Productivity and motivation

I am setting myself up for failure with a title like that, but I’m going to go ahead and try this anyway. I want to get back in the habit of blogging once a week (Fridays, probably). I know today is Sunday, but shhh. The reason why I want to do this is because it’s not just blogging I need to get reaccustomed to, it’s writing. I find it difficult to write when I don’t have pressing deadlines, and yet writing is fundamental to how I understand the world. I dislike complacency but I enjoy laziness.

How can I reconcile these? Pretty much, by forcing myself to write. So welcome to this vaguely forced post.

Here’s a bit of backstory for you, dear reader. I’ve had reason in the past few months to be around people/friends/etc. who feel stagnant in their lives. Friends who want to live their dreams but feel unable to support that. Friends who tried to live their dreams but didn’t make it (yet, I hope). Friends who don’t know what their dreams are (again, yet, I hope). In the midst of all of this, I feel simultaneously lucky and ungrateful, because I’ve been given plenty of opportunities to live my dreams and plenty of support, but I also don’t know how to pass on my luck. I feel like this about a lot of things, to be honest, which I think is how I deal with privilege in general: acknowledge my luck, and try to make a zone of luck around me for other people. (Smash the kyriarchy.)

I’m not yet in a position within the hallowed walls of academia (lol) to make such a zone for my colleagues, but I can try to get there. I can start by observing, by thinking, and by writing down my thoughts. I can start by standing up for things like anti-harassment policies (a recent example, though not the only kind of privilege I mean). But mostly I can start by remembering that everything I do, I do for myself and for others.

Update on Minecraft

I started playing Minecraft again when I was on vacation recently, on a server this time. I’m actually enjoying it, though my two main fears are definitely in effect when I play (the dark, and water). The first fear isn’t a big deal, especially since the dark is scary due to monsters spawning. The second is just weird, because a game with blocky, low-res graphics like Minecraft can still trigger the feeling of being underwater…which leads me to a small point: for me, the “graphics” or “visuals” of a game help me immerse myself in the game, but once I have done so by whatever means necessary, the game has strong affect. It’s not as simple as pretty art means I care more, or more pixels in the hair means I identify more with the protagonist. Rather, I can be put off by bad art, but if it doesn’t put me off, it is not the lens through which I engage with the game. (Disclaimer: it is the lens for some games. Only a Sith deals in absolutes.)

Another thing about Minecraft this time is that I’m playing with people I already know on a shared server. This is just another way of engaging with them, in addition to playing League or talking on various instant messaging services or using Snapchat (I like being able to write and draw on pictures I take, even if the quality takes a hit for it; also, note the recent lack-of-privacy discussions about Snapchat before running off to download it).

I’m still pretty bad at this game, though. I just make houses and put torches in them and like…that’s it. Oh well. I fell into lava once and lost a nearly-full inventory. That upset me quite a bit, and since then I’ve been either less invested or more careful. Perma-death mechanics are one of the few things I hate in games, mostly because I don’t actually like meaningful consequences for failure.

Random thoughts

Archives are a set of materialities whose practices are reproduced, negotiated, and reconstituted through everyday use—in sum, a technology. (In line with the Suchman definition of technology from “Working Relations of Technology Production and Use,” which I quoted in this post.)

Also—nothing is natural in the sense of emerging de novo—what is natural is the process of trying a thing, and continuing to adapt it until it fits the situation or context. In short, evolution is natural. The ways that people use technologies are natural. The inscription of certain practices as “the way things are” is not natural.

Nothing is what it was meant to be.

Scraps written in the back of Life on the Screen because I didn’t have a notebook on hand.

On Minecraft and positive reinforcement

In which your author decides to try Minecraft.

I’ve had Don’t Starve and enjoyed it for some time now (I think I first tried it in June 2013), and I’ve always heard that it’s basically a Minecraft clone with fancier graphics and a different set of problems. Not that different, but different enough. So I downloaded the demo for Minecraft several months ago (onto my old computer), and didn’t have much fun with it.

Today, however, was the end of a stressful week, and I wanted to do something that was fun and cooperative (we’ll get to that part later I think) and without win-conditions. I don’t feel like playing a game that put pressure on me to perform. So I booted up the demo, started a new world with “Peaceful” selected, and actually put some effort into trying to learn the controls. So far, I’m enjoying it, and if I like the demo I think I’ll actually buy the game so I can play with people. I’m going to be the boring person who just wanders around and makes stuff…but I think I’m okay with that. Maybe I should try Farmville instead (no).

I think this is known as self-care, and I’ll let you know how it works (and if I end up deciding to buy the game).

Also, if you’re curious, I highly recommend Don’t Starve if you’re looking for an enjoyable but intense single-player game. The spiders are adorable. But don’t go near them.

On friendship and technology; or, FRIEND COMPUTER!

I’ve been reading Nunberg’s edited volume, The Future of the Book, for class, and so have been wading through a fair bit of anti-techno-utopian rhetoric. Normally, that’s cool, because I’m no techno-utopian. But the way in which I am not techno-utopian is that I recognize the continuities and remediations (thanks, Bolter and Grusin) in new media forms. So I don’t like the rhetoric that relies on assuming that new media fundamentally alter the ways that we connect to one another.

So, that said. I appreciate when people put effort into exploring how people will be people through a variety of media forms. And recently, Maureen O’Connor, writing for NYMag’s The Cut blog, penned a great post about friendship in the digital age and group texting and dress rehearsing nudes.

