self-conscious blather

metaposts, an introduction

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

the best writing teacher i ever had was a man named andrew hess.
andrew was the grad student who taught my section of the expository writing class that all freshmen at NYU were required to take as a part of the general education sequence. most people hated this class, and, as with many classes that are taught by an assortment of grad students, a lot of them probably had pretty good reason. the odds of me ending up with andrew as an instructor were slim, and even slimmer because his section of the class met at 8:30 in the morning, which would never have been my first choice, but it so happened that it was the only section that fit into my schedule that was also a ‘computer section.’

the whole idea of this is actually kind of baffling now, but this was 1997, and most people didn’t have laptops, and some people didn’t even have a computer at all, so you didn’t always get to turn your papers in digitally. you actually had to, like, print things out, and find a stapler. but my freshman year at NYU they were trying out this new thing by having ‘computer sections’ of writing workshop. we met in a computer lab, and turned in our papers via email. we also did things like chat together in class about something we read.

it was all meant to be very cutting edge, and, in what i suppose was a foreshadowing of my future interest in hci, i thought it was exciting enough that i wanted to sign up for it, even though it meant going to class at 8:30 in the morning. i had just finished going to highschool for four years, after all, and i had to get there at 7:15, so 8:30 sounded quite reasonable. after a full year of staying up until 3 in the morning on a regular basis, and almost never getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night, i changed my tune, but in the narrow window between eras, i signed up for andrew hess’s section of writing workshop, and it changed me. for the first time in my life, i had a teacher who saw right through my bullshit, and tore my writing apart, and challenged me to really think about what i was saying instead of just babbling because it was easy for me to babble, like i’m doing in this blog post.

la la la la.

it was hard, and it scared me a little, and if i ever get my act together and actually write something that makes me proud, it will be partly because of andrew hess, and i will say so in the acknowledgements.

anyway, one of the things that andrew did was ask us to write something that he called a ‘metatext’ after each of our papers. the idea was to give us a place where we could express our thoughts on how the paper went – did we like it? did we leave something out? what hung us up? what did we know was confusing?

this practice raised the caliber of andrew’s editorial comments to a whole new level, because he knew what we already knew, and this experience felt to me like fresh air was finally being let into a room that had grown very stale and stifling, and it made me rather giddy.

one of the things that the metatext helped me with was being comfortable leaving things alone even when i didn’t feel like they were finished yet. i have a very hard time with drafts. i try to make things fit together from the beginning. and i fail. because that’s not how writing works, really. you need to test things. see how they feel. rework them and move them around. i resist this, because my thoughts? they are messy. and it’s hard for me to explain them. and no matter how many times i learn the lesson that it’s faster and more rewarding to just let myself say them a hundred different ways and then pick the ones that work best, i still feel bad about asking other people to sort through my muck, and nervous about going on the record with things that i don’t really mean.

i’m saying all this not because i’m feeling particularly narcissistic this evening, but because it’s a pretty good description of the core of my dilemma with blogging. i was thinking about it as i was writing the last post about kwerk because i kept getting stuck, and it made me nervous, and i remembered andrew hess, and writing workshop, and metatexts, and i thought: maybe i should start writing metaposts? separate places where i let myself ramble about what i think the post did pretty well, and how it compares to the form of the idea that i’m trying to find a way to express, and what i think i might do to make it better.

it seems worth a try, a least.

i can hide the metaposts after the jump, or something. maybe find a plugin that lets me attach notes. then people with interest in such things can read them, and the main posts might get leaner, as a result.

i’ll go write a metapost for the kwerk post now, and try it out.

i thought that this was going to be the metapost, but then i decided to tell stories instead. :)

so andrew, if you ever read this – thank you. i will have you know that you also made me very sensitive to the fact that czechoslovakia no longer exists, and i hope that the past ten years have treated you well. i am trying to focus on kwerk, and finding ways to make money in the meantime, but i am also starting to write a short story – pretty heady sci-fi – and when i finish, i will seek you out, and send you a copy, and if you have the time and interest to tear it apart, it would be a tremendous honor.

burning my draft cards

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

here’s a fun chain of events for ya:

my mom emailed me an announcement that this american life is hiring a web director. and i consider myself qualified and available. whoa!

thinking about applying to work for an organization like TAL is an interesting mind game, because apart from a desire to sound sincere and professional without geeking out and being like “OMG!! i listen to your show all the time!! i even have the juice glasses!!”, there is also the consideration that actually? geeking out a little bit is probably advisable. because not only are they hiring you to be a web geek, but the whole culture of the show is geeky. i mean, if they interviewed someone who was talking about how it felt to apply to work for people she admired and she didn’t admit to freaking out a little bit? i don’t think they would believe her. ira would be like “come on… wasn’t it just a little weird? wasn’t it kind of like not wanting to wear the band shirt to the concert because that is totally lame but still thinking about the fact that you weren’t going to wear the band shirt, and being kind of proud that you were cool enough that you didn’t need to show off like that, and so you hoped that would somehow get across?”

