Report from the Workshop: 06/06/22

[This was intended to be the report published in 06/06/22, but then Things Happened and I didn’t get it done. I’m publishing it now because I also haven’t had time to write a Report this week. Things Have Continued to Happen. If this post stops abruptly it’s because I’ve plum run out of bandwidth.]

Currently reading:

Yates, Frances: Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

  • Quite long and very detailed, but still interesting. Scholars have improved upon Yates’ work since her writing, but still a good introduction to the Early Modern milieu before science and magic as we now understand them had been separated. Some of the arguments are directed at other specialists, but the book is still quite readable for someone outside of that field.

Wulf, Andrea: The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire, and the Birth of an Obsession [NB: finished in a couple days – worthwhile reading.]

  • Started over the weekend. A fascinating glimpse at the mid-eighteenth century and the birth of modern botany. I read Wulf’s book on Alexander von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature, and I appreciate her style and the way she contextualizes her subjects. Probably most interesting to me so far has been reading about the lengths to which English noblemen went to acquire plants from North America since their native gardens were dead and colorless in ye olde English winter.

I’ve recently had avocations on the brain. I started (but gave up on – just too dense and long for me right now) Priest of Nature by Rob Iliffe, a biography of Isaac Newton a little bit ago. I’ve also been reading about the hermetic revival in the European Early Modern period, and now I’m turning my attention toward botany and plants in general. I wrote about the edifying potential of popular science books in an essay post last week, and I wanted to continue thinking about the importance of avocational work.

Modern professionalism is, well, modern. “Profession,” in the Medieval and Early Modern periods meant something a bit more specific than what we think of with the word today. A doctor, lawyer, or churchman had a “profession,” while any other kind of worker, even a skilled mason or merchant, had a trade. “Professionalizing,” then, meant a more extensive or “deep” education, as integration into a social hierarchy and institution. To study mathematics at Trinity in Newton’s time, for example, one typically also had to take holy orders in the Anglican church. Professions, then, also required a certain degree of (at least public) profession of orthodoxy. Newton got special dispensation not to take holy orders, but not because of his heterodox positions on the Trinity. Rather, Newton was making such important contributions to mathematics (still part of “natural philosophy” then), that pastoral and clerical duties would get in the way of his progress.

Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners gets into the question of avocations as well. The main characters of her account are Peter Collinson, an English cloth merchant, and John Bartram, a farmer in the North American colonies near Philadelphia. In the early eighteenth century gardeners in England practically devoured botanical specimens from the American colonies, and John Bartram provided many of their seeds, cuttings, and specimens with Collinson as an intermediary. Both men were Quakers, which meant that neither could have attended university, but Bartram in particular is interesting because despite his lack of Latin and his comparatively humble status as a colonial farmer, he developed a deep and extensive knowledge of botany and came to play an important role in the spread of botanical science and North American plants to the Old World.

One might think that botany as a sideline would be natural for a farmer, but it’s worth considering that farmers grow crops to support themselves and their families – while some knowledge of botany in a scientific sense would no doubt serve them well, a Philadelphia farmer who grows corn or potatoes might not care too much about the specific number of pistils and stamens that a flower from Jamaica has, and what this means for botanical classification, pace Linnaeus. These were the kinds of things that did fascinate Bartram, despite his botanical collecting initially making him no money and even resulting in injury.

I’ve spent most of my adult life pursuing an education in fields abstract and humanistic. First history when I realized geology required calculus, then an interesting mishmash of humanistic subjects under the heading of “Liberal Studies,” and now philosophy. I’ve had jobs during the entire time I’ve been in undergrad and graduate school, many outside of or adjacent to academia proper: Lifeguard and swim instructor, grocery bagger and cashier, adult ESL teacher, high school English teacher, adjunct faculty at a community college, substitute teacher at an elementary school, science camp counselor, teaching assistant, and now library assistant at UNM.

Since staring on a more focused academic path I’ve come to realize that I don’t feel at ease with the majority of my classmates. Most of them are at least ten years younger than me and fresh out of undergrad, sometimes with little more work experience than some summer lifeguarding or grocery bagging. Their lives and priorities are totally different from mine, and it’s been difficult bridging the gap. I also find myself balking at the pressure to professionalize. Over the last year I’ve come to realize that academia has historically been my avocation, the thing I do that isn’t the thing that actually supports me materially but that I nonetheless spend a lot of time doing. I’m using vocation and avocation here in a modern sense. I don’t feel “called,” the root of the word “vocation,” to academia. If there’s anything I fell “called” to do, it’s the avocational projects I work at, like writing professionally and gardening. These aren’t “hobbies,” at least not in the derogatory sense of that word, and it’s interesting to note that “hobbies” are now increasingly becoming integrated into the “hustling” one does on the internet. No place is safe.

John Bartram, who spent years traipsing about the American colonies to gather seeds, cones, and cuttings for his European clients, started doing so because of his fascination with botany, as a favor for Collinson, and to the connected to the wider world of botanists, even for personal gain.

The point? My original goal was a PhD in philosophy. I think that has changed. I may need to run my farm like Bartram, but I’m still planning some trips to collect new and interesting specimens.

