling sandwiches  to the crowds who came to compete. He cleared an acre
of his land, put up a high chainlink fence around it, and distributed hastily
printed fliers throughout central California. An excited public quickly phoned,
mailed, or telegrammed the information not only throughout the nation, but
throughout the world. Newspapers in Italy ran sensational articles about the
"Festival of Beasts," while papers in China advertised trips to California so
that one might "Defeat Over Long-Time Dudes." (7)

Onstad, Chris. The Great Outdoor Fight. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse,

New Echo, New Narcissus

Kopelson writes,

Yet, as composition studies is distinct in its penchant for ‘borrowing,’
we are also, in my opinion, unrivaled in our proclivity for
self-examination. I am not arguing that this is an unimportant
activity, but only that the costs are indeed high when self-scrutiny comes
at the expense of taking up other critical concerns and of making other,
more innovative and far-reaching forms of knowledge (775).

This appears in the final section of the essay, the part titled "Conclusion:
Banishing Echo and Narcissus." Here, Kopelson takes exception with the
field’s self-reflexivity, the growing heap of self-interested and self-absorbed
assessments of where we are or where we are heading. There is an
unidentified villain here, and I wondered as I read whether Kopelson has any
favorite ‘misses’, accounts that get it terribly wrong or that are built up on
marsh-lands of mushy data.

Reading this section and the quotation above in particular, I had the
sense that Kopelson wasn’t as interested in "banishing" Echo and Narcissus
as in giving them overhauls, in renewing them, even in teaching them how to
and reflect less recklessly. In other words, what is
wrong with many self-reflexive disciplinary accounts (or "discipliniographies"
to lift and bend a term Maureen Daly Goggin introduces in Authoring a
) is that they succumb to a localist impulse. That
is, they un-self-conciously extrapolate from local experience and anecdotal
evidence onto the field at large, projecting some local knowledge onto the
expansive abstraction that is the discipline (however we imagine it to be).
The localist impulse can take many different shapes; often it is akin to reading
patterns through the course of an individual career (i.e., "in my thirty years
at Whatsittoyou U.") or by cherry-picking from an exceedingly thin selection of
data (titles of conference presentations or tables of contents for teacher
training manuals). We all do this to some extent–making sense of the field at
large through our local, immediate experiences, but it is dangerous to arrive at
conclusions about the field (or world) at-large solely by examining one’s own

What I’m getting at is that I don’t have any beef with the disciplinary
practice of self-examination. Perhaps there are more than a handful of
fields in the academy that would benefit from more of it. I hold history (the calling of others who’ve navigated this canyon) and
reflection in high regard (perhaps not to the ill-fated extremes of Echo and
Narcissus). Resonanceresonanceresonance and reflection are valuable, especially for newcomers,
for the "new converts" Kopelson mentions. But they will not be successful–or
very useful–until they get beyond that localist impulse, until they involve
earnest field-wide data collections and collaboratively built databases. I
don’t know how well this matches with Kopelson’s "innovative and far-reaching
forms of knowledge," but it is increasingly where my own interests lie.
If those far-reaching forms of knowledge included disciplinary data (even simple
stuff, like how many programs offer undergraduate writing majors), they could
generate insights about disciplinarity. In the meantime those full-view
insights will continue to elude us as long as we leap from local knowledge to
widespread pattern, without addressing sufficiently the intermediary scales.

Kopelson, Karen. “Sp(l)itting
Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition.” CCC 59.4
(2008): 750-780. [Carnival]

Writing Feverlets*

Curious about her critique of Derrida’s Archive Fever, I picked up a
copy of Carolyn Steedman’s Dust: The Archive and Cultural History from
Bird Library, recalling it from another patron who had checked it out (v. sorry
about that). I deal briefly with AF in Chapter Three. Steedman
makes the point that AF is less about archives than about Derrida’s
concern for the slippage of origins (a theme in his other work) and the
inseparability of psychoanalysis from Freud (and also Judaism). She
writes, "The Foreword [to AF] carried the main argument, about Freud’s
Jewish-ness, and the contribution of Jewish thought to the idea of the archive,
via psycho-analysis" (7). Basically, Steedman is suspicious of Derrida’s
characterization of the fever (as a frenzied pursuit of origins which do not
properly exist). She complains that the concept of the fever is degraded in
translation from Mal d’Archive, and then she enthusiastically claims the
sickness Derrida mocks: "Archive fever, indeed? I can tell you all about
Archive Fever!" (17). Dust undertakes this "all about-ness" at fever’s pitch;
Steedman, all the while, works to correct (or tune, at the very least) Derrida’s
glancing consideration of the archive left behind in his treatment of other
concerns (psychoanalysis, Freud, and so on).

Continue reading →