when cows fly

The indoor/outdoor Fine Arts Center exhibits were a charming surprise, fitting right in to the swirl of family routines, whirlwind tour of family haunts, recitations of familiar and revised family stories, cheerleading for the kids, and somber offerings of solace to Aunt Georgia by all our various and sundry means, each according to personality. Lately I have been thinking about loyalty, especially the definition provided by Rudolph Steiner. “I am thinking of the other’s ageless image, after all, I saw it once. No deception, no mere seeming will rob me of it.” I am grateful to partake in the loyalties of family.

Soundtrack: Jean Luc-Ponty, The Gift of Time

Transitions are rough.

Hurricane Ridge figures deep in family history.

I left my aunt’s deathbed feeling strong. Earlier, my youngest cousin had announced she was expecting a long letter from me. Some time afterwards, mom’s encouragement came to mind: “Keep writing.” The farewell postcard I wrote while sitting with my aunt summarized the healing I had achieved (and thought worth sharing) during this visit. It had taken more than 36 hours to be released from the grip of a stress reaction to a dynamic between my father and my brother on the second day. I was glad to have gotten through it quietly. Relieved to feel calm, I was able to just be present while my aunt rested deeply during an early morning visit, both of us settled into a brief spell of relative comfort. The inspiration to write fit the peaceful situation. Having written, the long trip home was uneventful. When the usual waves of withdrawal hit I was unprepared for their ferocity; mortality driving the lessons home hard.


Humor is one family strategy for coping with missed communication.

Family is a journey.

I wrote my aunt about love. The tenacious stubborn kind. The kind that embraces you even if you haven’t visited for twenty-seven years. The kind that acknowledges the fact of having gone through experiences in common: good and bad, historical, present, and on-going. Not necessarily sharing or understanding the experiences in the same ways, but mutually effected by them and thus bound together by their effects. There’s my uncle, telling jokes that make us laugh so hard as a substitute for crying. My cousin’s children, hugging me even though we have never met. In-laws, outlaws and stalwart characters, every single one.

Families are for healing.

The visit had to get divided up, somehow. My aunt might have preferred for us to stay with her rather than dash up Hurricane Ridge, but when I indicated that I would probably go she said, “Well, you better all go together.” I witnessed a similar form of courage from mom when she died nearly three years ago. They were not sisters, but Georgia and Elaine are of the same generation, less than a year apart in age. As it happened, I shared some amount of quality time with nearly everyone, including a side of the family (by marriage) that I had never met before. The indoor/outdoor Fine Arts Center exhibits were a charming surprise, fitting right in to the swirl of family routines, whirlwind tour of family haunts, recitations of familiar and revised family stories, cheerleading for the kids, and somber offerings of solace to Georgia by all our various and sundry means, each according to personality.

A portion of a work exhibited as part of the current exhibition, “In the Shadow of Olympus,” by Jack Gunter.

Some emotions are excruciating to experience: strong ones can be shattering.  The rate and rhythm of changing feelings is also challenging to figure out, not to mention accounting for perceived changes against the stability of a baseline – provided the baseline is not also in flux! Riding the waves together is itself a small miracle. No matter cresting or dipping, treading water or swimming along with smooth strokes, even heading in different directions; families exist in a unified sea. Jack Gunter paints the history of Port Angeles tongue-in-cheek, adding bits of satire to leaven life’s horrors. Whether cows or pigs fly or not, the improbable remains possible, pending creativity and desire.

Lately I have been thinking about loyalty, especially the definition provided by Rudolph Steiner. “I am thinking of the other’s ageless image, after all, I saw it once. No deception, no mere seeming will rob me of it.” I am grateful to partake in the loyalties of family.



somewhere between Albuquerque and Amherst

“I keep telling myself that no one can keep my mind from going fuzzy except me.”
~ Elaine J. Kent
20 July 2009

