Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Sheeshiest


Yesterday for dinner I baked a mac-n-cheese not far off from this recipe. Almost everyone agreed that it turned out well, with the small exception of our connoIs.eur who enjoys heaping helpings of Kraft "noodles" but would have none of the good stuff.

By Cruelest Count

Here is a lineup of April tallies that could explain why I woke up this morning feeling like a bulldozer rolled over me two or three times in the night. And no, I'm not saying I'm the only one feeling a little bit roughshod.

No. of nights spent away from home: 8/30

No. of cities visited (more than two hours): 5 (Kansas City, Detroit, New Orleans, Buffalo, New York City)

No. of miles by plane: 3,300

No. of miles by car: 3,000

No. of times our refrigerator went out: 2

No. of funerals: 1

No. of hours in the Writing Center: 34.5

No. of dead car batteries in a single day: 2

No. of diss. chapters revised: 1

No. of new diss. pages: 0

No. of viruses I hosted in my lungs so you wouldn't have to: 1

Did it snow today in Syracuse?: Yes, light flurries.

Hello, May. Here's to continuing the slow ascent up Mt. Sappedtheeffout.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Power Trip

Before I left for last week's trip to Missouri and back, I told my brother that the deciding factor would be whether I could withstand spending this week as a drained, lethargic puddle of ineffective, unproductive goop. So far, so good.

Ph. and I left for Detroit on Tuesday evening, picked up my brother, then continued through the night so that we would arrive in Kansas City by late morning or early afternoon. That we did.

Fifty-one miles north of Indianapolis, at 3:30 a.m., I drove past a farmer plowing a field in the moonlight. Wondered whether he was up late or up early, an important consideration given that I could not decide whether I was up late or up early. 3:30 a.m. is the precise moment at which nighttime and daytime hinge (forget midnight; it's too early). Soon after I spotted the industrious farmer, I began to count words on billboards that also appear in the tagcloud for my dissertation. I quit that game when I came up on I-465, the loop around Indianapolis, having counted seven.

Of the 98 hours from the time we left Syracuse late Tuesday afternoon until we returned early Saturday evening, 42 were in the car. More than 2,600 miles. Seven states (NY, MI, IN, IL, MO, OH, PA) plus Ontario. I hope never to spend 42 hours in a car over a four-day period again. I don't enjoy driving that much. And this also means that I ate like crap, guzzled caffeinated beverages, and developed countless kinks and aches from the long hum of the road.

Still I was glad we made the trip. It was important for us to be there, even if our stay was only for a day and a half. The funeral was--as all funerals are for me--emotionally intense. My cousins seemed mournful but poised in the memories they shared. About funerals, I have begun to understand them as thickly layered with every other funeral that has come before. In other words, there is a stinging build-up in the return to any funeral home, in lifting the casket of a loved one, in the family-scale socialization of sadness. I mean that it is not a fresh experience but one that is something like a funereal "chronotopic lamination"--a faint-trace sequel bearing out continuations of every similar event ever before it. This is more pronounced, I suppose, when loss is frequent, when family members pass away often enough that reunions and funerals are no longer separate. Maybe not.

As for the work I am trying to feel justified in avoiding, by late May, I aim to 1.) revise and return an article, 2.) have an RSA paper presentation-ready, and 3.) begin giving Ch. 5 its shape. Among the smaller and easier stuff, I have another 5.5 hours to spend this week in the Writing Center before my semester there is complete. Y. has a vet appointment on Thursday. D.'s cell phone is broken. Ph. needs to be fitted for a tuxedo for a mid-May promenade. Tune CCCC proposal. Dentist. Shake this nasty cough I picked up at one of the filthy rest areas along the highway. Tomorrow. All of this and more starting tomorrow.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Aunt C.

I learned late yesterday that my Aunt C. passed away Sunday morning, died much like my mom (her sister) did eleven years ago: in her sleep. Aunt C. was 55.

