“They Are Not Us”—An Open Letter

To Students, Faculty and Staff:

The Eastern Michigan University Police Department is investigating the presence of a business card advocating hate and racism found in Halle Library this morning. The card was quickly removed once discovered.

I want to stress again, as I did last fall, that such attacks are hurtful to all of us in the campus community – students, faculty and staff – who work every day to make Eastern a welcoming and inclusive campus. We must continue to work together in this way, embracing our unity and common purpose in being a University of opportunity for all. These messages are not Eastern; they are not us. And they may not stop anytime soon, likely due to the actions of a few people who seek to divide our community and gain attention for their hateful messages. Indeed, these are polarizing times, calling for diligent work by all of us to further mutual understanding and support.

I assure you that this investigation and identifying those responsible will be a high priority for our Police. I also want to note that the racist vandalism incidents of last fall remain under active investigation, with police having spent hundreds of hours on that effort. Also, the $10,000 reward remains in effect for information in connection with those crimes.

There will be further updates as the situation warrants. Please join me in standing together with our students, faculty and staff and all in our community who condemn hate and racism.

I want to remind our community that we have many avenues to discuss concerns related to these matters, including our Department of Diversity and Community Involvement. In addition, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers free and confidential counseling to students seeking additional support. Students can make an appointment to talk to a counselor by calling 734-487-1118 during business hours. Students may also access CAPS’ after-hours phone support in the evenings and weekends by calling 734-487-1118. Students whose first language is not English may talk to a counselor in their preferred language. To access the International Student Support Program (ISSP), students may call 1-866-743-7732 or chat online with a counselor at https://us.myissp.com/Home/UniversitySearch.

President Jim Smith

Dear President Smith:

Documents such as the hateful business card found in Halle Library this morning impact us all. They harm us all. They are a part of us all.

There are those of us who have the privilege to decide whether or not this is a part of who we are or not, to choose to see how or how not this participates in our lives. But it always participates in our lives—it’s in our silences, it’s in our inaction, it’s in our punishing students of color for advocating for their own safety on campus, it’s in our ever-enduring inability to put forward plans of action, our forcing students of color to “manage” their responses with therapy in the face of our punishing student advocating, our not acknowledging our own complicity within white supremacy in every level from administration to our every conversation.

As you did last fall, distancing EMU from these actions ignores that this is exactly who we are. This is an extension, part of the broader context that we have sponsored at this institution through our inability to respond to student voices, to speak back to hate, to fail to acknowledge our white supremacist culture. We might pretend that this is not us, but this only serves to turn a blind eye, to not act, to allow future acts to continue.

EMU is not separable from these acts of hate—we are these acts. Each of us carry the experience of these acts of hate. Those of us who choose to pretend that these acts are not us can only do so because we are privileged enough to do so—to ignore how this document impacts every one of us and affects us disproportionately across differences, communities, and identities. What actions will you take? Or must our students march every day reminding us that “EMU’s President is Racist” before action will be taken again—as you did last fall?

“They are not us.” Who or what is not us? Those who would commit those acts of hatred? The acts themselves? Those acts that happened within Halle Library, on the side of King Hall, Wise Hall? Those messages that are heard and felt by our students, faculty, and staff?

It may be uncomfortable to admit your complicity—but being a university administrator, working within a university, being a responsible human is not comfortable. It involves understanding your values that are given both explicitly and implicitly. It involves being honest about what you have allowed to happen, and what you have not. It involves acknowledging the privilege you have to make these decisions.

So I will stand together with you, President Smith, but will we do more than stand?

Sincerely,

Thomas Passwater

Queer chickens and queer eggs: Reflection on a class discussion on primary and secondary discourses

I wanted to reflect on some of my thoughts in response to a class discussion of Gee’s Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics.

In one of my graduate classes, we discussed literacy as empowering and transformative. Much of this conversation circulated around the idea of a “home”/”primary” literacy or discourse that was built upon, left behind, or was impacted in the acquisition of a secondary discourse.

This discussion brought up Gee’s articulation of literacy having more to it than the verbal: there is an identity kit to literacy. That literacy is bound up in identity and ideology. The class discussion circled around this idea that the overlap between your primary and secondary [read “school” or “academic”] discourse facilitates your acquisition of the secondary discourse. Through acquiring a secondary discourse, you can look back on your primary and think metacognitively.

