Saturday, July 17, 2010

meet us in the whirlwind: the first workshop, Day 2

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Apple and crackers in the stomach to start the day. Woke up earlier than the rest and attempt to get my things in order. But soon it is all activity in the hotel room, as bodies groan to alertness and snippets of conversation get interrupted with brushing teeth and morning showers. Wi-fi in the hotel room is malfunctioning, stalling my prep for our first workshop today. Soon we are heading out; I carry a laptop, camera, phone, and a stack of book posters clutched in the crook of my elbow.

By the time we arrive at Cobo Hall it is astonishingly busy, packed with even more people than from yesterday; we soon learn that the numbers coming through keep growing each passing day. Parking is a pain, but thankfully not a repeat of the previous night's fiasco of trying to find our parked rental car in the wrong ramp. The moment we enter we head straight for the AK Press table to pick up books. I meet Kate for the first time, which again is strange - yet another person who I've only gotten to know as a voice on a conference call, or words issuing over an email, but still a living breathing human being who worked like hell with us to bring this book into being. After perfunctory greetings I rush off to the second floor and the Media Center, where Melissa from Radical Reference has surveys waiting for me. They're trying to get a sense of how activists get the info they use - a straightforward and useful form of research, so where better to deploy it than in workshops on research? I asked her a few days back how many completed surveys she hoped to received. "One-hundred would be great," she said. "Well," I replied, "in a space of 20,000 people, let's see how we do."

Walk over to the room for our workshop; to my great relief, there are no long lines waiting to get in, no massive logistical snafus that accompanied the first USSF three years ago. All the same, I'm glad to arrive half an hour early. Move through all the little tasks almost habitually, though in fact it is our first time doing this: setting up signs and posters, arranging chairs, writing up notes, preparing money envelopes and shorthand accounting systems for any books we sell. Through all this the panelists arrive: Chris, Harmony, Michal, and of course Craig. Through all this, still, attendees arrive, sit and wait patiently. For many minutes I work with a man in a wheelchair who is trying to find the right room where his friends are. Even as the stress amplifies, so too does the relief: you find the little things - all the panelists are here! we'll have a good crowd for the event! - that take an incredible weight off your back.

I slip into public speaking/event mode easily, welcoming the crowd, notifying them of start times, asking to keep the aisles clear, pointing out open seating, talking loudly and confidently, using choice humor here and there. As friends back in New Orleans used to say, "Professor Peace has taken the stage." I introduce the collective and what we do; I stump for the book; I set up the context for the notion of research in struggle, and get the panel started. All off-the-cuff, which is my favorite way of presenting, yet also not without its frustrations - the moment I stop talking and Chris opens up for the panelists, I immediately regret all the things I wish I had said but didn't, all the ways I could have framed things better but didn't. But this is ultimately not my show; all of us in Team Colors know that, one way or another, the success of our panels and workshops will come from collective wizardry.

As each panelist presents, I feel better and better about how it's going. Each speaker makes clear and powerful points; all of them are prepared and thoughtful. None of them seem at all ruffled by the ballooning crowd in the room which keeps growing and growing throughout. I recalled telling the others in the collective once, "I know we requested rooms for 25 to 30 people, but don't be surprised if we get 75, 100." They countered by reminding me that an obscure collective like ours couldn't possibly draw those numbers. Now, seeing all the chairs occupied, the floor space packed with sitters, the walls lined with standers, the place brimming well beyond what fire codes should allow, I feel no great sense of intimidation and/or pride. I'm still wearing my moderator hat: all I can think about is the comfort of the panelists and attendees. I note with dismay that some people are sitting down right next to the panelist table, getting prime view of their shoes; I note there are older folks in the back with hands cupped around their ears, straining to hear. That people can stay engaged and attentive in spite of their obvious discomfort is one of those human mysteries that I do not understand.

Michal finishes up and I move quickly into the facilitation role. I pass out 25 Radical Reference surveys to a crowd that tops 100. I call for questions and five people raise their hands. My first choice stands up, a large older man with a beard, staring inquisitively at the panelists. "My question is directed to you, the young man who spoke earlier..." and he proceeds to talk at length with nary a question in sight. It is also unclear which of the young men - Chris or Craig - he's referring to. He talks at length about various groups and people that have been providing answers "to the kind of questions you're asking," though what he's getting at remains unclear. I know I have to intervene at some point, but am unsure when. Craig - assuming that the man is talking to Chris - exits briefly to use the bathroom. He misses the point where the man mentions the Illuminati - my cue. As the man pauses mid-thought, I leap in: "So what is your question?" "My question is...won't you all please come down to the table we have downstairs and talk with us more about the work we're doing?" The crowd laughs - we find his question funny, but also that he was finally caught naked with nothing but a shameless plug. I'm actually surprised my intervention cut him short, until later we realize that his attention was devoted to Craig, not Chris, and once Craig left for his bathroom break in the middle of his yammering, it must have taken all the fire out of him. Craig laughs himself silly at his inadvertent but strategic snub.

Another more easily digestible yet equally shameless plug from an attendee has me worried; these first two questions have chewed up over ten minutes alone, and there is precious little time for discussion. Thankfully, the crowd brings the questions back to where we want them, and while it is so little in the end, the panelists make do the best they can. We learn, to our surprise, that the majority of the people in the room are engaged in some form of academic research, and it's clear they've been brooding on all the difficult questions of the academic industry, accountability, and trust.

We break right at noon and people swarm up to the table, excited. I immediately start taking money and getting books into people's hands. Strangers come up and thank me, thank the panelists; I strain to go through the room and find various friends and acquaintances. As the room begins to empty, I rush to the bathroom. My health problems have set in again, much to my dismay, and as always, with no obvious cause or catalyst. My latest theory is that it can all be traced to moments of intensive stress, which for the most part is of the negative kind for me. After our first successful workshop - one that greatly impressed Craig, which is a feat in and of itself - I decide it might be time to revise the theory to include positive stress. Either kind appears abundant at the USSF.