I don't suffer it alone, and it's yet uncertain whether I will hop a flight to KC for the funeral on Wednesday (or jump in a rental and motor across Google Maps). That decision will be settled before today is up. Mostly I am sad for her children--my cousins, especially so because two of them are in high school. This is an aunt who I was very close to when I was young. She was my mother's younger sister by four years, an RN whose uncanny sense of humor ruled our many hours together in the late 1970s. She was the one who dressed up as a witch on one of those first Halloweens so that when we trick-or-treated the rural farm house she rented and she jumped out at us unsuspecting on her back steps, I was so undone that I fell off of the porch.

This aunt, Aunt C., was the one who crushed up the Children's Tylenol and made it magically vanish into mac and cheese because I would gag when faced with half of a pink chewable. Thinking she'd won because I ate the whole bowl of macaroni, she told me about how she'd backdoored the medicine into my system. Of course, I threw up (I cannot say whether it was out of stubbornness or disgust).

A nurse, right? She gave me the board game Operation for my sixth or seventh birthday, but there was no scotch tape around my grandparents' house, so she used Elmer's glue to hold down the wrapping paper. Do you know what happens when you put Elmer's glue on wrapping paper? Next I carried the dye-leaking package on my lap for the duration of the car ride from West Branch to Mt. Pleasant.

I'll likely follow this rushed panegyric with a lull for the duration of a long, blue drive to Missouri to reflect upon and celebrate her life.

Friday, April 18, 2008

'Golden Age' Reference

Off and on for the past few weeks I have been sleuthing around for reference to "the golden age of composition studies." The phrase appears in quotation marks in Lee Odell's "Afterword" to his 1986 CCCC address in Roen's collection, Views from the Center. But those reflective afterwords are somewhat informal; the phrase is not attributed to any source. What to do? I Googled around and didn't find anything promising (how I overlooked it, I cannot be sure, although I bet 'the' article threw me off), but I didn't give up. Instead, I emailed Professor Odell. Research in Y2K08, yeah? He got back to me the same day and said that the phrase, he thought, was credited to Jack Selzer.

Tonight, I located the 'golden age' reference in an English Journal article by Elizabeth Blackburn-Brockman (whose mother-in-law, you might be surprised to learn, was middle school civics teacher and high school Spanish teacher for D. and me both; in the civics class we had to memorize all of Michigan's 83 counties; I will not recite them for you here). That article: "Prewriting, Planning, and Professional Communication," 91.2 (Nov. 2001). In the article, Blackburn-Brockman mentions almost the exact phrase, "a golden age of composition studies," and attributes it not to Selzer, but to Bob Root. She also cites Selzer's 1983 CCC article, "The Composing Process of An Engineer," which offered a processual analysis of engineer Kenneth Nelson, much in the same spirit as Emig's The Composing Process of Twelfth Graders from 1971. Could this be the golden age? 1971-1983?

The phrase from Root (whom I never met, but who taught in the English Dept. where I took Freshman Composition in 1992 from his colleague, Phillip Dillman) shows up in the Introduction to a collection of non-fiction he edited with Michael Steinberg, Those Who Do, Can: Teachers Writing, Writers Teaching: A Sourcebook (1996). Is there a copy in our Bird Library at Syracuse? No, of course not. Seems it's one of the few books we don't have.

I considered emailing my program's listserv to ask whether anyone had a copy I could borrow, but rather than bother the list with a request, I figured I would try the library's interlibrary loan system, ILLiad. I haven't used ILLiad since 2005, so, of course, I couldn't remember my password. I tried to reset the password, and when I did, the system sent me a blank email message. Here's what was in the message: . Thus, here ends the trail for tonight. I know where the "golden age" reference comes from, and the source, to my surprise, is not quite as middle-of-the-road as I expected it would be. That said, I do think Root knows composition studies, or at least certain veins of it, very well, even if I couldn't begin to speculate how many CCCC's he's attended (more and more often, I tend to think of disciplinary centrality in terms of trips to the flagship conference, whether verifiable or guessed at; and yes, I know this is just one of many possible metrics).