That model of thinking may be represented as:

primary

I couldn’t help but think about some things that might complicate this model. For one, what does queerness offer this discussion?

I was thinking of my own situation as a gay man and asking what was my primary discourse? I did not acquire access to a queer community in which I could be apprenticed into norms or contribute to queer discourses until much later in my life, and yet my queerness required no acquisition processes: that is, I was acutely aware of my difference from early on which shaped my interactions with heteronormative discourses. I had to participate and perform in these spaces far earlier; before I was necessarily even conscious of what I was “passing” as. Even if I was not so consciously aware, I was aware enough of my performance—my passing into spaces—and the consequences of performance: which I suppose is to ask where the work of metacognition begins in discursive practice.

So what is primary discourse? Is it the discourse that I acquired “first”—and, if so, is it the discourse that I had access to participate in first despite cognizance of difference? Is it the discourse that most impactfully shapes my identity—and, if that is the case, what does that suggest about the nature of acquisition and apprenticeship, if one can acquire first and be apprenticed second? And what is necessary for metacognition—is it a looking across borders with explicit reasoning, or something that can be intuited through an awareness of consequences and lived experiences?

Which came first, and does that matter?

I think queerness resists this kind of model I’ve depicted above. Most immediately as queer often implies a resistance to binary thinking, such as primary and secondary. I think it raises the question too of orientation (to draw from Sara Ahmed—as one does), to ask what these objects or ideas of literacy orient us toward: some of which I have attempted to make explicit in that model through a visual/spatial representation and the use of arrows. There is a pulling to this model that pulls toward the secondary, the apprenticed, the acquire, the institutional. It seems to value the primary only as it informs and provides explicit vocabulary for reflection on the secondary: it only values the primary as other.

This discussion was interested in primary as facilitating the acquisition of the secondary. There’s space, then, to acknowledge the privileging of those whose primary discourses overlap more, that touch more, that are oriented toward, that allow one to reach more easily the secondary. However, that potential to acknowledge seemed lost in the language of efficiency: how can we facilitate this acquisition?

Many thought the Gee text left students and instructors in a helpless position.

The text seemed to be asking for immersion into a discourse in a way that they felt uncertain of schools being able to facilitate. But I can’t help but wonder about the moments of border crossing, moments that contact, touch, overlap helps facilitate: perhaps even the moment that an oriented trajectory begins its movement. Moments of crossing are invitational and/or transgressive, they are thresholds of being.

Jacqueline Rhodes writes in Techne:

What is a threshold, the site of such unraveling? A point between, belonging to neither. A doorway facing both sides; and when one threshold opens to the next, we find an endless chain of facing/approaching/leaving. Like the rhizome, like rootstock, thresholds assume—no, demand—a dynamic, bobbing-and-weaving approach that, as I wrote in Radical Feminism, Writing, and Critical Agency, is a hallmark of feminist textuality. Our own radical alterity, and our own tangled response to it, can work as resistance, as critical energy.

I’m curious about a queer inhabiting of that threshold, or is it situating queerness in that threshold, or is it making that threshold a site of queering? The potentiality of the endless facing/approaching/leaving, of the orienting and reorienting that happens in situ.

Is a queer literacy a literacy of the threshold? One that was always already primary and yet also secondary and always orienting and reorienting within the “fractured valences” of multiple discourses and identities (Bessette, 2016).

Which is to say that perhaps we should attend to the orientations, trajectories, and movements within us, our pedagogies, our understandings of literacy and how they contribute to the value and valuation of identities.

To take seriously a queering of this model, too, means to also attend to the ordinal, the situated ordination in structural hierarchies, the directive and coordinating force of number and taxonomy, or immediacy and latent, of proximity and distance, of elevation and baseness.

The idea of apprenticeship seems to want deep, contextually rich moments of immersion in a way that this discussion had difficulty situating within classroom contexts: but what if we were to consider literacy as culturally located and mediated through interactions with technologies, such as language or writing tools.