Report from the Workshop: 05/29/2022

This week’s reading:

  • Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning (finished)
  • Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint (finished)
  • Frances Yates’ Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (in progress)
  • Philip K. Dick’s The Man Who Japed (in progress)

Reading up next:

  • Jennifer Price’s Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America
  • ???? (Possibly something by Samuel R. Delaney)

For a while now I’ve been working on a post (I’m thinking of it as an “exhibit”) about my index card files and how I use them in my writing. I was talking with M about it last night, and she gave me some good ideas to make the system not only more useful, but also more interesting for others to look at and use. (She always gives me good ideas!)

I’ll save the bulk of my thoughts on index cards for the essay series after I’ve gotten it going. For now, suffice to say that I have a pretty elaborate (but really not all that complicated) note-taking and filing system. 2022 is also year six of keeping track of (almost) all my reading on index cards in a file box. It might seem odd to read this on a blog, but I find that I do the bulk of my better work with paper and pen/cil. These Reports are some of the only things I plan, compose, edit, and publish entirely digitally.

Without going into too much detail, I was explaining to M how the system works and my recent attempt at overhauling it. It started life as note cards for my first master’s thesis, but I’ve since worked on expanding it. Anyway, some of the cards were labeled with topics that didn’t really work with the system as an open and expandable project. They were too project-specific. So I used white-out tape to cover the old topics, then write new ones and refiled those cards. M suggested that I keep the “metadata” of the change on the back of the card, which I hadn’t thought of and now think is a great idea! (I’m also considering including more meta-data like date filed, etc. but that might make adding to the system too unwieldy.)

During our discussion I mentioned how the system has holes and ambiguities. I’ve had people tell me that Evernote, for example, does all the things I want my card catalogue to do, digitally, without the need to write stuff out by hand or take up space. I could have the entire catalogue I have a variety of reasons for preferring the analog method (which I’ll go into in the essays). For now, I just want to make some observations:

1. No filing system or note-taking system is perfect. Things will inevitably go missing, get misfiled, destroyed, or something else. That’s the world, baby. And failing to realize this makes actually putting together a filing system much, much easier. (I work in a university archive and can confirm this. Stuff gets misfiled once, not called for again potentially for decades, then no one can find the thing until someone happens upon it looking for something else. Either that or one part of a collection is filed in a different place from the rest of the collection, but the finding guide doesn’t say that. You know, that sort of stuff.) If you know this will happen regardless of how hard you work, it takes the pressure off to get everything perfectly correct every time. Good enough is, as is often the case, good enough.

2. The less work it takes to keep a note-taking system organized and running, a. the less likely it is to be useful, while b. the more bloated it will become.

To point 1: While I try to keep a central repository for quotations and another for ideas, sketches, and snippets, I know I don’t have a complete record. I can’t have a complete record. The napkin I wrote something down on got washed. I wrote the quotation down right, but forgot to write down the page number of the book. It was, obviously, a library book, and that book is now, equally obviously, not available. Guess I’ll need to file that in the “problem” section and find another quotation to support my argument. If I had it in my head that I needed to keep track of every single idea or every single quotation I marked, I’d not only never get them all organized, but never have the time to use them. While accuracy and thoroughness are necessary to make the system work, keeping in mind that I shouldn’t even try to make the system exhaustive or “complete” means that I actually end up using it. It also has the benefit of spurring continued work on the system, which brings me to point 2.

To point 2: I write out ideas, lines of description, and quotations on lines 3×5 inch notecards. I do this all by hand, typically using a ballpoint pen. (I mark passages in library books in pencil, obviously.) Then, I label them, alphabetize them, and file them. All manually. Typing might take less time, but the time (and effort) is part of the point. When I flip back through the book looking for my marks around useful passages, I have to keep in mind that I’m going to have to write out whatever I end up keeping by hand. Since I want to be able to use the notes later, they have to be neat, which requires care and time. I can only go so long before my hand gets tired and my handwriting starts suffering. Each card, then, already represents a decision: it costs time and effort (and a card and some ink) to make each card, and that means that I don’t copy down everything I mark. Just particularly useful or well-put lines that will fit on one side (sometimes a bit on the back) of one index card.

This doesn’t include the labeling, keeping track of topics on the backs of bibliography cards, filing, and refilling after using the cards. I’ve put physical effort into the system and it takes up physical space as a collection of discrete objects, meaning that using it feels much more “real” than reading highlighted text from a pdf. It also makes the cards easier to manipulate, and since the quotations are already the result of some level of discernment (whether they are worth the effort or not), I feel confident that I won’t be wading through repetition or stuff that doesn’t really matter. Plus rearranging index cards makes much more tactile sense to me. Plus, they never need to be charged.


That’s all for now. I’m working on getting into a regular posting schedule, at least over the semester. I’m anticipating the index card series to take me a fair bit to plan, draft, and prepare (including pictures!), but I’ll shoot for having part 1 up later this coming week.

Report from the Workshop: 05/22/21

Report: plants, writing, and knowing what happened to you.