Why, after all, am I questing for the golden age reference? Well, for one thing, my own research has lately gotten me thinking more about the implicit disciplinary prototypes underlying suggestions of disciplinary fragmentation (viz., Smit's endism or Fulkerson's "new theory wars"). And so, if there has been a golden age of composition studies, I'm curious about it, curious as well about the idea of disciplinary ages (and whatever it is that makes them seem plausible).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


A short two blocks from where we live, the International Fiber Collaborative has covered a vacant fuel station with 3-foot square tiles of knitting, crochet, woven plastic, and quilting. The station sits at a busy three-way intersection where E. Colvin joins with Notthingham Road.

International Fiber Collaborative - Syracuse, N.Y.

I walked by there today to grab a couple of photos and find out more about it. The Collaborative pools the tiles from far and wide, then fuses them into a tapestry which drapes over abandoned properties (I think I read that it will clothe 200 vacant fuel stations total)--a series of curious, public, conversation-stirring installations. Locally, they're hosting an on-site event May 3 (artists' words, concert, barbecue, etc.), but the post card I picked up today urged those interested to RSVP, so, I doubt this is something we'll attend. (Plus, May 3 will have to be my birthday this year, since the birthday of record falls on a Monday).

International Fiber Collaborative - Syracuse, N.Y.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Primary Dabs

Took in another UU service yesterday morning--part of one, I should say. "Part" because Is. and I stepped out the back and headed to the basement nursery just about the time the guest sermon--on the culturally immersed ways of seeing and thinking (visuality, perception, etc.)--got going. In the nursery, Is. and three other tots pulled colors from paper plates, dipping their fingers and hands into the thick gobs of red, yellow, and blue paint.

Primary Dabs

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Quite Rightly

Julie's "consider yourself tagged if you are so inclined" contaminated me with the song chart meme. Of course, I am not the only one so afflicted.

Quite Rightly.

As for the meme, its followers are putting together charts or graphs motivated by song lyrics. "Consider yourself tagged if you are so inclined."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Blogue Overdue

  • Congratulations to Billie for crushing the competition in the fifth annual E.W.M. NCAA pick 'em thingamerbob. I had to wait a few days to announce the congratulations because I wanted to be mathematically certain I was out of the running. So I finished tenth? Tenth: that's behind someone who didn't pick a champion and someone else called "Booger."
  • Slowly I am recovering from yesterday's round-trip car ride to Buffalo for NEMLA, my first ever MLA experience (regional or otherwise). Alex's paper gave me a lot of good ideas to think about, the panel was well-received overall, and I think my paper came off alright, even if I didn't field any questions directly about it per se (I did chime in on some other stuff in the Q&A, such as multi-modal composition and demonstrable proficiencies).
  • JetBlue has won me over as a long-term customer. How? Well, after last week's return-from-N.O. debacle, not only did they put me up in the JFK Best Western (I mentioned this earlier in the week), but on Thursday they sent me an email telling of a reimbursement voucher for the full cost of the trip, which I can use in the next year toward trips to Louisville, San Francisco, or wherever.
  • Every so often I think about dropping out of Facebook.
  • I took a couple of other photos while I was in New Orleans: another of 822 St. Charles, hotel sign, Maserati, and repairs order. Said I would post them and so they are.
  • Coming spring and summer of '08: Berthoff L.O.A. Series Cup bolo toss. Watch for it. It's going to be b-i-g BIG.
  • I am, for the rest of the day, suspending all thoughts about planning for the week ahead. In any possible order, it's a week that will involve (some but not all) of the following: getting my RSAct in gear, revising C. 2, revising that article, cooking up a little MayFest promo video for the Writing Center, and drafting on C. 5. The video is marked urgent. Plus, I have ten hours of consulting time due this week and a couple of other back-burner things yet to do. All of this while everyone else in the house basks in Spring Break (I'm not saying they don't deserve it, of course).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Where's Rhetoric?