While hanging out with mom last week, I finally asked her about blogging. Did she remember the writings about Uncle Sam? I’ve been weighing whether or not to do this since very soon after the emergency notification posted to my Facebook Wall by my sister-in-law. That day, I blundered my way through the opening of the Bakhtin conference trying to pay attention but distracted with worry. The hospital would tell me nothing because mom had not authorized them to do so. By the time (two days later) that Michael asked me about lying (in relation to the conference topics and his research on blogs), I had a quasi-grip on mom’s medical situation halfway around the world. ChineseLampTree.jpgShe had talked her way out of emergency surgery to tend a bit of emotional/relational business that she simply refused to leave undone in face of the (admittedly very small) risk of dying under anaesthesia. We had spoken, and I cannot recall – ever – her being so clear, direct, and sure of what mattered most and what she needed to do about it. Not only did she convince the hospital psychologists that she was sane, “Sissie” had also convinced her siblings along with me and my brother that this was the way things were going to be. And so they were.
The surgery to remove a large mass from her colon was, wouldn’t you know, only the tip of the iceberg. We’re still waiting results of a bone scan, but we know that chemo of one sort or another lies ahead, and in the meantime – because why have one major ailment when two are possible?! – the vertigo she’d been having for a few months suddenly worsened, and was traced to a 70% blockage in both carotid arteries. She’ll have surgery to clean the plumbing in the left carotid in a few weeks….. the right carotid will get its turn in due time.
While I tried to stay focused on the last month of fieldwork, family members played tag team and kept mom company and in good care. Brother Rich, btw, has just been stellar.
Despite everyone’s love and attention, it felt good to finally lay my own eyes on mom some six weeks after the drama began! After learning results of the first battery of tests, we spent most of our time walking, talking, eating, and just hanging out. Over the weekend we had a wonderful day with my good, longtime friend Laurel, and then mom took the next day just to read. Mom gave me the book after she’d finished, to read on the flight home. “It’s painful in the beginning,” she said, “but stick with it. You’ll like it!”
After our fun day sightseeing I remained in tourist mode, so Laurel and I squeezed in a visit to the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History.prayer.jpg They had an exhibit called The Shape of Time, about Charles Ross’s massive earth/artwork Star Axis, that I wanted to see. The security guard allowed me to take photos of the brief description by museum curators, describing how “star geometry [is] anchored in earth and rock,” enabling viewers to track precession – the 26,000 year cycle of the earth’s shifting axis.

“It is all very beautiful and magical here –
a quality which cannot be described. You have to live it and breathe it, let
the sun bake it into you.
The skies and land are so enormous, and the
detail so precise and exquisite that wherever you are you are
isolated in a glowing world
between the macro and the micro, where
everything is sidewise under you and over you, and even
the clocks stopped long ago.”
Ansel Adams in a letter to Alfred Stieglitz from Ghost Ranch, 1937

Also on display was an incredible collection of black and white photographs by Craig Varjabedian. Ghost Ranch became the home and inspiration of Georgia O’Keefe, who named one her paintings From the Faraway Nearby.

lush and mountains.jpg
Do you ever lie [on the blog]?”
I practically choked. It was not only an inappropriate moment to be forthcoming and blurt fear but also inopportune. At least I’ve learned that over the years of externally processing emotional experiences – and living through the interactive, relational consequences. But there was the question, the challenge, the opportunity, the dare: the crisis, right in my face, immediately. Always – until that very moment – when people asked me about blogging I would explain that I write about the most important thing happening in my immediate subjective world. These things vary considerably, from politics in the world at large to learning about language or cognition or interpretation to microsocial interactions with friends. But in that moment I knew I had to choose along a public/private dimension – would that make it a lie?
No. Yet the dilemma remained. Why do I blog? Why have I kept at it all this time? Do I really believe in my earliest inspirations for doing this public process of developing a consciousness . . . or will I shrink at the sharpest moment?

“To be able to reproduce a feeling so that others could recognize it, and perhaps understand it for the first time, one had to have some idea of what it felt like in reality. To show that one knew meant revealing what one had felt.”

Edward “Linc” Lincoln in Smokescreen, by Dick Francis (1972, p. 82)

Linc, the fictional protagonist in Smokescreen, is describing acting, but I read it as any kind of performance. Performing (such as writing) can also reveal what one has not felt, what one does not know. The first time I had to interpret someone’s grief in American Sign Language (nearly 20 years ago), my mentor said something to the effect of, “Well, it’s obvious that you don’t cry.” (This deficit, fyi, has since been corrected.)

Of course Mom remembers the blogging I did about Uncle Sam.

    Mom, I’ve been wondering whether or not I should – or want – to do some blogging like that about you, about this. How do you feel about it?”

    Well honey I don’t mind. If you think it will help somebody. Or you.

    I don’t know if it will help anyone, mom. It might. It might not.

Of course I am hoping it might.

