Tuesday, June 02, 2015

from the archives...



After dividing by


I am living between languages. Landscape and geography, space and new falling leaves. It is October and there are no real jobs. Having moved out of and into location, into and out of work. Now settled into life on this new east coast, I learn there are groups of fibers within particular subsets of groups. A fiber in this sense is a set or column of everything that gets mapped to a single number. Any integer divided by 3 will fit into 0, 1, or 2. Write it down:

map …-2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3…into 0,1,2 with the rule X maps to the remainder of X after dividing by 3.

This gives us columns of numbers for each of 0,1,2 (for example for 0 we get a set that includes: …-6, -3, 0, 3, 6, 9) and this makes a fiber.

I think of fiber optics, another topic I don’t entirely comprehend. But this is different from sending digital information through time and space. This is about how each fiber, made up of all of its elements, exists. In some sort of social discipline this group theory would make sense to me. We are divided by seemingly random factors and placed into sets. We are parts of sets and subsets. We are defined through location, relation, the connections we form. We find our places on the individual fibers of the larger social tapestry.

Though defined simply, mathematical groups are complex in structure.  In group theory you can only add or only multiply or only subtract or only divide. Whereas, in the finite fields the possibilities are more unlimited, though possibly not totally unlimited. In the finite fields everything behaves like you expect it should. You can add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

To be or not to be finite. When really, nothing seems to behave as it should.

The infinite fields include all of the numbers as we know them, all fractions, anything with a decimal point. The possibilities are…infinite.
I am by default in a dialogue with myself. And even a group of one can be infinite in its concerns. Sometimes I can’t understand my own words. Languages circle and swirl. Everything is not easily divided by 3. I have landed between columns.

I once heard someone say that a person’s values change depending on the group s/he is with. For example, when you are in high school you may have a set of friends and acquaintances and then when you go to college you acquire another set. Because of this new group of people by whom you are influenced, your own personal values may change. It is inevitable. No one lives in a bubble.

In group theory numbers map neatly into a series of integers. We divide by 3, take the remainder, create a clear table of fiber columns. You may be a positive or negative integer. Depending on how your integer self divides by 3 may determine which fiber column you fall into.

I leave it to my integer self to determine.

In the morning I will rise before it is light and go to a job. I will answer phones and file for the day. Or many days. Shift context and conversation. My connections, relations will change. Soon the snow will start and more dark becomes winter. I place ideas into columns, fibers made of words and images, but the columns blur, or they are too long and they twist and turn like performers of a modern dance. I have become a subset of myself, mapped on to the integer 1, this fiber set becomes indefinite. I learn it is not so easy to fall into a fiber column, not so easy to remain within any clear table of knowing. I learn that mathematics is philosophical and inexact, there are different kinds of infinity. I know that nothing maps neatly but I believe in it anyway, want this proof to be made elegant, believe in the poetics of the group. But my integer self is unruly, in dynamic relationship with others, a language of division and progression that I won’t come to know for some time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015



...another strategy is to ignore the explicit and tend toward sweeter imagery, like scents and shaded nuance. Following a map, a predetermined round of luck. I have read a book in which the colors vibrate, photos tell a story of crumbled architecture, a literal metaphor for our current times. This, of course, has nothing to do with stale flesh, but I am trying to ignore that at the moment. It sounds like putrid political banter or the empty jargon of men with shiny teeth and photogenic hair. Get on this page, interface that, let's iterate. Stinking discourses of the mainstream. And none of us is outside, huddled together in this center of privileged misery. This is why the poets turn romantic or lean into narrative confessionalism.

Dear Sharon Olds, tell us the story of your grandmother again. Sigh. We want catharsis within rational means. Don't make me emote beyond my capacity. This is exactly why fresh flesh works best. The purely physical denotation cannot be dismissed or set on the side of interpretation. Oh Susan Sontag yes it is still always about interpretation. And we are getting worse at it. The leaves of intellect falling into spaces of settling concrete, sidewalks paving over our deepest insights. Dear Susan Sontag the photo has been altered my hopes have been altered the image is just finally so clear. Dear Charles artifice is simply for the sake of artifice and we will absorb. We are sponges. Playing on slick surfaces and shiny baubles. We love letters printed without serif and cartoons that depict the genuine stereotypes of real people. We want our lesson with our oatmeal maybe even dashed with raisins. Our news with the flash. Our memories like Polaroid’s, developing into clarity before our eyes.

