Posts that are Didn’t fit anywhere else-ish
I found a watercolor that I did this spring that says: home is where they want to take you in when you come back.
We were driving home on the evening of the 8th when Mom pointed out Evanston Hospital and said they’d gone inside around this time 27 years ago. She and my dad told me the story of my birth: how they didn’t know I was a girl ’till I arrived, the phone calls (Ama had just left Glenview on a roadtrip and didn’t believe Dad until he pointed out he was calling during the most expensive time of day: “if I were joking I would call during the cheap time!”), the hordes of aunts… we pulled out photo albums and they translated the Tagalog/Fookien captions until just past midnight. Pictures of Tiny Mel Self blinking sleepily in the arms of a beaming, exhausted Mom and Dad.
We had a proper (massive) brunch the next morning at Egg Harbor Cafe and walked around the park digesting and discussing gender identity, Eucharistic theology, diversity in engineering… the sorts of conversations I could easily imagine having with friends (I shouldn’t be surprised at this; I had to get my intellectual tendencies from somewhere). I did some research in the afternoon, and we got Long Birthday Noodles (as per Chinese tradition) at a Ramen shop, followed by frozen yogurt and a call from Guama. It was great to be able to update Guama about my cousins; I’ve spent so many years so far outside the loop that this is still a “wait, I am a member of this family!” sign that happily surprises me.
The birthday didn’t stop then; Mom and I drove to Wisconsin the next morning, and along that long drive I got to hear the story of when I got sick, all the strange things that happened then. I found out Mom had made the colored rosary that’s hung from the van’s rearview mirror this semester; a rosary that’s come to mean a lot to me (long story) now means even more knowing my mom made it. Letters and books from friends arrived, and I wrote back to Kei; I swung out to Northwestern’s campus while Colleen and my parents talked, and we introduced her to bubble tea at Joy Yee’s afterwards.
The next day — still birthday festivities! — my cousins took me to dinner downtown — Mark and Megan, Mindy and Micah (Mindy’s boyfriend), Randy (my honorary brother since infancy). We toasted sake and rhubarb cocktails and slurped noodles and crunched on chicken skin but mostly tackled a gigantic pig’s-head platter, meltingly tender (especially the cheek meat), gorgeous mounded with sauerkraut and cauliflower and spicy red sauce on a soft white bun with blood sausage. Mindy and I dissected the skull (she’s going to med school). The waiter came in with a cleaver and a mallet so we could get at the brain. Megan divided up the tongue (the cheek was better). They all took foodie instagrams. Then we flopped in the lounge of Mindy’s dorm and watched The Big Bang Theory while Mark and Micah played pool and Megan and Mindy made a powerpoint and I tried not to fall asleep on the giant beanbag couches. After that, I helped Randy strip down his Thinkpad to replace the laptop’s fan. Then I did fall asleep, and… well, I think that was my birthday. 27 has gently rolled in, and I’m home, and I’m headed out for Zambia-stuff later tonight.
It’s the first time in many, many years that I have spent my birthday in Glenview, or with my family. The first time I’ve celebrated it with my parents (instead of “I guess my parents might be here, but I’m really celebrating with my friends”) unless you count the baby birthdays that I don’t remember. And it’s… nice, this coming home. It’s just… home. Slipping back on a well-worn jacket that’s been in the closet for a while, having it still fit, looking in the mirror and thinking well, you’ve grown — and here you are.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
– T.S. Eliot
Most people know that bit of the poem “Little Gidding.” But a few lines down, we have this too:
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
At some point in my Cultural Theories class, I stopped taking notes in text-only format. My simplified understanding of premodern, modern, and postmodern thought is as follows (along with remaining notes from the class so I can put the paper versions in the recycling bin already):
Some postmodern-flavored phrases:
- Be productively lost.
- Beautiful awkwardness.
- Stumbling gracefully.
- Get comfortable in the uncomfortable.
“Isn’t it strange to think of postmodernism as a ‘progression’ from modernism when postmodernism is all about eschewing progressions?” I asked during this class discussion. “Even its name suggests it!” (Dr. Lather’s answer: Yes. Sit in the paradox, Mel.)
