So I was in New York last week, visiting the mothership and catching up with all and sundry. Because I hadn’t seen most of these people in at least two years, there was a lot of talking about what everyone was doing. Because I was fairly relaxed (for me) and enjoying myself (again. . .), I think that it’s worth putting stock in the themes that tended to come out in these processes.
Arguably the single most noticeable thing about all these catch-up sessions is that everyone wanted to be reassured that things were good w/ Carolyn. Now in most cases this is attributable to people liking her, but in one or two key instances it was clearly the result of thinking that we are a good combination based on a deep understanding of at least me. That’s pretty cool, and it’s a nice thing to be able to take away from the experience.
There was a lot of ribbing, mostly but not exclusively around the office, about me wanting to move back to New York. Not to throw my hat too far into the ring of the world’s smuggest man competition, but a fair amount of this was wishful thinking. As I said, I enjoyed the visit immensely, but I haven’t forgotten how burnt out I was on soulless yuppie swine when I moved here back in 2008. Properly filtered, the story here is that I am indeed eager for some sort of change of place. The specifics have yet to be worked out (and lord knows there’s plenty of time to think about it), but C and I are looking, in the somewhat distant future, to live elsewhere.
As for me by myself, I spent a lot of time telling people that things were okay, but that I felt like I needed to be working on being the kind of person that makes things. I think this is kind of a big deal, and I’m definitely going to be focusing on it more. In a way, writing a paper is sort of like a very small project, so I guess it stands to reason that I miss doing something that I did constantly at a time that I consider to have been pretty fruitful. Of course, things can run away from you. Markov Garden has been confusing and big in a lot of ways that I didn’t expect, but I think that publishing it will be a major coup that I really need to be looking forward to. And beyond.
At the all-hands, we spent a lot of time talking about connecting people from information and then I, during a brainstorming session about applications, said something to the effect of “Wait, what about filtering?” People sort of paused and scratched their chins, but we didn’t focus on it at all. It isn’t a thing yet. It will be, but for now people are racing ahead to get their faces in front of the fire hose.
I was reminded of this because C sent me a Pinterest invite last night, and for some reason ye olde Booke of the Fayce required me to upgrade to timeline view to blah blah blah and. . . I have to say that the effect is pretty ridiculous. Pinterest is also kind of nuts. It’s front page is just a massive grid of uneven rectangles full of pictures. Also, when you click on one there is no obvious control to go back to the home page. Presumably this is a way to encourage people to do some interacting with something they may have been merely curious about. Not a decision I would have made.
At any rate, not to bag on any particular site/company/whatever, because really the problem is with the zeitgeist. People want shit like that. People want all their email in one massive bucket that they can search using tags. To me that’s totally nuts. I kind of think that containing structures help create a flow that makes things useful. Of course, that can be limit your access to things outside of your extant experience (in fact, I’d say that part of the reason I thought being on Pinterest was a good idea was to encourage myself to look outside my extant structure), but everyone seems to be about searching, and nobody is about sorting. Yet.
I meant to put this picture of Portland institution Beulahland in the previous post.
I’m pretty sure that I’m well enough for Kung Fu tonight, so maybe that will help me get past this overwhelming sense of ennui. The Sifu just got back from Thailand recently, so maybe we’ll just drill. That would probably the best possible thing for me. Nothing quite like kicking for overwhelming ennui, right?
Markov Garden is a little behind. I’m looking through it to find places where I can get it to tell me about itself. The tables mentioned here are a good start, but they’re still pretty overwhelming, and the HTML documents build to display them are literally 50 times the size of the input texts. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker (the tables won’t be part of the published project), but it does mean that figuring out where I can make things more accessible requires a lot of thinking.
Periodically I need to remind myself that this is something that I’m doing in addition to my job/other life concerns/etc. I have been prone to despairing about the fact that I haven’t published the damn thing already, which is clearly about as counterproductive as a thought can be. Here’s the resolution: I’m going to work on it tonight after class, and then after that I’m going to use the parser as-is, regardless of its state, and work on putting some of it up on EC2. Even if things are still a wreck, shifting gears should keep me facile in a way that will make an eventual breakthrough easier than focusing too hard on one thing.
So one of the marvelous things about Portland is that it is full of mini-neighborhoods which invite exploration and provide another facet to the city experience. The bad thing about this is that it’s hard to figure out what they mean for the city in aggregate. I’ve been here for something like a bajillion years now, and I still can’t decide if I like it or not. I suppose that’s pretty damning on the face of it, but I keep finding myself places that I really like, so I don’t want to just condemn the whole business out of hand.