The poetry has become political, music lullabies like sedatives, painting what one does with one's house after too much deliberation. If gratuitous means explicit then let's be clear. I no longer wonder as I wander but I whimper and strain. The rainbow papers and obstructive justice are only like the sweet icy desserts, after a long winter, in which each individual flake of snow is still falling, frozen in space and time.

Endurance?



In the past few days, not unusually, some stories about the horrific situation of adjunct labor in higher ed. have come up on Facebook. Secondly, an essay by a career-adjunct, “Treadmill to Oblivion is a nakedly sad look at the reality of teaching in higher ed. for so many people: one busts one’s ass for students, departments, institutions and gets less than nothing in return (one gets disrespect, cancelled classes, ignored concerns and ideas, zero collegiality, etc.). Certainly some part-time instructors have it worse and some have it much better. The number of classes this person has taught in total, and in each academic year, in person at various schools and online, is staggering. The stories s/he tells about getting and not getting classes, politics and relationships, the often general disregard for this person as a teacher and professional are sometimes confusing, the details falling in on each other, the pain and emotion infusing the language so that we as readers may not know the whole story of each story, but we feel it more intensely because of its being laid so bare on the page. Twenty-five years is a long time to get to the end of and realize you have been screwed and laughed at for so long. Surely this person had many good experiences over the years; most instructors in this position focus on the experience of teaching and working with students. Some have great experiences with those they work with in their departments or those who do the scheduling and logistics. This person had worked with some good people and had good teaching experiences. But there is so much more that s/he had to push aside, for years, one example after another, of professional disregard and abuse, push aside in order to continue to just do the work. The accumulation of these kinds of details, when one faces them square on, can be daunting. I feel the weight of that here, in this essay, the full force of each anecdote compounding one on top of the next. This person has had it, and the exhaustion fills every character, space, word, sentence of the essay. The narrative veers toward the main idea: s/he is cutting back on the teaching load; tired of being continuously treated like super-crapola, s/he is moving in with a friend to save money and focusing on their own writing, for once. I am in fact a little worried about this person, when s/he begins this *easier* teaching schedule in the fall and begins to focus more on theirself[sic]. This may feel like a relief at long last. It may also result in a traumatic reaction to the realization of working these many years and going nowhere. When one begins to see a thing up close, it is harder to un-see it later. 
Last fall I taught seven classes at three schools, and have decided I cannot do that again this fall. At the moment my expenses are manageable and I don’t have any kids, I already own a house and I recently replaced my old car with a less-old car. I feel like maybe I can “afford” one less class come September…though I haven’t decided that definitively. Surely one cannot turn down classes when offered, because who knows what will happen in the next semester? The person who wrote the essay above (who chose to remain anonymous) has kids in or graduated from college and paid or helped pay for that, as well as other normal kinds of expenses that people have in the world. 

Coming back around to another example, the first story on my mind happened to someone I know, who posted and then removed it from Facebook. The person teaches at a school, has been teaching there for four or five years, has been encouraged and respected and sympathized with for the low pay and conditions of *the part-time instructor*… A full-time (maybe temporary, not sure) position was posted for fall, s/he applied and had an interview, s/he didn’t get the job. One could go on at length with more details, and in response to inane questions/responses that rationalize that they must have hired someone better, more qualified, with more publications and experience, and etc. But I would argue that this person is as, or more, qualified than others in all of these ways, surely gets excellent teaching evaluations (however problematic thinking about the use of evals is in relation to quality teaching and etc.), and is a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher. The point is, when faced with the decision, committees sometimes go for the fancier or name-recognition candidate instead of being loyal to those right next to them already doing the work. Or, because s/he is right there doing the work already, it is assumed that s/he will continue to be right there doing the work and so getting someone else, from outside, is just another bonus (why reward the person for doing what s/he is already doing?)… I had a similar experience a few years ago. It’s likely that at that time I was not well-practiced in my interview skills, and for a while I told myself that’s why I didn’t get the job. But I had been teaching in a department for a few years when a low-pay, full-time instructor position became available and I didn’t get it. But in addition to that, two others in the department also applied, and none of us got it. Any of us would have been a good choice for the job: one had been teaching those same classes (that the job called for) in the department for a while, one had a book published, one was almost finished with a Ph.D. Certainly we were all qualified and had good teaching records, credentials, backgrounds, were dedicated teachers. And the committee hired someone with no published book nor Ph.D. but had some other fancy thing on their resume. That person stayed in the job for one year, and then left for another job, and then the department was not allowed to re-hire for the position. At another school, a full-time position (lecturer, not tenure-line, which means less pay for arguably comparable work but less requirements for research or etc., though so many people apply for these jobs now because though they are qualified for tenure-line positions, there are few to none available) became available, I had a first interview, and they gave second interviews to three people who had been teaching in that program for longer than I had. They hired someone well-qualified and already in the department and doing the work. I was glad for that. In theory, one might do the work part-time and eventually be hired into the full-time position. The problem is that the full-time positions don’t come around very often, so in the meantime, one can be part-time for years with no guarantee of a full-time spot.

