Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Symptoms, Rain, Ticks  §

The most ridiculously, impossibly busy semester ever is winding rapidly to a close, so of course we all picked the last two weeks to become ill, then desperately ill, then voice-losingly, intolerably, unbreathably, lay-in-bed-and-feel-like-lead ill. Neither my wife or I can take time off of work. Neither one of us can afford to fall or get behind, and more importantly, neither one of us is allowed to take any time off of work.

But when all was said and done we both spent most of this passing week sitting at home all day nursing a stomach full of various symptom-suppressing drugs and trying to ensure that our young child gets enough steam to cough like crazy at controlled intervals in a frenzied attempt to keep her from coughing like crazy at uncontrolled intervals and in so doing covering the floor with her breakfast, then her lunch, then her dinner…

It has been, in short, a hell of a week during what has been a hell of a semester and while there is a distinct slice of heaven going on here in that we can afford to life and we are a family and we are together and our beautiful daughter has the sweetest temperament ever, there has also been a great deal of hell floating about these last few months.

This year has passed in an impossible flash of wild activity and flailing about trying (and failing) to keep up with the barest requirements of personal, professional, medical, and economic life. We will miss the first year of our daughter’s life once it’s passed, never to return. We won’t miss the parallel year we spent feeling spent, inadequate, and hopelessly outclassed by circumstance.

— § —

Meanwhile, though I should have spent this weekend catching up on my umpteen million responsibilities and the work that has gone undone over the course of the week, the aforementioned circumstances afforded me enough time for reflection to have lead me to another kind of weekend. For the first time in probably half a year, I actually sat down and spent a substantive chunk of time working on my own degree. Imagine that. There’s a great deal more time to be spent before I even really get started, but it’s an incredible and long-overdue step in the right direction to have found the fortitude to spent one afternoon working on my Ph.D. this year.

— § —

Apropos of that train of thought, I’m giving Scrivener a shout out here. I’ve spent so much time over the last few months buried in DevonThink and transitioning away from Evernote that I’d never really had a chance to experiment with this much heralded software package that I’d licensed after a very favorable first impression nearly a year ago just after transitioning to Mac OS.

Scrivener is really amazing. My early small experiments and tests and uses really didn’t do it justice. Now that I start to toss research and notes and index cards and outline fragments into it for a much larger project like a dissertation or dissertation proposal, the power and versatility of the application (also now at version 2.0, which I hadn’t yet looked at since the upgrade came down the wire) is remarkable. One almost doesn’t need DevonThink or Evernote if one has Scrivener. In fact, I’m not sure the “almost” qualifier is even needed.

And with the Dropbox synchronization features that apparently appeared in version 2.0, the thing is now better suited to iPad productivity than either DevonThink or Evernote. It’s an amazing, insightful piece of work and a masterful user interface from a small software company, and damn near reason enough, all by itself, to switch to Mac OS from Windows if you are a professional writer or researcher of any kind at all. It’s that good.

— § —

Had dinner from the local “Tex-Mexican” shop tonight, one called “Fresca Tortilla.” In the grand tradition of street-level New York eateries, it was of course run by an army of skinny Chinese guys cooking up a very inexpensive storm with bare metal and basic ingredients. But it was good food and good value and really unassailable on any reasonable count.

It’s hard to imagine an environment in which anyone but the Chinese cook things for the middle-class public. The Chinese seem to me these days to be the short order cooks to the world, in addition to the iPhone-makers, green-energy-leaders, and up-and-comers.

— § —

In the grand tradition of Ph.D. pursuits, I begin to tire of my chosen academic discipline and of my chosen profession. I’ve begun to be consumed by the desire to read critiques of the university as a concept or as an existing system, whether on the subway or when laying in bed at night. Most recently I’ve been reading Bill Readings’ The University in Ruins and like all the rest, it is resonating strongly with me.

I don’t know where that leaves me as a would-be professor.

— § —

I’ve been dreaming of grade school lately.

My wife and I were talking today about the weather in Oregon since it was raining here.

I recently discovered the two-sided Velcro that comes on a roll and is better than any kind of tape.

I don’t like big desks as a rule, but sometimes I do miss the bigger one that I used to have.

Because my newest neon clock has a switch, the neon is rarely on.

I can’t really remember what life was like before our daughter.

I haven’t bought any music for myself in years and I haven’t listened to any in months.

Time for bed. Yes, at 7:37 PM. While the getting is good.

— § —

Why am I not writing?

Can I even still write?

Not a dissertation, not a one-off “big project” with a small audience, devoid of passion and purpose, but rather writing. Writing.

I am a writer and I can write. When passion is present and the cause is just I can, in fact, use words well. I can do so in ways that are useful, laudable, beneficial to others and perhaps even to society at large.

There is a role that I could play—were it somehow structurally possible for me to actually write.

Unfortunately, however, writing as a craft is significantly more speculative than other types of work. Research, proposal writing, contracting, all of these are time-intensive. Time is what we in the middle class do not have.

It has been suggested that a leap of faith is required, but writing on spec is not the sort of thing that you do once you’re well into middle age with a family, nor is self-publishing. People toss that out rather blithely: “Why don’t you just self-publish?” This as though it is the publishing alone that is time consuming, the writing rather an easy matter (“Just let it flow like a stream! How long can it possibly take?”) and thus easily dismissable.

In fact, there are three hundred million people in this nation and there are likely many hundreds of millions of wasted lives—talents waiting forever to emerge, to be put to use for the betterment of society even as their owners toil in alienated labor as interchangeable parts in the great fleece-the-population machine for the betterment of the several dozen citizens in the More Valuable Classes.

But I digress. Every now and then, when someone compliments me effusively on some small piece of writing that I’ve done for an audience of several whose importance is even smaller than that in the grand scheme of things, saying that they’re surprised…I think to myself, “Well, yes. I’m actually a writer. Or rather, I was once. Before the six meatgrindering, market-driven books that beat it mostly out of me, and the academic career that has largely finished what the books started. Once upon a time, god damn it, I could actually make desirable things with words.”

What a waste some parts of life can seem, if you allow yourself to stop and smell the roses, rather than passing willfully on through, as though you have somewhere to be.

And after all, in this economy, it’s just about all you can ask for if you do have somewhere to be.