I have to admit, I think The Cut does a consistently thorough and thoughtful treatment of elements of modern culture from the perspective of style and fashion. But this post in particular came at a good time for my mental universe, just as I was grappling with a rhetoric of rupture and social revolution. It’s about how a group of childhood (maybe young adulthood is better?) friends came together through texting. It’s about how two friends share their insecurities by texting pictures to one another. And it’s nothing utopian or too idealistic, but it shows how people manage to keep a sense of social interaction because that’s the point of all this.

My personal experiences certainly bear this argument out. I keep up with my best friend from college through a daily barrage (I mean this in the best way possible) of texts and gchats. Hell, I started my tumblr because I wanted to continue the casual ritual we had of sharing our outfits before going about our respective days (we had basically a suite situation with two separate rooms and a connecting bathroom). I know other people look at it now, occasionally, and I doubt she does so regularly, but she is still my audience for those posts. (Hi!)

I’ve had a blog of some sort or another since 2003. For me, writing on blogs is always a quasi-meditative task, with a nameless, faceless audience. I take pleasure in this distance, sometimes. I know that part of my process is just writing things out, and if people happen to comment and leave their thoughts on my writings, then I can incorporate those and be an even better writer. But this is different from friendship. Friendship requires a sense of reciprocity, or at least of mutual recognition. (Feel free to substitute any kind of positive human relationship for “friendship” there.) The faceless nonexistent audience that I imagine when writing a blog post, the echo chamber of my own metaphorical shower stall, that is emphatically not the kind of engagement that O’Connor is describing. And that’s kind of a great thing. All kinds of engagement are possible, we just have to make it so. Not our technologies, ourselves.

In closing, O’Connor offers an insightful (and hilarious) meditation on the freedoms of a child-like perspective:

Some may find the constant chatter and creep toward co-dependence childish — but the art of friendship has always been one that children perform more naturally than adults. (Other things children do better than adults: imagination, texting, wonderment, recovering from the shame of shitting in your pants.)

Maybe allowing ourselves to explore—new technologies, new forms, new social networks—brings us closer to that wonderment that makes magic happen.

Also, the “Friend computer” is a reference to Paranoia, a hilariously enjoyable role-playing game.

On Anzaldúa; or, writing is hard but I do it anyway

I’ve always had mixed feelings about writing. That much should be obvious to anyone who’s glanced at this blog: writing is essential to my life (this blog exists), but writing is hard (this blog hasn’t been updated in oh no nearly two months now). The fact that I’m a massive procrastinator and I put off things that I don’t have to do certainly doesn’t help. But it is only in putting thoughts into words that they become worth anything, and so I write. I keep trying, because a few words every few months is still progress. I know from the outside I look lazy, complacent. But complacency is my sworn enemy.

Which is why I had such a reaction to reading Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.

It’s a book that would have changed my life had I read it in high school (or maybe early college). So much of what Anzaldúa talks about makes sense in the context of my life, such as when she talks about growing up in the borderlands between two cultures. Even though my personal experience is less physical border and more psychosocial border, I know what it’s like to exist with two homes, neither of which can fully hold you. Like Anzaldúa says, “I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry ‘home’ on my back” (43). And when she talks about languages and how you ever decide which to use in a given context, I understand, because I live that life. There are people I’ve known since before birth, that cause me to stop and wonder what language I should use to speak to them (as discussed in the section on “Linguistic Terrorism,” 80-81).

More than this shared experience, however, Anzaldúa’s text resonates with something deeper: a shared worldview. Anzaldúa voices that which I dare not say: writing is the struggle of life, and it’s fucking hard.

Relationships and Grad School: Part 3 – The response

Or, wherein your wise author notices a sad trend.

In Part 1, I described some of the background stuff about grad students and relationships. In Part 2, I talked about my situation at the start of my master’s program. Now, some stuff about general stuff I noticed, and how I feel about it all.

With my ex and I, our relationship’s end was a classic case of two people realizing their lives didn’t really work together.

But it was still a bit sad when I asked him to come with me, and he said no. That’s all it really was, until I got to orientation for my master’s program, and started talking to my program buddies, and a strange trend popped up. Out of 10 (or was it 11? I always forget) people in my program, seven of us were in relationships when it started. One man was married, so he doesn’t count, I suppose…but then again, his wife was the only actual “grad student’s wife” of all of our partners. Four women were in het relationships, and only one of those women lived with her partner. He was also based in the area, so it wasn’t as though he moved to a new town with her. The other three women (myself included) had partners in other towns who refused to relocate. The final two members of my cohort with partners were men who lived in family housing with their girlfriends.

I remember a conversation early on where I realized that none of the women’s partners came with us, but all of the men had their partners with them. It was a sad conversation, tinged with jealousy. Why weren’t we given that kind of support and care? What did it say about all of us, that our partners put themselves above us in every case?

That moment was a wake-up call. I’ve always prioritized my career over my relationships, whether romantic or platonic. This means it’s tough, and it also means that I’ve failed to support my friends through their dark times because I was busy with my own. It means I’ve walked away from the possibility of relationships because I can’t justify taking the effort away from school.

I don’t regret this focus, I guess. Not yet, at least. I just wish it were more acceptable, or at least not seen as a challenge to gender roles. I don’t want to be expected to drop everything and move to where my partner is, but I do expect that my partner will at least consider it. Maybe I’m a hypocrite, or maybe I’m just lucky that my current partner was happy to move to Texas to be with me as I go through my new graduate program. (Yes, I’m lucky. I know that. It’s also a challenge because I’m supporting him in addition to myself, on a grad student stipend.)

Part 1 – The background

Part 2 – The personal shit