Saturday, June 27, 2009

Running goat creek

the only lasting effects appear to be the blister on the bottom of my right foot and a bruise in the middle of my back. otherwise, running 19km is a lot like running any other distance, only it takes longer.

i set out like the kid in a brain bucket at the playground, with a litre of water, snacks, a rain shell, fleece and my iphone in a backpack, a garmin on my right wrist and a canister of bear spray in my left. at the goat creek trailhead, the wind persuaded me to add a windproof vest and change to yoga pants. (i changed back to the original outfit within 750m.) mo kissed me goodbye, i turned kate's garmin on, and within seconds -- stepped into a deep mud puddle. hence the blister.

the first 7 km were good and strong, with a perfect downhill grade. it was all sunshine and mountains, good tunes and no bears. the next 6 were tougher. at km 14-15 i thought the garmin must be broken. 16-17 were easy, and the last 2km were physically hard (i was astonished at how tired i felt) but mentally easy (no question of quitting now).

i used the running room's 10-and-1 system, loosely -- which probably means i didn't use it at all?: i find it hard to stop when things are going well, and i make any number of excuses to avoid starting again in the middle of an uphill grunt, my favorite excuse being that my sports physician last year cautioned me to "avoid hills." (i'm pretty sure he meant downhills.) anyway, i didn't have a goal beyond the curiosity as to whether i could do this run or not, and i didn't exactly train for it. i went in prepared to walk as much as i had to. i would estimate honestly that i walked 1.5 minutes for every 10 minutes that i ran, which is okay for a first run at that long a distance. i was slow (3 hours to run 19km, at 6.5 km/h on average, or a pace of 9:11) - but i guess that does include changing my clothes, digging around for a powerbar at km 8, eating a fruit bar 2km later, texting mo around km 13, and running with a pack.

at the end, i felt strangely flat. i thought i would feel elated, depleted, proud, amazed, high or ... something. i was definitely tired, nauseated, and migrainous, but emotionally blank. i shuffled through the banff springs parking lot and stretched my calves while i waited for kate and mo to take me to the hot springs.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Roughing it at lake o'hara

by the third night i could stick my feet all the way down to the bottom of the sleeping bag without flinching.

what can i say: it's a phobia. i can't put my hand or foot anywhere i can't see. when most people lose something under the driver's seat, they reach down and retrieve it. me, i go to therapy.

so it was no small accomplishment, getting used to the sleeping bag. and it did make the rest of our rough life seem easy by comparison: pulling water from a stream, sleeping in common quarters, using the stinkiest outhouse in tarnation, cooking for a dozen, going without electricity, without showers, without email, facebook, twitter, wikipedia or blogging.

from 21-24 june we stayed at the ACC's elizabeth parker hut up in lake o'hara. although EPH's popularity means that most people enter a lottery for a chance to stay there, we have an in through family friend al hunter, who's been going there regularly since 1959. every year he puts together a ragtag group of campers including, for the last four years, my folks. also along: al's son craig and two of his colleagues from BC social services, al's daughter jody and her 23-year-old son sam, and our friend katherine. it was a shockingly good group, generous and fun and easy to be around, with the right combination of together and alone -- and fantanstic food: blueberry pancakes and ham for breakfast, fresh chili for dinner, dried meats and hummous for lunches, along with organic vegetables and penticton fruit, single-malt and st andre cheese at 5. most importantly, the ear plugs worked.

what people love about camping at lake o'hara is that you start at such high elevation that it's easy to get to the wiwaxy gap, or the yukness ledge, or up to abbot pass. even with the weather pissing rain, or blowing snow or, on wednesday night, hailing, we had some great hiking. and mo's pictures can make anything look beautiful:

nothing like chilly hiking to make even a sleeping bag feel cozy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Heart healing

at first i didn't think i would like her at all. i like my clinics clinical. so when she said, "it's just you and me for now, so i thought we'd keep it casual, you know?," i almost fled. but as mo has pointed out to me, i am always better when i get acupuncture regularly, and so i stapled my butt to the chair and filled out all the forms.