Still, I note that, even in the 10 minutes afterwards, as I return completed surveys to Melissa in the Media Center, Team Colors has managed to launch a feedback loop of support to counter the stress. As I wait in the Media Center, a woman I don't even recognize says, "Hey, I heard about your workshop and that it went really great. Thanks for doing all the work you're doing." I graciously thank her, assuming her comment is an anomaly. As we discover later on, it's one of many small currents that form out of resonance and encounter, and without fail, flow back to us.

Monday, July 12, 2010

meet us in the whirlwind: convergence, Day 1

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Aaron drops me and Linda off in front of Cobo Hall in the heart of downtown, then rushes off in the face of peeved policemen who yell at us for holding up traffic. In truth, they have a point. It's barely 10 in the morning but the center of US Social Forum activity is already swarming with people. To my relief, there's lots of open space still; to our annoyance, the line to register is long and doesn't appear to be moving. My health hasn't been great all last weekend and I have to rush to the bathroom a few times while we wait; to my surprise, it's barely occupied. The setting is still somewhat calm. Linda and I gaze at the others in line. Many have slogan-crossed T-shirts and flyers for events, assemblies, promotion for their particular organizations. So many groups I've never heard of. Aaron finds us in line. "This is pretty cool, actually," he says. "It's exciting to be here." To my surprise - sitting as I am at the wake of a 20,000-person convergence of absolutely exhausting activity over the course of 5 days - I feel the same way.

I'm here to promote Team Colors and the book, of course. It's easier than I expected. Everyone is friendly and asks what I'm up to, so I never feel awkward describing the Whirlwinds project. While waiting for about 10 minutes for my registration to go through, the flummoxed yet easy-going woman behind the laptop computer chats me up about the project. I ask her in turn about what it's like to volunteer. "I wasn't even planning this; they just needed people and I said, sure, why not. I just hope someone else steps in for me at some point, cuz I don't want to be doing this all day. The first two hours have been agonizing. Still - all the people you can meet in two hours!" There's a brightness in her eyes.

We head over to Avalon for lunch before the march begins. Craig and Ben finally reach me; they had some trouble getting out of the airport area, but they're finally in Detroit. I guide them to where we are. I spot them before they spot me. They park excruciatingly close to the street corner; the moment they get out and Craig says "Stevie! Great to meet you!" I respond "Nice almost-illegal parking job there." Seeing them both is awfully weird; I've been in talks with both of them for over two years now but am meeting them for the first time. For some reason, their voices don't match their appearances. It occurs to me that they could look like any old thing and I would still be befuddled; when all you know about a person is their voice, you almost feel like this is the only part of them that exists.

We drive to the Motor City Casino Hotel, where we'll be staying for the week. The irony of staying in a place that Grace Lee Boggs and many others have railed against for years is not lost on us. It's exceedingly gaudy; it's even worse, what with all the glittery lights and towering retro image, that all around it are deindustrialized buildings and foreclosed homes. It's the sort of place where security stands outside the elevator, and you have to flash your doorkey to go past them. Craig and I try very hard to hide our panic when they staff inform us that they have, in fact, booked for us a single bed instead of a double; they don't know that we secretly plan to have five people crash in this room. Our panic subsides when we see the room; it's so expansive and well-equipped (mini-bar, shower AND a separate bath) that we feel pampered. We had joked beforehand that Kevin, the last person to arrive at the USSF, would have to sleep in the bathtub; now, after seeing it, we decide that this really isn't a punishment.

Craig drives us to the march and is immediately alarmed at the security that the USSF has hired for the parade: extremely muscular and imposing men and women, donning black bulletproof vests, stoic looks on their faces in the midst of chanting and cheering. "This is fucking insane," he says over and over, as Ben and Linda and I gaze and wonder. We join in near the end of the march and slowly make our way up. We find the Macalester contingent, folks from the Catalyst Project, other familiar faces throughout. The march is a full one but less spirited than what I remember from the USSF in 2007. At one point we pass by large puppets of Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Julian Bond. I prod Linda into getting the gumption to introduce ourselves to various API groups, including CAAAV, the CPA, Asian environmental justice groups, and National Domestic Workers Alliance. Someone hands me a sign at one point; I reluctantly wave it, than discreetly leave it next to a bench, having no idea what to do with it otherwise. My health problems remain annoying throughout, and the moment we reach Cobo Hall I sprint to a bathroom. We file into the main auditorium-like area for the opening ceremony. They say it will last an hour; it actually goes for three. By the time they reach the end, there are less than 15 people present. I complain to my friend Margie about the inability of organizers to organize. "Look, they've listed in the program right here that there'll be statements from Leonard Peltier and Mumia. So why the fuck are they at the very end, when everyone's already tired from marching and hungry and just can't stand sitting through all this other stuff? If I have Peltier and Mumia on my playbill, I'm putting them up first thing while everyone's still energized. Why is that so hard to figure?"

Sometime during the ceremony, Ben and I finally make it over to the Exhibition Hall and AK Press. Copies of Uses of a Whirlwind are holding down the fort at the very end of their table. I take a copy and page through it, not knowing what to think or feel, except for maybe relief. "What's it like, seeing your book after all this work on it?" Ben asks. "Anticlimactic," I shrug. "I've already seen the damn thing 40 or 50 times by now, just in different forms." Ben nods sympathetically, but also laughs, "You know, getting published is supposed to feel good."

After a dinner of Thai food, Craig and Ben and I head back to the hotel for an early night in. I stay up longer than I should, worrying about my how my health will hold up over the next several days in the midst of three workshops and panels, constant promotion, and a mess of people to meet. That's the thing about convergence, I think to myself. A resonance here and there with other bodies and minds and hearts is the stuff of an everyday life; multiply it a thousand-fold, and you end up moving in ways that - exhilirating or terrifying - are simply beyond your control.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

ten days in four sentences

July 1, 2010
7:00 pm
42 Degrees Latitude (restaurant and bar)
Chicago, IL

Craptastic. I can't believe it's been 10 days since I last wrote in this.

