Moving furniture

When I was growing up, my mom ran a furniture and decorating store with my aunt and grandma, and all three homes became showrooms in themselves. There was naturally a much more frequent churn of furniture in my house than in the average household, and my mom was continually trying to think of new arrangements. As my sister and I got older, we were consulted about the arrangement in our own bedroom, but by that point both of us were too used to continual change to really resist the process altogether.

I carried the habit with me to college, rearranging my dorm room every few weeks (and initially keeping up the weekly thorough cleaning schedule that had been forcibly inculcated into me as well). I was thwarted in sophomore year, when the dorm rooms had built-in furniture that offered no flexibility, but they introduced restackable furniture my junior year, opening up bold new possibilities.

As I’ve grown older, it seems like less flexible arrangements have been the norm. My office at work is shared, and I’ve tried both of the plausible arrangements and determined that only one of them really works. At home, Chicago apartments tend to be very long and narrow, limiting the number of feasible options. My current apartment has been basically the same arrangement for an unprecedented three years…

Until now! The Girlfriend’s now-averted move to Minneapolis has led to the purchase of new furniture that we need to either incorporate or switch out. More tanatlizingly, one of her coworkers is moving and has offered us up to five new bookshelves, offering us the possibility of expanding book storage space while also getting rid of The Girlfriend’s big IKEA bookshelf (a white monstrosity made up of little square cubbies instead of proper shelves), a goal I have long treasured in my heart.

The prospect I find most appealing is the conversion of the dining room — often a more or less wasted space in a Chicago-style apartment — into a library. For the first time in my life, all my books could be in the same room, allowing me to take them in at a glance. This has naturally led to thoughts of a re-sort that would render a logical arrangement immediately legible — even though past experience tells me that that way lies madness.

A conundrum that occurs to me even now is what to do with my class books, which are currently all at school and which form their own category based on my use of them even as they obviously belong to a range of categories in themselves. Do I bring them home to most fully actualize my goal of taking in my full library at a glance? Do they properly belong to “my library” at all? Wheels within wheels….

What about you, dear readers? How do you organize your books, your living space, your working space (the latter two tending to overlap heavily for most academics)?

The autoimmunity of planning

I am a very routine-oriented person whom life rarely allows to fall into a stable routine. I compensate for this by planning. Planning is central to my strategy for overcoming my travel anxiety, for instance — if I spend enough time imagining myself on the trip, the steps required, the ideal things to pack (for me it’s a kind of game to pack the absolute bare minimum required), etc., then the trip becomes part of the plan, and suddenly not going on the trip is the disturbing break with routine.

Planning is also how I manage to get non-teaching work done during the semester. For me, the biggest obstacle is the sense that I shouldn’t even bother trying because I’ll never finish whatever I start. But if I plan it out, I’ll see that over three weeks if I spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I’ll get X done, and that can be almost as good — almost — as the monasticism of summer. With the time that remains in this semester, for instance, I’m currently thinking about how I can do revisions of the portions of my translation that I’ve already completed, draft at least one more section, revise the devil chapter I’ve done, and write at least one more chapter. There seem to be enough nooks and crannies in the semester that I’ll be able to do most of this.

The problem comes when I overdo it, when I invest too much intellectual energy in studying the calendar. At a certain point, I turn the corner and instead of enjoying a calming exercise in realizing how much time I (perhaps unexpectedly) have and how under control everything is, I begin treating the whole list of priorities as a single complexly articulated task — one that must be completed in toto before I can ever know rest or freedom again. This leads to self-undermining behavior as I attempt to get everything done much sooner than I need to, just to get it out of the way — things like trying to force myself to write when I’m drained from teaching, a pointless endeavor that results in no actual writing and significant stress and anxiety.

I know someone is going to come along and say I should learn to relax. I promise I do know how to relax. I almost never work evenings or weekends. Even at my most monastic, I take naps during the day, go for walks, watch some TV over lunch. I take days off, I indulge in TV marathons, I get drinks with friends. And you’re all familiar with how much time I spend dicking around online, which is not always relaxing but is mostly fun. You just don’t hear much about that side of things, because the first rule of relaxing is that you don’t elaborately plan out your relaxation. Nor is it the case that I experience all my goals as a huge burden — except when, as described above, my methods for juggling a variety of tasks backfire and produce what Derrida might call auto-immune effects. I’m enjoying my symptom for the most part.

Does any of this resonate with you, dear readers? Do you have your own bizarre strategies?

My new career in Star Trek hermeneutics

Gerry Canavan recently turned me on to The Daystrom Institute, a Star Trek subreddit devoted to the most intricate possible examination of the franchise. As my life has been in turmoil the last couple months with The Girlfriend’s move, etc., I have found myself ever more drawn toward the comfort food of Star Trek and have become a prolific poster there — even winning a “Post of the Week” and getting a promotion to Ensign! (Yes, it is that nerdy.) Here are some of my greatest hits thus far, most of which are focused on Enterprise since I’ve been rewatching it:

Here’s a page with some of the all-time greats from the subreddit.