[Note: this post will consist of slightly more “confessional” material than I would usually publicize. Not baring my soul type stuff, but maybe “meditations” like Descartes (only without my converting to total rationalism).]

Earlier this week I received confirmation that when I injured my knee in March I not only completely tore my ACL, but also sprained my MCL and damaged two meniscuses. Cautionary tale not to get dancing-drunk at weddings, I guess. I appreciate now actually knowing the score rather than being caught between optimism and frustration, but knowing has also brought new problems.

M has several medical professionals in her family, and has passed my information on to them. One says that I might not need surgical repair, another seems to suggest that I definitely should have surgical repair. I await an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to get more insight.

Here’s the confessional part: I hate doctors. Not the people themselves, or Medicine in general (this isn’t some anti-vaxx bullshit), but going to the office itself, sitting and waiting, getting weighed and measured and blood pressured, waiting again, getting poked, prodded, told to lose weight, asked questions I feel like I’m supposed to know the answer to but don’t, being expected to advocate for myself when all I want to do is get the fuck away from the linoleum and scrubs and standard-issue old magazines and bad landscapes on the wall. I’ve been working with a physical therapist for a few weeks now to get my knee stronger and I not only like her, but actively enjoy the sessions. And yet, the part of the building outside her office is The Doctor’s, and my heart is always nervously pounding when she comes out to greet me. Even my old therapist, whose practice was in an office building and looked distinctly unlike a medial clinic, made me nervous. (She was surprised to learn this since she wasn’t a psychiatrist. I said I couldn’t imagine anyone not being terrified.) About the only people I have a more severe allergy to than doctors are sports coaches, “motivational” people, and obnoxious businessman types.

Needless to say, the possibility of surgery, of entering the very Belly of the Beast (the hospital) does not have me feeling great. Knowing that needles will likely be involved makes things worse.

Why do I share this? For one thing, I have tried to see this as a way to do some desensitizing training. If I go to the doctor enough times without anything bad happening to me or anyone making me feel bad, maybe I’ll start feeling better about it. I don’t think anyone enjoys going to the doctor, but my aversion is so severe that, before covid, I hadn’t had a flu shot in nearly a decade. I recognize that, for some, this will seem horrible unethical, but it’s hard to express how much the thought of needles makes me afraid. My blood pressure skyrockets, I start shaking, I turn pale, and, in extremis, I start saying really, really nasty things.

I will probably be posting more about this topic as a way to try and deal with it. Maybe.


On a different, and more pleasant, note, M and I went to the botanical gardens this morning. I wasn’t able to walk all that much, but we enjoyed the flowers and the nice weather. I’ve mostly been planning my own garden since I can’t really do much physical work in the yard because of my knee. As we walked I got to thinking about taking cuttings and the ethics of taking cuttings.

I recently read an interesting book by Emanuele Caccione called The Life of Plants. I’m still processing my notes from that reading, and will eventually post a full-length review here, but I wanted to mention an interesting point that Caccione discusses: plants make their own environments.

Right now, our backyard is mostly sand and gravel. This is not uncommon in Albuquerque, where lawns are an expensive (and wasteful, I would argue) use of water. There are, of course, all kinds of plants that will grow here just fine without supplemental irrigation after establishing themselves, but figuring that out takes more effort than I think many people are used to. I’ve done a bit of planting and some putting about trying to shovel up gravel, but the bulk of the work will have to wait until my knee is better.

I got to thinking about taking cuttings because plants can be fickle. They don’t always do what their planters want them to do, regardless of what it says on the label. A good bet, then, is finding established plants around you and trying to propagate them individually, letting them make an environment that humans and other people can enjoy as well. Taking cuttings also makes me think of my reading and writing process. I read a book, mark good lines, and then “take cuttings” by writing the lines out on index cards and filing them. (I promised a fuller treatment of this practice in a previous post and, now, renew my promise to get it written. At some point.)


Aside from posts to this blog, I haven’t done much writing lately. With the semester now truly over and some more daylight hours available to me, I hope to get into a more consistent writing habit. I started working out a short story earlier this week that I think has legs. Of course, one benefit of surgery would be an excuse to sit and write all day as I recover. We’ll see.

Report from the Workshop: 05/15/2022

Earlier this week I wrote this post about my birthday last month, describing how M got me some cool stamps and offering some ruminations on my mobile Wunderkammer full of personal trinkets and their memories.

Also for my birthday, I treated myself to a book I had anxiously awaited for some time: On Quality: An Inquiry Into Excellence, edited by Wendy K. Pirsig. This slim volume collects some important excerpts from Robert M. Pirsig’s two groundbreaking novels, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila, as well as previously unpublished letters and transcripts of a few talks the famously reclusive Pirsig gave over the course of his life.

Robert Pirsig’s work has influenced me deeply. I’ve probably re-read Lila about five times, although I’ve only read Zen once I think. I’ll have a full review of On Quality up probably by the end of next week, but until then I wanted to talk a bit about tools.


