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Thoughts and Hallucinations

Me and the Managers of Meaning

I’ve been riding the representational range over the last several months. The previous home page item, an article for The New Mexico Mercury about a water conference, I moved to the blog page. I decided maybe a good way to work on waterworld would be to pick some narrow domains, like that conference, and do some short pieces, writing the way I’m most comfortable, informal, a joke here and there, trying to simplify without the “over” prefix. So I proposed a piece on the national desalination research center down the road in Alamogordo and the editor liked the idea and liked the piece even better, even though it was pretty long. You can find it in the column to the left as “Water Water Everywhere” if you’re curious. I should have followed in my parents’ footsteps and studied journalism. I really like working with those guys at the Mercury. What they want and what I want to do mesh like a BMW transmission.

Then a couple of colleagues in criminology got in touch awhile back. They were doing a special issue of a journal dedicated to qualitative research in their field. They asked for an old-timer essay about the early days of ethnography in drugworld, my days having started in the antedeluvian 1960s. Since their motive was to convey the possibilities of this kind of research to the up and coming generation, something I like to do, I accepted, with the usual warning that I would write non-academically and a caution that I’d done some of this already in Dope Double Agent. Fine, they said, and meant it. But then after I sent in a draft they discovered The Lively Science and wanted more of that story in the article. So it kind of turned into “my life as a drug dog” blended with epistemology. They made me work too hard but in all the right ways. It’s in press now and in the column to your left as “Kites from Drug Research Rehab.”

Then, also awhile back, a nice guy from a “design” journal got in touch. He wanted an article on ethnography and design. I knew there was something going on here, like all the interesting things I learned at the design anthropology program at North Texas University last year. But I told him, I don’t know nothin about design. Well then, he said, how about an email interview? That sounded like an interesting adventure so we did that. He sent me a couple of broad questions and I thought about it for awhile and then wrote an essay. He was happy. I was happy. But then some evil shadow figure somewhere in the process sent it out for review. My writing generally gets pummelled in academic reviews--too chatty, first person, not enough citations, no elaborate discussion of reviewer’s favorite theory, like that. I mean, you don’t review an interview fer Krissake. So now the poor guy is stuck between his idea and the ubereditors. It sounds like it might work out. I’ll post the creole version he’s trying to create if it does.

The worst ambush on the representational plains? An encyclopedia wanted me to do an entry on “rich points.” I invented the phrase, not the concept, and it caught on for awhile. I warned the guy who contacted me about the writing and he was ok with it. But then the ubereditor said nope, no first person pronouns, no personal accounts--how in the hell was I supposed to write about a phrase I invented without being part of the writing? Encyclopedia entries had to be about timeless disembodied knowledge, as if there were such a thing. Then they sent me the contract. Academic contracts are famous in publishing for being the writing equivalent of Guantanamo, the more ridiculous because so little money is involved, if any at all. Academics have to put up with it because such pubs are the career credentials they need. I don’t any more, though, so I quit. Maybe I’ll do something with the piece later. I kind of liked it. The concept focuses on how human social science is intersubjective rather than simply objective versus subjective. If you’re an editor and like that line, have your people call my people.

Then I did a webinar, a web-based talk via IIQM at the University of Alberta and Atlasti to whomever wanted to sign up. It was basically a slide based talk like I’d give in an academic setting, only I was alone staring at the screen in my home office, watching birds dig up peanuts we’d given them that they’d buried and rabbits digging each other with their flirtatious leaps. The concept is a good one, like MOOCS, only the lack of feedback was a little disorienting, hard to perform without an audience, just yakking away into a headset alone like a madman walking the streets. The talk went alright, I think, but I made the mistake of trying to say too much in the 40 minutes. I have to learn to work with just a few slides. I usually put too many of the damn things in the deck and it wrecks improvisation. Powerpoint might be the major cause of mental fragmentation. They’re like a classical score when what you want to play is jazz.

There are still a couple of academic articles that have been floating around in reviewerland since the turn of the century or so, but they’re no fun. Kind of like jogging in jello. But these other places--digital magazines, essay formats, e-interviews, webinars--I enjoyed. They probably still have no academic “cash value,” as William James metaphorically put it when evaluating concepts, but they’re certainly more lively and engaging for the producer, and I’m guessing the consumer, than traditional academic publishing.
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