Since that time, I've been through an entire Social Forum, a patently ridiculous Friday night that fell to so many mistakes, screw-ups, and unfathomably bad luck that it turned seriously funny, the three most packed workshops I've ever been in, a disastrous event in Bloomington, a day of canoeing and swimming in amazingly warm water, and a social center in South Side Chicago that was practically euphoric.

I think I'm going to leave it at that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

when you don't want to sleep, do a cryptic crossword

June 21 2010
Very late night
Miki & Aaron's place
Ann Arbor

Everyone else has long gone to bed but I am determined to squeeze every last drop from my rest day. At midnight we were eating baked potatoes and Miki and I got very close to completing this cryptic crossword after struggling with it for over an hour:

Those in the know know that this shit ain't easy. When we're raised on word puzzles, we learn to master new schemes and schematics in just a short amount of time: word finds, jumbles, scrabbles, crosswords. But the cryptic crosswords are the kind of thing you really don't ever master, I've decided. Most of the time you just sit there baffled by the clues in front of you. If you ever DO complete one successfully, it's usually sheer luck you can thank and not your own hapless skills. Cryptic crossword mastery is an unattainable.

A few other diagrams to help draw the analogy out:

Dubliners -> A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man -> Ulysses
Unattainable: Finnegan's Wake

Teaching yourself drums -> marimba -> piano -> guitar
Unattainable: harp

If you have others to add, feel free to do so.

Today was a good day. Kept getting better health-wise, kept churning through my work and finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, kept finding spaces to grin in. Aaron's show, Exile & Utopia, was brilliant. The book posters came in today and look wonderful. I'm trying to wrap up all that positive energy and let it carry me through the day tomorrow, which will promise many errands, logistical hurdles, reunions, first meetings, a march, and a new place to stay in Detroit. And that's just the start of a very long 5-day expanse.

For now, though, it's far too late and I'm hitting the hay. Outside there's a lightning parade; inside, oscillating fan whir. Tuesday will bring with it a new sound, and I don't have any idea as to what it will be. I'm just going to listen.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

time for a Sabbath Monday

June 20 2010
After midnight
Miki & Aaron's place
Ann Arbor

Allied Media Conference finished up today, and with that, Claudia is headed back home, staying in Chicago area with Miriam tonight. Times have been good so far, although I've had a relapse of my digestive troubles from 3 months ago which has tempered the good times quite a bit. I think I've spent several hours over the last three days in bathrooms. Still, it's been good having good company to keep me laughing and wresting joy out of everything.

Exciting news: I don't know how bodies do this, but they are very good at letting you know when something is wrong, even if you can't see it, and they are just as good at letting you know when your internal functioning is reasonably back to healthy. Just one example: I know when my digestive troubles have returned because my stomach stops growling. In almost no time, the other signs come forward, as certain muscles, organs, and nerves give off a not-rightness that, even though you cannot place it, is real all the same. You eat some food and something about the way it moves through you just seems off, and you know it. Now, after 30 hours of fasting and a few doses of metamucil, I’ve just tried eating again. And the stomach growls are back, and the muscles are doing what they need to, the organs are settling back into their roles, and food is now pleasing to eat, rather than something that gives me trepidation. It’s an amazing feeling, good health.

Despite health problems and difficulty concentrating because of work to finish up, I did enjoy the conference and was especially impressed by two workshops, one led by Climbing Poetree and another, led by several organizers, called “Safe in Our Skin,” which explored the ways we create and build communities of safety without the intervention of state and capital (and specifically the police and other elements of the prison-industrial complex). Lots of people there, filled up the room and then some, which was both heartening and affirming that everyday life experiences of harm and healing are some of the most common things we share and most important areas from which to consider organizing. Their topic is right up my alley, and the workshop had interactive and performative aspects to it as well, which I love. If there’s a dancing workshop at the USSF, I want to do it; these are the intangibles that keep me going.

Also watched a good 30-minute clip of the documentary “Land of Opportunity” in another workshop. The folks behind it are brilliant, not only in their filming style (they have no narration and almost no text, it’s all done through the stories and voices of the people they film) but also in the fact that they’ve been following the lives of six people in the Katrina aftermath for five years. Most docs about Katrina only account for the first year or two after, but as I’ve thought to myself so often, it’s what happens over the next 5-10 years in New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast that will be the most telling. I appreciate their sticktoitiveness. Check them out.

Once things finished up today, Linda and I headed over to the Detroit Institute of Arts, at Aaron’s recommendation. They have, reputedly, the best Diego Rivera mural in the country, Detroit Industry, and it is stunning.

Monday the 21st is the day of rest, before the USSF launches on Tuesday. My only tasks are staying healthy, getting groceries, meeting up with someone from Radical Reference, and seeing Aaron’s gallery show and presentation of his master’s thesis. Then, after hopefully a good night’s sleep, I meet Craig and Ben for the first time, have lunch and a beer, check into the Motor City Casino Hotel, march with 15-20,000 others in the heart of Detroit, and hang out with the book for the first time.

Friday, June 18, 2010

the basics

June 18th 2010
Miki & Aaron's house
Ann Arbor

First day of the AMC done and resting. It appears I'm having a relapse of the intestinal troubles I had for two months earlier this year. Of course I'm worried that this is primarily being caused by stress rather than any dietary overstepping. The AMC folks claim that there's a relaxation room on the premises with acupuncturists on hand to do their magic. I'm gonna hunt them down tomorrow. This shit needs to end now or I'll be having two very miserable weeks.