In addition to excerpts and other occasional writings clarifying Prisig’s understanding of Quality, the book includes photographs of some of Pirsig’s tools taken by his nephew, David Lindberg. The photos are quite stark, in black and white, and depict wrenches, planers, sockets, and other implements that one might find in any well-appointed garage. The tools don’t appear to consist of anything really all that special – Pirsig seems to have preferred the Craftsman brand – but the photos demonstrate something that resonated quite strongly with me as I considered the treasures in my Wunderkammer: these tools were clearly used.

I have a long-time interest in tools and their use. I’ve been re-reading Samuel R. Delaney’s wonderful Nova this week, which also has some relevance here. Taking place in the third millenium of the Common Era, the characters of Nova are equipped with sockets at their wrists, ankles, the base of their spine and the nape of the neck that allow them to “plug in” to machinery ranging from P.A. systems to starships, controlling the machines with their own neural impulses.

Nova was written long before The Matrix saw the silver screen in 1999, but the idea of plug-in interfaces between humans and machines is probably about as old as machines that could be plugged in at all. [This would be an interesting research project. I’ll add it to the Compost Heap, about which more in an upcoming series on my index card catalogue, but will probably never get around to following it up.] What interests me about the plugs in Nova, versus the single “jack” at the back of the neck in The Matrix, is that the characters of Nova have plugs on their extremities as well – there’s something bodily, something somatic about their “plugging in” to the machines, and these allow one to “plug in” to the real world. While The Matrix deals with philosophical questions of the “brain in a vat” type, Nova addresses the idea that the brain by itself is not what makes humans capable of using tools. In a real sense, the brain does not stop at the inside of one’s skull. Nor does it stop at the tips of one’s fingers, or the palm of one’s hand. The brain is not separable from the body, and the body is not separable from the tools it uses.

To return to the photos of Prisig’s tools. Apart from photos of what appears to be some kind of garage-grade hair dryer, a drill bit, and a set of router attachments, Lindberg’s photos depict hand tools, and these tools have clearly been used. The shining steel wrenches are blemished and worn. Some are probably quite old – Pirsig lived into his seventies and died in 2017 – but their wear and tear is clearly the result of use as well as age. There is also a photo of Prisig’s 1966 Honda Super Hawk motorcycle, now housed in the National Museum of American History. One can easily imagine Pirsig using his tools to keep the machine in good repair.

From the photos in On Quality one gets the impression that Pirsig kept his tools organized and neat – but not too neat. The photo on the book jacket depicts a drawer of wrenches and sockets pulled out from a cabinet. They are laid neatly in the drawer, but not, it appears, in any particular order. While the viewer cannot know whether the objects in the photo were staged this way or not, I like to think that this depiction is an honest representation of how Pirsig arranged them. The photo gives, for me anyway, the sense that though these tools were not organized by size or type, Pirsig would have immediately known where they were when he needed them, probably without even having to think about it. Like the objects in my Wunderkammer, or the files and stacks of papers in my office, the tools and their arrangement represent the life of their user.

I have some wrenches and sockets, but they have yet to see anything like the use Pirsig clearly put his own tools to. Rather, I have pens, pencils, index cards, notebooks, and a laptop. How could these things be similar?

Nova depicts humans interacting “directly” with machines, making the machines parts of themselves through neural connections that obscure the separation between human and machine. The self, then, and I think Pirsig would probably find this thought amenable, does not exist “inside” one, separate from the world “outside,” but rather takes its existence in part through the tools one uses, the “external” aspects of the body that one takes up. Sometimes, when I’m writing something with a pencil, or typing on a laptop keyboard, I lose all sense that the computer, the pencil, the paper, is “outside” of me. I don’t have to think about what I’m doing, because part of what it means for me to do anything at all means taking up things outside of my body (which, as Emanuele Coccia points out in The Life of Plants, is both inside and outside, container and contained, of the atmosphere responsible for the possibility of my life). The computer is made of metal and silicon rather than flesh, the pencil is made of cedar instead of bone and sinew, but at some point I don’t remember this at all, and it becomes one thing.

When I write, it feels like I’m working on something, bringing something out, tuning something up. It’s like working on a motorcycle without knowing whether the thing in question actually is a motorcycle rather than an outboard boat engine, or even a clockwork windup toy. I arrange my tools, get the material in front of me, and get to work, staying out of my own way. We don’t need to “plug in” to machines and technological devices external to us – that tools are not foreign to us, that they are, in a sense, not even really “outside” of us, is probably the single most natural thing to human Being.

Report from the Workshop: 05/08/2022

I’ve more or less finished my third semester at UNM. I have another week’s worth of stuff for the 8-week logic class I’m auditing as a background requirement, but that’s not a huge deal. The work is also much more interesting than I thought it would be, although it takes a lot of time and work to really understand it. At one point I actually said, while in the throes of trying to finish a test before the deadline, “I just wish I had more time for this!” It’s been a long, long time since I had any math classes, and logic is similar to math in that if you don’t get one thing down before moving on, you eventually hit a wall. Trying to work cumulatively, especially with all the nitpicky and counterintuitive rules, and with only a few days for each chapter, really was not ideal. Earlier today I actually caught myself looking for books of logic puzzles on the internet. High-school-math-hating younger me would have had a stroke.