Even my immediate surroundings can be surprising sometimes, although I find them limited in scope. This might be the main problem. While the cafes and bars are nice, nothing about the environment is particularly inspiring. Besides the accidental glory of the inner East Side, Portland is architecturally empty to me. Of course, it’s full of stuff that’s exemplary in various ways, it’s just that those ways don’t amount to much for me. I really miss living in a more vertically-oriented town.
Being sick was pretty brutal. Not last Friday night, but the Friday night previous I had fever dreams which, as far as I can recall, were all about things being set in stone. I was sick and would be unable, at the key moment, to do something to prevent whatever now indelible change my damaged psyche had created as a metaphor for my sufferings. I guess it’s pretty clear what I’m most afraid of these days.
Walking around after I was nominally recovered (which we’re going to put around last Wednesday, although I am still legitimately ill) I felt like there was some clear correspondence between my surroundings and what had been in my head. Everything was chaotic. It creates a fever-like anamorphosis in which you can interact with something about the space (i.e.: you can manipulate the objects which make up the chaos), but there is no way to influence the space itself.
The clever will no doubt suggest that I consider cleaning, and, in the end I shall. Slowly, painstakingly and, like a suicide from another epoch, reminding myself of all of this buttoning and unbuttoning. Because that’s what makes the objects of the chaos accrete into something opaque: the fact that they’ll be back. There is nothing in particular about the state of those shelves that is particularly insane. I imagine everything there could have a reasonable home in something like 15 minutes. But then I’d use something and wonder if where I put it after I cleaned might not be the ideal spot and before I know it I may as well have done nothing at all, because the effort will appear to have been completely wasted.
I’ve always hated this, and I have spent most of my life as a messy person. Because I have had productive and non-productive phases while still being messy it hasn’t ever been something that I’ve thought of as a determining factor, but pathology is insidious like that. I think that my solution has been, as noted in the previous paragraph, to get sick of things and then arrange them and wait for entropy to begin the process again.
Despite how it appears on the face of it, there is more to this than laziness. In particular, there is the fact that I’ve always wanted to be the sort of person who embraces chaos fully. I have, at many times in my life, made reasonable showing at this by not having any options, but the fact is that I’m really kind of delicate at heart, so those times have tended to be pretty telling. Now I’ve worn myself down to the point where I’m wondering what sorts of structures I can set in place to slow the return of entropy. I guess this is the positive side of inertia. It’s actually kind of peaceful.
So since my recent reference to it, I have been hankering to reread “Motifs.” It’s true that I often find myself thinking this, but I often fail to get around to it, plus it’s a pretty rich vein, as evidenced by the fact that I came away with some new stuff this time around.
In the past I have tended to focus on the stuff that can be traced fairly explicitly to “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” The consciousness divided between perceiving and obscuring, the shattered shield, that sort of thing. This time I was more caught up in the processes of retrieval and ritual. When I was at Hampshire I sort of dismissed Benjamin in favor of Adorno, and I think that even at NYU, where I (along with everyone else) really embraced Benjamin and sort of understood his cultural turn, stayed leery of the stuff that evoked the past too enthusiastically.
Now that I’m an old man I sort of see where some of what he was getting at has to do with the fact that it’s easier to create your own culture in rituals when you have fewer external factors to deal with. Feeling straitjacketed by circumstance, I wonder if there is some sort of madeleine that I might require as well. There’s something to understanding that there was a nature that one was invoking.
Of course, you don’t want to go too far along that path. Just as you’re about to to say “There did I live” about the “breakers, rolling the images of the sky” you get to the stuff about photography and remember that Benjamin was a sentimental Luddite. Still, it’s good to let yourself get to the pretty part and not focus too much on stuff like “Even though chronology places regularity above permanence, it cannot prevent heterogeneous, conspicuous fragments from remaining within it.”
Here is an innocuous household object rendered creepy by the magic of Instagram.
So my forearms are a train wreck, but I’m now a blue belt. I guess I’m provisionally excited about that. For a while now I’ve been going to either sparring or curriculum classes, but not both. I think I’m going to be assiduous about covering more bases in the immediate future. It’s certainly less expensive than going out instead.
I’m about halfway through The Stranger’s Child and it’s as good as I expected. It also throws into stark relief the element missing from all of those Austen and co. novels about people sitting around in fancy houses doing nothing: booze! Maybe instead of gimmicky bullshit like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and its ilk, someone should intercut those old books with scenes of people getting drunk and making it. In the final analysis, I’d probably still find them incredibly boring, but you can’t really get much worse than the source material.
Between the still-recent but fast-receding vacation and the period of injury that preceded it, going back to Kung Fu has been incredibly grueling. I’ve spent a couple of days this week feeling like I was stoned because of the previous class, and my glorious return to sparring yesterday was pretty gruesome. Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing you just have to put up with if you want to fix it. Hopefully once I stop stumbling about in a fog from the abuse I’ll be surprised to find that I actually feel pretty great.