Public Shaming, no. 1

As if the whole world wasn’t already laid at your feet or why Knowing is Half the Battle

I feel weird writing such a mean-spirited post so close to graduation season. This is the first year I won’t be accompanying my kids as they receive their honors and certificates at the UP Film Center. I can’t say it feels like the routine’s been interrupted though because I wasn’t teaching long enough for it to become a routine. Four years seems long until you zip right past it. And then there are incidents like last night’s bit of ridiculousness, which came in courtesy of the fact that–OH RIGHT! I used to be a teacher.

Emphasis on “used to be”. Not sure I want to head back to a cushy full-time faculty job anytime soon, especially considering what’s recently been done to the Faculty Lounge at the UP College of Arts and Letters.

What...have...you...done?!
What…have…you…done?!

I don’t know if we can even consider it a cupcake cafe when, despite putting its guests through the trauma of being infantilized by the hospital greens and pastel dollhouse furniture, it still foregoes putting its pastry on pedestals in favor of things like this:

IMG_20150625_140419[1]
Yes, that is a palm-sized buko pie in…a plastic bag.
Back to the story I started with: I did not have a particularly easy time with College. I think I may have mentioned it in some entries I had written when I was actually in College (and since the archives on this blog date back to 2004, they should be here somewhere). I did not understand what many of the work assigned had to do with my formation as a fully-realized being, but I also knew that my College education did not owe me that. And…knowing is half the battle.

Seriously though, it’s about what you know at the end of the, uh, battle, and what the battle in turn does to your head. I bring this up because last night’s bit of ridiculousness involved a former student doing the online equivalent of dumping an assload of work on my desk then walking away without so much as a Post-it telling me what to expect from said assload of work, let alone an apology for being a little over a year past the deadline. And I no longer even use the desk!

It’s easy to take the blame in this case and ask, “How are we molding these minds? What made [name withheld] even think that it’s okay to just stick her shit in my business without any decent prior warning, aside from the email equivalent of “YO BBGRL WT M I S’POSD TO DO @G@1N?!”–which came in almost a month before?” It’s easy to play the adult card here and be all “Ooh shhhhooot me! I should know better because I’m SO OLD!” As teachers, we spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME treating 20-year-olds like they’re in preschool and not as if they’re in the same baby deer stage of becoming some other iteration of the fully-grown (yet not fully-formed) human being we’re already fumbling through the world as.

And that’s what gave me a hard time in College. I was not a fucking child, but somehow I got to act like one. Blame the fucking adults every chance I got. Let them take the opportunity to “be the bigger person”. What a fine, fine loophole to go with my gaping asshole self. I could just chalk it up to youth, after all.

So the thing is, this–all of this–is behavior I actually recognize, mostly because it’s my fucking shadow. Having felt all the things relayed to me when said student-who-dumped-shit-on-my-proverbial-desk speaks of this ugly truth about how we’re educated and what we seem to think tertiary education is for. This is especially true for anyone who grew up with a measure of privilege. With the certainty that they’d get into the school of their choice–usually private and prestigious–because what other schools are there? Heck, after High School, what other options are there for us middle class dipshits besides going to College?

My failure to wrap my head around all of this–because of my own immaturity, because I needed distance to cast better light on the problem–has everything to do with why I stopped teaching. And now this: now I have a former student apologizing for her rude attempt at milking me for grades by saying it was because she didn’t have the necessary emoticons at her disposal to convey how she actually wanted to approach her multiplying problems, which is really just, oh, honey…honey.

What the fuck, honey?

This has nothing to do with emoticons because first of all, if you can’t use language to (diplomatically) ask for what you want, then maybe you missed the whole point of the triathlon that was your College Education. Two, this has nothing to do with emoticons because rarely is a University Education about how you feel. In fact, fuck how you feel, we’re having none of that shit. Let’s get a look at what’s in your head. Take it apart. Put it into words. Write it down. Have it on my desk by the end of the semester.

Or don’t! I’m not teaching anymore! Let me get used to another source of stress and exhaustion!

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Never good enough

Top of the morning and off the top of my head, I remind myself every day that I will never be good enough at what I do to stop practicing. It’s funny that we start blogs to write it out, with writing as a means of thinking through what or who we are and what we do. I firmly believe that people are never entirely sure of what they think or where they stand until it’s articulated, in any language. Returning to what’s so funny about all of this: of course, the moment I actually have something to write is when I lose the time to write it. Instead, I make lists, I tell myself what I did for the day and mostly none of it involves the kind of writing I have to do, but it helps to get some kind of word out. Even if it’s just me talking to myself.