Remembering Sam, Reflexivity< Limits and Possibilities of Mikhael Bakhtin, Reflexivity
“Don’t flatter yourself.” [about not lying in the blog] Reflexivity
Museum Day, [about Brother Rich] Reflexivity
photo-eye Gallery: Star Axis
The Shape of Time, photo one
The Shape of Time, photo two
to lengthening our shadows (a toast), [about precession] Reflexivity
Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby, Craig Varjabedian
Georgia O’Keefe [a student team project] by James Adkins, Mona Manzanares and Jamie Long
Homage to a Mentor, Reflexivity
Smokescreen, Dick Francis

the last days…

Wilrijk & Middelheim
photos from Brabant,
the European Parliament, and

arbor in Stillewater.jpg


We saw a strange movie the other night. I was wildly amused: although bored at times and put off by some of the surrealism, I recognized much that is familiar in Synecdoche, NY. By “familiar,” I do not mean flattering, but I have to admit that I could see myself, my logic, and some of my life experience reflected in the mangle of enactments and re-enactments. The funniest part, however, was the company with whom I saw the film – I knew they were suffering through on my account and I love them for it. 🙂

Another day:

“You like to fight,” she said, and continued: “I don’t.”

Not really, I thought about the first. I know, about the second.

last castle FB annual event.jpg
“I’m a magnet for conflict,” I told some friends later in the day. “Do you really think so?” they asked. I do. It’s the concept of valence; whether I want to be or not, my attention is drawn to tension. The more others try to get by, pass, or otherwise slide around it, the larger it looms in my consciousness. What, I begin to wonder, is so bad or terrible or fearful or otherwise so undesirable that someone would prefer to ignore it?

Sometimes I feel trapped, as I watch others “read” me, attributing their meanings to what I say, to what I’m doing. I understand that they perceive me making things worse, yet I only say the things that I say because I perceive it as a contribution along a path to resolution.

You have a balanced head,” the photographer said.

“People pick out only one part,” he said, “but the overall, the whole, is balanced.” I never saw this man before, he knows nothing about me and didn’t ask. But I felt seen. “Artists,” a friend later scoffed, teasing me about how easily I was seduced, “they know just what to say to get what they want!” 🙂 Maybe. It was quite an experience, though, in the moment, before and after listening to four piano pieces that sorted, scattered, and then re-organized my consciousness.

my pen.jpgThe concert began with Sonate in sol groot by Franz Schubert (opus 78, D894, 1826), played by Charlotte Otte. The familiar enough romantic classicism enabled my thinking to settle, slowly sorting and separating the intertwined threads of a book review, a job application, an upcoming presentation, the beginnings of the dissertation, and a chapter for an unrelated publication… so many ideas to be placed, positioned in counterpart and harmony, composed to produce a whole…

Then came Schonberg. The dodecaphony destroyed my ability to conceptualize, not that I had been thinking in any concentrated or focused way before, its just that I had been aware of thoughts and now there were none! Jasper Vanpaemel’s rendition of the Cinq pieces pour piano (opus 23, 1923) wrenched me out of myself. Next he played Etude nr 4 (1999) by Pascal Dusapin: the minimalism allowed the neurons in my brain to resume firing in a more-or-less normal manner. Finally, during the last piece, Variationen uber Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (1862) by Franz Liszt, my mind felt whole again, recomposed.

egg sightings and guerilla gardening

  • Sacred comedy offers its own rich twist on these, the lingering last days. What was I doing with my head on the ground, nestled among last fall’s composting leaves and this spring’s still fresh green shoots?!
  • Did I actually hit the right note (!), “consecrating the tonality” of Do, Re, Me as I learned about the socialized difference between 7 and 12 tone scales?
  • How bad/boring is The Sound of Music? (“It’s 50 years old!” Ah, the troubles of teaching (some) young people today – they want to absorb videos passively rather than actually think!)

no conclusions
Interactions with different individuals, across generations, nationalities, and contexts … yet similar themes (or at least references) emerge. I find myself betwixt and between, too aware or completely clueless. Sometimes, paradoxically, both at the same time.

Thanks to all who teach me, reflecting back the many parts of myself.
It isn’t all – or only – narcissim! 🙂
toilet paper graffiti.jpg