Had a difficult time concentrating in the workshops I attended today. Mind is sifting through all the work I need to get done. I rested most of the afternoon and got to have a spontaneous hour-long chat with someone who had just arrived and was planning to stay in the crash space with her son for the next 10 days (with no place to shower, of course). That was probably the highlight. Claudia and Linda like the conference a lot, but all of us were more than eager to head back to Ann Arbor after the day's events. We missed a night of bowling and karaoke in D-Town, but then again, bowling and karaoke will always be there (I assume).

I figure this post would be good for explaining just exactly what I'm up to over the next two months, for those who've been confused; it is a lot of stuff and it doesn't exactly sync up either. Also, there's a slight chance that writing this all down will smooth my thoughts out a little and actually decrease my stress levels. We'll see.

  • What I'm up to now is attending the Allied Media Conference in Detroit (June 18-20). Mostly I'm doing this cuz I attended last year, enjoyed it, and Claudia and Linda wanted to check it out and I decided it'd be fun to road-trip out there with them. It's a relatively short affair - just two and a half days - and about 200-300 people. It's very definitely a conference; there are workshops, activities, people tabling from all over the country, lots of mixing things up and learning going on. Perhaps what distinguishes it from other conferences - and this can be both intriguing and frustrating - is how much it avoids academia and academic jargon. No one presents papers, no one holds heavily theoretical presentations or discussions. It's meant to be very hands-on and relatable, generating tangible skills and tools for use in movements for media justice and intersections with other movements. Not to suggest that the theoretical heavy-lifters and trailblazers out there sit this one out: Critical Resistance, INCITE!, Grace Lee Boggs and the Boggs Center, all of them are out in droves. It's a genuinely inspiring convergence as well as a great introduction to current struggles in Detroit. I'm doing book promotion here but it's on the sly.
  • A few days break, Claudia heads back on a solo road trip to the Twin Cities, and Linda and I stay for the United States Social Forum (June 22-26). The USSF is not a conference or a summit. "Forum" is not entirely accurate either. The best way I can describe it is as a 'space,' specifically a space developed and built over many years to encourage the maximum number of encounters, dialogues, connections, and amplifications possible in a short timeframe and small convergence area. Put another way, the USSF intends to catalyze and strengthen movement-building at a rate that is much faster than organizations and organizers are used to. This isn't to say there aren't workshops, activities, and plenaries like at any other conference (there are over 1000 workshops for this USSF). But what makes the USSF unique - and very unpredictable - is the fact that, in just a five-day span of time, there is a space so open and usable that people end up using it for all kinds of spontaneous, surprising, and powerful things. The last USSF was in 2007. I burnt out after just a day; I couldn't see any of the workshops because 10,000 other people were trying to see them too. But all around me was this vibrant activity that was definitely not listed in the program guide: ad hoc gatherings, spillover discussion groups, assemblies and alliances formed on the spot, creative ventures, direct actions, and levelled critiques of the whole process from start to finish. Oh yes, the shit is overwhelming. But it's unlike anything I've ever been to, and that's saying something. Uses of a Whirlwind will be released at the USSF, and there will be a big release party on Friday the 25th. Our collective is also organizing three workshops/panels, and I'll be presenting or facilitating for all of them. I'll be relocating to a hotel in Detroit with them. To top it off, I'll also be reuniting with my antiracist peeps from New Orleans, and exploring radical Asian America through several caucuses, assemblies, and gatherings for APIA folks. Somewhere in there I think I get to sleep.
  • After all that, my collective, Team Colors, hits the road for a tour (June 26-August). We're a militant research collective that inquires into struggles and everyday resistance in the United States. We cast a wide net, but our general focus is on class struggle, class composition and decomposition, mechanisms of control and capture by state and capital, the commons and enclosures, precarious labor, social reproduction, and processes of 'becoming' in everyday life. A lot of people go "Huh?" at this stuff, but there's a certain significant contingent out there that loves this shit. We love it, I think, because we feel these inquiries are incredibly necessary in order to combat anti-intellectualism in movements, steer away from the fetishization of activist-identities and into radical community organizing, and centralize the political as found in the mundane, the everyday, the basic needs and practices of life and living in common. Our book is just the latest of many ventures we've been on, but since this is a great opportunity to inquire into more organizing around the country and spur important discussions, we'll be holding lots of events throughout the summer and fall. I for one will be working events in Bloomington Indiana, Chicago, Madison, the Twin Cities, New York, Philadelphia, Portland Oregon, San Francisco, Oakland, and Gainesville Florida. There will likely be other events in the South and Southeast that I'm trying to set up right now. Even more events will take place throughout the fall, but by that time...
  • I'll be in grad school at UNC-Chapel Hill starting August 24th, for a doctorate in geography. Geography is not just about maps and capital cities; it's the intersection of many knowledges - history, politics, environment, society - that intends to understand and explore 'space' as it exists on the surface of the earth. It's also well-known for taking increasingly radical turns of late, due to its openness, its reckoning with its own very colonial history, and its challenges and critiques that problematize so much about the world we're in while also finding excitement in resistance and change, whether organized or unanticipated. I told them I want to study radical Asian America post-1965, but we'll have to see if that will hold.
OK, gotta head to be - way too late and I need to be up early again for the second day of the AMC. And I have a red bean cake here with my name on it.

the brave new editor goes to a workshop on collaborative editing

June 18 2010
11:31 am
Allied Media Conference, Wayne State University

I'm trying to remember what the AMC was like a year ago when I went. Certain familiar elements: a generous spread of croissants and honeydew melon in the foyer of McGregor, faces I can connect to an organization or place but not a name. What stands out the most is where I was at that time: tired, stinky (I stayed in a crash space with no showers), consistently enthralled by the workshops and discussions, and - perhaps most notably - generally bored. This was before the book or grad school was a sure thing. Back when I was a thin wisp of a boy, pinching pennies at a nonprofit job. Back when I went to the beach on hot days and sunned for 3 or 5 hours straight - even on weekdays.