For about six months of the year for the past few years, I have a part-time job sending out job applications for full-time teaching positions. It’s not really a *job* because I don’t get paid, but it takes hours of time and energy. Two especially great-looking jobs, near-enough to commute to instead of having to move, were posted recently; I spent extra time preparing materials and thinking optimistically. Both jobs were cancelled due to budget or whatever issues. Most of the other jobs never offer interviews. I am doing the same work that others do for two or three times the pay, they have health insurance all year long instead of only for part of the year, they can plan on other things for the summer instead of worrying over money and summer-teaching possibilities. It’s not the fault of the people who have the real jobs; some of them are also trying to change the system in whatever ways possible. The problem is that teaching in higher ed. has been outsourced just like manufacturing went to China (or wherever) and phone support went to India and all over the world. College instructors are academic migrant workers. Teaching is no longer a job, not a profession, it is a career that has basically disappeared; and this is what is so difficult, constantly, to comprehend. 

In another story this week, a tenure line professor quit her *comfortable* job in protest to her university’s eliminating some of the full-time instructor positions that she had secured for the teachers in her department (http://chronicle.com/article/To-Protest-Colleagues-Lack-of/230057?cid=megamenu). Some see this as a great protest from an ally of contingent labor, and in response to the problems in the system. Others see this as failing; she could have stayed in that position and continued to fight for those instructors instead of leaving for another job that she had already lined up. She didn’t actually lose any security like the instructors did whose jobs were eliminated. It’s not an easy answer. The system is so bad and has infected so many people at every level. At one school where I work we are trying to have a conversation with HR about how instructors are offered and scheduled classes. We have a bargaining agreement with simple language on this. We have had multiple grievances. We have suggested a document,   with accessible language, a proposal for a user-friendly practice that can be implemented across campus so that department heads can offer and assign classes transparently, fairly, and within the requirements of the bargaining agreement. But the HR people insist on their own versions of proposals that convolute the language, make the practice more cumbersome and complicated for everyone, and help the instructors little (and certainly don’t do much to think of instructors as professional teachers and employees of the institution, instead continually treating us as peripheral and not really necessary to the functioning of the institution even thought we are 50% of the teaching faculty of the place). This seems like a combination of incompetence (they don’t know how to use words and sentences to express ideas and create employee-friendly practices and policies even though when the words come out of their mouths, that’s what they say) and vindictiveness (they actually hate us and do these things on purpose). I don’t know the answer. I just hope that I am not still doing this in 25 years. I have set a timer.


To find out more about this mini-essay project see the Introduction:The (Contingent)(Academic)(Teacher) in 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Resonance




(You remain loudly in every silence. A rhythm a knock a single tone under the slippery layer of awareness. You are me and not me, an edging an anxiety a brittle fabric a thin covering of confidence. I am this and something else, I merge and sway into layers of distraction and engagement. A turn or twist, focus and disband, the ringing intones the caution of cares to the wind. Your subtle straightforwardness sometimes lost in the haze of continuous present tenses. Your verging articulation imprecise in pastel shades. There is no contradiction but the abstract smearing of color, shades of individual and collective become a chronic movement of detail, a synthesis reflection. And behind the eyes seeking an elsewhere, muted reverberations mingle and rationality becomes a quick second sigh.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

an interlude... in progress...


Politics, Poetry, and Bread

1.