“Critical theory is wary of syntheses and reconciliations,” she said later in that class. “It is born of struggle, and it wants to cause trouble.” — Patti Lather, in-class comment
Regarding categories: We can set big categories in opposition and use them to distribute centralized resources neatly… but with thousands of tiny categories, it’s harder to place them in opposition… and if we have alternative, non-centralized ways to distribute resources, then we don’t need the categories for that purpose any more. (You can see how these notes — from early January 2013 — already had me thinking about how the materials conditions of open source affect the philosophies of their participants.)
Kate Elliott’s (Edit: actually, Naomi Shihab Nye — thanks for the catch, Sumana!) story-poem, “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal,” about a group of very different people — who barely spoke each other’s languages — bonding, running, laughing, and getting powdered sugar all over everyone while eating cookies in an airport terminal during a flight delay. Yes.
Wil Wheaton’s spontaneous message to a newborn girl on why it’s awesome to be a nerd. I read the text from this giant image version; the video itself is about 4 minutes long.
“[Being a nerd or geek is] not about what you love; it’s about how you love it… the way you love that, and the way you find other people who love it the way you do, is what makes being a nerd awesome. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that the thing that you love is a thing you can’t love… you find the things that you love and you love them the most that you can.”
The women of IVoW have been a blessing for me over the past 9 months of our circle. When we started in September, “woman” was an awkward adjective for me, one I’d use reluctantly to describe my identification with the female gender; now it’s a word I actually feel honest about claiming.
Our last meeting was yesterday; we shared our future plans and dreams and put our arms around each other and sang by candlelight, and talked and read and ate and cheered and sometimes cried. Barbara, Mary, Anne, Rosalie, Jamie, Jillian, Lee, Kathleen, Kristie: I’ll miss padding downstairs at dawn past your quiet tea-sipping reading in the cabin, bolting barefoot into the farm-field grass to run and run my energy into the dew and sunrise, and coming back to eggs and sausage and buttered cinnamon toast and smiles at my restlessness and hunger. How accepting you are of my wildness and youth, never trying to turn me into anything other than myself. How inspiring your lives and work and selves are to me.
I am the youngest in the group, the child raised by wolves* who finally crept back into the village, wary of the “civilization” process stripping me of my speed — only to find that standing in a women’s space let me run just as swiftly and freely with my packs while granting greater sureness to my strides and giving me a place to rest within. I felt held and rocked by all these women, grateful for the gift of space to grow within. For two days each month, I’ve been able to live and mature within a women’s world in ways I wasn’t able to when I was passing through my adolescence — and slowly, sometimes painfully and often joyfully, I learned. I am still wild and spontaneous and nomadic; still ferocious and bursting and suddenly caught by wonder — but I am also far more able able to be and love and hold and witness, bear and wait in patience, and accept stillness, veils, and silence as powers of their own, tools that can now sit alongside my whirlwind of movement and voice.
*Since leaving home at 14 for a math and science high school, I’ve privately and affectionately used the term “wolfpacks” to describe the teenage boys and young men I hacked alongside. I’ve often felt like Mowgli.
I’m not done, but at least I’ve started. Catching glimpses of that future has changed the way I hack the universe because it’s changed the way I see and listen to and move and claim mysef within that universe. The world’s just as infinitely big as it was before, but now it’s richer – as if all those soprano harmonics and flutes and violins and chimes have finally burst out into being atop the great basses and tenors that I’ve heard singing forever.
I promised them that I would build a home — and you know how I am about my promises. I found I was already doing that, and learning it by doing. (Marvelous error!) It does take a lifetime to build a life, and I am glad.
I wrote this in September of last year.
It’s much, much easier to not know what you’ve missed, not know what you are missing, especially if it’s likely that you’ll always, always miss it. But I resolved a long time ago to choose awareness over absence of pain, and while I falter often on that resolution, it’s still something I strive for; the falterings usually happen along the way to picking myself up repeatedly and trying to be brave enough again, again, again.
I am surprised at how much more true it’s become.
I’m frustrated with distractomel, who can’t get her mind to sit still to analyze data and write papers. It’s stretched on for days now, the painful awareness of how fragile my focus is at times. At least I have a good toolbox of repair strategies to deal with my ADHD and the desire for compassion in dealing with myself. The risk and tradeoff is that my work does slip right now, but, but that’s better than my health.
