Knit /code and a lazy Fall afternoon

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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?

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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

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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.

Legos and a table

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Click.

Very little is soft about Legos. A series of hard lines with sharp edges that press into my hand as I hold each piece, with a series of rhythmic circles that contour the polished walls of the toys. There are bright, bold colors with a hundred different shapes—and still there are patterns, uniformity, and rigidity.

It’s hard to feel the hard edges and boundaries of the piece without also thinking about the ways these pieces leave impressions on my skin and reminding me of the pain of stepping on a Lego that was left on the floor. These pieces seem incredibly mobile, sliding with their smooth edges across surfaces. How much friction could be generated from these smooth sides?

And yet, digging my hand in a large group of these Legos recalls memories of childish happiness. All their hardness seems soaked up in the collective and my hands sink without issue or pain into the mix. I remember reaching into large tubs of Legos with my friends that were nearly as large as I was and shoveling out fists full of the tiny colorful objects.

Almost similarly, as these toys spilled onto the table, I felt my eyes flickering over the mass of these rapidly, trying to find associative logics. I felt these pieces belonged together, but found myself getting frustrated, not seeing how. It was fitful starts, click, snapping pieces together, click, and pulling them apart, click; haphazard groupings and regroupings by shape, color, my intent. There were so many visible potential positions for each that would entirely guide my next moves, and then the next, and the next.

Click. I couldn’t help but smile at the satisfying snap of two pieces being joined, the object seeming to no longer belong to my hand but to the other nested piece. The tension as I struggled to pull two pieces apart was familiar and frustrating. The amount of force taking more than I expected and felt my arms engaged in the act more than I thought was necessary.

So many childhood memories were inseparable from this composing. Holding one piece in my hand, I remembered imagined worlds I’d built with my friends. How I used the different pieces sparked other constructions and compositions to come to mind. If I encountered a limitation, I remembered encountering it before.

Click.

Dis/Posed, or, A Locative Apparatus of Position

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On day four of the two week GA instructor training, we were afforded the honor of having Jonathan Alexander come to speak to us. His talk, “Practical Multimodality: Invention, Revision, Dissemination,” sparked wonderful conversation in the First-Year Writing Program already.

Firstly, it may be worth mentioning that I may or may not be an Alexander fanboy, as may be evidenced by the number of my “Notes” on this blog being readings of his published work. It somehow seems that I’ve always missed moments of meeting Dr. Alexander. In Dr. Banks’ Queer Rhetorics seminar (circa Spring, 2014), Dr. Alexander was slated to Skype into our class the one time I was not able to attend class—later at 4Cs15, I almost caught him a handful of times as he was entering or leaving a space. To say that I am a fan of his work is just to say that over the course of my education, his work has been extremely formative to my thinking about writing and teaching—and that it is not uncommon for a citation of him to appear in a paper I write.

I will likely return to some of Alexander’s main topics in a later post as I’m still letting his thoughts on multimodality set in. For now, I want to inhabit a moment early in his talk. There he talked about learning and teaching disposition—to be attentive to what we are disposed to. Alexander noted that his own learning disposition is to try out what he doesn’t know.

I’ve been thinking a lot about spaces, places, and positions lately, especially in terms of how we come to understand our positional interrelationships. When Alexander moved between the nominal disposition to disposed, I started thinking a little more about this. What does it mean to be dispositioned or to be disposed. I quickly started sketching a bit of framing around this word position and the verb pose and its relationship to many of its prefixes it comes in contact with: sup—, im—, re—, and dis—. These quick sketches prompted me to think of something of a psychoanalytic geography. This, in no way constitutes any deep linguistic or psychoanalytic thought with any degree of seriousness; however, thinking about the locative function of these words provided me with some insight into thinking about myself, writing, and teaching. Each quick etymological work is constituted only of my own interactions with these words and a quick reference of the OED.

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I started doodling around the form position. A quick OED flyby of definitions of position occupy ranging meanings from one’s relationship to space and place, to a title or status occupied (often in terms of employment or sports), to a belief or argument one inhabits. The word is relational and deals with inhabiting and occupying. Additionally, position seems to deal also with sites of tension or difference—where beliefs and arguments come in contact, where social differences touch—making this word one that is as descriptive of other and the boundaries of other/self as it location and occupation. Perhaps that “I” occupies a form of being where “you” isn’t.

When position takes the form of a verb, that interrelationship and contact is put into motion. The definitions it takes involve proposing thesis, setting in place one’s occupation, or locating one’s position. These are sites of contact, moments in which argument occurs, where one is placed, where one is found in place. Interestingly, the act of placing in these definitions of position is acted on the self or subject. Which, again, seems to suggest to me that the “I” can only come to recognize or position itself when in contact with the “you”.

