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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Stalling  §

© mady70 | Fotolia

And, at the same time, trying desperately not to stall.

I have a lot of work to do and a list of things that I can race through. But during the semester when I’m teaching, I have trouble getting started for some reason on non-teaching days.

One of the personal weaknesses I’ll have to resolve before all of this is said and done.

— § —

I just called the school.

It’s such a pleasure to do administrative business (whether in person or by phone) with New Yorkers—I’d forgotten how direct, bullshit-free, and easy it is compared to the circular discussions, overwrought niceties, and incredibly slow and inefficient speech that prevails in the rest of the country.

What would have been a half our call to a Utah bureaucrat requiring note-taking and post-call analysis was about two minutes to the NYC bureaucrat, who gave me a simple, straight answer and a good day to send me on my way.

— § —

Sometimes when you start to get wild-eyed and jittery because you’ve too much work to do in too many different contexts, it’s best to just step away for a moment and get some clarity.

Take a walk.

Take a drive.

Look out the window.

Feed some goldfish.

Write a poem.

— § —

Redbox DVD rental kiosks all have air conditioning units built into their backs to ensure that the DVDs inside them remain cool even when the sun beats mercilessly down on the kiosk exteriors.

When you walk past a row of Redbox machines on a sunny day, the roar can be quite deafening.

— § —

The patterns of scratches and fractures left on the lenses of eyeglasses when run over by car tires on pavement can be surprisingly intricate and beautiful.

— § —

I used to laugh at those people that “self-enhance” with Ritalin or other drugs to enable focus, concentration, and stamina and gain a competitive advantage.

I’m not laughing any longer.

No, not taking the Ritalin either, but certainly not laughing.

— § —

I’d better get some stuff done; the day is half over already and I’m still “preparing” to work.


Global Cities  §

© goldbany | Fotolia

It’s tough to be an academic living somewhere outside of the Global City.

The reason?

All too well known in my circles, frankly.

There simply isn’t enough life around you, enough diversity. Smaller regional or local cities veer dangerously toward monoculture. The list of institutions is limited to one-offs in each major category, each of these also part of the monoculture due to market realities. The speed and volume of events (of all ontological kinds) is orders of magnitude less because the population is orders of magnitude smaller and at a much lower density, meaning fewer contacts (i.e. events) and a smaller sample size at the phenomenological processing level.

— § —

Let’s deploy a tired quasi-Maoist metaphor:

The global city as a field of flowers is a hodgepodge of thousands of densely packed plants and blossoms, no two of the same genetic stock. As the bees cross-pollinate amongst discrete individuals, genetic drift, hybridization, heterosis, and of course natural selection are the rule of the day, operating quickly and intensely. The stochastic nature, if there is one, of this process is subsumed by volume and diversity.

The regional or local city as a field of flowers is so many daffodils—hundreds of them in rows—of exactly the same genetic variety and stock.

Sure, it’s functional, and for the daffodils it’s probably even great.

But there’s precious little intrinsic generative power there, apart from the power to generate fucking daffodils.

Things Left Behind  §

© Google Maps

It was made official this week: The last vestiges of my New York teaching career have dissolved. I am not invited back to teach Understanding Media Studies, which I’ve taught continuously, semester after semester since the 2007-2008 school year.

I know the course, its syllabus, its students, and its tools and outlook inside and out. And there are online sections (which I taught during Spring 2012) so it’s not logistically impossible.

But I am out. Out of the loop, out of the community, out of the running, out of the department—out.

Out west.

I suppose it had to happen sometime. You move 2,000 miles away from New York, you can’t expect to keep teaching in New York like you always have. Sooner or later they’re bound to decide that someone nearer by is a better idea.

But it does feel as though I’m losing a piece of me or an old friend. I’ve been teaching that course, reading those papers, and interacting with those students since I was just beginning my Ph.D. graduate school life.

This will be the first fall in a very long time in which there is no UMS material to read, watch, grade, etc. and also the first semester since 2007 in which I have no ties to any departments in New York other than the department in which I am enrolled as a Ph.D. candidate.

My New York teaching career is over.

— § —

Meanwhile, I am also having trouble remembering streets.

