Personal

Gallery Post

When I’ve felt stuck with writing, I’ve sometimes tried to make art. My tastes run more to the semi-abstract and non-figurative, so that’s what I often end up doing. I’m a longtime fan of the natural media app Painter, and my production cycle goes back and forth between Photoshop and Painter (I use a tablet and stylus), with frequently saved iterations. It tends to be a process of discovery: I seldom know what it’s going to come out as when I start (the derivation from Rodin’s Burghers of Calais is an obvious exception), and simply follow the lines or patterns as I iterate, usually over several dozen versions. I’m sure my deuteranopia shows in my color selection, and I’m fine with that. The files linked below (click to embiggen) are a little less than half the size of the originals (about 40 inches wide at 150 dpi).

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Vanity Project

I’m teaching all online this semester, and I miss the classroom. Part of what I miss is the sociality, of course; the ritual of getting dressed for work and going in to the office. And I like being well-dressed for work—I held a day job during my first year of grad school, and of course the Army and uniform influence, and part of it is that I have some nice hand-me-down sport coats and blazers from my dad and other nice stuff I’ve scored at thrift stores—and my feeling is that it shows respect for my colleagues and students, like, “Hey, I take this gig seriously.” And I’ve been doing arting as a hobby for a while, enjoying playing with a stylus and tablet and Corel Painter, a natural-media-imitating app. So I figured I’d have some tongue-in-cheek fun with the Zoom interface and remediation.

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All I Want for Christmas. . .

. . . Is for you to get vaccinated. Hey, GOP friends and former West Point colleagues: do you support the military? I know you’re aware that National Guard soldiers are spending their holidays away from their families in Indiana, Maine, Nevada, New York, Ohio, and elsewhere. And they’re doing that because the ICUs there are overwhelmed with people infected, the majority of whom are unvaccinated, and who got it from people who were unvaccinated. And I know you might believe that it’s your body and therefore your decision, but in this holiday season when we remind ourselves to think of others, I hope you might consider the effects of your decision. Because, honestly, I do want you to live—and even if you despise people with politics like mine, what better way to own the libs than to have more living GOP voters?

Happy holidays to you. Stay well.

Glenn Close, Like a White Girl

I’m sure I’m not the only one from the DC area who had that thought watching the Oscars. I was delighted to see her shout-out to the city’s official music, and I wonder how many people who aren’t from DC recognize the genre or even remember the song.

The post’s title, of course, invokes another hit by E.U.: 1989’s “Shake It Like a White Girl,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to that era’s intersections of race, music, and dance in the nation’s capital, on the album that also had “Buck Wild” and a re-release of the collaboration with Salt-N-Pepa, “Shake Your Thang.”

Go-go’s syncopated swing has made other occasional forays into the musical mainstream. Prominent examples include Kurtis Blow, Morris Day and the Time (with “Skillet,” the addition of rock guitars by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis seemed inspired in that late 80s/early 90s moment, a la Janet Jackson’s “Black Cat” or Cypress Hill, but has not aged well), and even a couple of more recent hits by Beyoncé like “Green Light” and “Crazy in Love”: listen for go-go’s defining snare and bass drum dotted quarter-and-eighth rhythm during the verse.

None of those forays, to my mind, had the force and power of the 7-second snippet of Trouble Funk’s “Pump Me Up” that Hank Shocklee used as the intro to Public Enemy’s galvanizing “Fight the Power” from Do the Right Thing, a song still quickens my pulse every time I hear it. For those unfamiliar with the genre, “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown’s Go-Go Swing Live is likely the smoothest introduction, but the high-energy live recordings by Trouble Funk and Rare Essence, the latter with its absolutely scorching cover of the Bar-Kays’ “Holy Ghost” at 15:54, are more my speed.

And a few weeks before the Oscars aired, I was in DC with extraordinarily fortunate timing, in that I was able to catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom for the first time in decades.

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Fourth of July, 2020

I grew up with Americana as a musical genre. My parents would regularly have bluegrass playing on the radio, and I didn’t find out until much later that the voice introducing the songs, Dick Spottswood, was not only a local DJ and a Takoma Park neighbor but also a prominent researcher of American roots music. Later, in my teens, I got into gogo and hardcore, indigenous American genres that also came out of the Washington DC area. And racial politics were always prominent in DC. That’s part of what comes to mind when I read this poem, which I first encountered a long time ago—in junior high, I think. It feels particularly relevant today.