and yeah, it is kind of like that. where does he come up with these questions?! ;)

but whatever, the mind shows its propensity to dizzy itself, and it is far too easy to get wrapped up in overthinking such matters.
i’ll just write them an honest letter and see what happens.
wish me luck!

in the meantime, however, i searched my blog for posts wherein i might have mentioned the show in the natural course of conversation. it has happened several times, actually, which does far more to show that i actually consider the show to be a part of my life than any assertions i could make at this point, so score one for blogging!

two of the mentions, however, were in unfinished draft form, and that got me thinking. the first post was about habeas corpus, and the date suggests that it was actually the first draft i posted after writing a REALLY LONG rant about a variety of things, including the decision that i should publish my drafts somewhere on the public record, if not on my main page.

well, that was a noble aspiration, and reading the habeas corpus post reminded me of why. i have this funny habit, you see, of almost finishing posts and then stopping because i can’t get the conclusion quite right. it’s really quite ridiculous, but it is the only way i have found to get myself to cross the hump of starting to write something without having to worry about perfecting it on the first pass. one of the reasons that the one hour essay project is such a compelling idea in my world is that i tend to bite off way more than i can chew in most of my writing. i want to somehow connect every idea i have to some larger law of the universe and also throw in an entertaining childhood anecdote, an obscure pop culture reference, and a puppy. such neatly bundled packages take time, however, and i simply can’t do that for every blog post i dream up, as much as i may wish otherwise. instead of just posting half-formed ideas or trying to chop things into smaller pieces, however, i end up with lots of posts about fluffy stuff, and a mess of unfinished posts that i can’t bear to delete, but also almost never get around to finishing.

SO. the one hour essay project is actually an attempt at the cutting things into smaller pieces approach, and i hereby redeclare my intentions to post all my drafts, which i had stopped doing at some point while traveling. you can read them via the blither and blather link in the header, or by clicking on drafts in my fancy tagcloud. i think that i will also make a little “current drafts” list in the sidebar, because that would be sweet, and make it easier for me to remember to edit them.

and to close, for those of you intrigued by my references to TAL posts, i offer the following reference list:

here’s to life in progress.

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

i know that i can dominate discussions. be overpowering. ask for feedback without really listening. yes. listening is really the key. i know that i don’t listen deeply enough. actively enough. honestly enough. i know that i worry too much about getting my own ideas across. about being heard. about being smart. i don’t care so much about being right in the end, just about contributing. believing that i played a part in shaping the conversation and that it would have been different and somehow less rich if i wasn’t there.

i also know that i enrich situations by simply being a part of them. that’s how people work. the only way that i can endanger richness is by derailing conversations so that they’re about whether i get them or not instead of just about themselves. seeking validation of the fact that i tend to seek validation is a bitter pill. it is burying my head in the sand. succumbing to fear rather than standing up, looking around, and doing what is right.

so here i sit. and i can’t worry about what you (whoever you are) might think about posts like this. i can’t worry about whether this is a manifesto. or an apology. or a rant. or self-indulgent. or productive. or anything else. i only know that there is too much in my head, and worrying about what i send out doesn’t accomplish anything because it only means that i displace one thing with another without actually freeing up any space.

i hate writing things like this. i hate reading things like this. i hate the constant drive to rant and moan and complain and then try to make it better by going all meta and ranting about ranting and thereby proving that i get that i don’t get it (which means i get it, get it?). i hate pretending that the goal is just to find the right switch and flip it. i hate being able to say that i understand that it is all here, right now, not there, not later, not THEN, not MAYBE AFTER, not IF ONLY…

but, most days, i can’t fully let go of wanting to SAY rather than just DO, and i hate admitting that it’s hard for me to do something so easy. that

but then at the very same time…

i love

expressing yourself is not about finding a unique formula that does catchy without too catchy, deep without cliche. it’s just about saying what’s in front of you. honesty is unique by default.

ha, ha, my silly brain!

