It’s Time For A Check Up

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So my grad program wants to know: what have I accomplished this year?

First, I made a lot of mistakes.

I spent too much time comparing myself to my colleagues, measuring myself against an imaginary standard that I manufactured in my spare time and spoon-fed with paranoia.

I spent too much time listening to certain people in my life, both in academia and not. Wasted too many brain cells trying to apply logic to things they said that made no sense then, that make no sense now, and that ultimately don’t mean a damn thing.

I didn’t spend as much time on some readings as I should have, spend more time on others than they really deserved.

At conferences, I didn’t go to enough panels. Didn’t talk to enough people.

I put myself down too often.

I forgot to press “save” more than once.

Dicked around too much, in general.

Waited until the last minute to start my work when I sure as hell knew better. Not all the time, but at least one too many.

Didn’t talk enough in some classes. Talked too much in others.

I got up too early, too often.

Didn’t spend enough time with my students’ texts or spent far, far too much.

I drank too much coffee. Ate too much bad food. Didn’t take up smoking.

Didn’t drink enough booze.

I wasted too much time not writing.

But then, I made some good choices, too.

I presented at my first conference and managed to write something, to say something, that sounded like me: funny and sarcastic and smart.

Presented at a second and, when the room wasn’t as friendly, that time, I didn’t beat myself up about it.

I said “thank you” when people praised my writing, my thinking, my teaching. Didn’t question or try to talk my way out of the compliment. Just said “thanks.”

I said “thank you” when someone told me “You can do better,” because she was right.

I was a little too honest a little too often and, man, was it good.

I started watching Supernatural.

I started writing slash fic and, damn, has that changed my life.

People I don’t know, will never know except via the internet, read my writing and liked it and even came back for more, even saw more in my texts than I did, than I can, than I could.

I remembered how to learn strategically, how to get what I need from a text and move on to the next.

I became myself, in my teaching.

I discovered porn studies and critical discourse analysis and feminist film theory.

I submitted abstracts without fear because, hey, the worst they can say is “no.”

[Or is that “yes”?]

I had colleagues ask me to submit panels with them and said “yes” instead of “why?”

I had papers accepted at a hardcore feminist conference, at pop culture fests in the US and in Switzerland, at a grad conference, at a regional MLA deal.

I didn’t listen when some people gave me misguided–if well-intentioned–advice about my academics, my career, my once-and-future “marketability.”

I accepted that other people in my academic life might actually mean it when they offer help, or guidance, or direction. And that these people might be good advocates, for me. That they want to be, if I’ll let them.

I interviewed my academic idol, saw the mask fall, and figured out that I have to hack out my own path as a scholar. Figured out that douchebaggery can trap, can take even the best of us.

I embraced my inner Rage Cat and then learned how to let him go.

I said “yes” more than I said “no.”

I wrote a love(d) letter and got back something, someone that I’d lost.

I stopped waiting for someone to give me permission to do what I want to do in my research and just–did it.

I realized that I might have something to say, after all, and that some people might want to listen.

I became a writer.

I became “KT.” Or “CC,” all at once.

Thanks, 2011, for Hasan Elahi.

2011 has given me a lot of awesome things. This is one of them.

Hasan Elahi and “Tracking Transience”

So.

Hasan Elahi is an artist and a teacher. The FBI decided that he also looked like a terrorist because, you know, he was flying into Detroit from Florida. And traveling to lots of other places. And he looks kinda of “Muslim.” This was enough for our fine boys and girls and blue to spend nine months questioning Elahi, polygraphing him repeatedly, and going through his stuff. Because, again, internationally known installation artist is a perfect cover for a would-be terrorist.

Once the FBI got bored and moved on to harass someone else, Elahi decided to fight back. With art.

As he describes in his awesome TED talk, Elahi created a website–which eventually became “Tracking Transience“–upon which he posts detailed, micro-level information about his life. What he eats. What gas stations he goes to. Where he sleeps. What flights he takes, where, and when. What he spends his money on. Using photos, Google Earth, and direct links to his bank account, the TT site lets any visitor determine Elahi’s specific location at anytime and trace his movements and actions in the past.

The trick is that you can’t navigate the site in a logical way. It’s not designed that way. Rather, you have to wade through all of these individual pieces of data–photos, coordinates, spending information–and fashion some kind of meaning out of it yourself. There’s no narrative thread for you to follow; you have to make one for yourself, even as you navigate pages full of time-stamped, anonymous, specific, colorful, super-specific information.