Let America Be America Again

Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Tink Departs

Tink had a good death. As uncomfortable as she clearly was in her last days, she persevered with her characteristic poise and quiet dignity. I was too sad to write anything about it a month ago, and I still miss her as much as I miss her sister Zeugma. Their pictures were the first two pictures on this blog. Here are some more.

Tink at two months old.
Tink the kitten plays with a plush toy.
Tink the cat in a Christmas basket.
The cats Tink and Zeugma beg to lick the dinner plate.
Tink the cat washes herself in the window
An elderly cat rests on a heating pad

That last picture is on her last day, tired and thin, on her heating pad where she had a view of the birds in the back yard.

You were the brave and quiet one. I hope I gave you as many good days as you gave me. Go in peace, dear friend.

Halloween Playlist

Shared on Apple Music.

SongArtistLength
1Koyaanisqatsi Philip Glass 3:27
2Tubular Bells (Opening Theme) Mike Oldfield 4:18
3I Put A Spell on You Marilyn Manson 3:37
4Dedication (Dark Trap Beat Mix) Nesyu Beats 1:36
5Ghostface Killers Offset & Metro Boomin (feat. Travis Scott)4:29
6Rivers Skinny Puppy 4:49
7Orgasmatron Motorhead 5:27
8The Pink Room Angelo Badalamenti 4:06
9Dream Song Ministry 4:48
10Somebody’s Watching Me Rockwell 3:58
11Black Wings Tom Waits 4:36
12Aerials System of a Down 6:11
13Floor 13 Machine Gun Kelly 3:15
14Gimme Back the Night Brodinski 4:14
15Cauterization (Instrumental) Dark Angel 7:18
16Every Day Is Halloween (Razed In Black remix) Ministry 4:55
17Ghosts (Comaduster) Front Line Assembly 4:59
18Seasons in the Abyss Slayer 6:34
19Night Is on My Mind Oliver 4:22
20A Daisy Chain 4 Satan My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult 5:31
21bury a friend Billie Eilish 3:13
22Peter Pan Death Wish Melkeveien 4:50
23Red Right Hand Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds 6:11
24Fade Holly Herndon 6:29
25I Put A Spell on You Natacha Atlas 3:41

Veterans, Hearing Loss, and Disability

Am I allowed to claim the status of struggling with a disability? I feel like I’m not — I’m a hetero cisgendered white male in a position of privilege — but I’ve lately been thinking more and more about ability and disability.

I’ve lost a portion of my hearing and suffer from persistent tinnitus. I don’t know how much of my hearing I’ve lost, but I saw the otolaryngologist (the ear doc) today, and have an appointment to see an audiologist. I’m fairly certain that what I’m dealing with now is related to shooting firearms and being close to things blowing up from my times associated with the military. As a young man, I was sometimes dumb about wearing ear protection, and as an older man in Afghanistan, there was some stuff for which I was inadequately prepared.

Sometimes in crowded social spaces, I can’t hear what people across the table are saying, or I have to watch a person’s mouth very closely to figure out what he or she is saying, both of which can make people uncomfortable. So I wondered aloud to the Orientalist whether this is a disability — most people my age can hear better than I do — and she strongly resisted that idea, or at least strongly resisted the idea that I might characterize myself as a disabled person.

I think disability is a continuum. As someone who teaches writing, I know there will be students in my classroom who don’t outwardly show their disabilities: students who are on the autism spectrum (including those who identify as Aspies), veterans with PTSD, people who struggle with clinical depression or major depressive disorder. Hearing loss happens to most of us as we get older, as does loss of vision. (I’m noticing it’s probably about time to start thinking about reading glasses, too. Is that a disability?) Many universities, including the one where I work, require syllabus statements about disability and reasonable accommodation, which I think is a good thing. I also wonder, though, whether such statements reinforce the idea of there being such a thing as “normal,” from which any difference is deviance and must be in whatever sense “accommodated.”

In other words, do statements of reasonable accommodation keep us locked into a pernicious series of value judgments? It’s an easy thing for someone like me (hetero cisgendered white male) to ask. I’d like to work toward being in a sociocultural space where that privilege isn’t so often assumed.