The tip-over this time, I think, was a cough that’s stretched on since two Thursdays ago and brought with it intermittent fever and aching; sleep time shot drastically up, useful-work time went down. I’m taking antibiotics, which leave a bitter taste on my tongue all day; I’m chugging water, apple cider vinegar with honey, massive doses of Vitamin C. Resting. Doing all the right things.
But the right things don’t shore up a weary mind that fuzzes in and out of fever (today: in). The cough’s side effect of drastically reduced lung capacity has also put a crimp on one of my best ADHD-coping strategies; exercise. I can’t run or dance or do anything energetic enough to get my brain to settle down; I usually do that every few hours, and I haven’t done it at all for 2 weeks now. I’m fine when working or talking with others — the external stimulation and direct dialogue focus me — but pair a fever-fuzzed brain with an unsettled one unable to blow off steam, and you don’t have a very useful setup for solo work. And that is, unfortunately, everything I need to do right now.
So I’m writing down the strategies I’m using as a way to (non-physically) blow off frustration and steam, and to remind myself what I am doing right now, and for reference for my future self next time I get distracted like this.
- Music. Loud. Ingrid Michaelson is blasting right now. Then the Goo Goo Dolls. Pandora. Loud.
- Algorithmize my work into small chunks. I can mechanically read things and take notes on them, yes. I can then go through those notes and paste them, one reading at a time, into a blank document, typing notes and summaries around them as I go, building up a structure. I can write code for myself to execute, basically.
- Walk. Pace. Walk. As much and as fast as my tired body and limited, coughing lungs will let me. Lift heavy things. Stretch. Be in my body.
- Break it up with talking to people, being with people — no guilt; I need those breathing times, those eating times, those friends-and-family times, to nourish different parts of me. I just need to watch not to overindulge.
- Let myself write what I need to write (like this post) and try to parlay that energy into writing the things I need to write. Be ok with small chunks and little bits of progress. 10 minutes is at least 10 minutes more than what I had before.
- Be gentle with myself, mentally and physically. Small puppy brain. Don’t beat it up. Be nice to it. It’s good — it’s trying so hard to be good — and that’s the most frustrating thing about distractomel, and about being distractomel; you try and try and try, and you know you’ll always need to do this trying, and that hit-or-miss is sometimes the best you can get.
Okay. I feel a little better now. I can break down these papers: I have a finite set of readings, and for each reading I will do notes, then I will dump those notes into a paper, and then rearrange them — algorithm. Known. Familiar. Trust the process, take the hit.
Oh, distractomel. What will I ever do with you? I’m gonna love you, crazy little thing. You’re me. That’s who I am. Let’s go now and see what we can do.
I don’t generally read fanfic. And typically, slash fanfic based on the Colbert Report would be the last thing I’d be fascinated by. But when my friend Sumana tells me to read something, I read it — and Silent by SailorPtah set off a little aching echo because it was good.
The premise: the friendship of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart in an alternate reality where Jon is deaf and Stephen in the closet. It’s incredibly tame slash that’s barely even slash — not that I have much basis for comparison, but even I could read it. If you don’t want to see the kiss at the end (that’s about it, really) just read the first 3 chapters, skip the 4th, and you’ll have a buddy story.
Things that resonated for me:
- How important it is to be able to communicate with the people you’re close to in a way you’re both fluent in — no interpreters between you — and how much you don’t want to rely on them as interpreters for the rest of the world.
- The intertwining of a friendship that’s also about a shared pursuit of excellence in work.
- Wondering what the world would have looked like if you could hear. The friendships you have and treasure — what would they look like? Would you still have them?
- The intricate difficulties of lipreading and pronunciation and tracking speakers in a group dialogue and only getting aural jokes on a delay, and the role text communications can take when you struggle to rely on sound (here, they become another medium of fluent communication between friends).
The author did an amazing job of creating a world, stepping into it, delving deep into the implications (and not just going for the obvious “this is what happens with deaf people” moments), and mining brilliant jokes from their alternate universe. I think I’m unable to step back from the story in some ways because moments from that alternate universe match up too well with things I’ve actually lived in this one. The note-writing after an argument; the hug in the hospital, Jon’s glimpse of our universe.