Otherwise, I’ve now crested the hill and am approaching the end of my Master’s program. I have a few more distribution requirements to meet and some background requirements to audit, but beyond that, just a thesis and I’m done. For the second time.

I was initially disappointed that I didn’t get into UNM’s PhD program in philosophy because it felt to me like I was losing time and had taken a step backward from where I was at UT Dallas. Now, a year and a half later, I’m glad things turned out this way, even if it means my CV looks a little weird with the two Master’s degrees. I’m planning on spending some time over the summer researching PhD programs, although ideally I would like to continue into the program at UNM.


Speaking of summer, I thought I would use this post to write about some of my summer writing and reading plans.

First of all, prepare for my thesis. The degree program I’m in only requires a 40-page thesis (the thesis for my MLS was 160 pages), so I’m not really worried about it. I do, however, really want to knock it out of the park so that I have a head start on research for an eventual dissertation, or might be able to submit it as a long paper to a journal somewhere. I haven’t published anything since before COVID, so I need to get on that. I’ve been working on my old card catalogue for my first thesis with an eye to making it into a long-term archive and writing tool, and I’ll also be drawing up reading lists and working through material as I find it.

[It occurs to me that I’ve never written about my fascination with index cards here. Maybe I’ll do that this week.]

Second, continue working on my German. I took a German for reading course this semester which really did help supplement my nearly three-year streak on Duolingo quite a bit. I can read news articles with minimal dictionary help, but I’m still a long way from reading Nietzsche or Heidegger or Marx in the original. I’m planning on using parallel text readers from Penguin as well as continuing on Duolingo to keep my German improving. I’m also planning to work on reading knowledge of Portuguese and Dutch. There’s a lot of interesting philosophy of technology stuff in Brazil and the Netherlands, as it turns out. I can already read Portuguese a bit since it has so much in common with Spanish, and I know that Dutch is less morphologically complex than German, so hopefully this doesn’t turn out to have been too ambitious. Since I have a lot of downtime at work, I’m thinking I’ll set Monday and Wednesday for German, Tuesday for Dutch, and Thursday for Portuguese, with some time spent scraping the rust from my French on the weekend.

Third, get more consistent about writing fiction and poetry. I’ve gotten better about not beating myself up when I don’t write for a while (and this semester has been difficult in a variety of ways), but I really want to get into the habit of writing more regularly. Of course, some of this is self-interest: selling a novel to a big publisher and making a fistful of cash (hahahahahaha) would be great. But really, I’m more concerned with keeping the machine well-oiled. Besides, the more material I have written, the more material I have available for recycling, remixing, repurposing, and connecting. [I might also talk about this in my post on index cards…]


I have other plans beyond these, including researching PhD programs and trying to find publication opportunities, but the three goals above are my highest priorities. Outside reading, writing, and academia, I’m hoping to take some time to relax, keep getting my injured knee healthier, and spend time outside getting our yard in shape. We might also take a trip to Maryland to see family, but we’ll see. Flying just about anywhere from Albuquerque takes forever.

Report from the Workshop: 01/23/22

Currently reading:

  • Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

Currently writing:

  • Finalizing the outline and drafting the second volume of Foggy Weather, my urban fantasy detective series
  • Sketching out a more “literary” tragic novel set in a peri-apocalyptic world
  • Working out sketches for short stories/novellas
  • A screed about “knowing” writing (and I do mean “screed” – I’ve toned it down a bit, but whatever ends up posted here will still likely depart from my more typical even tones.)

Currently thinking about:

  • Robert Anton Wilson’s body of work, specifically his Quantum Psychology and how much I’d like to run a workshop on it
  • Fungal hyphae as a metaphor or analogy for descansos, roadside memorial crosses common here in New Mexico
  • The similarities between German and English and how well Duolingo actually works
  • Installing rain barrels and preparing for Spring and the growing season

After a hiatus longer than I intended, I’ve now found my way back to the Workshop. The Spring 2022 semester has well and truly started, so I’ve started classes again. This semester I have German for Reading and three hours of independent study, which means my classes don’t keep me on campus too late in the day and, as of right now, don’t have much in the way of hard deadlines. I’ll start auditing a Symbolic Logic course in the second half of the semester after Spring Break, which will demand more of my time, but for right now my schedule doesn’t weigh too heavily on me.

The Religious Studies department renewed my contract as a Graduate Assistant this semester, so I’ve started back with that as well. Part of my job consists of holding office hours and I’ve scheduled them in the mornings, when I tend to find myself most productive in terms of writing. I don’t anticipate getting too many visitors, so hopefully I’ll have plenty of time to write. I’ve found that writing in smallish chunks of an hour or two at a time works best for me, especially when I can feel like I’ve gotten away with something by writing on “company time,” whether during my office hours or while at work in the library.