Signing off the Network

Military folks will recognize the thing I’m going to do here, so I’ll note that in doing so, I’m not trying to claim any privilege or inhabit any station that’s not mine. I’d like to honor a particular tradition by imitating it in a way, and in so doing honor the folks I’ve been lucky enough to serve under who’ve built and shaped that tradition. It’s a way, I hope, of calling attention to their service.

That word’s been important to me since my first hitch in the Army in the 1990s, and important again in what I’ve done in my second period of time working for the Army as a scholar and teacher. There’s a lot of stuff on my c.v. in the service category, and got recognized for some of that stuff this past Monday. But in my first hitch with the Army, I at one time had the call sign Strength Six Delta. That meant I was the Driver (phonetic-alphabet Delta) for Strength Six, the battalion commander of the 724th MSB, which had the motto, “Strength in Service.” Hence the Strength prefix. So I like thinking about that motto and my old call sign’s association with it.

The only times I used it with real frequency and regularity were when a lot of things were happening that involved a lot of people communicating really fast in the same loosely bound geographical location, which might sound to some of you folk like the way I use @preterite at events like #cwcon (the annual Computers & Writing conference). It’s not a bad parallel to draw, in its way. And in fact there was a whole lot of rapid-fire communication for me this past weekend, that started when I administered to my students the final Term-End Examination I’ll ever give here, at 0730 on Thursday morning. My four sections wrote for 3.5 hours, I did some initial preparation for the course director and worked on writing my evaluations of each student, we accounted for all final exams and final portfolios, and shortly after noon, I was off via car, train, bus, plane, and car again to this year’s Computers & Writing in Raleigh, North Carolina. As I was having dinner with four old UMass friends, I got my first call and series of texts from the course director with instructions about which exams to look at first when I got to the hotel, and from then on

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The Felt Bonds of the Social

I stood in a hangar with hundreds of others this afternoon. There were the doors open to the airfield and the cloudless haze-blue sky and the sounds of aircraft outside above the hushed murmur. I stood with the small group I knew, surrounded by others we saw in passing or lived nearby or talked to or dined with, but apart from the occasional hug or pat on the shoulder or back, there was still the Western reserve — maybe appropriate, given the official nature of the event — but still entirely different from the emotional intimacy I’ve learned to expect from the Afghans.

That’s been the thing that’s been hardest for me to learn here. Americans are schooled to sublimate our emotions, and I think those who work for and with and in the military moreso than most, although academics do it as well. When Americans work, we work. We’re blinkered by our on-task orientation, our email screens, our lesson plans. With the Afghans, I certainly didn’t understand that the first thing to do was to sit down and have tea, and that the second thing to do was to sit down and have tea again and perhaps talk about one’s family, and that what was most important was the respect and shared common feeling and emotional well-being of those with whom one would meet and talk and perhaps, eventually, work. I got more mileage here — perhaps fittingly — out of a five-minute story about my brother’s wedding than I did out of hours of discussing ideas about teaching, pedagogy, and writing.

That extends here in strange ways. Greg Mortenson has seen bad press lately for the apparent lies and corruption connected to the projects he’s written about in Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools. Rory Stewart and Sarah Chayes talk about the apparent widespread acceptance of corruption in Afghanistan, and about the cavalier attitude toward some ideal of truth. I’m sometimes finding something similar. Afghans are amazing orators, especially when it comes to matters of pathos. What matters here is how you and your interlocutor feel about something: the facts are flexible. Questions of timeliness, validity, procedure, accuracy, cost, and accountability are all often secondary to the felt bonds of the social relationship. More than anything, the reciprocal ties of sociality are key.

It’s taken me three and a half months to start figuring that out; to start knowing that in practice. There are its corollaries: you respect the people you work with. As an American, you don’t argue with someone. You don’t make someone lose face. You accept someone’s hospitality. And if you’re going to build what you came to build, you can’t do it with weapons, or wearing body armor in your day-to-day interactions.

All of that has left me feeling unsettled, still, especially this afternoon in that hangar, when those bonds of the social were as quiet and solemn and solid as they were in our Western way, with those words about the enthusiasm sometimes forced and the determination with hearts sometimes heavy, and those words about having given the last full measure, and one by one people would stand at the call of their names until a name was called and no one stood, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another.