Now I'm in a room of 30 people chatting about collaborative editing, feeling some mix of wisdom, empathy, a strong sense of detachment, and the not-too-thinly-veiled-in-its-smugness sentiment that "My twin sis could drink you all under the table."

I don't know why I picked this workshop; I don't know how I'm going about picking any of these this time around. The first one I went to looked promising, done by the Prison Poster Project, but they didn't describe in any detail what their activities and processes are like, or with any great critical or theoretical lens, and unless you know next to nothing about the prison-industrial complex there was nothing so revealing about their presentation. I still learned some stuff. I can't say whether that's enough, tho. I mean, you can learn stuff from watching "Keeping up with the Kardashians." If you don't get at the questions of place, space, power, complexity, contradiction, theory, critical analysis, and desire, then there's just this wide maw where someone's raw material was supposed to be. I see the maw everywhere I go now.

My mind might also be distracted. There is a book coming out next week after all. And I am getting impatient to move to North Carolina before another person can tell me "You are going to be missed here so much" and make me feel even sadder about the whole business.

Exciting news: Asian folks can get fat. Witness Exhibit A. I don't think it's a weight thing, but my body is very obviously changing and building up a paunch that never used to be there. The fucken thing actually strains and groans against the button and zipper on my jeans after a hearty meal now. Possible reasons: 1) having no full-time job for five months, and thus no steady routine; 2) having once had a full-time job for over two years, which involved more sitting than any other work I've done previously; and 3) eating exceptionally well because I've been home with my parents more often. If this lasts the rest of the summer I'll really get worried.

The night before we road-tripped out here, Claudia and Linda and I went to a dinner on Summit Ave of this group of Asian folks who have been talking about forming some kind of thing - organization, activism hub, whatever it may be. It was one of the odder experiences in recent memory. Look: you try having a 2-hour conversation with 15 other people and none of them are speaking in a common language, and see how far you get - or whether you can even follow along at all. Also, count as a given that the group is getting impatient about meeting and talking and wants to start getting 'active.'

The drive here was smooth and uneventful, and we got to feast at Cafe Japon for Miki's last week there. I had me this sashimi dish that could make grown, jaded old men weep.

More to come. Hi Detroit.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

this shit is revived

Breathe, blog! Breathe! The goddesses are mixing up some magic this summer, and dammit, I'm taking you with me.

Monday, May 17, 2010

analysis of a facebook update map

Part II of a series.

Last post was an unadulterated time-space map of a particular virtual moment, mapped via facebook updates. Let's see what we learn.


Coleen wins cookies for her guess of October 2008. This was not hard to figure.

In fact, we can pinpoint things more exactly. From these updates--

is watching the master debaters.
is watching McCain get spanked. Righteous...
is watching the debate over pizza and beer. i love being an adult.
is going to watch tonight's debates at Hamburger Mary's... wanna join?
is lovin rainy nashville, getting ready to crash the debates part 2.

--we know that the updates happened on October 7, 2008, in the evening, during the second televised presidential debate between Obama and McCain. (One of the updates even experienced this spatially while 'lovin rainy nashville,' home of Belmont University, where the debate was held.) The number of facebookers commenting on the debate may seem unusually high or low, depending on how you look at it. But there's no denying the virtual experience of the election cycle as a generalized, almost incessant current, perpetually weighing on many a facebook mind:

is excited that Biden is so genuine. Erica now has a growing fondness for Joe Biden.
saw Obama in La Crosse this morning. The heat off that man gave me sunburn.
An Electoral College TIE? Its Possible!!
is so sick of the bullshit and games that are politics. But be sure to go vote tomorrow, and register to vote by this weekend if you are not already!

That last update is particularly curious, an honest assessment of the unforgiving drudge of electoral politics in the United States. We're sick of the politics, but don't forget to vote! The swash of cynicism and earnestness all at once - what could it mean? The time-space map in this case is less about messages and meaning as it is common experience and emotion. Posting this update would seem nonsensical if it weren't for the implicit understanding that other facebookers would feel the same way, would perhaps even say the same thing. Is this liberating or constraining? The 'freedom' to update on whatever crosses your mind - though inane, profane, or utterly confusing - yet also consciously aware that the updates only 'work' if read 'in common' through positive resonance? Let's imagine McCain wins in November. A facebooker posts "I feel like killing myself right now." In most other contexts, this would be read with alarm and worry. But all it takes is one comment on the post - "Dude. Feel the same." - and we know that these aren't actually musings about suicide, but rather a commonly shared experience being coped with in virtual public space. We do this all the time now; we assume a kind of common exists (though with little real/sustained effort from any of us).

Contrast this with other ways people commented on the time:

If I fail pathophys, do I get a second try, like the $700 Billion Bailout? God save the bankers!
paulson looks like he just robbed a bank...

It could be argued that the bailouts and other common experiences of economic crisis were arguably more important than the election cycle, especially when read in context of today's facebook update time-space maps ("Still looking for a job..."). But only two posts directly reference this. My facebook friends appear to have moved eagerly towards producing common experiences of the election rather than the economic crisis. What facilitated this? What is the result?

Without the assistance of spectacle, we have many mundane allusions to time:

is grateful to everyone who organized CR10.
is Oktoberfest, bitches!
is potentially addicted [to running marathons].
needs to find her winter coat because its looking like its time to start bundling up.
is either kicking of statement of purpose ass or else statement of purpose is playing rope a dope. We can all guess which is really happening.
should be in Hawaii by the first of November and in Washington on the 18th or 19th.
is performing at Intermedia on Thurs Oct 9, 7 pm with Ibe and Sun Yung - plus wine and beer!
is starting to really like his classes.