By ordinating literacy (x, y axes brought-to-bear here) we locate literacy within a locative model, but one that loses its abscissa. It’s a one dimensional model of literacy, one that insists that locating yourself in particular regions of a line means success. But what does an abscissa offer us? What do we get if we look at literacy as 2D, 3D, 4D?

I think at the very least we trouble the idea that literacy is singular, linear, and apolitical and we trouble systems and institutions that privilege the singular literacy. We would instead offer more complex ways in which people locate themselves within the big ball of wibbly-wobbly, unstableness that literacy is.

I do not in any way feel as though I am ready to answer these questions and these initial graspings leave so much to consider that I am yet unready to wrestle with.

A Smattering of Citations:

Ahmed, Sara. (2006). Queer phenomenology: Objects, orientations, others. Durham: Duke University Press.

Bessette, Jean. (2016). Queer rhetoric in situ. Rhetoric Review, 35(2), 148-164.

Gee, James P. (1989). Literacy, discourse, and linguistics: Introduction. Journal of Education, 171(1), 5-17.

Rhodes, Jacqueline and Jonathan Alexander. (2015). Techne: Queer meditations on writing the self. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press.

touching [writing, writing] feeling

In this ongoing project, Brianne Radke and I have been reflecting on the intersections of affect and materiality, at the interactions and extensions of self and/through objects in our composing process, at the way that selves and objects mean. Below, you can see how we have written our way into this inquiry—and we invite you to click, read, and write your way into this project as well.
untitled-design

legos ultra-fine blog gel pen laptop typewriter voice proposal rubber bands knitting

Our “do” session “attend[s] to the tex[x]tures” and affects of converging materials and experiential realities to explore how “objects and [body]events mean” (Sedgwick, 2003; Massumi, 2002; Bora, 1997). We invite participants to compose with varieties of materials and respond to the sensed experience of writing.

Having trouble viewing this? Interactive .pdf available here:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9S67PZXzAr_bl9zeVNNSVhUZzA/view?usp=sharing

Knit /code and a lazy Fall afternoon

img_0089

Some days are chill pants days. Fall is here, which means for me gray skies, strong coffee, big sweaters, and a sort of nostalgic slowing down when at all possible. On those days, where it’s possible, I tend to not leave the couch. Whether it’s curling up to read, binge a show, drink more coffee, work: it’s couch work and chill pants time.

The stress of the school year, finishing up my MA program, working on my MA project, applying to PhD programs—these, if indulgent, moments seem few and far between.

I’m not the best at knitting, but it’s something that I love. Even sitting here on the couch knitting a misknit scarf is one of the highlights of my week. The soft yarn moving between my fingers, wrapping around the smooth metal needlethe textures of the fibers in the yarn fraying lightly, the fabric is cool, but touching it makes me feel warm beyond a physical level.

Any time I sit to knit, it is nostalgic. My grandmother taught me to knit and I still remember the black feathery scarf she was making for her mother to mother’s day. It was something I desperately wanted to learn to do, but it seemed strange. It was something I was ashamed to do if anyone was around or watching me. Some years later, my dad found a some study somewhere that I still haven’t read about knitting being helpful for people suffering with moderate to severe depression (my diagnosis). Then it was something that was encouraged, something I could display openly.

But there is an easy rhythm to knitting. It feels like beat counts: 1, 2, 3, 4/k, p, k, p. It feels even in time and material. The paced stitching of fabric in the measured passing of time. Like beat counts, after the first few bars, the pattern all but seems to fade away and becomes something more internalized: a knowledge that my hands know/do. And it is always moving: it never feels like an appropriate place to stop in knitting, as though there is something compelling me to continue to the next stitch.

All because of two stitches: knit (k) and purl (p). All purling even is is a reverse knit (coming from a Middle English word to twist). I can make from them scarves and sweaters, and hats, and socks, and gloves, and cozies… I can misknit, drop a stitch (or drop-stitch) or double stitch and then what does that mean? Now that the pattern has been interrupted and I’ve moved on rows and rows away.

It’s frustration and failure. It’s the questions of value: is this still a scarf? Is this still usable? How bad does it look? What are my options? Are there ways to adjust or compensate? Does a scarf need a straight edge?