I wanted to give a silent nod and acknowledge that these things and this story did touch me and stay with me. That is all. And now I return to my regularly scheduled data analysis. (Yay, end-of-semester workloads.)
I finished my weekly drives to/from Columbus last week, just in time for my body to rebel against the amount of driving I’ve been doing this semester; my lower body started to spasm out around midnight on Thursday halfway through my 3-hour drive to Illinois. Unknotting a clenched hip joint on the freeway while driving with a cramping leg in freezing rain distracted me from the realization that I was losing my voice; fortunately, I’d already delivered Thursday’s department seminar earlier that afternoon.
The next few days alternated between time with family (my brother Jason came from San Francisco to get his Filipino passport and celebrate Mom’s upcoming birthday), doing what schoolwork I could while coughing and chugging warm mugs of honeyed apple cider vingar, and drifting in and out of trippy semi-feverish dreams while sleeping double my usual amount. I recovered enough speaking ability to teach my last class on Monday and deliver a hoarse 10-minute pitch at a business competition, then lost my voice completely Monday night and spent most of Tuesday in bed with Trippy Fever Dreams and Cultural Theory Literature (which are sometimes hard to tell apart). My voice isn’t back yet, so I’m doing massive bowls of noodle soup for (1) feeling better-ness and (2) Mom’s birthday.
I’m learning how to take care of myself in times like this, prioritizing rest and breathing space, patiently coaxing short paragraphs of cogent thinking from my mind, rubbing my stiffening hands out in hot baths before they lapse into full-blown RSI, cancelling meetings and dropping things without guilt. I can see myself not as an expendable resource to blow through in a heat of screaming, shrieking metal, but as person who is… for lack of a better phrase, worth it. I am to steward and nurture my own potential for service. Do fewer things with greater love.
I revised my “about” page for some upcoming teaching engagements, archiving the old version on github. I noticed with a smile how much I’ve changed over the past few years — and how much I haven’t. The last paragraph is a good example. It used to read:
copious amounts of free time, I cook ridiculous things in huge let’s-feed-an-army quantities, play music (I’ve done everything from jazz piano to madrigal recorder troupes to junkyard percussion, but my current project is teaching myself to arrange fingerstyle guitar pieces), read anything I can get my hands on, try to pick up other languages (right now: German) and chill with my awesome family and friends all over the globe (go internet and postal service!) I also collect quirky technical textbooks. It is rumored that I am occasionally unconscious. However, I have yet to witness this, despite having stayed up multiple nights in attempts to record the phenomenon.
The new version has a nearly-identical list of shiny things, but the voice has changed.
I see the world as full of wonder. I’m a geek at heart, no matter what I do: reproducing ethnic street food in my kitchen, playing music (anything from jazz cello quartets to madrigal recorder troupes to fingerstyle guitar to classical piano), pursuing my lifelong quest to be a polyglot (German, Mandarin, and ASL), collecting quirky technical textbooks, choreographing dances set in libraries and based on Calvin & Hobbes, drawing comic books about my research. When I wander through strange cities in the middle of the night or watch in awe as my flight lifts quietly into the clouds at the beginning of yet another adventure, I pray for the blessings I’ve already received so much of: an ever-widening sense of wonder, an increasingly boundless universe, and good companions to explore and transform it with.
I haven’t the slightest idea how I’m going to make it to Saturday; the work I need to do to wrap up the semester would send Healthy Mel into a frantic mess of sleepless anxiety and Trying Harderness. (I am working on my habit of Fixing Things All By Myself By Working More; there are definite limits to it.)
But I’m not Healthy Mel. I’m voiceless, coughing, sick, and Definitely Tired Mel. And I’m surprised at how chill this version of Mel is. I have good preparation, data, notes, and well-developed thoughts on all the topics I am writing about, and the number of pages I need to write is actually quite low — less than 10 pages a day. My hands can handle that typing if the thoughts typed are deliberate beforehand. And my thoughts become deliberate when I am still, or moving softly through the world while breathing. And I’m doing that. Remarkably, against all odds. I’m doing that — without my Ritalin, without needing to spend hours running or dancing or otherwise physically exhausting myself, and it feels… natural. Still new, but somehow right – like breathing felt three years ago when Diana first unlocked the scar tissue running through my ribcage and I took a full inhalation for the first time in 21 years. (“Wait, your ribs expand when you inhale? Oh. That design makes much more sense.”)