What I hope also to suggest about position is it’s relationship to topoi and place. Topoi as an inventional term within rhetoric often gets used in terms of topic selection in very isolated, easily located and differentiated kinds of ways. The apparatus of locating in position seems to operate similarly: one occupies a position in the concrete singular sense that one occupies a topic. However, thinking of position as invention may offer different forms of thinking than topical invention when one considers position as always in contact—that the positions occupied are always connecting, but also that position touches adjacent meanings.

But what happens when position is taken into other words? Supposition seems to at once denote signification, assumption, and expectation. Much of the present definitions seem to come from assumptions that appear in line with understood facts or operating assumptions that refer back to cultural phenomena. Supposition seems to promote an expectation of outcome or understanding. There is room also within supposition for suspicion and doubt, which I think is important. In terms of locating position within supposition beyond the easy kinds of root-word location, supposition’s arguments, contacts, and settings seem to precede the act of occupation or proposal. The act of assumption draws on preconstituted values and ideas that predate the rhetorical situation.

Position’s locating apparatus may somewhat informed by supposition’s insistence predetermination of outcome and expectation. In some ways, supposition may operate normatively as a normalization of the preconceived. However, and perhaps paradoxically, supposition does not become supposition until the assumption is internalized and all (if any existed) reference to reality is no longer referenced. One may only encounter supposition through the suspicion or interrogating of those assumptions.

Imposition has always been for me a politeness word—something that “I” does not want to be or create for “you”, that “I” recognize “you” as valuable and thus wish to not be an imposition. Imposition has never appeared to me as a negative action, but rather a negative consequence for an action. Imposition’s definitions span acts of layering, arranging, laying hands (in terms of religious Christian terms), attaching, accusing, taxing, or burdening. Imposition is an action of placing on one—placing guilt, duty, obligation—but there is an on top of within the defition. Imposition is additional. The “I” is layered within imposition. There is excess and exhaustion. Still situated within this locative function of position between the “I” and “other,” imposition seems to show enacted the encumbrance of contact with “otherness.” In this way, imposition may be the consequence of resisting, doubting, or moving against what may be the superego’s normalization of position within supposition. Imposition seems to locate movement or occupation outside or beyond or unsanctioned by (sup)position. Perhaps this locative tension of mobility can help name or interrogate the discomfort around naming the tacit, the normalized, ideas around our privileged positions: I think of the backlash I receive when I talk frankly about my whiteness, my maleness, the ways that I am classed, and the privilege those afford.

What then of reposition? Reposition seems to name return to one’s position. I may mention the resting capacity of repose later, but reposition seems to seek that rest that comes with return. That movement out of one’s relational position is exhausting and imposing and that the self can only be at rest when it returns to its social designations. Reposition may help name the exhaustion of sustaining contact—the difficulty of activism and attention.

To return to disposition, the word that initially prompted this exploration, what function does it serve to position? Disposition seems to offer duplicity of the will and the capacity of the self to be willful. Disposition seems to also refer to the “natural” (in a normative sense) arrangement of constituent parts while also referring to the means by which one can dispense with constraints. In the terms that Alexander mentioned disposition, he was referring to one’s tendencies or inclinations. In some ways, this refers to the desires of the self or the conditions by which the self can be satisfied. In my estimation, disposition’s attentiveness is to the self’s orientation. It follows the desire to rest, to move, to be in line, and to occupy. In the locative apparatus of position, disposition may be most closely related to orientation in that it both recognizes the conditions of occupation of a position, but it is also the function by which one feels the boundaries of position. The self comes to know their position to their sense of being in line or oriented with it, or through their restless shifting and movement: disposition names that self-in/out of-place.

While I’ve already written more here than I should, I did want to call attention to the fact that I’ve devoted my attention to the —tion words. What I think is powerful about understanding position as a site of inquiry and invention is that it equally has the power to give us actions. The verbs and all their cases and tenses—pose, suppose, impose, repose, and dispose—equally offer sites for understanding doing, being, and performing. And what of, perhaps, unposed? Is that our site of queering this apparatus? Acknowledging of the candid and/or willfully out of place?

What I think this language does well is a noticing of orientation, body, and action that surround issues of positionality.