The above question was at the heart of last Thursday's C.15 session in New Orleans. It was a full session--packed to the walls after being bumped from one rather large space, Grand Ballroom D, to one of the smaller salons in the adjacent hallway. After a curmudgeonly attendee in the back grumped "Microphone?", the first speaker, Michael Bernard-Donals, described a needful relationship between composition and rhetoric (i.e., one in which composition needs rhetoric). Bernard Donals observed that, judging by the conference program, rhetoric appears to have been banished; it is invisible; it has been marginalized, at the very least. The decline of "rhetoric" in the program served as evidence for Bernard-Donals' claim about its compromised, fading status. He suggested, as well, that rhetoric might threaten composition's disciplinary thrust toward stability. Variations on this idea turned up on the talks shared by Thomas Rickert and Rosa Eberly, also. Rickert's "Rhetoric Beyond Critique: Grappling with Institutionality After Kant" thoughtfully considered the institutional inertia reflected in rhetoric's lowly status in the today's academy. His concern was less the relationship between composition and rhetoric than the tolerable limits of critique and, as well, the ways rationalism's powerful residue is deeply implicated in prevailing institutional norms. Neither my memory nor my notes serve me very well in saying more. Eberly echoed a slight variation on Bernard-Donals' suggestion that rhetoric threatens stability: "Rhetoric via Crowley brings the possibility that we change our minds." Up to that point, she worked--via performative flair and personal anecdote--at the idea that there are certain advantages in CCCClosets, walls that sequester and seal off, and so we need not hasten to dissolve divides where they linger.

This was an engaging panel all in all, perhaps all the more so for the sense I had leaving it that the question--"Where's Rhetoric?"--was answerable in a hundred different ways (not that the panelists presumed their work to offer any final word, of course). So, where is rhetoric at CCCC? As Bernard-Donals explained, it is less pronounced in the titles of sessions. And, because its omission from titles does not prove its omission from the conference program, he went on to say that in his methods of sifting the conference program for "rhetoric" he relied on tacit knowledge (familiarity with presenters, topics, and institutional affiliations, I would guess) to trace "rhetoric's fingerprints in the papers." By these methods, if he is right, "rhetoric" is fading at the CCCC.

It seemed to me to be a question of ground-truthing, the technique used by cartographers when they venture out, GPS in hand, to corroborate what's on the map with what's on the ground--what's real, that is, or evidential. But the very idea of finding rhetoric in the conference program (as opposed to the conference) also depends upon how rhetoric is defined and how generous or flexible the manner enacted in the process of looking. In other words, if you are not finding "rhetoric" where you are looking, is it a matter of how you look or where you look? Both, I suppose.

Maybe I can get at this a different way--by looking for "rhetoric" in two other panels I attended, first by glancing their titles and then by thinking about what happened in those sessions. First, consider E.34 Writing Pictures, Changing Writing. No mention of "rhetoric" in the titles. It is listed under "Practices of Teaching Writing." Is this a rhetoric panel? I don't know. Elsewhere: F.11 Visual Rhetoric of Comics, 'Spectacle', and Mail Art. This was a panel organized by the conference, so the title, I would imagine, was assigned somewhere in the selection process. One of the papers listed mentioned "rhetoric" explicitly, but that panelist was not on hand to present. Still, with "rhetoric" in the session title, and with "Theory" as its area cluster, I suppose it is more likely F.11 is a hit than a miss.

So, then, E.34, no mentions of "rhetoric", and F.11, explicit mentions of "rhetoric". Both concerned art, comics, and visual "rhetoric," to varying degrees. E.34 did so with far more examples of student-created comics; F.11, in so far as the papers concerned comics, dealt more with reading them, interpreting them, and analyzing them (rhetoric as a synonym for rhetorical criticism). McCloud's work was invoked by presenters on both panels. In E.34, the complete series from Understanding to Reinventing to Making Comics came up. In F.11, the discussion of comics stuck to Understanding Comics--McCloud's more analytical, critical (rather than productive) project. With this I am not trying to say that rhetoric was more or less present in one or the other of these panels, but I am trying to come to terms with the sense I have that rhetoric is potentially more or less present in the conference depending on how we as conference-goers listen for it, ask questions inflected with rhetorical concepts, and how our own uneven training in rhetoric positions us to expect that all writing activity is immersed in it. I am trying to come to terms with my own hunches (both Qs&As) about the C.15 question--"Where's Rhetoric?": What if it is here?