And I rejoice in this, and turn gently back towards my work — a book by Theodore M. Porter (“Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life”), a mug of apple cider vinegar with honey, and a bowl of red cabbage scrambled with local eggs. A lot of things are rough right now, I won’t deny that. There’s plenty of grappling yet to be done. But I also can’t deny that there’s a quiet sort of happiness, a constant being-heldness, in my life as well. And the one makes it possible to live the other.
Here’s the transcript of the seminar “Psst: wanna eavesdrop on my research?” [materials] I delivered on Thursday about applying Free Culture / Open Source practices to qualitative research (for the engineering education department at Purdue, hence the disciplinary focus). I’ve edited in some context for readers who weren’t there, and anonymized audience comments (except Jake Wheadon’s interview — thanks, Jake!) and the transcript cuts out before the last 2 audience questions, but otherwise this is what happened; click on any slide’s photo to enlarge it.
This will be a slightly strange seminar; I’ve had at least half a dozen people e-mail me and say they can’t be here but would like to catch up later on. So we’re interacting here and it’s being recorded by Boilercast and transcribed by Terry over there.
The title is long and fancy and we’re going to ignore that.
I’m Mel. I think you all know me. I’m a Ph.D. student here in engineering education and one of the things I do is qualitative research, because it’s fun. I also come from the hacker world, the open source, open content world where there’s this radical transparency culture that defaults to open and share everything about what they’re doing.
This is Terry. She is a CART provider and the one responsible for typing super, super fast on our shared transcript document. The URL for the live transcript is on the slide for those of you who are following along on Boilercast. You should know that all of the recordings and the documentation and so forth we’re producing in the seminar will be open data. That means a couple of things.
First of all, the document that Terry is transcribing in is a collaborative text editor and you can type and annotate and fix spelling or whatever you want. It will be the canonical record of our discussion. The second is, as we’re recording this, no names will be taken down. So it’s not going to say I said this and you said that and this person said that other thing. It’s just going to be “person in room” said words. If you want to be off the record, if you don’t want Terry to type down what you’re saying, say that before you speak and she will stop typing for a moment, or if you see something in the document you can go and delete the stuff you said if you don’t want it on the record. The document will be available for editing right after the seminar as well. I probably won’t read and post the final version until sometime after dinner. So you can also take out stuff you said afterward if you don’t want to be captured here. The ground rules are also in the document.
This is what we’re going to be doing today. It’s a bit of an adventure. I’ve been playing are something called radically transparent research. There’s a website and it’s out of date and once I finish my papers I’ll fix it. What radically transparent research refers to is this: what if we did engineering education research, or any kind of qualitative research, as if it were an open project? Make the data open, the analysis open in terms of both being publicly available and open to anyone who wants to participate, and not having a delineation saying “these are the official people” on the project and “these are not.”
What would it look like if we defaulted to open instead of defaulting to closed? So what we’re going to do is we’re going to do a little RTR — radically transparent research — project right here in this room. We’ll be collecting data, going through the licensing process, seeing what analysis looks like, and dissemination — we’ll get back to that. We’ll see a few examples of other projects that RTR is being used in and then we’re going to loop back and and do an instant replay of “okay what the heck just happened?” I’m hoping as we go through the steps they’ll seem fairly logical, but then when we go back and compare them to the normal way of doing qualitative research they’ll start seeming really weird and the implications of the pieces lining up will start piling and piling and piling.
(Note: this was a 45-minute talk, so for the sanity of feed readers, I’m going to say “click to read more” here.)
Continue reading Full talk transcript: “Psst: wanna eavesdrop on my research?”
Today’s ENE (engineering education) department seminar is “Psst… Wanna Eavesdrop on My Research? Transplanting Radical Transparency Practices from Hacker Culture and Disability Activism into the World of Qualitative Research in Education.” The Today’s abstract is here, and you are on the presentation’s homepage — welcome!