One way or another we can deduce the time of year from this. We relate to seasonal changes, warm enough to run a marathon but cold enough to find a winter coat. We relate to pressures like statements of purpose for grad school applications, or classes, or, um, Oktoberfest. Other posts merely help us map out the near future: when a performance at Intermedia will be, when someone will be visiting Hawaii or Washington. And for the truly discerning, there's posts about the success of CR10 - not a generalized knowledge in an era of spectacle, but the mere mention should mobilize the brief excitements of those who are in the know, and perhaps even motivate those who aren't to find out.


Meanwhile, what's going on in this time of October 7, 2008?

is curious about this years showing of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" as in, is there going to be one...?

The space covered in a facebook update time-space map is flooded with comments like these: wry, humorous, fearful, coy, steeped well in the times. It's impossible to know exactly what the facebooker is referencing, though the many guesses are resonant - a freakily unexpected McCain election as the "nightmare before Christmas," perhaps.

But it's not important to know or understand all the references. Comments like these are made to highlight the wit of their makers.

is finding out that doing nothing can be the most difficult thing to do.
is trying to think of what she's doing right now.
hates anatomy. but she loves you.
would like to start ending all of her sentences in "also"...also.
is looking for others in the Bangor area who want to play kickball. Possibly in ridiculous outfits. Are you in?
is playing offense against his head cold.
is back to real life... well school, not really real life.
has the ugliest sweater of them all!
is bonding with Tori Amos instead of sleeping.
19 dollar airbed is sounding pretty enticing right now. sleeeeeeeeeeepy.

Sometimes it's hard to detect the difference between wit and depression.

Yay unemployment.

And things get even stranger when the source of wit is other facebook-produced material. Them feedback loops can be voracious.

refuses to change his status message just because some people are bitter about the sun in California.

I count myself among this crowd, always intent on clever posts. Lately I've been wondering why I do this. Every time I have important news to share over facebook, it's always done obliquely. I don't write things like "I got accepted at UNC!!!" I do "UNC says yes, and throws in a fellowship nomination to boot. Holy shit. It's on." All told, that is about three or four times more energy than was needed. Is that a sign I'm a writer? Possibly.

A good many writers inhabit facebook, attempting to pull language out of its duldrums (where it usually languishes in the virtual world). They can weave poetry.

head is his only home unless it rains.
still loves...and will always love, and will wait until time makes to reconnect our souls together...

Sometimes the poetry is unintended.

is finding it.
is a drifter.

But what really goes on in the space of facebook is a much sadder and meaner game than what a few whimsical writers might believe it to be. It's still a business, and all of us its consumers. We all know well the massive data mining that facebook generates, turning our free public creations into marketable privatized content. The larger consequence of this is an unsettling arc away from creativity, imagination, and desire. Facebookers have learned to replace whimsy with accounts like these:

hates fax machines!
is listening to Jane's Addiction and running my dog on a trail under fresh snow!
is NERVOUS! and really excited....
is revising a story.
is marketing at midnight.
is busy.
is up and at em.
homework done, go to target, buy furniture. Groceries and floor will wait until tonight.

There's a lot more where that came from. What's perhaps most concerning is that such honesty reveals a lot of bodies running themselves into the ground. The space of common experience we all can draw on interminably, it seems, is that of anti-leisure. Why write "is busy" unless you already know that everyone else understands, that they sympathize?

Facebook holds a mirror on a people in ill health.

is coughing.
is friggin' exhausted!

Here is a space we can all agree we're not happy in.

is in Partial Hell!!!

(Of course, facebook is where we also learn to mince words enough so that our reckoning doesn't become too fully wrought in public. Partial Hell is better than Hell, after all.)

Seemingly the only happy ones out there have learned to harvest the wind that facebook offers - networking/marketing, depending if you're the anticapitalist/capitalist type:

thinks YOU should come to Daman. My latest choral awesome-ness!! Check it out!!
is thinking you should all visit and if you like what you see, maybe donate a buck or two to keep us ripe.

More than anything, today's on-line time-space rewards the savvy and self-deprecating, witnesses to technological blossoms fraught with wonder and uneasy tension. Beneath every "Cool!" is a whispered "Oh shit."

apparently has hazel eyes. Thanks Wikipedia!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

name that time-space: the facebook update map

Some unspecified time ago - and probably because I was excessively bored - I browsed over all my facebook friends' most recent updates and wrote them all down. I present them to you now, in their full, unedited (save the names, which have been scratched out), schizophrenic glory.

Of course, it's common for a lot of us to browse over people's updates on facebook. But there are some funky things that go on with this kind of activity. It's a lot more than witticisms or frequently pointless announcements ("I had some coffee!"). With any and all social interactions, what we choose to reveal to others in a public setting (even a virtual public like facebook) ends up pointing to a set of experiences specific to a particular time-space. There need not be seamless (or even half-assed) conversations at work; rather, we end up contributing to a map of experience that finds as many points of convergence as divergence, commonality and difference.

Sorry for the academic jargon. Concrete example: during this year's NFC Championship game, practically all my friends' updates had to do with the status of the Vikings and/or Saints. What does such a map illustrate? 1) That I have extensive networks in both Minnesota and New Orleans (which I do). 2) That these networks of friends made updates on a very public event, not to inform people of its details, but rather to bond, argue, or engage in common experiences of the event. 3) That this game, as a virtually-experienced spectacle, ended up capturing much of our attention and interest, and thus served as perfect fodder for a virtual engine like facebook. 4) That other virtually-experienced spectacles (i.e. the healthcare debate) or other everyday, real-life experiences (i.e. coming home from work) were temporarily shelved in favor of facebook update excitement around the game.

That said: can you name this time-space? Do you know the exact year, day, and time when these updates happened? What does this say about my networks? Does this match up with your networks? What does this say about our virtual public life?