There are ninety-nine or more other ways to turn it, and it's a fun, evocative question.
Where's rhetoric? Eating at Evelyn's Place (and, thus, ditching all D.sessions).
Where's rhetoric? What do I look like, rhetoric's mom?
Where's rhetoric? Touring.
Where's rhetoric? Getting schnockered on Bedford St. Martin's wine over at the aquarium.
Where's rhetoric? If you are not finding it where you are looking, why are you looking for it there?
Where's rhetoric? Last I saw, rhetoric was on the third floor, by the pool, listening to an iPod and wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt with a tag cloud on the front of it.

Monday, April 7, 2008

CCCC Recap

Digging through notes and receipts (expense report style):

  • Out of sixteen time slots with sessions, I attended eight panels, including my own. Spread across those panels and also the Opening General Session, I listened to 26 talks.
  • Twelve of those talks were accompanied by something visual beyond the person presenting (i.e., a slideshow, an overhead).
  • 5/26 provided a handout. Just one dealt in both: a handout and a PPT.
  • Some of the slideshows were what Garr Reynolds calls "slideuments" (text-heavy rather than letting the visuals be picturesque). Just one of the slideshows was, at the last minute, withheld from the audience, even though the presenter continued to look at it and describe for us what we weren't seeing because a projector wasn't available.
  • Out of those 26 presenters, fourteen were people I'd met before, and I would describe several among them as friends. None of the eight panels consisted entirely of people I hadn't met.
  • I ate lunch or dinner with someone from each of the following institutions: Wisconsin, Western Illinois, Syracuse, Purdue, Pepperdine, Missouri, Saginaw Valley State, Duke, and North Carolina. I was alone for every breakfast in New Orleans; every lunch and dinner was with one or more people. On the shuttle rides to and from the N.O. airport, I chatted with conference goers from Minnesota State, California-Santa Barbara, and Kent State.
  • Bloggers I finally met: George, Dan, Michael, and Cheryl.
  • I had coffee, Coke, and Bedford h'ors doeurves with folks from my MA program (some of whom are now elsewhere, such as Ohio State or Western Carolina).
  • The cheapest meal I enjoyed was $7.87; the most expensive, even if the food wasn't especially titillating, cost considerably more.

There were many highlights, good conversations, etc. As for my own talk and presentation, I was, as I have already said, pleased with the turnout and also with the unplanned synch of the presentations. I was also happy that I stuck with one small gamble: whether or not I would be able, upon arriving in N.O., to find and photograph the apartment buildings that grace the cover of Stewart Brand's book How Buildings Learn. I could have gotten by with out this reference, and I had been warned that it might seem as though I'd written my paper while at the conference if I included a day-before photo of those buildings at 822 St. Charles Ave. But I went ahead with it, even scripted my talk so that the paragraphs where the buildings came up could be trimmed at the last minute without the rest of the spiel folding in on itself--in case the buildings were not there or a photograph was not possible. Here are the images, first of Brand's cover, and then of the same buildings on Thursday morning, just before 8 a.m.

How Buildings Learn

How Conference Presentations Learn

I have a few more photos to post, and a small bundle of uneven notes to sift through before deciding whether there's anything more to post about the conference. I'm sure I'll get those photos up, at the very least, and also engage the question grounding C.15: Where's the "rhetoric"?--a question that resonates for me with a couple of thoughts on the Where are the numbers? puzzle (Where is rhetoric? Wherever you left it.) and also on the (inter)relationship of rhetoric and composition as gestalt.