- The live transcription of the seminar is at http://beta.primarypad.com/p/eneseminar – thanks to Terry Wood, our CART provider!
- The slides are available at http://www.slideshare.net/mchua/eavesdrop and are also embedded at the end of this presentation.
- The presentation will be recorded on BoilerCast, and this blog post will link to the podcast once it is live.
- I will be indicating slide changes and slide numbers during the presentation so that transcript-readers and podcast-listeners can follow along with the slides. I will do my best to repeat all audience questions; if you’re in the audience, help me remember!
- The text for copyright transfer is here and the license-chooser is here (I recommend you allow modifications and commercial uses, resulting in the Attribution-Share-Alike license).
- The public data demo is at https://changemakers.co-ment.com/text/3GnSYvJ3H29/view/ and is also embedded below.
- Edit: The full transcript (with slide images embedded) is available in my next blog post.
The image of teaching-as-midwifery has come strongly to me the past few months — all these feminine metaphors of birthing, carrying in wombs, nursing at breasts, powerful metaphors so far removed from the Mighty Conquering Warrior archetype I’ve spent most of my conscious career-development period (ages 11-26 — start ‘em young!) in drag king training for. I’m being shaken out of comfortable androgyny in this sort of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual puberty that also changes how I physically move and interact in the world.
There’s enough androgynous drag king intellectual Mel there yet that I still feel really weird writing this stuff because what the hell. And of all things, Catholicism is feeding my feminist/poststructuralist/activist growth spurt — Ruth, Mary Magdalene, Mary-mom-o’-Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Joan of Arc, the list goes on, the list of wildly tradition-shattering strong women that I hadn’t seen before beneath the sparse, stuffily-translated things that Jewish guys (and Paul) wrote down. Don’t even get me started on the Song of Songs, which has me floored (and very, very freaked out).
When I approach Catholicism like a grad student, wrestling with real texts and not pretty comic books with happy lambs and cartoon angels, my whole self — brain and all — catches on fire, and that fire spreads to the rest of my life and work. Oh, that’s the way it’s supposed to work, I yelled at God last week driving back to Indiana in the minivan. Why didn’t you freakin’ tell me earlier?
I fell in love with science, literature, math, art, and religion in the giant tumble of childhood. I either quickly outgrew — or had always outgrown — my books, classes, and teachers. Scantron sheets and graded readers, time-tests, memorizing names of painters, cartoon lambs. I knew there was more than the baby textbooks, and I waited, wrestled and waited for spaces and communities of people where we could wrestle with that beauty together, struggle with that joy — and I got that for math, for science, for literature, writing, academic geekiness in general, my intellect. My mind got the big universe first, and so my mind became my universe.
And then others opened up. Computers! They can be rote drudgery, infantilizing powerpoints — or joyous hacking explorations, Free Culture adventures, open source and content movements thundering through worlds, reshaping them. Gym class situps and quizzes on the rules of football: stupid. Contact improv, learning how to sense and touch and push and move and balance, dance, exquisite touch — amazing, rich, connecting. There are ways to suck the Real out of everything, and there are ways to pull it in, but just because something is poorly taught and watered down doesn’t mean the thing itself is impotent and powerless. It just makes that power harder to find.
Faith? Yeah, memorizing prayers. Yeah, yeah, bookmarks in the shape of crosses. Whee. They’re like large lecture halls; if I’d learned engineering that way, I would hate it, think that engineering was this dead thing. But I went to IMSA, went to Olin — fought past that to the joy of being in communities where those things were living, and I now see lecture halls as reminders of what-could-be and what-could grow, not I-guess-that’s-all-there-is. And recent conversations, books, friendships, IVoW and Newman Centers and all those things — all these made me realize: they’re the Olins and IMSAs of faith, and I should look for those.
Back in the minivan. Why didn’t you freakin’ tell me earlier? Oh, so now I get yet another world to bridge — faith and this other stuff I do? Lovely.
But I was made for bridging; it’s my gift. When I pull across worlds and stand between them, I feel both the pain of loneliness and exclusion and not having a home to belong to, and the joy of being fully used — because in any one world, only part of me is awake. I need to reach across worlds to be all me, be all there.