At home, I’ve begun preparing to transform our yard and plant a garden. I have big long-term plans for the outdoor space we have, but I’ve gotten hung up in the past on trying to do everything all at once. For now, I’ve started gathering materials and determining what pieces of equipment to buy/make/acquire that will serve me the most flexibly. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer describes her childhood characterized by the old Depression adage: “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” I like that, although I would qualify the adage to include something about this only holding true in sombunal* cases, rather than as a universal rule. I’ve also found myself exploring some of the DIY corners of YouTube for ideas on planning and maintaining a garden as well as instructions for making repairs to our house.

[*: Robert Anton Wilson coins the term “sombunal” in his writing as a way of saying, “some but not all.” I’ve recently made an effort to use this term, if only mentally, in my thoughts and conversations and have found the effects quite interesting.]

These explorations have led me to adopt a strategy that I think will serve well in the long term (because I want to stay in this house, dammit). I’ve listed my general principles, as well as (some of) their qualifications, below:

  • If you can make it, don’t buy it
    • (unless there is a particular product with a proven track record, that doesn’t cost too much, and will act as a “force multiplier” for other scrounged, repurposed, etc. objects. For example, a manufactured rainwater diverter for gutter downspouts. I could make several from lengths of diverter out of swimming pool hose and PVC, but I don’t want to fuss around with removing or damaging our perfectly good gutters. Since I can easily find repurposed blue food-safe barrels to use as containers, I don’t have a problem with buying the diverter kits they provide a more reliable means by which the water actually gets into the barrels.)
  • Invest in good tools that will last a long time
    • (investing in and maintaining good tools will cost more initially, but over time will end up obviating the need to replace crummy tools, making workflow easier and reducing long-term costs. Maintaining one’s tools also serves as good practice for a more general attitude of maintaining and taking care of others and world in general. Think of it as a kind of concrete practice that encourages a general inclination.)
  • Resist designs that have no “give” or flexibility
    • (fortunately we have a relatively large yard. I had originally thought of building raised beds, but now rather think I’ll try double-dug beds in the soil (after amending the sand), with light barriers of brick to distinguish them from the stepping-on parts of the garden. I may eventually make some raised beds to place on the parts of our yard covered in concrete, but I don’t want to commit time and materials to an unnecessary project.)
  • Work with the environment and landscape, rather than against it
    • We have sandy soil, gravel all over our front yard, and a weirdly shaped lot. While I could break my back getting all the gravel moved out and dumping mulch over the entire yard, I don’t have the money, time, or physical stamina to get this all done in a weekend or so. Instead, I plan to consider where I might want the gravel to stay and where I could repurpose the gravel elsewhere before listing it on Craigslist for free.
    • Water scarcity presents a problem globally, but here in Albuquerque it really does represent a scarce resource. I’ve decided to prioritize rainwater storage and take into account even before I really get down to planting so that I can take advantage of the sparse rains and save on using city water. I plan to use topography and things like swales, sunken beds, mulching and retaining walls to save on water as well. And, of course, I don’t intend to plant really thirsty plants.
  • Finally, don’t waste energy, and only start what you can finish
    • Since my days in the Boy Scouts I’ve heard the adage, “work smart, not hard.” Two years + of pandemic living has taken its toll on my physical stamina, so I can’t spend the whole day shoveling stone and lifting heavy things. Instead, I’ve decided to break up my larger vision into a series of modular, smaller projects I can complete over a weekend or so that will 1) help me get in better shape slowly over time, and 2) keep the yard looking nice while I work. I always hate the “making a mess” part that comes before cleaning up a mess, and I hope this principle will mitigate some of that.

I should clarify that I don’t identify as a “prepper,” nor do I adopt a DIY ethos without any qualifications. While I have respect for those who do – and for the incredible things they build – I find that acting on principles without any qualifications, principles for their own sake, does not suit me. I have no intention of becoming “self-reliant” or “self-sufficient,” and though I find taking measures to reduce one’s reliance on commercial infrastructures laudable, I don’t think one can actually do this completely in any “strong” sense. In fact, the tragic novel I began outlining yesterday takes up precisely this theme of self-reliance and its tragic consequences if taken to its logical conclusions. While I’ve recently begun limiting the number of categorical statements I make, in the interest of my sanity, I would agree with Judith Butler’s line in her recent book on violence that, “strictly speaking, no one feeds themself.”

Kimmerer would doubtless agree with this sentiment, and would even take it one step further by arguing that the group “those who feed us” need not stop at human farmers, parents, distribution systems, grocery clerks, etc. but should rather expand to include the animals and plants whose bodies we consume. I found myself reluctant, when I began reading her book, to go along with the idea of plants and non-human animals as “people,” but my recent re-reading of Wilson’s Quantum Psychology has convinced me to take this thought on as an experiment. What happens when we make an effort to think of the green onions we see in the produce section of the grocery store as people with whom we have a reciprocal relationship? Like my mention of developing an attitude of maintenance, I don’t think we need to go around with the idea of other species as people like us constantly at the forefront of our mind, but periodically asking this question may nonetheless lead to interesting results.


