Saturday XIX • 21 July 2007

Allright. Today I’m abstracting 12 law journal articles—on the WTO, labor standards and environmental regulation—for a globalization archive. Very nice to get paid for reading the intimate details of a history I need to know anyway. But: no relief to the suspicion that I’m not fully living these days.

These articles are thin if long, and I’m planning to skip the footnotes, so the work will not take much mental energy. I’ll unplug, put my head down, and push though.

The dissertation is different. It’s turning out that I periodically have to take a spin around the quad, or the coffee shop, (or the blogosphere) to keep it together. All that time the deskworker armies are “wasting” online? In some of us, I think it’s as much about vital mental recovery as it is pure effing off. (Not that effing off isn’t the half of it.) Daily, I can pull off at best a couple of two-hour periods of deep concentration. The rest is surfacy, frenetic administrivia, and thus benefits from breaks to walk around talking out sentences, envisioning little worlds. A lot of talking to myself, lately. During the surfacy hours, which seem awful, I am (below the surface) processing ideas, reflecting on data and (most importantly) recovering for the next writing session.

I have professors who can write a great book in a summer, meditation instructors who can sit for eight hours without going to pieces. In comparison, I have the mind of a child. Too bad there isn’t an academic shaktipat to bypass the ridiculous experience of learning how to do this rarefied, sober-ass practice. I have almost no experience of feeling hemmed in, negative, inept (and understand those who can’t stand to see me frustrated)—maybe if I did I’d be less mystified by why this is hard, and better at rolling through it. Phhht. For one whose greatest flaw is impatience, this is the perfect design for madness. Swear to god.

Here’s some Saturday morning trawling, as per usual.

? The Editor likes to have the occasional almond butter sandwich, yet thinks I am 40 years too young for recycling the little bags. So yesterday I surprised him with a godawful sandwich transporter, just before (thanks to bindifry) I learned of a companion product. The bananaguard. J—Mr. Bento meets Americana? I’m considering waiting until they re-stock the glow in the dark model.

? Alex Grey: winking at the artworld, or naïve representationalist? AF blogs the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, with photos and veiled nostalgia for the pre-art school days.

There’s something about the way that true believers work…: as if they’ve never been critiqued, that their ideas are worthy of a masturbatory squeeze into the consciousness of others without second consideration.

? Turns out “IO” is the Latin exclamation of joy, and the precursor of the exclamation point. More history of everyday sybols.

? Two friends just went to see the hugging saint, Amma. They stood in line for hours for whatever it is she’s got. Here‘s what Salon has to say about it.

Innocuous and intimate, the hug is a brilliant gesture for a reputed saint to make, a cosmic download about compassion and connection delivered in a package that’s about as challenging and exotic as a Hershey’s kiss….

If humans are nothing more than neurologically programmed DNA machines, why not run sacred applications that bring happiness and meaning and active compassion?

The writing is hipster-anemic [“As a fan of alt-dolls and vinyl figures, I’d have to say the Amma dolls are pretty cool”], but not in a bad way. Nice quotations from Amma and great discussion of her transformation into a brand and marketing empire.

? I could be alone here, but am amused about Joe Bageant’s new insider-outsider ethnography (review) on returning to his redstate roots. Apocalyptic fundamentalism, anti-union wage slavery, xenophobia, poverty, the American Dream, the whole bit. Good argement that a community can make two responses to being marginalized and screwed over: revolt, or dive into patriotic myth.

? Nice HBR article on forecasting: The goal of forecasting is not to predict the future but to tell you what you need to know to take meaningful action in the present.

Prediction is possible only in a world in which events are preordained and no amount of action in the present can influence future outcomes. That world is the stuff of myth and superstition. The one we inhabit is different… the forecaster’s task is to map uncertainty, for in a world where our actions in the present influence the future, uncertainty is opportunity.

Comforting, under these circumstances. The author advises to hold strong opinions weakly, look back twice as far as you look forward, and to distrust the hope that revolution will arrive overnight because disappointment may lead to giving up in the moment right before the transformation actually arrives.

6 Comments

  • Posted 21 July 2007 at 10:46 am | #

    I, too, am abstracting this weekend. And I, too, have pretty much a 90 minute window for deep thought — then it’s off to the internet for some brain refreshment. The HBR link is perfect — I can pass it along to the executive layer so they have some perspective and don’t think we’re actually predicting THE Future.

  • Zee
    Posted 22 July 2007 at 5:22 pm | #

    I wanted to read your blog but I can’t. I do not understand what you want to say. Are you working for CIA?

  • Posted 22 July 2007 at 5:37 pm | #

    Zee. Hello, gorgeous.

    You really must stop confusing yourself so much.

    As for the CIA, that would be impossible. Trust me.

  • Posted 23 July 2007 at 3:40 pm | #

    It’s okay, you’re not the only adult with the mind of a child! (There’s me, for one.)

    Enjoyed the origins of symbols.

    Hey, I can’t understand what you are saying half the time, either, but that’s probably because I have the mind of a child. Also, I’ve never learned to speak Academese. ;)

  • Posted 23 July 2007 at 8:49 pm | #

    Yes – that window of working-flow is wonderful and makes those hours of surface-work (I like that term) seem so wasteful. But I agree that that time is about resting/regrouping/unconscious working… Just as long as you don’t get distracted and go waaay beyond the limit you set for yourself!

  • Posted 24 July 2007 at 5:37 pm | #

    Sally, yes. While I usually see my daydreaming habit as escapist (I tend to write novels in my head, and suspect I’m not the only one…), given that some daydreaming is probably going to happen no matter what, I’m completely accepting of it for now as long as it’s more or less on the topic of the dissertation. Heh heh.

    That said, G, having the mind of a child and expressing this in academese is a pretty good joke. Even when I strip out the jargon, the obnoxious sentence structure remains. The cure seems to be reading good fiction, which I’m not much doing these days.

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