When I go to Canada I park on Sandwich St., which goes through the historic Olde Sandwich Towne, in Windsor. Sandwich Towne was first settled by the French in 1749. Sandwich, Kent is in the district of Dover, in the county of Kent, in south-east England. A medieval town, its name came from the Danish and in a way means a place by the bay or mouth of the river. In 1028 the monks at Canterbury got permission from the King to collect toll money and ferry people across the river. I always say the medieval time is where capitalism began. Richard the Lionheart landed in Sandwich in 1194 and, Wikipedia tells me, in 1255 Sandwich welcomed its first captive elephant  (a gift for Henry III from the French). The title of Earl of Sandwich was established in 1660 and there have been 11 Earls of Sandwich so far. The current, “John Edward Hollister Montagu, 11th Earl of Sandwich (born 11 April 1943) is a British entrepreneur, politician and nobleman.” Olde Sandwich Towne in Canada has a festival with food and music and events in the early fall. Although there is still some medieval architecture around town, it’s a pretty quiet area barely a mile from The University of Windsor campus. The couple of pub-style divey bars on Sandwich Rd. are on my list: Divey Bars in Random Places to Visit.

As the story goes, the word sandwich, for meat between slices of bread, may have begun with the fourth Earl of Sandwich (in the 1760s) who ate the creation (in the name of efficiency) at the gaming table instead of leaving for regular meals.

2.

There is now also a chain of sandwich shops called the Earl of Sandwich.

The Wikipedia entry on the etymology of “sandwich” is apparently directed at audiences with no familiarity with English (language) or any cuisine that includes bread, meat, or cheese in any combination:

A sandwich is a food item consisting of two or more slices of bread with one or more fillings between them. Sandwiches are a widely popular type of lunch food, typically taken to work, school, or picnics to be eaten as part of a packed lunch. They generally contain a combination of salad vegetables, meat, cheese, and a variety of sauces or savoury spreads. The bread can be used as it is, or it can be coated with any condiments to enhance flavour and texture. They are widely sold in restaurants and cafes.

The sidebar adds: “Many sandwiches are handheld and portable; this one [pictured] is made with salami.”

Or maybe this was written by a fourth grader, which is totally possible since it is on Wikipedia. In any case, if I had not recently given up flour and wheat (just since lunch a few hours ago) I would go make myself one, a sandwich, with meat filling two or more slices of bread. The multiple baguette photo examples shown here look too good to ignore. I feel like I will have to rethink my flour/wheat plans.

3.

In Canada we are reading Nicole Brossard’s, “Poetic Politics.”

“I would like … to make space for questions regarding different rituals, different approaches, different postures that we take in language in order to exist, fulfill our needs to express, communicate, or to challenge language itself: hoping that by playing with language it will reveal unknown dimensions of reality.”

I park 20 minutes away from the department office, on Sandwich St., because a parking permit on campus costs some exorbitant amount. After also paying $10 per trip to cross the bridge to and from the U.S. After also paying for a work visa (a new one every semester). To teach a class in which only some of the students want to read essays about poetry. A class in which most want to write poems and stories, that they want to be great, without reading anything else (theoretical) about writing.

“I have always said that writing is energy taking shape in language.” Dear Nicole, energy is taking shape in my classroom as I challenge them, and they rebel. Of course, eventually, I know, they will come to find your words indispensible.

4.

In fact I don’t think it’s actually possible to stop eating wheat or flour. The French have been eating baguettes for some time now and they are not suffering from “wheat belly,” the latest fear trend in the American diet wars. Still, when I begin reading about what has happened to wheat, I am traumatized, become depressed. Is there no realm in which everything has not been altered with chemicals, genetically modified, produced through unsafe practices creating cancers within us as we breathe through each moment of our lives? One might imagine that wheat is grown like it has always been grown, cut down, cultivated, used for its various purposes including all sorts of flours. But au contraire, it has been bred into something different altogether to grow more quickly, have a higher yield, and be more resistant to destructive forces. This new wheat was cultivated in the 1960s and because more can be produced faster on less acreage, it has taken over the industry. This new wheat also has considerably more gluten and fewer nutrients than the older stuff. Although now they say one shouldn’t go gluten-free unless one has a specific health issue affected by gluten. The increase in the new wheat seems problematic, and may even be contributing to the gluten allergies that seem to be spreading. Until even more recently, the new wheat hadn’t actually been genetically modified, so it has stayed off the radar of people making waves about genetically modified foods. Of course Monsanto now is leading the charge in genetically modified wheat—among other seeds and foods—and unlike Pinky and the Brain who try and fail, Monsanto is succeeding in taking control over (the food production of) the world.