Thus concludes this week’s Report from the Workshop. – Krumholz

Report from the Workshop – 11/22/21

Currently reading:

  • All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
  • Politics of Deconstruction by Susanne Lüdemann
  • God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert

Currently writing:

  • Sketches for essays after finals
  • Notes on final papers
  • to-do list entries that say “work on papers”

Currently thinking about:

  • The anthropology and psychology of shame (for my Nietzsche course)
  • Writing and what it discloses as a practice for Heidegger (for my Heidegger course)
  • The question of things “mattering” (or not) in the contemporary world – Heidegger’s thinking of nihilism
  • The insufficiency of Heidegger’s thinking of Technology (capitalized to show its ontological status)

[A quick gripe before getting into it: Google Keep is really useful and I’ve recently returned to using it on my phone and tablet, but Google now makes you use Keep as a Chrome app instead of being able to use the app on its own in aOSX. This annoys me because I don’t use Chrome as my regular web browser and to use Keep on my laptop I have to open both applications. Annoying.]

Two things have kept me preoccupied this week:

The first is the critique of Heidegger’s thinking of technology from the postphenomenological position espoused by Don Ihde. I’ve been reading his Heidegger’s Technologies for my final paper and have found his position, at a crossroads between phenomenology and American pragmatism, much more congenial to my own thinking than Heidegger’s. But despite his critiques in the book, Ihde doesn’t break completely with Heidegger. For one thing, Ihde finds Heidegger’s thinking of Technology as Gestell, enframing, perfectly appropriate to large-scale industrial technologies like the ones Heidegger would have been familiar with during his life. Steel mills, battery farming, and other “big” industries do make sense within Heidegger’s framework, even if his claim that there is no difference between mechanized agribusiness and the gas chambers of the Holocaust raises a skeptical eyebrow (at least). I’m still working through the book but have found it worthwhile reading so far. I’ll probably write something in more depth about Ihde’s position after finals. (There’s another commitment The Editor will have to make sure I follow through on.)

My second preoccupation this week has been the question of “meaning,” or its lack, in the contemporary world. I’m working on a longish essay on this question that sprouted from something my Heidegger professor said in class this week. (Before going on I should say that I like this prof and he’s a good instructor. He’s something of a Big Deal, if heterodox, scholar of Heidegger. I don’t intend the essay as a take-down; this isn’t YouTube, I’m not “destroying” anybody. Rather, I have in mind Nietzsche’s line from Zarathustra that “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil.”)

The question of “meaning” strikes me as important because the position I’ve heard before is that the modern world doesn’t have “meaning” built into it like the ancient or Medieval (European) world did. While I’m sympathetic to Heidegger’s critique of the Nietzschean/Sartrean position that humans are the ones to assign value to things outside of them (Descartes once again rearing his ugly head), it nonetheless strikes me that the idea of having to think about one’s “meaning” is a good thing on balance. I’ll readily concede that anxiety and malaise could result from this “loss” of “meaning,” but it still strikes me that anxiety is an improvement over calcification, and it’s only from the perspective of the possibility of anxiety that a more “unified” or “non-split” subjectivity is perceptible at all, much less appealing. I’m not saying that anything could be “meaningful.” There’s probably a relatively small set of things that tend to be determined to be “meaningful” after the fact of actions that diverge from strictly “efficient,” “normal,” or “optimized” behavior. Probably, but I don’t know what they are.

[Sorry for the overuse of scare quotes above. It’s a bad habit I’ve picked up since reading Derrida, but I think it’s actually appropriate here since I’m not sure what we call “meaning,” or its lack, is a good way to think about the world.]


Otherwise, this week has seen me beginning to sail out of the luffing doldrums of worrying about my final papers. It seems like every semester I go through an initial stage of feeling confident about a topic, then some aimless pacing about getting started on it, before finally something happens and I start working in earnest. Oh well, guess I’d better just unfurl the sail (or whatever the correct sailing term is.)

On a final note, I found my nearly-forgotten CD ripping skills put to good use this week while at work in the archives. Who knew that clumsy, janky-ass music pirating knowledge would someday be a valuable skill! Turns out being a child of the 1990s has its advantages.

Report from the Workshop: 11/14/21

Currently reading:

  • All Things Shining, by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
  • Children of Dune, by Frank Herbert

Currently writing:

  • Mostly sketches for medium- and long-term projects
  • Gathering pieces to submit to the UNM literary journal
  • to-do list entries that say “work on papers”

Currently thinking about:

  • The anthropology and psychology of shame (for my Nietzsche course)
  • Writing and what it discloses as a practice for Heidegger (for my Heidegger course)
  • Why “being a writer” irritates me
  • A sculptural practice consisting of pieces made entirely of 1) office waste paper and other paper product leavings, 2) office supplies you can get at a drugstore or hardware store, and 3) packaging detritus

This week was long. After last weekend’s staycation, I had to come home early on Friday to lie in bed all afternoon. I was exhausted.

Despite my exhaustion, I’ve been reading Dreyfus and Kelly’s All Things Shining, a kind of pop-philosophy “self-help” (?) book that’s been on my list for a while. I’m planning one or more essays on this book, so for now I’ll give my initial thoughts. But first, some context.

