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A Tale of Two Starbucks Tables…

Saturday Morning, Catch-up and Strategize ~ Starbucks, Bowen & Park Row ~ March 31, 2018

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Monday Morning, Student Conferences and Prepping ~ Starbucks, Spaniolo Dr. and UTA Blvd. ~ April 2, 2018

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My favorite thing about Bowen was the streaming sun (as you can see in the stripey shadows in the picture). Against the window it was warm and lazy and that early morning sun filled me with contentment as I caught up on journal entries and figured out the to-do list for the day. My favorite thing about the pic of the Spaniolo Starbucks that shows the UTA Bookstore beyond is the copies of Turtles All the Way Down in the distance, surely watching over my work with my students who were supposed to have read that book by class time later that day…I have a feeling having now lived that class time later that day that some of those students need to take a trip to the bookstore and snag one of those copies.

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All the Books & Dragon Cheese

On the way home from the “Ferris wheel” (as E calls the carousel) at the mall, Eleanor and I stopped at Half Price Books to buy presents for her mom, dad, and brother. She herself requested these gifts be bought at the bookstore. Although we did have a brief falling out over her wanting to go to the library instead and me saying it was closed (so we could buy instead of check out these presents)…but all was forgiven when we entered the store and she saw “all the Bibles.” She’s in a phase where, rather than have us always read to her from children’s books, she often prefers to pull thick paperbacks, what she calls Bibles, off shelves and tell us fantastic stories while flipping through the pages. It was like we’d walked into the candy store, and she didn’t know where to even start…

But she settled on some books down on her level, settled on to the floor and in for a good storytelling. It was the most precious thing in the world…as you’ll see below.

What blows my mind is what a synthesizing machine she is; I mean, to get all scholarly for a second, she is like the human embodiment of intertextuality. The stories she tells are incredible remixes of her daily life: phrases she hears us use, stories we tell her, and, of course, the media–both books and television–that she consumes. In this video alone, we’ve got dragons–(the stars–in all shades of the rainbow–of most of her tales), peanut allergies, spit-up (what she calls vomit and which she did a lot of the week before, much of it on me), her bedtime routine, cheese which we’d been talking about earlier, the penguins I promised her we’d see at the aquarium later that week, seeing Thea tomorrow, the sailors from our Moby Dick book, mommy and daddy, shopping for them, and love, and all sorts of other bits and pieces. She’s a sponge–takes it all in, doesn’t forget a thing, and spits it all out later in her own delightfully new creation.

Obviously, this is how many children grow and learn, and I’m just seeing it for the first time (Spinster Aunt that I am*) up close. It doesn’t hurt that my love for E is immeasurable and colors all her being, doing, knowing as miraculous. (Call Guinness, as my dad would say). But I am blown away by the child brain in general and this weaving together of being and knowing with the world and all the stories–told and experienced–it tells her. Beyond intertextuality, watching her remix is watching agential realism in action. Those blank pages at the end changed her conversation, that stuffed dragon on the floor set her on a tale about dragons, the books low to the ground with pretty covers drew her in and gave her a spot on the floor to peruse them. And on and on and on…Though bits and pieces will make it into later remixes of her life and days, this story, the one in the video, will only be told once. It came out of a singular and unrepeatable space-time-mattering where its possibility was realized and recorded. She didn’t discover the story about dragons–she created it with the world, her material-discursive world unfolding through and within our unique time-space to actually create reality. And while I insert the artifact (recording) of that reality here, what you see is a different story than the one she and I experienced in that moment. It will play a new story each time it’s viewed, framed by my interpretation and creating new meaning with you and your understanding of her words and your own bits and pieces you bring to the watching of this tale. It’s miraculous, but the miracle is more than her–it’s an assemblage of past, present, here, absent, people, animals, objects, ideas, rooms, noises, smells, sights…all the things of the world working together.

And we wonder why I’m the Spinster Aunt 😉

The cherry on top of these scholarly musings is after this video stops, when she wanders over to the YA corner. And when I come up behind her, this little bit of a girl dancing within an aisle of floor-to-ceiling books, she does this Belle from Beauty and the Beast twirl, her arm up and out with a sweeping gesture and cries (happily), “Look at all the books!” I died. She killed her Spinster Aunt Say, stopped my heart dead with joyous affinity. I will never forget her smile or the love I felt for her then (I keep thinking there’s no way to love them more and events keep proving me wrong). I hope she never loses that delight. And I hope she tangles together and spins out stories for all her days and never, ever, finds the words “The End…”

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*I fully embrace and celebrate the Spinster Aunt title–this was not a cry for reassurance nor is that a “bad” word. For more information, see Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own.