NameError_Scarf

eval(Scarf.importMainWithPattern(“<kkppk>”,false,prog));
}
catch(e) {
alert(e.toRow4Stitch4())
}

Knit/code

Not only because knitting operates with a binary operation/language (k,p/1,0) but I think about the ways in which knitting and coding are similar. The pattern operation, the potential for error in-line, and the frustration I feel during these moments seems the same as when I write code.

However they both involve the use of an interpretive and performed language to make digital and material objects.

What is that act of making? And how am I doing it? Have I installed, as I knit, some sort of Python library that make these flurried movements recognizable as knitting though? And where am I in this or as I code for that matter? Or is this just the practice of doing with skilled knowledge?

I don’t feel skilled.

Nor do I feel like I’m tending to the formation or sustaining of something skilled. These acts of doing inscribe into what I do as much as my doing makes the objects.

feel some sort of generative energy in both situations that is clumsy and wondering with the interplay of vision and (re)vision that my hands make possible; a conceptualizing ends and means that wouldn’t be possible without my hands and self being present with the materials at hand.

Rubber bands

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There’s little more frustrating than starting a rubber band ball. The folding, twisting, wrapping—snap! Time to start over again. I tried again, folding the first rubber band in half and in half again and then started to wrap the second around it and the slightest move of my finger made the first lose its shape—time to start over.

And of course, above all else, a rubber band ball takes time—and rubber bands I suppose—hundreds if not thousands of straps of rubber go in to making just a single ball. And perhaps the best part is, you don’t know necessarily what you’re making until you’ve made it and you know it’s never done until you’re satisfied with it.

But what does it communicate to you that signifies “done”ness or completeness? Is it the weight? The feel of the uneven grippy texture of the bands gripping against my palm with the satisfying mass that tells me of the hours of dedication bound up in this ball? Is it the constraint of time or materials? That I simply can’t make more mass because of material limitation?

ogres shrek animated GIF

I’m sitting at this kitchen table making a rubber band ball across from a maker space inspired project book. One of the series of projects is a rubber band ball of the planets. How to create Jupiter, Saturn, etc. out of rubber bands binding the meaning of the planets in with the colors and patterns that visually signify the corresponding planet: a complete-able project goal with clearly articulated materials needed to make this.

But what I’m struck by as I’m sitting at this table, feeling the tension and release as each band flexes and wraps around the others is the indeterminate, the undefined. My band ball looking more like a germinating potato. There’s a satisfaction that comes with the addition of another band that also comes with an uncertainty. Has this one band altered the ball? Will it? Could it? If I had angled the band differently, how would that change? Would the patterns and textures created give a different feel? A different completeness?

At any moment a rubber band ball could be complete, after all. And if it were one on its own, it’s still a complete object that means. The rubber band. The snap against your wrist as that annoying kid who made fun of you at recess pulls back and releases a band in class—the time you tripped down the stairs in the office building holding a stack of newly printed documents bound together in one band that then scattered across the floor—that wooden gun your uncle bought you on your tenth birthday that you spent hours shooting the beige circlets at the oak trees out back—when you were nineteen and sitting at a desk and you realized that, yes, centuries of musicians and mathematicians weren’t lying when you produced a note an octave higher than the first—your senior year in high school when you handed in your final portfolio that you’d lived out the whole year in a sort of anticlimax all tethered together by the single and unimpressive band

Image result for wibbly wobbly timey wimey

I think too about time in this ball. The way it is bound and complete, but becomes newly complete and incompleted anew with the addition of a new band. The ball that bounces across the table seems unstable: that it could continue to grow, or shrink and be at once enacting its history and futures all together. The ball’s ball-ness is iterative and only seems to be a completed ball when it is named a completed ball—a fixed point in ball-ness; I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.

But it’s all caught up in that tension. That felt tension when your fingers press against the edges of the bands, or you pull and that release. It retains its shape, or encompasses another within it.

Voice and phone

Car rides, commutes, rushing from the main campus to the college of business—there’s something about movement that facilitates thinking for me, <sigh> but it’s an inconvenient facilitation. With my attention being split and the time-crunch of being in transit, there’s not time or focus for deep, sustained consideration. But the fleeting, blinkering considerations are often so worth grasping. Looking over the captured thoughts, I often see my projects taking shape.