I'll have the answer (to the first question, not the others) in my next post.

is watching the master debaters.

would rather be at Skate's On The Bay.
is going home (my friends)...
is watching McCain get spanked. Righteous...
is already tired of her work schedule for the next 3 months...
is watching the debate over pizza and beer. i love being an adult.
is starting to really like his classes.
got a new apartment in the international district!
is going to watch tonight's debates at Hamburger Mary's... wanna join?
is performing at Intermedia on Thurs Oct 9, 7 pm with Ibe and Sun Yung - plus wine
and beer... hollaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...
is busy.
would like a night stand.
is up and at em.
homework done, go to target, buy furniture. Groceries and floor will wait until
is lovin rainy nashville, getting ready to crash the debates part 2.
Yay unemployment.
should be in Hawaii by the first of November and in Washington on the 18th or 19th.
wants to be in Osaka with The Boy right now. Only 4 more days...
is made of cool brew mocha & soy milk.
is sick. Stupid con.
refuses to change his status message just because some people are bitter about the
sun in California.
is glad Steven finally got his charger back!
is thinking you should all visit and if you like what you see,
maybe donate a buck or two to keep us ripe.
really believes that everything IS gonna be alright.
needs to learn to take things one day at a time.
is enjoying a bunfire and chilling with folks at my house.
still loves...and will always love, and will wait until time makes to reconnect our
souls together...
is friggin' exhausted!
is marketing at midnight.
is in Partial Hell!!!
is considering switching back to analog after spending 1.5 hrs on the phone with the
HP people and THEN coming home to find that the printer has done a Lazurus.
is revising a story.
is nothing short of perfectly relaxed in perfect company.
is "NYC, here I come!"
is potentially addicted [to running marathons].
needs to find her winter coat because its looking like its time to start bundling up.
is jealous that her sister is going to Londonium this weekend.
is either kicking of statement of purpose ass or else statement of purpose is
playing rope a dope. We can all guess which is really happening.
hates fax machines!
An Electoral College TIE? Its Possible!!
is NERVOUS! and really excited....
is listening to Jane's Addiction and running my dog on a trail under fresh snow!
wants to get out of the city, permanently.
is curious about this years showing of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" as in, is
there going to be one...?
is so frustrated that the internet can't find the server that she needs in order to
transport herself 7 miles today...
is reveling in a lovely full night of sleep...
is bonding with Tori Amos instead of sleeping.
19 dollar airbed is sounding pretty enticing right now. sleeeeeeeeeeepy.
is freezing.
has the ugliest sweater of them all!
is tired from all that fun (i.e. rockband) this weekend.
is back in Seattle.
is smiling...and almost back to health.
is wondering why he had to get a flat tire.
hates Evan. A lot. No...seriously.......jk.
is barely moving.
is playing offense against his head cold.
is back to real life... well school, not really real life.
is coughing.
is looking for manatees in the rio dulce.
is 7 days until home!
head is his only home unless it rains.
enjoyed the rain last night! it's still hard to believe that it goes months without
raining here.
is finding it.
is a drifter.
is mourning the loss of the Cubs. Why has the universe been so cruel to them and
their fans?
is looking for others in the Bangor area who want to play kickball. Possibly in
ridiculous outfits. Are you in?
is Oktoberfest, bitches!
is fighting paralysis.
is listening to noisy rain.
is saying tha world jus got alot less smarter...RIP to my friend & family, tha
"Ghetto Scientist."
is so sick of the bullshit and games that are politics. But be sure to go vote
tomorrow, and register to vote by this weekend if you are not already!
is ohhh minnesoooota.
If I fail pathophys, do I get a second try, like the $700 Billion Bailout? God save
the bankers!
paulson looks like he just robbed a bank...
is impatient for the 5 day weekend.
is glad to be.
is excited that Biden is so genuine. Erica now has a growing fondness for Joe Biden.
would like to start ending all of her sentences in "also"...also.
wants to know how she'll get home now that this has happened on her regular bus
is obsessing over one teeny little word.
is going to be in Cali this weekend!
hates anatomy. but she loves you.
Thanks everyone for your birthday wishes!
apparently has hazel eyes. Thanks Wikipedia!
is trying to think of what she's doing right now.
is ready for California. oh wait, that's still weeks away. Pat- bring some Bay Area
love with you!
saw Obama in La Crosse this morning. The heat off that man gave me sunburn.
is grateful to everyone who organized CR10.
is tying up the loose ends of his application to SU.
is finding out that doing nothing can be the most difficult thing to do.
thinks YOU should come to Daman. My latest choral awesome-ness!! Check it out!!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

snapshots of a six-month hiatus


For weeks I get home from work and immediately head to the library. I sit at one of the computers and do nothing but writing and edits for the book, writing and edits for grad school applications. Come midnight the library closes and I take a bus home, make myself dinner. I fall asleep at two in the morning and do the same thing all over again.

Sonya and I have commandeered all the Thanksgiving dinner energy, leaving Mom to relax. We've just finished our first dish, the easiest of all: cranberry sauce. We take pictures and marvel at the glistening red sheen, the luscious smells. Then Mom asks if we remembered to wash the cranberries before boiling them; we reply, a bit hesitantly, in the negative. What follows is fairly comical, frustrating, and more than a bit sad. The obstinacy both of us have learned gets amplified threefold coming from Mom, as she regales us with tales of an entire town that died because someone forgot to wash some food before preparing it. I gently chide, "You have to learn to start giving up some responsibility." She persists. Sonya and I take another picture: all that delicious cranberry sauce in the compost bin. We make another batch; we wash these cranberries thoroughly.


I finish grad school applications and get a pint of Bailey's to celebrate. I carry it along to a craft night at Alison's and Kim's place on Saratoga. I learn how to make intricately woven snowflakes and garlands out of floss, popcorn, and cranberries. I feel unburdened.

New Years Eve, black and white everything. I slip into a cocktail dress, high-heel boots, jewelry, determined to look gorgeous. Ben fixes me a White Russian; I exclaim loudly that it doesn't seem to have any effect, until later on when I almost slip and fall on the dance floor. Each of us tangos with an enormous gourd, passing it off from person to person. Someone breaks out Set; upstairs there are movies. I meet someone new and get a nice welcome to 2010.