Missed Connection, Airbus, Dead Batteries

Quite a few travails since I jumped aboard the airport shuttle on Saturday afternoon and motored away from the annual convention. JetBlue, whose services I'd been gushing about all week, suffered scheduling backups all day Saturday, which meant the JFK-bound flight set to part New Orleans at 6:10 p.m. would not leave until something like 10:10 p.m. The delay inevitably carried forward; the connecting flight from JFK to Syracuse was long gone by the time we offloaded at 1:15 a.m. Nevertheless, I did catch some of the Final Four while in the sky, since JetBlue boasts in-flight satellite TV. Of course, I happened to be sitting in a row where the armrest remotes were haywire--the audio levels would not adjust, so when I plugged in headphones, the sound pumped out at full volume. Rather than fill cabin with game noise, I unplugged and watched KU have its way with UNC silently.

JetBlue generously put up the few of us who'd missed connections in the regal JFK Best Western (I think it doubles as a Days Inn; that's what the sign on the other side of the building said, anyway). To get to the Best Western, you must take the "Air Bus." And to find the Air Bus, you must follow in succession somewhere between 30-40 signs that point you in all directions, up stairways and down ramps, until, eventually, there's the Air Bus. There were so many Air Bus signs between the JetBlue Customer Care desk and the boarding platform, we started to imagine a scenario in which the directional signs were, in fact, the Air Bus itself--a stylishly renamed and, thus, masked, variation of "Walk your butt to the hotel." And Sunday morning, little more than four hours after the day's dust had settled, everyone went back to JFK to complete their trips. I arrived home just twelve hours later than expected--noon instead of midnight.

I thought my travel woes were behind me.

They were not.

This morning I went to the garage to start the Element (which worked perfectly well when I got groceries Sunday afternoon). It wouldn't start. Check engine light. Check battery light. Ah, but we have recently (and cheaply) acquired another car, a teenager's dream jalopy. Went to the house, grabbed the keys, back to the car, tried to start it. Dead battery. That's two vehicles for getting Ph. to school on time; two dead batteries. Thus, he walked (and almost certainly arrived late). There were other dead batteries to speak of on Monday morning, too, though none were as inconveniencing as having both cars out of commission at the same time. At 5:30 a.m., my cell phone started chirping that it was low on juice; a couple of hours later, while I typed a couple of email responses, the AAAs keeping this wireless keyboard in action powered their final volts.

What of it? Well, it's a week that can only get better. As for the cause, I am beginning to believe that my own post-conference exhaustion is infecting any of the electronic devices I encounter.

Friday, April 4, 2008


This morning's session behind me, I'm now suffering a stiff wave of Presenter's Drain, the lethargies that sneak up on me after I have presented at a conference. To compound the Drain, I changed into more comfortable attire after I completely and thoroughly Coked my shirt and pants while sitting at the hotel bar with a former colleague and mentor immediately after my session. Coking: that's what it's called when, while describing your dissertation project and gesturing enthusiastically with your hands, you catch the straw sticking out from the fresh glass of Coca-Cola that bartender placed in front of you moments earlier, only to have the cold cola splash onto your crotch and backpack. A sympathizer: "You alright?" Me: "Yeah, yeah. Fine." There was nothing to feel panicked about after presentation, which went fairly well (check out CGB's portion, if you missed it). The panel was well-attended, engaging through Q&A, and so on . Goes without saying about the soda-pants kerfluffle: I'm still enthusiastic enough about my diss that I can dump a full glass of Coke into my clothing and continue the conversation without even standing up.

Anyway, by the time I walked a few blocks in these Naw'lins winds to grab a Peace Maker Po-Boy (w/ Tabasco infused mayo) at the Acme Oyster House, the Coke had dried. The sun peaked through the clouds. The sandwich was excellent. And now, to see whether the Presenter's Drain lifts in time for evening activities.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

First Taste

Straightaway off the airplane, I inquired at this hotel's front desk about where, within fairly close proximity, I could get my first meal in New Orleans.

"Palace Cafe. Order the turtle soup."

And so I did, walking just one block from St. Charles Ave. over to Canal Street and stepping in for a light dinner--the soup and a Werlein salad (named after the building where Palace is located) with fried oysters.