For a while now I’ve been wondering whether the hallowed halls of academe are actually a good place to do philosophy if, by “philosophy,” we mean something like “the love of wisdom.” Contemporary philosophy is often thought of as a purely speculative discipline, but this would seem to betray its earliest exponents – every one of the classical schools of Greek and Roman philosophy promised that its version of the “love of wisdom” did something. One gained happiness, or freedom from perturbation, or an accurate understanding of nature and how to live in it by practicing a particular school’s philosophy.

This isn’t to say that contemporary academic philosophy doesn’t “work,” or that it doesn’t seep out from the poorly sealed foundation of the Ivory Tower into the culture at large. It does, but often badly. A good example of this warped seepage is the idea of the performativity of gender pioneered by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble. The popular conception of this idea runs like this: gender is conventionally defined. As such, one isn’t a man, woman, etc. Rather, one performs these roles. That is, I “play the role” of a man. This understanding suggests that, since I can be aware of my masculinity as a role I play, like on a film set, I can choose not to play the role I’ve been assigned, or play it in ways diverging from the “straightforward” portrayal others expect.

Sounds good, right? The only problem is that this popular conception of the performarivity of gender misunderstands Butler’s point. She argues that our performance of gender is, at least in part, not up to us. We are assigned roles, often by violent means. But, since our social practices are “iterable” (a concept she gets from Derrida), they can be copied and recopied – or not. Since social roles are iterable, we can choose not to reproduce them, or reproduce them differently. Gender, then, becomes something like a “social” performance, in which one is assigned a role, but because these roles don’t go “all the way down,” one can find ways to either reject the performance of that role or reinterpret it. The big point missed is that the performance is not (entirely) something an individual chooses, but is rather partially a product of social forces.

I give this example because I have a feeling that All Things Shining will (have) be(en) misread in a similar way. Dreyfus and Kelly are basically recapitulating Martin Heidegger’s argument for the possibility of postmodern living beyond what he calls late-modern “Enframing” (Gestell). Enframing is a kind of ontotheology (a way of understanding the world both “from the ground up” and “from the top down”) that assigns to everything, including humans ourselves, the status of Bestand, or “standing reserve.” Things are, within this ontotheological framework, fundamentally resources to be exploited. There is no longer any qualitative difference between one thing and another. The question “should we do this?” is now trumped by “can we do this?” And, if the answer to the latter is yes, then there is no a priori reason not to do it, whatever it is. Dreyfus and Kelly don’t mention Heidegger specifically more than a handful of times, but their argument is essentially a kind of popularization of his thinking. They do this by tracing the origins of the nihilism that makes enframing possible through several canonical texts of the Western literary tradition. I haven’t gotten to the end yet, but I have a feeling that their gesture toward a renewed meaning of the world against nihilism will have to do with the late Heidegger’s “fourfold” (Geviert).

I don’t want to jump the gun here as I’m still reading the book, but at least one value I can see from this book is a pretty clear object lesson and articulation of what Heidegger thinks “art” (which includes literature) means and does. They also offer some interesting readings of canonical texts in the Western tradition from the Odyssey to David Foster Wallace. Even if the reader doesn’t buy the whole argument, these readings are worth a persual.

I know Dreyfus was an expert on Heidegger, but I don’t know anything about Kelly except that he’s at Harvard. The general idea they’re presenting is familiar to me since I’m familiar with the later Heidegger, so I’m trying to read as a “general reader” and evaluate the book on those terms. We’ll see if that’s possible. No timeline, of course, on when I’ll get those essays up. Being one’s own editor isn’t always bad.


Other than reading, I’ve mostly been worrying about final papers, the holidays, etc. You’d think that after being in grad school for nearly a decade I’d have figured it out by now and could preempt end-of-semester nerves, but you would, of course, be wrong. Nothing better than perseverating, I always say. Except maybe procrastinating by cleaning the house.

This semester has presented a strange series of challenges. On top of big-deal Life Events like buying a house (in a new city), looking for and finding a job and graduate funding, and failing to recognize people from last semester’s Zoom classes when I see them in person, it’s been difficult for me to be around other people in public. I’ll confess that I rather liked not having to go anywhere last semester, even if the reason why was bad. UNM instituted a mandatory vaccination policy for all students, so I’m not really worried about Covid (on campus, anyway), but just being around groups of people is increasingly difficult for me. It’s always been exhausting for me to spend time with large groups, but I feel much more sensitive to the exhaustion these days. Maybe I just need to be patient and my old tolerance will return, such as it was.

Another significant change I’ve made is that I’ve stopped setting myself a reading goal each year. I’ve been keeping track of the books I read since March of 2017, but last year I set myself a goal of 50 books for 2020. My final total was 68, but it occurred to me earlier this semester that I was treating this pursuit like a game, just trying to beat a high score. I doubt I was paying close attention to many of the books I read last year, even if I did in fact read them, and that’s not what I’m after. I’ll probably write more extensively about the experience of keeping track of my reading later, maybe in the new year. Of course, The Editor hasn’t set me a deadline, so we’ll see.

Thus concludes this inaugural Report from the Workshop.

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