Contact(ed) Ethos

In day three of the two week graduate assistant instructor training, we talked a lot about teaching personas and how we come to these personas. We riffed on Malea Powell’s  “Learning (Teaching) to Teach (Learn)” and her CCCC address in which she asked us to consider all our relations. A gesture toward collective. A gesture toward a complexity that surrounds, fills, informs, and constitutes performances of the layers of ethos that spread across subjects, where there may have only been one visible subject. A question that may appear simple: are we not the sums of our relations?

We took a moment to make representations of some of our relations—those who we carried with us, who were never far, who were inflected in our ways of thinking. On white sheets of paper with an outline of a gingerbread person, we filled in stylized representations of those who were (not?) already there. They were collected and taped to the chalk board at the front of the room, just behind where our WPA, Derek Mueller, facilitates this workshop—now standing among the visible, no longer absent, presences.

That space is a powerful space to sit and listen to and feel the silences, the apparitions, the sense of self.

Drawing heavily from postmodern theory, the queer theory traditions that I’ve read readily discuss the fragmented self, or the instability of the “I”. This tradition has widely informed my understanding and use of ethos. While talking about our ethical responsibility to one another, Judith Butler perhaps frames this best when she says, “The “I” that I am is nothing without the “you” that you are.” Which is to say that I can only come to know my self and the boundaries of self once I recognize a boundary of other. Butler may not necessarily be talking about questions of ethos, but certainly troubles any stable same-self and places self as interrelated.

To return to the activity in this training, to have attention called to the hazy boarders of self, other, and relationship presents a necessary vulnerability and intimacy. This activity requires a sort of felt sense of who is near and around me as well as acknowledges a certain amount of slippages between where I end and another begins. For me, it was a moment of feeling, perhaps for the first time in this way, ethos as contact(ed). Rather than dissolve the self or the rhetor, feeling the touch of another as constitutive is to take seriously social responsiveness and self-positioning.

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Later in the session we discussed part of the textbook that graduate assistants in EMU’s FYWP use to teach, Understanding Rhetoric. In this discussion, we talked about the third issue, “Writing Identities.” In this issue, there is an illustration of a mirror, cracked into four pieces, with four fragments of a face split across the mirror. In this illustration, selecting performances of self becomes central and visible. We adapted some of this illustration to talk about our performances as instructors. For an activity, we had four boxes in which we had to draw representations of three aspects of our self that we could perform proudly or easily in front of a class and one that we were nervous about.

While digressing from the prompt stylistically, I remember being immediately struck with the idea of Pop Art in the Warhol sense. I hastily sketched out four iterations of me with the same structure in each frame and trying to use bright colors, made-negative imaging, and simple alterations to convey, if not separate performances of self, points of slipping.

It was an endeavor that I see as inextricably linked to the first activity, perhaps drawing on Ben Rafoth’s IWCA address, which discusses Warhol, in that he suggests Warhol’s moves demand different questions “Who do we not see, even when they are present? In other words, drawing out the human potential in a writing center requires social understanding to bring about agency” (22). Rafoth suggests that Warhol’s paintings ask who the subject is by enacting his images’ multiplicity through their iterative yet fragmented nature.  It seems as though these images convey at once singularity and multiplicity: the unified image is gained through contacts of the self.

If we were to explore ethos as contact(ed), what does that even mean or look like? How does that map on pedagogically? What would it mean to enact a pedagogy of contact—that embraces the vulnerability and intimacy at the hazy, messy slippages between self and selves? I’m not sure. I am still trying to listen and feel. Nor am I necessarily convinced that the rough, drafty space of this blog is the right venue for a deeper exploration.

An contact(ed) ethos may necessarily be responsive to the others present, absent or not, and feel them touching back. Understanding ethos that way means being adaptive and ethically and etheticly responding.

A Brief Listing of Citations

Banks, William P. “The Values of Queer Jacketing: What Happens When Student Writers Go Gay?” MEAT Journal 1.2 (Winter 2005–06)

Butler, Judith (2015). “The Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence.” Presented at Oakland University.

— (2009). Frames of War: When is Life Grievable. New York: Verso.

Powell, Malea (2012). 2012 CCCC chair’s letter. College Composition and Communication, 64(2), 423-431.

Malea Powell (2006). “Learning (Teaching) to Teach (Learn)” in Peter Vandenberg, Sue Hum, and Jennifer Clary-Lemon (eds.) Relations, Locations, Positions: Composition Theory for Writing Teachers. Urbana Free Library: 571-580.

Rafoth, Ben (2016). “Faces, Factories, and Warhols: A r(Evolutionary) Future for Writing Centers” The Writing Center Journal 35.2, 17-29.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky (1990). Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press.