That would have been enough--it was ***** good, but with a stroke of coincidence, a couple of my Syracuse colleagues happened to be walking in, so they joined me for dinner, conversation, and so on.

Early tomorrow: down St. Charles Ave. on a photo-errand and then over to the Hilton for--if I am wide-awake and on time--the opening general session and Glenn's keynote.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Steep Approach

I finished up Iain Banks' The Steep Approach to Garbadale a couple of days ago. Took me about a week, and it felt like a faster-than-usual read, though it's not like I spend all that much time reading fiction for the sport of it (at least not these days). Faster than expected, a surprisingly engaging novel, a story well told--exactly as promised in the approbative cover matter.

The upshot: Alban Wopuld deals with a hiatus from the family circle, resurfacing at the behest of a cousin who recruits him to stir up dissent among family members in favor of approving the sale of their rights to a popular game, Empire!. Alban re-emerges as an influential presence in the family, all the while coping with two formative events from earlier in his life (and, in different degrees, these events are at the root of his alienation): his mother's suicide and a cousinly love affair.

This little summary doesn't ruin it. And I fully intend to be getting along with other novels by Banks just as soon of these days. I only had time for this one because I am purposefully neglecting the diss for a couple of weeks while on a back-to-back conferences jag (seriously, it must appear that I have been shitting around for a couple of weeks now; lazing through some books about maps, etc.). Anyhow, by this point, I sure I have done enough to pique your interest in The Steep Approach that I should give a little bit more, so, then, two passages from dog-eared pages:

Also, third, she tried to quantify how hopelessly, uselessly, pathetically weak she felt. It took a long time--she was a mathematician, after all, not a poet, so images were not normally her strong suit--but eventually she decided on one. It involved a banana. Specifically, the long stringy bits you find between the skin and flesh of a banana. She felt so weak you could have tied her up with those stringy bits of banana and she wouldn't have been able to struggle free. That was how weak she felt. (220)

This comes as VG--Alban's other love interest--remembers swimming near a reef when the disastrous tsunami welled up from the Indian Ocean in '04.

One more, on where are the numbers?:

Verushka and Aunt Clara are talking:
'I don't understand. What can that mean, "Where are the numbers?"'
'I think it means, Do they exist as abstract entities--like physical laws, as functions of the nature of the universe; or are they like cultural constructs? Do they exist without somebody thinking them?'
'Alban got me thinking about it this way.'
'Alban? Really?'
'Yes. He said, "Where you left them," which is pretty much just flippant, but there's a wee grain of possibility there and so my answer to the question, "Where are the numbers?" is, "Where do you think?" See what I'm doing there?'
'Not really. That sounds flippant too.'
'Well, it sounds it at first, but if you take it out of the context of flippancy and treat it as a new question in its own right, you're asking, Where does your thinking happen?'
'In your brain?'
'Well, yes, so if you use one question as an answer to the first, you're saying the numbers exist in your head.'
'Mine feels rather tight at the moment. Like it's about to burst with numbers and odd questions.'
Yeah, I get that a lot. Anyway. It's more interesting than just saying, "The numbers are in your head," because otherwise why put it in the form of a question at all? Why not just say that?'
'You mean, say, "The numbers are in your head"?'
'Yes. Because then it becomes a question about boundaries.'
'When you think about numbers, are you using a little bit of the universe to think about it, or is it using a little bit of itself to think about itself, or, even, about something--about these entities called numbers--that might be said to exist outside of itself, if one uses one of the less ultimately inclusive definitions of the word "universe"?' Verushka sits back, triumphant. 'See?'
'Not really,' Clara admits. 'And my old head is rather starting to spin.'
'Well, to be fair,' Verushka agrees, 'it's an incomplete answer. But I like the direction it's going in.'
'That all sounds very fascinating,' Graeme says.
'It is, isn't it?' Verushka says brightly before turning back to Clara as she says,
'And you do this for a living?'
'Not this part, no; this is just for fun.' (270)