it turns out, she's the most intuitive healer i've ever met. she listened to my pulse with her eyes closed for a long long time and then she said to me: "the reason you find it hard to make decisions isn't because you can't make a plan or execute it. that's the reason most people find it hard, but that isn't it for you. what's hard for you is that you don't know what you want. you don't know how to listen to your heart. or maybe you forget. it makes for very good dreams, do you dream a lot? your pulse also tells me that you are sweet and generous, and you do a lot for other people, and you worry for them. but the last thing you want is for them to see inside the garage. the allergies are there too, i can feel them, but they are insignificant. your heart is blocking the connection between what happens here [she touched my belly] and your head. the pain must be enormous. well, i can feel it. i know it is. we should work on this."

work we did, and more shocking talk, and i have been walking around in a heavy daze since.

From 12A

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What I felt at geek camp

it's sunday night and i'm already forgetting what the week was like, which i do not want to do, because i felt some things last week at geek camp that i have not felt in a very long time, good things, things i do not want to forget.

excitement: by the end of the week i was seeing possibilities for creativity and partnerships and interactivity and scope for the imagination (thanks anne) that i have never seen before in an academic context. this edmonton course is going to be great, and i can see now how it might turn into something really vital and living, a kind of citizens' treasure trove. a whole new way of thinking collectivities and narratives is starting to take shape, and although i can't yet be cogent about it, i get a thrill when i think about what we might make. but it wasn't like this all week; first, there was --

agony: on monday i felt i belonged. for sure, there was all kinds of technical vocabulary i hadn't mastered, but susan brown is emphatic that tools can't be solely in the hands of the developers: tell them what you need, she insists, and hold their feet to the fire until they make it. ah, bossy. i can do bossy. monday's good feeling lasted into wednesday morning, by which point i was also feeling impatient with a lot of the tools we were looking at: how many ways can there be to build a concordance? something turned on wednesday afternoon, when i started to understand just how enormous this world is, how hard it is to build a single tool for textual analysis, how elusive a good interface can be. i have a notion of what i want, which is better than the inkling i started with, but it's nowhere near an idea. and so while everybody else started beavering away on this project or that, i walked around in a fog, so lost i didn't even know what the questions were, let alone how to answer them. i was trying to have an idea -- anything, please, i'll take a frog in a paper bag, a cheese rind, a cliche -- but nothing doing. i was in the bad place. i know that place is also called "thinking," but it does not seem like it at the time. it's a space of total incoherence and despair. you feel so stupid you figure you must be the stupidest person in the history of stupidity. you are legendarily dumb. cretin doesn't even come close. and then you do something really idiotic (in my case, locking myself out of my dorm room in the middle of the night, so that i had to pad over to housing services in my nightgown and nightguard, barefoot and squinting), which just goes to show.

of course it's not stupidity, but its opposite. maybe not exactly the opposite -- which would presumably be coherent verbal brilliance -- but rather a mysterious process of working things out that go deeper than your words can reach. it's virginia woolf's elusive fish (something about the body?), it's winston churchill's afternoon naps. it's thinking, and it is so agonizing that it makes me wish i worked in a t-shirt factory.

so, what got me over?:

generosity: there are lots of stories to tell about my conversion (so it feels) to digital media, and the most common one is how i bought a mac and it changed my life. true enough. but i have also been blown away by the generousity of online communities. design blogs, for instance, or etsy, or any of the other blogs i follow (see the scroll bar at right) are filled with people who put their stuff out there and then genuinely encourage you to do the same. it was the same in victoria. i met this guy from seattle -- an advanced PhD student, brilliant, named jentery sayers -- who has basically taught the course mo and i are trying to see our way through for the first time. he sat down and walked me through his classes, showed me some of his students' (public) work, confessed to the pitfalls and offered to send material. the whole vibe of the camp is like this. people were genuinely curious and really open-minded, which is what i always hoped to find in an academic community, but so rarely's as though digital humanists, having had to learn their material from the group up, took the opportunity to rethink what "work" might be. and so we actually spent a few days more or less hackfesting, working together in a room on solo projects punctuated by sidebar conversations with whoever might find the topic interesting.

