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.

New look, new ideas

This site has languished for quite some time as I’ve been busy with coursework, buying a house, etc. Now, I think I’ve finally gotten it where I want it.

When I started this site I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be, exactly. I played around with some ideas and never quite felt satisfied. But now, and with remarkably little conscious thought, I think I’ve figured it out.

Some time ago, when I was still teaching high school English, I found myself “afflicted” with hypergraphia. I would write, and write, and write, like I had to drain the words out of myself or risk rupturing something. At the time I also experienced periods of hypomania. Just the depressive parts, without any of flights of intense experience characterized by full-blown bipolar disorder. Writing, I found, helped me keep those hypomanic episodes comparatively mild. I keep all my notebooks, so I could probably excavate these old torrents of words and examine them, but that doesn’t seem wise. I still feel the compulsion to write, and still experience hypomania on occasion, but now I’m beginning to understand what to do with my writing and how to channel it. To look back at my earlier discharges now seems like a kind of sacrilege or an exhumation. Better to let the dead horse lie.

I’ve been in graduate school for a long time, with (theoretically, haha) several more years still to go. I enjoy grad school and find it stimulating, but I’ve also come to realize that a big part of why I wanted to pursue it in the first place was to find a way out of a bad situation. With a boring career of teaching English staring at me behind the barrel of a gun, anything more intellectually stimulating seemed appealing, and I jumped in with enthusiasm.

I’m less enthusiastic these days (or maybe the enthusiasm has mellowed with age), and now realize that my writing and other projects no longer need to be a “way out.” Hence the renewal and revitalization of this site. Here, I can pursue thoughts and inclinations in a more relaxed manner than I can in my coursework. While I’m busy specializing in my academic life, I can indulge my generalist habits with this site as a working space, portfolio, and archive. My academic work will no doubt occasionally bleed into these pages, but it won’t be my main concern here.

And now, after the preamble, the new program.

  • I’m in the midst of reading Hubert Dreyfus’s and Sean Dorrance Kelly All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age and will post an essay on it – or maybe several essays – here soon(ish).
  • I will also be holding myself to a regular posting schedule of Reports from the Workshop: what I’m reading, writing, thinking about, etc.
  • I’ve also hashed out the skeleton of a new long-term project on botanical gardens. You can check out the page for that project in the menu above. It’s fairly ambitious, so I’m not holding myself to any deadlines. After all, there’s no professor here to assign me a due date.
  • Finally, I have some other ideas in the works as well, one involving photography, landmarks, and geo-tagging. More on that to come later, since I have to learn how to take better pictures first.

That’s all for now.

Project: To Fill a Man’s Heart

Précis: A short introduction to a novel provisionally called To Fill a Man’s Heart, a writing project I hope to work on this summer. I’m planning the novel to take the form of a dialogue between a “successful” artist and her younger, so-far unsuccessful friend as a way to explore questions of aesthetic authenticity and the importance of creating something new in the world.


I’ve been kicking around ideas for a novel that I think may occupy my time this summer. The working title of the novel is To Fill a Man’s Heart, a line from Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. I’m imagining the novel as something like a long Socratic dialogue between a young, unsuccessful and frustrated artist and an older, more succesful friend of his. The young artist has been injured and laid up after a traffic accident (or maybe just a nervous breakdown) and the goal is to draw a parallel between the young man’s convalescence and a change of his aesthetic sensibilities into a new form of aesthetic agency.

Some of my inspiration going into this project comes from John Fowles’s The Magus and Hermann Hesse’s Beneath the Wheel and Demian. These novels might be described as Bildungsromans, novels about a young person’s (in these cases, a young man’s) education. The German word for “education,” Bildung, carries connotations to me of building, or construction in the sense of care-full development toward a goal. The English word “education” has a similar sense to me, reminding me of “edification” or “edifice,” all words associated with building, and building toward a purpose, with goals and intention.

I’m imagining a pretty unapologetically didactic novel, a roman à thèse, that uses the novel form to make a point and, hopefully, break open a space for its readers to think. I know that modern creative writing classes – at least the ones I’ve taken – advise against such tactics in favor of pure aestheticism, but that’s not what I want to do. While I don’t fault writers concerned solely with writing “good” novels in a “purely” aesthetic sense, I don’t count myself among them. I think the interdiction against political or social concerns in favor of “pure” (that is, apolitical) aesthetic concerns in novels is just a way to inhibit thinking and reproduce frustrating and harmful ideological positions. “Good” novels with no political or social concerns may be pleasing to read, but I’m not interested in producing palliatives for badly interpellated subjects.

This is one of the big differences between the project I’m envisioning and the models I have above. The examples I gave see the protagonist develop, but in a more or less purely individual way. My goal with this novel – and it’s a daunting one – is to break the reader’s normal sense of the world and encourage them to think. A y’all order, but I’ll have lots of free time this summer.

I have a skeleton of the story outlined and have given some thought to the characters and the point I’m trying to make. I probably won’t have time to get started on a draft in earnest for another couple weeks. I have term papers to write and final grades to assign. Thinking is hard these days, especially under the conditions the coronavirus pandemic has forced upon us (and the woefully incompetent response from our leaders). But moments of crisis are the perfect time to stop and think, and that’s what I’m hoping this novel project will help to do.

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