Monday, August 21st, 2006

i recently adopted a new algorithm for creating passwords, and though it is not without problems, i like it quite well.

now, however, i run into this problem when i go visit sites that i haven’t logged in to for a while, because i don’t know whether i used the new approach when i created the password there or not, so i have to do some guesswork.

this often leads to frustration and failure, because i changed to the new strategy for a reason, so if i Didn’t use it, there is very little chance that i will succeed in remembering a password if i didn’t really care about the site that much to begin with, because my old strategy used to be, basically: if it’s important, use a stock password that you trust, otherwise free associate with the page name and use the first thing that comes to mind that is relatively obscure.

so today, i decide to go to the adobe website and download the trial version of flash because i need it for prototyping our project here at convivio, and i didn’t manage to get the mac version before i left home (grumble).

so i go to the site and they prompt me for a login. i go “oh yeah, i think i have a login from when i did the same thing with photoshop once upon a time, but i don’t remember it.” so i put in my email address, and sure enough, they send me my login.

i try the password as it would be in the new system. no dice. i don’t feel like blindly guessing, so i just click on “i forgot my password.” they give me a handy prompt, of my own design, which is “not adobe, but…”

i think for a second that i might have been telling myself that it had something to do with macromedia, before the merger, but that didn’t really make sense because i thought i had signed up because of photoshop, so i keep thinking.

then i have a little glimmer of memory.

i try my guess.

the doors open successfully before me.

i chuckle aloud at myself, both for the original association and because the prompt worked on the first try, which says something about my brain.

the answer was: stucco.

but i’ve gone and changed it now, so don’t get any ideas. ;)

the first amendment

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

so i think i’m going to change my proclamation about getting up in the morning, at least in an official sense.
i’m going to opt instead for a proclamation about going to bed at night, which is kind of a way of tricking myself, and i think it’s a rather clever plan that should have been obvious much sooner.

you see, i have decided that there are three things which give the grog power:

doctor, doctor, are you the cure?

Tuesday, October 4th, 2005

this week i have done a lot of bouncing back and forth about what i’m going to do after graduation, which i have somewhat whimsically narrowed down to:

  1. stay at IU for the phD program
  2. work at Google
  3. travel until i run out of money

i say this is a whimsical list because it does not include any fallback options, which many find foolish.
the conversation goes like this:

them: so you want a {phD, job} eh, Kynthia?
me: umm…maybe.
them: Well, you’d better apply to as many places as you can!
me: that Does seem the reasonable approach…
them: [pause]
me: cookies and cream is a really good ice cream flavor, isn’t it?

see, the answer seems to be that i Don’t want a {phD, job}. i either want to stay at IU because i have found an exciting community of people here who are pushing me to do good work and i feel like i’m finally figuring out what i need to do to get my game on, or i want to go work for google, because if i take them seriously when they say that they’re out “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, then we have a lot in common, and if i’m trying to learn what’s really being done out there and what i can do to help, then there are probably few better ways than going to work with a bunch of really smart people who are currently in the center ring of the cultural circus that is shaping our technological reality.
or at least that’s one perspective.
the other is that i would get sucked up by california and yuppie culture and free food at work and swimming pool treadmills and all that would allow me to become so entranced by the work of helping gmail conversations become what they really are longing to be that i’d forget about what makes that whole “universally accessible and useful” business really resonate with me – the fact that there are a hella lot of people out there who are poised to be excluded from the work and play of gathering and sharing our collective human knowledge, and i want to do what i can to make sure that doesn’t happen, because i don’t believe we’ve the right to call it our “collective human knowledge” otherwise, and i don’t see why we would want to aim for anything less.

so i’m of a split opinion on the matter

this week i’ve been bouncing back and forth (is that how this post started?), and the things i tell myself at either extreme are:
phD – “you’re in a place you love, working with people you respect and you feel momentum toward defining and realizing your goals. your whole life you have been thinking that you will find answers somewhere else, sometime later, when you’re more ready, and so why the hell would you leave a place where you feel like you’re cultivating the skills you need to feel comfortable in the here and now to go work for a place that gives a lava lamp to every employee?! are you high?!”
google – “you’re at a point where you can recognize what you think you want to do, and these people might be doing it. your whole life you have been thinking that you will be more ready for things if you just wait and learn a bit more, prepare a bit more, so how can you give yourself that same speech now and think that it is anything other than the same old fears of success with trickier psychological clothing? the only way you will get sucked in and end up somewhere you don’t want to be is if you stop caring about what brought you there and stop looking yourself in the mirror. Why don’t you give yourself some credit?!”


all of this, of course, supposes that both of these options are really options, and they’re probably not. when i graduate in may, i will be just about qualified to be what google calls a usability analyst. But that’s not really my ideal job there, and it’s wicked competitive, and my speeches to myself about wanting to build skills are really rather relevant – remember that four years ago i was a political science major, and before that i was learning to make movies. i don’t regret those experiences in the slightest, but i’m in super-learning mode right now when it comes to the computers, and school seems like a reasonable place to be learning…
(but i would have to get into the phD program, too, ya know, so it’s not like anything’s a given, and since, as mark twain has told me since highschool – “i never let my schooling interfere with my education”, it’s good to remember that it’s sure as hell not like i wouldn’t learn about the computers if i friggin worked at google…)

so yeesh! nothing is resolved here!