For me, Elahi’s work is a gift from 2011 because it suggests to me that seeing isn’t the same thing as knowing. When Elahi was picked up by the FBI, it was simply because they saw individual pieces of data in his life–what he looked like, where he’d been, how frequently he’d travelled–and, from that, fashioned the narrative of Potential Terrorist. The FBI didn’t know him, nor was that the purpose of their investigation. Rather, they needed to be convinced that what they were seeing didn’t mean what they assumed that it did; that the meaning they’d made from it was– misguided, shall we say.

So here’s the thing: TT tells me that, no matter how intrusive the government is into my life, how much I post or don’t post on Facebook, on my blog, write in any sort of public space (Blackwatch Plaid!), it’s fucking hard to know someone just from the ephemera of their life. What websites I visit, or what books I buy, or what stories I write, or what I buy at Kroger: ultimately, these tiny pieces of information won’t tell you a damn thing about me. There’s no master narrative for anyone to follow about my life, and it’s this lack of stability that a) makes postmodernism awesome and b) gives the feds or the cops or whoever the wiggle room to make up whatever kind of story they want to about you. So, you know, pluses and minuses.

I post the hell out of my slash fic. I say what I actually think on Facebook, in front of my profs, in front of my students. Actions always hold the potential for consequences, but that need not be a negative thing, I think. Dude, I’m tired of watching every word, every thought, every glance because, let’s face it: I have no poker face.

Thanks, 2011, for sending Elahi and TT my way, for reminding me that being seen isn’t the same as being known, that most people aren’t paying that much attention to you, anyway, even if the NSA and the Office of the President visit your online art installation. Which? If I find out Joe Biden has cruised past this site, I will have new hope for the future of this country. And then I’ll email Jill and let her know what he’s been up to.

Thanks, 2011, for bringing me back to classic rock.

2011 has given me a lot of cool things. These are two of them.

Spotify and Pandora

This year, I found classic rock. Again. Turns out it was right where I’d left it, tucked between my first and fourth years of undergrad, rocking out and rocking on in my absence.

Before I went to college, I had zero musical taste of my own. I picked up a little from my dad (ELO and the Eagles), added some Beatles and Ray Charles, and that was it. Then I went to uni in Pittsburgh, PA, home of the Steelers, Heinz ketchup, and WDVE: a hardcore, old school classic rock station. I don’t remember why I started listening to DVE, but I know what happened when I did: “Radar Love” by Golden Earring.

In those days, I walked around with a Walkman, always; I was porting music when it still needed tapes, man. I was tooling across this skybridge that led from the old part of the dorm to the new when “Radar Love” came on, and like wow, it changed the way I was walking, right then, the way I was feeling, and I was a fucking badass all the way down the hall, all the way to my room, and damn if that wasn’t it.

Four years of DVE: that was my musical education. The 20-minute version of “In A Gadda Da Vida.” The live version of “Life During Wartime.” Lots of the Steve Miller Band. Springsteen’s “Candy’s Room.” U2’s “Desire.” Kansas and Boston and Bad Company. Ozzie and Clapton. AC/DC and Journey. All of this stuff kind of sunk into my blood, dug its way into my ears and settled surreptitiously into my brain.

When I left school, I left DVE behind and slid over into ambient and electronica, not consciously rejecting the old white geezers but making a move towards something new. Maybe classic rock made me miss Pittsburgh, a place I mourned for for a long time. I still hang on shots of the city on Monday Night Football, lit up and lovely and full of Terrible Towels.

Whatever the reason, I stopped seeking out the rock, but it kept kicking around in my head, never really went away. Just kinda of waited like a hunter in a deer blind, waiting for me to wander back by.

Some 10+ years later, I started a PhD program and blew through six seasons of Supernatural in four months, a show that fucking revolves around classic rock, uses it as an invocation, a benediction, a punchline. So those songs, that sense of awesome that DVE left behind, shot back to life–punched me in the head and told me to come on home.

This is where two internet music services, Spotify and Pandora, come in: Spotify brought me a long playlist of music I still remembered, and Pandora reminded me of old friends or pushed new ones my way. It’s a beautiful, symbiotic relationship with my brain happily snapped in the middle.

Music is my version of uppers and downers: I wake up to Pandora, sing along with Styx, move through the day with Spotify, terrifying passers-by with my lip-synching of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” or “Wanted: Dead of Alive,” and decompress with a Rolling Rock and the music turned up way too fucking loud, ringing in my ears, keeping all the stupid out.

So thanks, 2011, for bringing me back to the path of rock, back to awesome guitar licks and terrible lyrics and hooks that grab hold of me at 8 am and don’t let go until I try to sleep, to drift away drunk on hair metal and power ballads, on love and lust, on the 70s and 80s, on drug references and bad innuendo, until I say, for now, for then: good night.