Afterword: dead reckoning

“A telling is not an explanation.”
Ursula Le Guin

One of my post-sailing-adventure musings is, what if I had read Longitude shipboard instead of The Telling? 🙂
There’s no way to know, of course, what would have changed or whether those changes might have mattered, in the end. Captain explained how sailors use the variety of sounds from gongs and bells to triangulate position in fog. “Can you really tell what direction the sound is coming from?” I wondered. “In general,” she replied. So there you would be, unable to see sky or shore, listening. Moving (because how can you stop?), and listening. Straining to hear a hint of familiar sound, constructing a mental map against remembered ephemera, calculating where you must be (the reckoning?), and committing yourself to being there – fixed (dead?) – in that moment. Then, you would begin to move the boat in the direction your imagined memory suggests, calculating speed and direction by wind and current with no other reference point except a longed-for next sound.
Fog is an extreme version. (Definitions of “dead reckoning” describe the process of “estimating one’s current position” and then “advancing … based upon [other] known [facts of] speed, elapsed time, and course.”) In lieu of clear vision, i.e., when one must estimate location, not only might audition take prominence, some neuroimaging research shows emotional perception is also affected.
Ok, yes, you caught me – I am making a big metaphorical leap: from the literal to the representational, from the physical to the symbolic. Loss of clear sight from conditions in the external visual environment or due to perturbations in the internal affective state are not exactly the same thing: but the physicality of impaired vision on knowledge of one’s geometrical position in relation to other physical objects can have (I propose!) similar effects as an internal confusion about one’s status, role, or relationship (to name a few social scientific categories) in relation to comparable “position(s)” of others.
Dava Sobel details instances in which, “Too often, the technique of dead reckoning marked [any random sea captain, pre-chronometer] for a dead man” (1995, p. 14). No one died on our journey (Thank god! I hear the Captain exclaim), but we definitely mis-fixed a few crucial reference points along the way, keeping corrective navigation in turmoil.
Discouraging as Anonymous’ judgment is (a pal wrote, “hey, that “anonymous” poster was way outta line! What was that all about??!!), the solution presented by “Rocks and Shoals” (Articles for the Government of the United States Navy, 1930) imposes a severe lack of ambiguity on relative social position/status. While Captain Donald I. Thomas USN (Ret.) defends the justice meted out under the original document as “speedy and fair, with the rights of the accused properly safeguarded,” he ultimately celebrates the code’s demise. Presumably not only because he no longer had to listen to it being read out loud once a month, but because it was a source of abuse:

“We got the message loud and clear that we were expected to throw the book at the accused and leave leniency, if any, to [a particular Base Commander]. This well-understood command influence remained until 1951, when the Uniform Code of Military Justice came into being. One of its provisions was that “no Convening authority or commanding officer could censor, reprimand or admonish any court or member with respect to findings and sentence adjudged by the Court and may not attempt to coerce or influence action of a court in reaching its finding or sentence.”

Under the Uniform Code, continues Capt. Thomas: “The administration of justice took on more of the characteristics of civil law; not surprising since it was drafted by members of Congress, many of them lawyers who had served in the Armed Forces during the War. Under the Uniform Code, greater latitude was given to peremptory challenges, and the finding of guilt required a two-thirds majority in all but capital cases.” (There may be hope for me, yet!) I have no idea what Anonymous’ invocation of the Rocks and Shoals was “all about,” but the thought that someone I met wrote so starkly is a bit disturbing – I enjoyed everyone I met. And, still, I appreciate the food-for-thought. For instance (in combination with other sources of inspiration and some creative sentence-splicing),

“The zero-degree parallel of latitude is fixed by the laws of nature; [while] the placement of the prime meridian [for fixing longitude] is a purely political decision” (Dava Sobel, Longitude, 1995, p. 4).

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the eighties feminist slogan, “the personal is political.” I absorbed this ethos, and attempt to live its significance. After twenty-some years of practice I sometimes feel as if I’m close (the perception never lasts for long!) I triangulate my reference points broadly: from the interpersonal sphere of my friends, to the international relations such friendships draw me into, and this blog in-between. The third axis is time; that curious dialectic between the present and the future. More often than I prefer to acknowledge, my close-up aim fails because of interference from the past.
What obscured the facts? I think it must, at least in part, be how I look – not my generic appearance, but the particular expressions that cross my face, the movements my body makes when I am feeling awkward, uncomfortable, insecure. Or, conversely, when I’m confident, psyched, exuberant! Whatever internal emotion, mood or attitude inspires the viscera, despite whatever skills or talents I’ve nurtured, whichever socialized or conditioned awful habits I’ve tried to reconfigure – I must still be appear visibly only within a certain range of possibility. And that range is associated with every previous time I “looked” that way, and potentially even with other people who appear/have appeared similarly – whether for the same or different reasons, under alternative or familiar conditions.
Despite my ambition, I am a follower. I “follow” what I perceive, reacting when caught off guard, responding when my act has a little more room to maneuver into a way to fit together. It’s impossible to establish a temporally causal relationship (first this, then that) – I am not attempting such linearity. I am trying to explicate how I get caught playing into roles (behaviors, actions, attitudes) that diverge from intention and desire. How is it, in other words, that I keep appearing in certain ways that invite responses which lead me to feeling unseen?
‘Tis a puzzle, no? 🙂

Forty-five going on…..45?!?

so ready!.jpg

First encounter this morning:

I was looking for you, then you turned around and I realized, “You cut your hair! I’ll never be able to find you again!”