But back to practicing: the practicing still gets done. Take my thesis – I’ve been kicking it around in my head for almost a year, and today I found out that enrollment has begun at my University (the one where I used to work and still study, not the one where I work now). So how’s this supposed to go? Do I sign up as a resident? I’m definitely not a student in the sense that I need to sit in class and meet my professors every week, but I’m not done! And I don’t know how it works to be “not done”! This isn’t a humblebrag, it’s just me realizing that, well shit, I may have messed up because I’m still trudging along and the end is nowhere in sight. Or it actually is and I’m just enjoying the scenery way too much.

Every day, I try to clock in a couple of hours of just re-typing what will now be referred to as “the thing.” The thing now only exists as a single print, which I must race to encode all over again before it disintegrates, gets lost, or my cats eat it. When I’m done with a page, which usually results in a complete rewording, I tear the loose sheet off the manuscript and use to mop up spills or pick up poop. This, for me, is practice. This is the language of never good enough. But it’s also a matter of realizing it has to end somewhere, and never being completely happy is just another way of keeping the thing alive…Or staying alive after the thing is put to rest? Either way. I’ll get there soon.

Because the Internet is a Neverending Party for your Eyeballs

Notes on .gif Culture

Catalina Africa, “Reverse Boomerangs and Other Exercises for Pleasure”, shown at 1335 Mabini, 25 April to 22 May 2015. Image from Planting Rice.

I grew up in the late 1990s, learned to connect to the internet using a 56k modem, sitting next to one telephone and weighing it down with books or burying it under paper, while unhooking the line on the other so no one could use it. When I was little, my mom used to take me to the office where my only source of entertainment was a pile of scratch paper and a PC that ran wordstar (I think this is the second time I’ve mentioned Wordstar in this blog so maybe it deserves a tag by now). With this, she improvised a means to keep me occupied by creating pictures using the = sign and zeroes to make little pictures in unicode.

I’m hardly a child anymore, but I’m still a child of .gif culture.

There was (and still is) a seamlessness to the transition from seeing pictures as a series of pluses and minuses and equal signs, to the strange language I adopted in online fora and fanpages (which, of course, was the only use of the internet to a 12-year-old girl). My best friend Marla has a good way of putting it: “We speak Meme.” We spoke meme, and still do, middle-class kids with the privilege of boredom and time to kill. We grew up sitting in front of keyboards with our noses pressed to screens, before laptops–and now, tablets–were things people just happened to have. From the comfort of our own homes, we got used to things blinking and beeping, calls to communicate with strangers on the other side of the world. And we responded to those signals. The screens we spoke through were not a means to mask who we were, but were extensions of ourselves.

It has taken time for me to acknowledge what this actually meant in practice, now that I look back at the little person who lost sleep to time spent peering into the netherworld offered through late nights on IRC. Understand that the concept of your own computer was totally foreign at the time, and the only time I could go online, uninterrupted, was after everyone had gone to bed. I don’t know why I had to do that, it was not as if I had to check mail or had any social networks where I could see what people were saying about things. I think I just took comfort in seeing life beyond this, taking place then, but not there, not quite. You didn’t know where people were, but the internet let you–in some capacity–corral them into a space.

I’m seeing an inversion between the minimalist aesthetics of the web today, and what it looked like when I first went online: when the first thing I did was visit the sites on the chickclick.com roster (which was THE BEST THING, case in point: Bust), one by one; then go on the Ultimate Band List (which seems like such a ridiculous invention now, I mean what the hell was that?) and read about whoever was featured and try to imagine what that must sound like (I know, what the fuck, right?). Most of the things I liked to look at then were unironically purple with sparkly cursors that trailed across the screen. Most of the things I looked at looked like this little artifact from 2011, which sent tingles running through, oh, everywhere:

Album cover of Lightning Bolt’s Earthly Delights that looks like it was made on MS Paint–also the best thing!

This is why the work of someone like Catalina Africa would resonate so strongly with me. It’s work that brings us back into the world, oddly enough, using digital technology as a lens. Catalina Africa’s greens recall both the green screen of a simulated environment, and the green of the world right outside our windows. It’s a visual language that makes me realize–i.e., bombs my face with a cloud of glitter–how some art just cannot be contained by the vocabulary we usually resort to when we speak as critics or curators.

Web of Gems, 2015; Mixed media installation, 213.5×213.5×86.5 cm; (c) Catalina Africa, image from http://www.1335mabini.com/

The first word that came to mind was “exuberance”: see it in the colors, in the fact that Africa often has limbs outstretched, hair blowing as if there’s a constant breeze wafting through the environment framed within her works. Framing doesn’t even cut it, considering how artists like Africa and her contemporaries, such as Jeona Zoleta, Marija Vicente, and Tanya Villanueva often show work that points out the shortcomings of framing, or understanding things within the frame.

Heck, even exuberance doesn’t cut it. The word I want is “joy”–how the hell could anyone forget to speak of “joy” when talking about art–in the viewing and the making?