I send off a text message to friends as I ride the bus home. "I just gave my two weeks' notice..." Everyone is so enthusiastic with their congratulations, for a good two hours I frantically engage in multiple text conversations. I make a mental note that it truly says something when everyone is more excited for you to leave a job than to get one.

Over lunch at Obento-Ya, Rick offers up an avenue to get further plugged into the Asian American arts community and work on my own writing. I am stunned and excited, hiding my delight as best I can behind chopsticks and soup spoons busy at work. I say yes and my heart falls immediately. As the bill comes, I look out the window and contemplate the reality of an opportunity which I can only enjoy for a few months, amidst a surplus of opportunities that have already taken hold. That is, an opportunity arrived too late.

Kevin puts me and Craig on a three-way call as I walk home briskly from the library. The zip file of the manuscript has gone off successfully to the press, he reports. We give out short whoops to celebrate the end of an exhausting and debilitating run. After a moment, I say, "It's kinda anticlimactic, isn't it, to see your most important and exhaustive work you've ever done in your life get boiled down into a zip drive."


A few days into the family trip to Augusta and all I can really feel is an undercurrent of terror. As we watch the Saints get the lead on the Colts late in the Super Bowl, sealing an exuberant and long-awaited win, I console myself. At least now I've gotten to meet the Chinese community of my mother's roots I've so long mystified and idealized, I think. And now that I have, I can say without a doubt that I want nothing to do with them.

It's the week before I'm set to go on break in New Orleans and I feel awful. My stomach is bloated to the point of pain; I stop eating, but the situation doesn't alleviate. I nap for long periods throughout the day. My occasional walks outside are unbearable. For the first time in my life, my health is caught in an undertow and I have absolutely no idea how to drag myself out of it. Absolutely helpless. This must be what it's like to know you're dying, I think.

Arrive in New Orleans and Renee picks me up at the airport. We spend a good hour trying to make our way back into town and to one of the few grocery stores in the area. By the time we make it home it's dark. I learn that the house has no heat; I figure this is no big deal. Not much later I find out how wrong I am.

Anne throws me a welcome-back potluck at her apartment in the Marigny. Everyone who I thought had left is still here, and they all arrive. They look amazing, content. I head upstairs for what I think will be a short conference call; two hours later I return to the party, only to find most everyone has left for the night.


At the Candlelight Lounge in New Orleans, I have a sudden onslaught of digestive troubles again. The toilet lacks a stall; the bathroom door lacks a lock. "You need to go poop?" grins one of the owners at me. "Don't worry, I'll watch it for ya. Just pay me five dollars and we're good." I have no cash on me, nor the patience for a raw deal tonight. I saunter out for a long and uncomfortable walk back home.

At Mardi Gras Zone I scan the aisles for prune juice, aloe vera juice, laxative tea. Later on in the night I head up to the second floor of Mimi's and down some whiskey. Just what the doctor ordered.

I greet Sarah at Jimmy's Diner in Williamsburg, NYC. At many a recommendation I get a load of fried food. The onion rings are amazing; I can only eat three. Later on we head for the Satellite Lounge. It's St. Pat's Day, but we're the only ones here. It's appreciated.

At Bluestockings Bookstore Kevin and I struggle to bind pamphlets with a shitty stapler. I race to take notes for our presentation before my laptop battery dies. I lean away from the sunlight that glares through the window onto my back.

The UNC faculty and students gather with prospectives in a bar; I get chatty. I learn quickly enough that I've been caught in the day's rumor mill; no one seems to understand why I'm still undecided. I start getting courted in a way that is both flattering and undesirable. On his way out, one professor takes an approach I like better. "Let me give you the hard sell," he says to me, waving his drink dramatically in the air at nothing. He pauses, then shrugs lackadaisically. "You come here, you can't go wrong." I join in the others' laughter.

There is an intricately constructed gazebo at the Seeds Community Garden in Durham, cleverly bound together with scrap construction metal, tree branches, and glass. I sit inside alone for many long minutes, watching, listening, breathing. It's the first peaceful moment I've had in ages.

Excited chatter heard through the kitchen door at Sonya and Matt's apartment. The crowd has grown tenfold for the brunch now that noon has arrived. I crack eggs in a potato-sausage casserole, then shove the cast-iron pan into the stove for a final baking. I'm dismayed to learn that the pan's handle prevents the oven door from closing. We open a window and let the oven bake both casserole and kitchen to a toasty finish.

Sonya grips hard at my hand while Lucky works on her ankle. I keep saying "You're doing good," but she seems to hear "You doing good?" and nods fretfully each time. By the time our matching tattoos are completed, she looks in the mirror and exclaims her approval. Once we get outside, her demeanor changes. "I think I'm having tattoo regret." She wears her regret all the way home from Jamaica Plain.


Taxi from the airport to UA campus. The cabbie has all of his windows down; the deafening wind pounds at my face enough to be irritating, but I bite my lip and bear it. I pick my battles. We listen to Spanish radio and watch the desert fly by.

Conor is introducing me to everyone at a post-lecture reception. I struggle to remember names, titles. Out of the corner of my eye I see a woman in a black shawl smiling at me. She is either attracted, or amused at my fish-out-of-water scenario.

Long walk in the dead heat of daytime to an anarchist soccer game. We take our time; by the time we arrive it's pretty much ended. We drink lots of electrolyte water. Back home Conor plays Scottish folk music and I read bolo'bolo. A little later we drive as fast as we can down the roads of Gates Pass, hopping the crests of short hills, brushing by cacti.

Nighttime and I am hunting unsuccessfully for the backyard lights. The hot tub was recently repaired and I want to take advantage. Eventually I find a flashlight and slip off the cover, examining the control pad. Someone says - or I think someone says - 'Hello?' I race back into the house and lock the door. I pick my battles.