We used to live on 23rd Avenue and 21st Street, but it took me several hours to come up with those street names in Astoria the other day. I could see the intersection and all of the shops we used to walk by, but not remember what the hell the streets were called.

Same thing with the Filene’s Basement on the west side somewhere around 18th street. Not only can I not remember the specific street corner, but it also took a reference consultation to realize that that was 6th Avenue.

I mustn’t picture those places in my mind’s eye too much, because there is a deep risk in it that I can’t take the measure of.

The whiff of bitter exile and a home never to be seen again hangs around those memories like so much old-fashioned plague.

— § —

I am no longer comfortable with the ontological dimension of geography. Somehow with every passing day it feels like a bigger lie to me.

This is an intuitive thing, not a well-reasoned one.

— § —

Now, for the first time in my academic life, I begin to feel interested in reading about memory.

Exhaustion Thursdays  §

© 2011 Aron Hsiao

The kids spent most of last night awake. Sibling jealousy, teething, digestion, whatever. And they slept minimally today. Four hours of sleep at night followed by no nap during the day for the toddler.

Guess who else isn’t getting any sleep?

— § —

Lost a relative today.

Or, I suppose it’s a relative. Relative by marriage? Someone dear to and admired greatly by the family.

This on the heels of someone related not by marriage dying just a couple of months ago.

The older generation is beginning to disappear on us. We are, of course, destined to be the oldest generation before we understand what has happened to us.

— § —

Imagining my children as adults at this point fills me with such conflicting emotions that I can’t bear to do it.

— § —

I’ve embarked on a project to watch the entire Northern Exposure over the coming months.

I started two nights ago with the first episode (on iPad in the middle of the night).

I haven’t yet figured out my schedule. One a week seems to make the event too diffuse, more a habit than an experience. But with each additional episode added every week, the length of the experience in calendrical time dwindles, something that I also don’t want.

Choices, choices.

— § —

For the first time in my life, in recent memory I’m really trying to take all of my non-academic work seriously.

The opposite has been true for most of my life. I always knew that the academic world was my priority and goal, which meant that any job I held in the meantime was temporary and not a career.

— § —

Of course, I always lied at interviews. Naturally I want a career. No, I don’t really plan to stick to academics. Yes, in five years I’ll be here and I plan to be one of your VPs because I’m a very ambitious person and I like to set goals for myself that go above and beyond position requirements.

— § —

Everyone lies at interviews. It’s a secret game that we play with each other.

I’ll pretend that this is the one job, career, and employer I’ve wanted all my life and that I’m going to be the dedicated catalyst that takes your company to where I’ve always thought you could be.

You’ll pretend that you’ve interviewed lots of closely matching candidates for your overwrought, overspecified listing, and if you offer me, that I’m exactly the kind of employee you were looking for.

Then we’ll settle into the grind (a productive grind, but a grind nonetheless) full of familiarity, cardboard-flavored office jokes, and targets, benchmarks, and meetings, which (aside from an ontological fabric of computer time) are the stuff of all jobs—even blue-collar jobs, increasingly.

— § —

Always before I could afford to take these things unseriously, since I was a young hotshot student working toward a Ph.D.

— § —

Now I’m a Ph.D. candidate that’s got a family to feed and a world of other Ph.D. grads to compete against for any academic position with middle-class income and benefits potential.

Means I’d better start thinking about a backup career.

— § —

Of course, when you’re young and full of dreams, your parents always emphasize the importance of a college or university education as the key to a sound backup career.

My generation took that advice only to realize that it’s the white-collar educated jobs that one needs a backup plan for, not the other way around.

— § —

Exception: finance. In this epoch, in this place, everyone that moves to a coastal metropolitan area and majors in finance—everyone, that is, that looks sharp in a suit—will become a multimillionaire by 26.

An unsustainable state of affairs, but then, so are individual life arcs.

— § —

Garden is full of weeds. But I think we’ll have a pumpkin or two in autumn.

That is all that fucking matters.

All . that . fucking . matters .


Epochs  §

© 2000 Aron Hsiao

Tonight our auntie helper has gone home and for the first time since our second was born, we are a nuclear unit, the four of us, alone in the house together. Tonight I also found out that I will begin teaching again a week from Monday, not in July sometime. And of course it’s the day before Father’s Day.