I’m peaceful. No regrets! (Ok, a twinge, I admit, at the fact: now I blend in, I have “conformed” — as an honest man described the look.)

Hey! Today is a FULL MOON!

I’d been aware of the growing relaxation/stress factor over the past month. I’ve got to learn how to transform the numerator’s size so it can keep up when the denominator starts to increase. By Saturday, I was just about too busy with details and planning and riding the momentum of one serious event after another, day in and day out for the past few weeks. Heroes (cough), of course, are not supposed to get casual or careless or otherwise make the kind of clumsy stumbles that sent my cell phone into the washing machine. Not that I rely on text messages as the firmament of my social world or anything like that!

This is it. I recognized the value – the meaningfulness possible as a rescue to a momentary lapse: I shifted into the realm of fantasy. Not only is the future unknown, unpredictable, and uncertain – even its shape has been lifted from perception and any chance of managing it reduced to immediate responsive actions in the here and now.
As I told the new roomie, this is classic: a war of good and evil. The team is separated by circumstances, misfortune, bad luck. Actually, the team doesn’t even know that its a team! All that’s left is do my part and trust that others will do theirs. Do the others know what their part is? In fact, do they even know that they have a part?!
What could I do but keep plugging away at mine? Every few hours I reassembled the drying cell phone. the scroll wheel wouldn’t work, so all I would get was the opening screen: “you missed a call.” Thanks. I could also see the message count climb: 3, 7, 9, 12. After the party it was even worse: 25! Oh dear :-/

Second Encounter (with a neighbor who I’d invited):

I saw you and other people going back into the woods; I saw the signs, I wondered, “What’s going on back there?” but thought, “Uh unh, I gotta work in the morning! I ain’t getting all swollen up with poison ivy!”

Scissor Ceremony (that way).jpg

No one could tell I was stressed. Ha. The early arrivals were good sports: “What are we doing, they kept asking. “I’m not sure.” A fog of anxiety enveloped me; spreading in ripples….”We’ve got to make the path.” “Dhara will be here in a minute, can you wait?” “Sarbjeet hasn’t heard from me in hours!” “But can you wait?” “Oh great, I forgot the markers.” “For the arrows?” Heehee – where is it that I’m suggesting people might want to go?! What was I thinking when I conceived this stupendously embarrassing idea?
“Steph, what can I do to help you? You seem a little stressed.” Dhara stepped up. Meanwhile, was The Doer of the Deed ever going to arrive?! She got lost. Called me. I didn’t answer! What the &*^%? She went to the police. The POLICE! 🙂 But guess what? She showed up. (Score!)

Third Encounter (another neighbor):

“You are so ready to move!
All that old energy is gone.”

(with the caveat, “I get psychic when I’m drunk.”)

Scissors and the Midpoint

Time to let the past go.
youth (head).jpg

It has been forty-five years, after all. 🙂 Given the average lifespan in my genealogy and contemporary conditions, I figure ninety years is a reasonable guestimate. Provides a frame for planning, anyway! I steal a sentiment from a Hallmark card: “I surrender my youth gladly; I have outgrown it.”

sketched by a friend.jpg

Language as Motion

I wrote this piece, Language as Motion, as an example of the “Self-in-Contradiction” essay that is one of the options for the “personal/identity narrative” assigned to students in the introductory level writing course I’m currently teaching. There are a couple of friends who will recognize themselves in this piece (thank you), and I have to give some credit to Just-in-Time, who got us lost in traffic yesterday in Boston. While we were discussing writing as a craft, another part of my brain was mulling this attempt.
I am also conscious of the timing. Language set-in-motion through the last several semesters of blogging and constructing public writing environments for students is coming to some kind of turning point. The theory of language-as-action meets with (a) practical reality of language-in-use.

Careful what you ask for!

I asked my students today about the relationship(s) among appearance, identity, and authority – specifically mine. It’s part of the ongoing pedagogy project I’ve been working on with Leda about the visibility/invisibility of our actual bodies in the classroom. By the end of the discussion several students were telling me how I should have taught (!) the class all along: roughly more form-based than content-based.

Continue reading “Careful what you ask for!”

more on facebook

Interesting blogpost by Danah Boyd about Facebook as a public sphere where young people can “negotiate their peers and learn about the social world.” The speeches in Public Speaking about Facebook emphasized its fun and useful qualities (although I have to seriously wonder if anyone really uses it to get notes from a missed class!) but also the risks of providing so much information to an unknown (and unknowable) public. Besides the debate on whether online communication somehow “takes away from” or “substitutes for” face-to-face communication, I’m wondering about differences between online “public speaking” and face-to-face public speaking.

Continue reading “more on facebook”