Posted in Star Trek, The lighter side of AUFS. Comments Off on My new career in Star Trek hermeneutics

Time Travel in the Greek and Hebrew worldviews

Much has been made of the contrast between Athens and Jerusalem, but it has seldom been noted that these two worldviews represent significantly different approaches to time travel. Now obviously they do not include time travel in the full sci-fi sense, but both do include messages from the future in the form of prophecies, and these messages from the future do affect people’s actions in the present. (The closest Star Trek analogy may be the infamous “Future Guy” from Enterprise, who can relay messages without personally intervening in the past.)

From this perspective, Oedipus is fundamentally a time-travel story, and it results in a predestination paradox insofar as his very attempt to “change the timeline” by avoiding the horrible prophecy directly results in the fulfillment of the prophecy. In the Hebrew Bible, by contrast, we might look to the story of Jonah, where the prophetic message from the future actually causes a change in the timeline insofar as Ninevah repents.

While prophecy doesn’t always result in an alternate timeline, one gets the sense that within the Hebrew model of time travel, the possibility of changing the future is always “on the table” in a way that it definitely is not within Greek temporal mechanics. That might help us to understand why Jonah flees from his prophetic task — he likes the current trajectory that leads to Ninevah’s destruction and doesn’t want to divert it. And when he’s moping in the end, it may be because he finds it objectionable that God would bring about a happy ending using an unwieldy plot device like time travel.

Worst-sellers of the world, unite!

In Blood, Gil Anidjar, reflecting on the futility of writing a book (in this day and age!), appends a curious note:

The sheer weight of accumulation, fifty shades of clay and mountains of waste (not to mention, horribile dictu, footnotes), among other expansions and past all counts, nonetheless counts for something, that is, for nothing, if only because it accounts for and testifies to the victory of the quantitative—by attrition. Was it ever other- wise? This may or may not be a reason to stop writing books (though I suspect it is). Cunningly endorsing Marx’s take on the “gnawing criticism of the mice,” Lacan suggests somewhere that praise might be in order when producing a worst-seller.

Of course, despite ample room in 170 pages of footnotes, in this case he leaves it to the reader to track down this petite suggestion of Lacan’s. Challenge accepted–with no little resistance, psychoanalytically speaking of course. Turns out there are two quips in Seminar 17 worth quoting:

To spell it out for you, to clear my own name, what saves Écrits the accident that befell it, namely that people immediately read it, is that it is a “worst-seller” nevertheless. (222/192)

An issue of a journal called Études freudiennes has appeared. I cannot recommend reading it too highly, never having hesitated to suggest to you bad readings which themselves are in the nature of best-sellers. (229/199)

There you have it–the virtue of the worst-seller, the vice of the best-seller. Amazon rankings be damned!

Posted in The lighter side of AUFS. Comments Off on Worst-sellers of the world, unite!

Haunted by Pat Quinn

[This story is perhaps outside the usual scope of this blog, but I fear it would be unintelligible if delivered via Twitter. So here we are.]

Last night, The Girlfriend and I went to Kuma’s Too, the spin-off of Kuma’s Corner, the metal bar legendary for its burgers. We were sitting at the corner of the bar, and hanging near us were letters from both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn congratulating Kuma’s for being named the best burger place by some publication. We have been seeing a lot of campaign ads from Quinn’s Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner, and somehow we started free-associating negative campaign ads about Pat Quinn [please supply gravelly, accusatory tone]:

  • PAT QUINN writes letters congratulating burger joints while Illinois faces a pension crisis.
  • PAT QUINN appears unfamiliar with airport security procedures and he’s in line in front of you.
  • PAT QUINN’s sprinkler sprays on the sidewalk.
  • PAT QUINN replies-all.
  • PAT QUINN isn’t sure how his car alarm works but he’s really sorry.

In the middle of this discussion, Pat Quinn’s letter spontaneously fell off the wall and nearly knocked over my beer. I fear Bruce Rauner doesn’t fully grasp what he’s up against!

Posted in The lighter side of AUFS. Comments Off on Haunted by Pat Quinn

The Girlfriend’s amazing cooking system

The Girlfriend has a remarkably effective approach to cooking that could be helpful for all those busy academics out there, particularly single or childless ones. The biggest challenge in cooking for only one or two people is that it is incredibly time-inefficient — you wind up spending as much prep time as you would for a much larger meal. Combine that with the fact that we all typically come home tired, and you have a recipe for ordering in way too often.

Her system is to cook everything ahead of time over the weekend, then package it for easy reheating throughout the week. It usually takes her an hour or so, which is much less than if she were to prepare individual helpings each day. Furthermore, it tips the laziness scale in favor of eating in, because putting her allotted portion into the microwave is actually the path of less resistence compared to ordering take-out. Sometimes with things like seafood, she’ll leave part of the meal to be cooked day-of, but it still winds up being more efficient. She includes her lunches in the routine as well — usually some kind of soup or salad — which is particularly important for academics, whose options for buying lunch tend to be depressing (I can barely look at a Jimmy John’s sandwich at this point).

There are disadvantages. First of all, you’re always eating leftovers, unless you time the first round of cooking to correspond with dinner time. Second, you need to be willing to eat the same thing multiple days in a week — if you don’t repeat, you lose the advantages of scale. Finally, if it turns out that you aren’t actually in the mood for one of your meals or it doesn’t turn out like you want, you’re going to find yourself reconnecting with your local Chinese delivery person.

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