Flashback: Coursework

It’s kind of sad that a lot (for me, most) of coursework doesn’t really find a second home, whether because of the direction your scholarship goes or just the structure/nature of the original writing. I was searching for a word in the hopes of finding a file I’d obviously not named well-enough to find it again years later, and this paper popped up. A throwback to Science Fiction and Posthumanism in the Anthropocene–one of my favorite classes. I enjoyed reading it again four years later (yikes!). I sound quite important 😉

Sarah Shelton

ENG 6370

Dr. Alaimo

23 January 2014

The Dust Accuses: Anxieties of the Anthropocene

Read together, [the articles pictured below] highlight the very instability of the “meaning” of Anthropocene. Each article explains the concept from its own angle—ranging from the debated physical evidence traced in the Zalaswiewicz article, to the “metaphoric” designation in the Robbins article, to everything in between. Several descriptions point to a change—already made or hoped for—in human understanding of our relationship to nature, one that collapses the Nature/Human binary and situates us not outside of or above a “pure,” or “wild” nature, but inside an intimately connected and now-threatened biosphere. In fact, the most interesting takes on the concept focus on how the very existence of the Anthropocene idea signals “a ‘reframing’ of normative traditions towards human and non-human life,” offering new language with which to speak about and new viewpoints from which to view human responsibility for our species’ impact on the Earth and to other species who also call it home (Alberts 6).

Along with such instability comes anxiety. What do we make of a concept that can be interpreted and used in so many different ways? Is it already defunct because of our inability to agree on a productive way to use it or is the very debate it inspires the very point and what really matters? Zalaswiewicz et al. warn that the Anthropocene “has the capacity to become the most politicized unit, by far, of the Geologic Time Scale” (2231). Are we doomed, then, to lose the positive and generative power that such a reframing offers to the quagmire of politics as usual? Will we become stymied as Robbins and Moore claim scientists caught up in anthrophobia* or autophobia** are, unable to make progress toward our desired goals because of anxiety over what it means that humans have become “geological agents” as well as biological ones (Chakrabarty 206)? Or will we find a way to come to terms with what is (despite what we think should be) and (though it requires a “human collectivity” or “universal” that Chakrabarty says we can never understand) develop a “global approach to politics without the myth of a global identity” (222).

Though Rigby claims that writing “in the mode of prophetic witness” is one way to overcome such anxieties, such endless debates and fruitless back-and-forths, or what she calls “idle chatter,” her article exemplifies the Edenic language that gave me pause in several of the articles (174). For instance, in Proctor’s review of McKibben’s book, McKibben refers to the planet as “violently out of balance,” implying that a planet older than my brain can comfortably comprehend has a “natural” and defendable “balance” that our human science can pinpoint and prove (88). Rigby, in analyzing Wright’s “Dust” as an ecoprophetic poem, determines that “the cry, which the prophet apprehends and mediates, is an indication of something drastically wrong.” “The speaker of Wright’s poem,” Rigby says, “hears the earth sighing all night” (181). Such a reading—and Wright’s own language—strikes me as an anthropocentric view dependent entirely on assuming we had—at some point—a harmonious and “good” relationship with the Earth. That there was an Eden-state where Nature was pure and wild and outside of our interference. Something can only be drastically wrong, the earth can only be violently out of balance, if we consider the Earth’s Edenic baseline to be the biosphere in which humans can survive, if we consider the “very conditions, both biological and geological, on which the survival of human life as developed in the Holocene period depends” to be the natural state of the planet (Chakrabarty 213). Considering the relatively short duration of the Holocene as compared to the other periods of geologic time, I find the human assumption of our time as the Earth’s “true” state incredibly problematic. How do we begin to take responsibility for ourselves and fulfill any ethical obligation (if we have one, which I think we do) to the other inhabitants of the current biosphere if we can’t get our heads around the idea that there is no going back on an always-already altered planet that won’t miss a step in its own evolution—no matter if we can’t speculate on a “world without us”—once we’re gone?