I keep reading. Surely organic wheat must be safe from this colonization. But I can’t find any clear answers. It is hard to know if organic wheat comes from pre-modified forms like Einkorn or heritage varieties of wheat, or from the newer version. So surely one can use the pre-modified kinds of wheat, if one wants to make her own bread for every purpose all the time. I want to think that since this news is lately coming out to the mainstream there may be more transparent information about what kinds of wheat is used and where. But I think the “Wheat Belly” craze came and went fast. I want to imagine that organic wheat is not the conventional, less-nutritious, new “dwarf” variety, but there isn’t much solid information out there. And that Stanford report said that organic food was not any better or more healthy than non-organic foods. That made the national news, though in fact, the report found organic food to have fewer pesticides and antibiotic resistant bacteria, thus, one might conclude—which the report refused to do—better for health. And how many people saw the less publicized critiques of that report questioning the methods, funding, and findings? Remember when Oprah said something “disparaging” about beef? Don’t mess with the food industry, that is the lesson here. Dr. Davis, in his Wheat Belly, argument claims all wheat is the same and it is all bad. But he also claims that instead of wheat you should eat more meat and animal products, which I also find a little suspect.

In France it is more likely that traditional forms of wheat are used instead of the newer Frankenwheat. There are up to 200,000 varieties of wheat around the world, but we have come to use only a few strains for most of the world’s bread production.

The Heritage Wheat Project in Canada is working to circulate and re-introduce more varieties of heritage wheats into the mainstream and to increase some of the grains’ nutritional values. I wonder what kind of wheat they use in the bread at Whole Foods that so many people pay lots of money for because they believe it is better? Maybe I should buy my bread at the food coop, which I also can’t afford. Or I can get serious about making bread at home, by first crushing the wheat into flour, naturally the important first step. And then I read this on The Natural Recovery Plan website:

The archeological fossil record indicates that the introduction of the agrarian diet coincided with a massive decline in the health and vitality of the population. Prior to this time there was no evidence of degenerative diseases or tooth decay, but with agriculture both men and women lost considerable height which has only now been recovered after 10,000 years. There is also evidence that there was a massive increase in infant mortality at this time. So it may be that wheat - hybridised or not - was never good news for human health.

5.

One can draw connections between any random elements. I find that my food politics relates to my thinking about language, writing, the ways that I exist (or try to) in the world. This usually results in my feeling like a misfit. What is wrong with eating the same wheat that everyone else is eating? What is wrong with generic story structure and organization in fiction writing? Why can’t I just write accessible narrative poems?

Because, as Brossard writes, “I have often said that I don’t write to express myself but that I write to understand reality, the way we process reality into fiction, the way we process feeling, emotion and sensation into ideas and landscapes of thought.”

Because there is more to life, and to language, the potential is greater if we allow ourselves to open to that. Brossard:

            So by changing the perspective, the themes, or the style, somehow you deceive the conformist reader in her or his moral or aesthetic expectations …. At the same time, you provide for a new space of emotion and you make space for new materials to be taken into account about life and its meaning; you also offer the non-conformist reader a space for a new experience—traveling through meaning while simultaneously producing meaning.

            These interventions send a message in which the poet says: I don’t agree with prevalent moral or aesthetic values. I am not respecting the status quo. There is more to life than what we are thought to believe, there is more to language than what we are used to expecting.

We offer the readers and we offer ourselves these spaces, and for some of us, the status quo just doesn’t offer enough possibilities.

6.

Once I decided to go vegan. Or maybe I decided to go raw, eat only raw foods. You can actually make rice if you soak it in water long enough and do some other preparation. I remember looking up recipes and making a large supply of some kind of cabbage salad. Then I suffered a quick and serious bout of heartbreak about a boy I was crushing on. I don’t remember the boy or what happened. But I do remember the raw foods only lasted three days at the most (maybe only one day even, it was a doomed venture from the start), and then I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and ate most of them myself. I was a regular vegetarian who still ate fish for almost 10 years, a lifestyle choice which makes it hard not to eat bread and pasta. I started eating meat in part because I was tired of pasta, and in part because I have always enjoyed a variety of foods and flavors. I like to cook and eat especially good food, which is also hard to do without good bread. Potentially life threatening factors aside, surely it must be OK to have a quality baguette on occasion, and maybe a supply of bread made from non-wheat-flour grains on hand.