the practical money’s on the phD, i suppose, but the moral of the story is that i’m applying for both so that all of the voices of my conscience will be satisfied

i’ll just do a bunch more bouncing in the meanwhiles, and if i call you in may asking if i can crash at your house on my way across the country or around the world because neither panned out, just don’t say i didn’t warn ya…

take some freak-out, pass it around…

Thursday, September 22nd, 2005

crises seem to be the scene du jour for my classmates right now, so much so that i’m having a bit of a meta-crisis because i don’t really feel like putting on a tutu and getting on the roof for a rousing rendition of wooly-booly.
what’s wrong with me?!

seriously, though, it’s not the first time that i’ve felt compelled to wonder if my venting mechanisms are poorly wired, and now i’m starting to think about what it means with respect to my budding professional and/or academic goals.

it’s not like the first weeks of school haven’t provided me with things to rant about, and it’s not like i don’t feel signs of some slippage, but what i’m most worried about isn’t freaking out, it’s dropping out (not in the leaving school sense, or in the timothy leary sense… ok maybe i should pick a different metaphor… stepping back? but that doesn’t have the “out” in it for symmetry… whatever).

to put it more directly, i am coming to believe that the danger for me is not that i will collapse from the pressure of taking on too much, but that i will, in the name of preserving my sanity, convince myself that i shouldn’t feel any responsibility to take on any more than is comfortable (what are you trying to prove?, the grog challenges me in the morning, as i choose between sleeping another hour and getting up to work), and as a result, i will never find out what i can really do if i put my whole self on the line.

somewhere sometime somehow i came to equate wisdom with resisting the rat race, and over time the truth behind that impulse (keep perspective, don’t think that your worth is a function of the success of any of your specific endeavors, don’t forget to just enjoy being alive) has become tangled up with a fear of looking stupid (by not being wise, i suppose, despite the fact that i’m quite ready to admit that being afraid of looking stupid is a surefire way to avoid the accrual of wisdom… just because brains are rational does not mean that they always make sense), and so the result is that i stay on the fringes of my potential, waiting for a strong enough sense of rightness to yank me into the fray and give me the conviction that i need to both get things done and keep my head above water.

i’m either getting closer or i’m just getting sick of waiting, but admitting that to myself sometimes causes a backlash, and i seek equilibrium by staying in bed all morning, or by not doing something i said i was going to do and telling myself that i was asking too much. that’s what my meta-crisis felt like last week, and that’s when i actually started this entry, so it feels a bit different to be finishing it now. maybe i should disallow drafts for a while because otherwise i’ll try to hard to get it “right” when all i’m trying to do is get something out…
that’s another topic.

for now i’m just saying that i feel a bit less stuck in my head about whether i’m doing enough to stay on top of what i have to do, but i’m also feeling somewhat precarious… i got some good things done this week but i’m not confident in my ability to sustain my momentum, or in how much it matters one way or another. that’s the question i really have to tackle before i dive in for the long haul.

Here’s a song I like when I get to wondering whether success as we tend to conceive of it is just an excuse for not thinking about troubling things. If you like it, you should buy the whole album; it’s good stuff, and just about every song there hits me at one time or another.

so it begins…

Monday, September 12th, 2005

ok, i admit it… i’m afraid of starting a blog.
as someone who has been working to encourage myself to write frequently and freely for my entire life, someone who truly believes in the written word as a vehicle for personal reflection, someone who really respects the idea of putting ourselves on the record at our less-than-polished moments, and someone who is just plumb overwhelmed most of the time by the unending task of sorting through and articulating the flotsam and jetsam that tumbles around in my head, i really have no good excuse for resisting, but i have resisted nonetheless.
the hard truth of the matter is that it’s just easier to appreciate the openness and creativity of others than it is to put myself on the line, and so i find myself thinking ridiculous thoughts like “yeah! i want the world to see my unfinished thoughts! just as soon as i finish figuring out what i want to say about them!”
ummm… sure thing, there kay-dawg…
i am always, not just in writing, reluctant to take very strong stances. i hedge. i qualify. i always believe that there is more that i could learn that could affect my positions, and so i feel uncomfortable finalizing anything.
some of this, i believe, is a personal strength – i believe in questioning, in revising, in exploring, in listening deeply to ideas that are different than my own.
some of it, however, is bullshit.
i am too afraid of being taken out of context, of not being able to fully defend myself, of being revealed as naive, of revealing things that people might not really like to know, of simply saying things that i later regret or disagree with.
i don’t like to admit that i’m afraid of these things, and i know i Shouldn’t be, but… \*shrug\*
what to do?
this is about being honest even when it’s ugly, right?
anyway, i’m tired of being a hypocrite about what i respect in others and what i cultivate in myself. i’m twenty-flipping-six years old, and i’m running out of energy for my excuses.
i don’t know whether i’ll start by writing too much, or by keeping most entries private, or by couching everything in self-indulgent justifications like this, but it’s time to risk it and see.

i feel something inside me rumbling, growing impatient, ready to step into the light…