i've come away feeling humbled and excited, grateful and anticipatory. and i learned a lot, even though none of it was actually on the syllabus.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


watching graduate students i've supervised ... fledge ... is an unanticipated joy of academic life. i spent a wonderful evening last night with nicole. her victoria house is very, well, nicole: clean, colourful, restful and exciting to the eye at once. even though we're not great about keeping in touch, the catching up comes fulsomely and easy. she was wonderful as a student and makes an enviable colleague now. we talked some shop, and we talked about how her son is over six feet tall, and i got to meet one of the doctoral students she's supervising, and we were still talking strong by the time we finished the scenic drive back to my residence room.

this morning, facebook told me that linda is a tenured associate professor at southern arkansas university. i never had any doubts, of course -- she's the best thing to happen at SAU since civil rights -- but it's gratifying to know that everybody sees that now. she still keeps a wild and tender menagerie of lucky cats, dogs, horses, all in the plural, all in clover. she is big on the paint horse circuit, and her students all adore her.

on day 1 of geek camp, aimee introduced the multi-media course she's teaching. all i could think while she was talking was what a thrill it would be to be her student! she is as smart and stylish and spunky as she's ever been ("just because we're smart doesn't mean we have to make ugly things," she mock admonished the group of 150), and wiser. her daughter's third birthday was the day before she flew to victoria, and she missed her husband's yesterday -- which is to say, she knows something about what her passions cost.

they are just great, these women, and so are shazia (tenured and living in macomb, pulling together a big pakistan-based research trip for her sabbatical -- her sabbatical!) and maisaa (living and working in beirut with the UN). sometimes i can't believe the things i get to do for the sake of a paycheque.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Learning by design

or, to view my post on geek camp as a wordle:

What i learned at geek camp

so i'm at the week-long digital humanities summer institute in victoria, trying to figure out how to realize the edmonton project that keeps banging around in my mind - a citizens' site for grafting urban narratives into digital cartographies. i'm learning a ton, obviously, though thankfully i learned long ago how to smile and nod and follow along even when i do not have the first clue what's being talked about.

i'm also learning about myself as a learner.

to back up, a second: i believe that it's bad for a person to always be in the position of teacher, to be the one who knows everything, or feels she has to. i think it's bad for the ego and i think it's bad for the spirit. it's too easy to grow conceited, and exhausted, and you stand to lose the magic of unknowing, the productive agony of learning. there's nothing like being a student to remind you, as a teacher, of what it's like out there in the other half of the room. you miss one simple instruction, a turn in the discussion, and suddenly you're in the bad place, lost, confused, sullen and feeling stupid. so -- call it part of the great self-improvement project otherwise known as my life -- i try to seek out studenthood when i can.

turns out, i am a model student. every day i sit directly in the instructors' line of vision. deliberate? nope. but unwavering. i follow their demos with an intelligent look on my face. i smile and nod and look quizzical at just the right moments. again, let me stress, none of this is deliberate. faithfully i raise my hand and ask questions at exactly the right moments. i am very comfortable with this mode of instruction. i like them to show me everything about a program -- and by everything, i mean everything. let's do a title search. then, a subject search. i know you said author searches work the same way, but perhaps we could try one out just to be sure? after that, i like to be left alone to try all of this again, on my own. "reinforce the object lesson," is how they put it in ed theory. i am a painfully structural, top-down, linear thinker.

meanwhile, since it's geek camp, the guy on my left is double-tasking on, it seems, a shakespeare paper. i disapprove of double-tasking, and turn my body away from him, slightly, to convey this to the instructors. the whiz kid on my right has immediately grasped the implications of zotero and has been constructing a resource-sharing circle for modernists at the university of washington for the last 15 minutes, even though the rest of us (i.e., the instructors and i) have moved on to a JiTR demo. "dude!," i want to say, "that's not on the syllabus!"

is this the kind of learner i want to be? not at all. i want to be all web 2.0, freeform exploratory and shit. i want the labile mind of a born-digital 22-year-old, not the behavioral spine of a middle-aged schoolmarm struggling with the DH limbo. so, i'm writing this blog -- firefox tab 10 of 12 -- even though the rest of the class is looking at timeline demos. where i'm coming from, that makes me pretty much a bad ass.

but i gotta go; i think they're moving on to monk ("metadata offer new knowledge") and i don't want to miss anything.