When Rigby claims that (in such contemporary places as sub-Saharan Africa) “the dust accuses,” she’s transferring to the planet human nostalgia for the past and human fears that we can’t or won’t adapt in time to the new world our actions have triggered. The desert doesn’t accuse us of anything. It doesn’t care what we’ve done. We care. We don’t want to be buried beneath elements we can’t survive. But the Earth itself doesn’t deal in human emotions. Personification here is certainly a powerful, persuasive tool when trying to convince others of “the catastrophic consequences of continuing on our current ecocidal path and…the possibility of another way of thinking and being” (Rigby 173-4). But to imply through figurative language that the Earth itself emotes in a way that any species could understand, to romanticize nature via the human construction of “natural,” seems too much like the human hubris/essentialism that brought us to this point in the first place.

Perhaps I have a touch of autophobia myself. I certainly don’t disagree with the arguments Rigby sets out; borders between human and non-human others must be breached if we’re going to live according to and move forward with an interspecies ethics that I can get behind. But I also see Earth’s agency as beyond any personified relationship with us. Suggesting the Earth is angry with us or seeking revenge seems too much a convention of a species only concerned with its own recorded history and not aware of its deep history. A species that needs to realize it is “dependent on other species for its own existence, a part of the general history of life,” not the origin of it (Chakrabarty 219, my emphasis).

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* “a fearful response to … the negative normative influence of humans on the earth” (Robbins and Moore)

** “a fearful response to … the inherent influence of normative human values within one’s own science”  (Robbins and Moore)

This weekly paper response was created with Dr. Alaimo’s curation of texts as pictured below in our syllabus:

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Last week, I sat down with a really quiet small group in class where one student was pulling all the weight. Normally, I try to stay out of their conversations, but this was painful to watch, and I had to do something. That something ended up being me and the Student having a great conversation while the groupmates looked on in silence (no matter what we did–and Student tried just as hard–to try and pull them into the conversation). So, big fail in that sense. But there was also a win: I got to hear Student’s guess at what metaphor Thomas King might use for stories (we were talking about how Azar Nafisi calls books orphans and Neil Gaiman tells the story of Douglas Adams claiming books are sharks, and we were wondering what the other author’s we’d read might say on the matter).

Maybe stories are seeds,” Student said King might say. And then unfurled a lovely (not unfamiliar) metaphor for stories planting themselves in certain soil (people/cultures), growing a certain way, and dropping seeds that take root elsewhere and, therefore, grow maybe a little bit differently the next time and the next. 

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this metaphor, but it was the first time someone had stumbled upon it in this particular class, had stated it in this particular way. The first time (to use the metaphor itself) it had grown into this particular flower because of this particular soil. And I got to see that particularly unique flower bloom. That isn’t just a win, but also a joy.

In the hustle of checking in with the other groups, of moving on to the next activity, I didn’t make sure Student shared their metaphor with the class. But this week, I took a walk to get coffee and had to go to a different Starbucks because the one (yes, we have two on campus) closest to my office had a line out the door. So, on the first day of real sunshine after a week of mud and rain, a longer walk than normal took me past dandelions who stood out and tall in green, green grass and triggered a memory in my head: “Maybe stories are seeds,” Student said King might say.

So, I took a dandelion with me back to the office and let it sit with me on the desk while I planned. And I took it with me to our actual classroom and let it sit on the front desk that always gets moved around–it’s never in the same place when we come in or when we leave. And I shared the story of my walk and the story of Student’s metaphor. And for our warmup we sketched the dandelion I’d taken with me, that I’d placed in my banned-books mug while I planned in CARH 402 and that now joined us–mug too–in TH 20. And the seeds all stayed on the flower, but the stories took root in new soil and unfurled through sketches and words in composition books that haven’t been the same (in both senses of the word) since the students picked them from the front of TH 20 and took them out into the world that first day.

 

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New Plans ~ CARH 402 ~ February 26, 2018

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New Compositions ~ TH 20 ~ February 26, 2018

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Sketch: Rain

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Things are still just a little side-ways, a bit elsewhere, a neither here-nor-there. And the rain isn’t helping–days and days of it leaving puddles of what-‘s-up to walk on, to stride through with big, determined thwacks of pleather rain-boots (rarely worn yet all that’s worn this week). But still, aren’t they lovely? These unstill pools of nowhere made herenow, real as the originals, gathered (as-is) together in this frame, a wholly created  world, a spacetimemattering, a chronotope unfolded, time-through-rain. I’d like to go there. Perhaps I am there. Things do seem to still be just and maybe there.

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Inspired by the 5-minute-sketch daily exercises many artists suggest for those working on drawing skills, “Sketches” on this blog are brief write-throughs diffracted through a particular image, moment, feeling (the list goes on). I set the timer for five minutes and play with language until it goes off. Whatever it is when the timer beeps is what you see on the screen now.