Hanging in the air is the increasing sense that a particular epoch in my life has passed, that it ended today and with the first part of this summer. It is an epoch that began with the birth of my daughter in October 2010 and has continued, end time and quality unclear, until tonight. Embedded in this epoch have been the most deeply meaningful and most deeply troubling moments in my life—and they are likely always to remain so.

I don’t understand the nature of the change or the essence of the epoch. It feels, however, as though a particular stage of my life, a particular form of my parenthood and my growing, has finished—and that what comes tomorrow is new.

— § —

I feel as though I am about to board some form of transportation that is to carry me to a new life in a faraway, yet near by virtue of fame, place. New England, perhaps, or Panama, or the Polynesian islands. I don’t know. It’s a particularly strange sensation. I can liken it most closely to the feeling of graduating from university for the first time, but for the fact that you’ve had time to prepare for that event and know more or less what its meaning, purpose, and nature are, as well as the general form of what’s to come next.

Here I have only the sunlight falling across my desk and two infancies’ worth of clutter, accumulation, and memory to provide hints of any kind.

— § —

I am caught between sudden and unexpected waves of weariness and apprehension and a kind of relief and optimism.

— § —

Tomorrow is Sunday, the 17th of June, 2012.

Time and Teaching  §

© 2008 Aron Hsiao

Back in the classroom a week from Monday. I don’t know that I’m ready. I don’t know that I’m ever ready after a break of any length.

— § —

Teaching is easily forgotten. The semester ends; you race to grade; you finish. You move onto other projects and forget. You begin to see possibilities—the things you might do with your life, projects that you might begin. After weeks of non-teaching days, you start to feel as though life isn’t so harried after all, wonder why you seem to have so often been pressed and worried.

Then, suddenly, a new semester is upon you and that “other world” of non-teaching suddenly grows dim again; you realize that you’ve been living inside a dream, and that you’ll now wake up and meet reality once again.

You fret.

— § —

Getting back into the classroom, strangely, is always a great feeling. You dread it, think about a career change, wish you’d already made one, and try to take deep breaths to sublimate the frustration.

Then you walk into the classroom, the world disappears and you move with the flow, and you leave again feeling better than you have in months.

— § —

It’s a sort of emotional roller-coaster.

I still haven’t decided whether it’s for me or not. I hope it doesn’t take me until the day I retire. I’m not a fan of “living inside of a productive tension between…”

Values  §

© 2011 Aron Hsiao

The local talk radio megashow is once again spending an entire day savaging New York, a place where few Utahns would ever dream of going anyway. New York is filthy, backward, anti-American, liberal, crazy, full of non-Americans, corrupt, and so on, and so on.

The host and call-ins keep talking about “our values” and “our country.”

I was far happier for the entirety of five years I lived in New York than I ever was for any portion of the 20-plus years I spent in Utah. I always felt like an outsider in Utah.

Now, having returned after all these years, I don’t just feel like an outsider. I know that when people say “our values” and “our country,” I am not a part of “our.” I belong to anther country—the one that has New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. in it.

— § —

Utah is not what “makes America great,” nor is Texas, nor Iowa.

If there’s anything that “makes America great” at all, it’s the likes of Queens, the south side of Chicago, and the Haight and Berkeley.

These people here in the “heartland” that say “America” once every three words are hiding under a rock in fear of the world and their shadows.

— § —

Utahns rarely seem to be able to find much to do apart from bitching and moaning about New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., China, and “Europe.”

This is basically the definition of provincialism: you can’t be bothered to think about local problems, but you can’t get enough of complaining about the imagined problems of distant major population centers that you’ve never visited and whose populations probably won’t visit you.

Truth?  §

© 2012 Aron Hsiao

Everyone claims to love truth.

— § —

In fact, humans hate truth with a passion.

— § —

Truth is a despot, and people don’t like to be terrorized by despots.

— § —

Better to wander in the wilderness forever.

— § —

Better, in fact, to die.

— § —

Sometimes not being in New York any longer feels like death. Just FYI.