That’s me: the driver, the fast walker, phone pressed to their lips as they mutter incoherently racing and driving.

<laughter>

I, uh <cleared throat> find myself wandering when I talk into my phone. There’s a trust there, too. It’s a deeply personal space that I enter into when I find myself composing in the form of my phone’s voice recorder. Um, it’s just quick notes, right? Where I don’t—I can’t sustain too much thought on any one topic: there’s an upcoming turn in the road, a driver cuts me off <audible breath> and my thoughts turn or are interrupted.

There’s an impulsiveness to my speech that I haven’t quite grasped. It’s uneven and comes in spurts. Yet, I <tongue clicks> fill the silence, yea? I don’t seem to want it to end as my voice dies down in the silence of the car—maybe as I turn or lose my train of thought—I immediately try and resume. I’m not sure why, but the silence feels uncomfortable and I feel free to enter and leave this enclosed composing space that it makes this kind of wandering possible.

My phone is almost weightless in my hand: it’s almost absent. I feel the warmth of my arm bent toward my chest, the bend in my wrist to angle the object—and it almost feels reminiscent of evenings curled on the couch reading or watching TV—a comfortable position—but the phone blinkers out of my thought.

What fills my awareness is the movement of my lips and the gliding of my tongue. S’s and T’s fill my ears with sibilant and staccato sounds. I hold my breath in moments where my attention is being pulled and there is a tightness in my chest. I notice my limited range in volume: a consideration of the limitations of my platform. Volume impacts the quality of my recording. As casual and quick-capture as this feels, I know it has purpose: I will be sitting down with these recordings later to figure out whatever it was I was thinking <laughter> and so, I, uh, need to be able to hear it.

All that is to say, though, that what I feel myself attentive to is this composing with my body. The way my tongue slides across the roof of my mouth to make that hissing s that I hang onto for just too long, the dryness in my throat after 15 minutes past the last drop of my morning coffee, the way my diaphragm seems disengaged from this talking, the way the vibrations from my voice carry down my tie to the side of my thigh <sigh>.

Laptop and a desk

There’s an urgency to typing, a certain frenetic momentum to it. The immediacy of words appearing on the screen as I rapidly clack across the keyboard seems to add pressure of time-responsiveness. There are clear rhythms to my typing, sudden starts, sudden stops, accelerandos, rests—I’m barely aware of the smooth plastic pieces depressed by the staccato stabs of my fingers as the press and release of each feels so sudden that I only feel a slight tingling across the tips of my fingers as I come to a close of each frenzy of taps.

My breathing seems to be “in time” with my typing: my breaths deep and further between during the quickened moments and evens back out as my typing slows. Though, this seems tied to the need for immediacy as I type.

I wonder why the pressure of this immediacy exists. As most things, what comes to mind is multivalent: informed by early typing training in schools where time was part of the evaluation of the activity, by my conditioned writing in social media spaces in which someone “sees” as someone is typing and that knowledge implies a need to send the message quickly, and the seeming tie between the speed of thinking and writing.

It feels like my typing rhythms are tied to what I’m writing. This rhythm feels like a blogging rhythm with the frantic energy typing in one direction: a quick draft, a thought form, a grasping. And it feels like the feeling of the day: It’s paced, measured, perhaps a bit dry, it feels like September 28th. But, even as I’m feeling the rhythms of my typing, it doesn’t feel separate from the other rhythms of my typing I’ve felt—the all nighters from my first semester of my MA program, or the visceral pain I felt as I was typing my blog post the day after the Pulse shooting this June.

Those were different rhythms, different days, different graspings, different typings, but they are in my fingers even as I type this reflection.

I’m thinking too of my piano experience, which may explain my reliance on musical terms to describe this experience, as well as the percussive sounds that permeate the space as I type. I’m thinking about the way that my hands “know.” In an a way that isn’t conscious, they know, they move, they generate, they invent, they position into productive forms that allow for reach with ease. It is a knowing tied to a doing; it is a doing through/on/with the body. But it is a knowing, too, that only comes through the encounter: it is only when my fingers come in contact with the notches on the “f” and “j” keys my fingers come to knowing—or when they come in contact with smoothness of keys on my piano.