Archive for December, 2009

Exploitation vs. Exploration

Posted in blogging, books, education, lifehacking, literature, multitasking, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2009 by katekanno

Exploitation vs. Exploration.

Previously the former word brought to mind underpaid factory workers or at least those miserably lopsided friendships in junior high, whereas exploration has always drummed up that conscientious chap in the beat up Tee, making his open-minded, charitable way through a new place.  If exploitation was Saruman, hacking up the trees in Lord of the Rings, then exploration was Indiana Jones, knowledgeable, adaptable, and of course, heroic.

On a larger level, of course, this is still true. On a personal level, such thinking is the disaster that we inflict on both ourselves and the world.

How, you might ask, can trying new things, reading new authors, and meeting fabulous new people be a bad thing? It isn’t.
But my life, and I suspect the same is happening in those of many other people, is suffering from a glut of exploration, both physical and psychological. It’s what buries our living spaces in useless consumer junk, the books we don’t read, our time with mildly interesting pursuits and people we know only tangentially, and our brains with all of that digital information on which we, to use that ominously cutesy term coined by David Armano,  snack.

Take all of those indelicate act(s) of multitasking: What are they but pure exploration at the expense of exploitation? We listen to 30 new songs on Pandora while talking on the phone and attempting to cook that souffle via the step by step instructions that we’re watching on the Food Network. And we’re making a hash of it all, even the talking, which we’re reducing more and more to Malaprops, disjointed threads, and yes, grunts.

So this is the year I make a determined effort to exploit more and explore less. Exploit! Exploit! Exploit! I’m with you Saruman. But only when it comes to myself. Save the trees.

Because when you exploit on a personal level, you do save trees. Let’s take my book habit, because it’s come to me after spending five predominantly dull years in the world’s dullest town with nothing else to do but read like a maniac, how very rarely I’ve come away from a book feeling that I know it  to my satisfaction, that I have many of its ideas, characters, and underlying themes mastered, before I’m on to the next one. I’m not trying to beat myself up, or to argue that I’ve gained nothing for my efforts. But as a writer, I want to be better poised to use what’s in what I read both for inspiration and to strengthen my own abilities.

Exploitation project 1: The Reading Journal.

To this purpose I’ve been keeping a reading journal. I’ve been doing it for awhile, but haven’t really landed on a good system until now, my biggest problem being how to separate the writing I do for myself with notes or ideas taken from books. I’ve been using color coded tags from Mujirushi to separate pages of my own writing and the  journal, which is working out well so far. In the reading journal, I  draw a line down the page and note any words or concepts with which I’m unfamiliar, leaving random thoughts or quotes I want to keep on the other. Although I’m not a proponent of Gardner’s learning styles, which are finally, and thankfully being discredited, the act of writing things down rather than typing them up does seem to help me remember what I’ve read. It’s rote baby! There’s no magic trick or psychobabble that can make it any easier.

Advertisements

The Village Virus: When your thoughts are in a box, box up your things and leave

Posted in academic speak, blogging, narcissism, Queer life, social networking, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2009 by katekanno

Wow. A two-week blog fail.

Preparations for moving, the two day trip abroad for a job interview, followed by two more days of clearing out and scouring our apartment left little time for reflection, much less blogging. But we are out, out of our apartment, out of Irvine, and now out of California.

After the surprise feelings of guilt over selling our car — it felt like we were hocking the thing to an orphanage — it was a little strange to feel nothing upon leaving our apartment. We did our final walk through, said our “goodbyes” and “thank yous” to each room, and left. That was that. Not a second thought or a tinge of sadness.

There are lots of things that might explain this non-reaction, namely, the disorganization and frenzied activity that always works to anesthetize any departure pains. When you spend days clearing your home of its character, and follow that by scouring all of the places you’d preferred not to look, even the most stubborn grime of nostalgia is bound to come loose.

But there was another far more important reason: Irvine was quite simply sucking the life out of us. Despite the sun, the quiet, the stacks of books, we both felt we were catching Sinclair Lewis’ “Village Virus,” the provincial coma whose only cure is to get the hell back to a city. And it wasn’t simply Orange County’s 10-mega-church-per-block zoning laws, the bookstores that that exclusively sold the Twilight series, or the legions of Humvee driving republicans, but the university itself, which had a taken cultural and class snobbery to a level all its own.

It was a place where subtle pronunciation wars over the names of critical theorists meant social death for the loser; it meant wearing knit caps in the middle of 80 degree afternoons; and the overuse – and very often misuse – of the word meta. It meant the hip denigration of the academically unhip identity politics by people who mostly, despite their pseudo support of LGBT rights, either just couldn’t see what was wrong with allowing Donnie McClurkin to bash gays at election rallies, or were too afraid to say anything.  As a non-academic,  I often felt  that I was regarded,  to borrow an excellent description from Neil Stephenson, like “a test subject on the wrong side of a one way mirror.”

In short: It was time for us to go.

I’ve been reflecting on this since being back in Portland. This city may have its share of hipsters, but the discussion, the books, the humanities themselves are open to everyone. No academic jargon or mannered diffidence required. Powell’s books is unionized, and the vegans at the vegan cafe are actually interested in labor history, rather than using their veganism as yet another tacit class distinction.