I Am Supposed To Be Writing
I am supposed to be writing my dissertation. I am supposed to be working on the fourth and final chapter (although second structurally), currently titled “Techniques of Aerology.” It is supposed to be a close reading of four pieces of electronic literature and media arts that engage atmospheric data in some capacity. It is supposed to use the frame of “media technique” to perform these close readings. It is supposed to be a relatively fun and easy chapter to write, the one that was most in my wheelhouse when I proposed the dissertation, and which draws from prior articles and essays I’ve written.
Here is a list of things I have done today rather than write my dissertation:
- yoga (with Adriene, a twenty-minute video titled “Morning Flow”)
- ankle exercises prescribed by my physical therapist
- shower, breakfast, etc.
- attempted to get my cat to finish her breakfast
- take out a piece of salmon to defrost for lunch
- play on the piano, very loudly, Joanna Newsom’s song “The Things I Say” and Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
- write this blog post
I have also opened, closed, opened again, closed again, and re-opened—but have not read—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth report on the state of our warming planet.
I should add also that I spent a non-zero number of minutes this morning laying in bed thinking about when I was briefly in an extremely crowded seafood restaurant in Annapolis, Maryland yesterday, and whether or not I was exposed to the delta variant of the novel coronavirus despite me being vaccinated and masked, and if I run the risk of exposing anyone to said variant when I go to the gym on campus tomorrow, despite everyone in the gym being required to be both vaccinated and masked. This is a calculus that I run through my brain somewhere between two and fifteen times a day, depending on my social schedule.
I am supposed to be writing my dissertation, but I received a rejection email earlier today from a postdoc that I applied to in October, which I had already received a rejection email from in January, but that I suppose had seen fit to make sure that I knew that I would never work at the University of [REDACTED]. In a way I was thankful, because that extra rejection email made up for the handful of other jobs I applied to who have still not sent me rejection emails, despite me knowing from Twitter who the successful applicants in fact were, given that they announced their new jobs quite some time ago. Closure is an important thing.
The thing about writing a dissertation about digital media and the environment is that you are disappointed all the time. You are disappointed in your government, for failing every day to take seriously the cataclysmic devastation that has already come for much of the planet’s inhabitants and that will only grow worse with every passing day. You are disappointed in your industry, for failing to take seriously the environment as a meaningful area of study, sidelining it as a social justice issue that can occasionally receive some, but not too much funding, lest we anger our donors in the oil and gas industries. And you are disappointed in yourself, for imagining for even a brief instant that you could intervene in the murder of the planet by writing a few hundred pages of close readings.
Multimedia artist J.R. Carpenter opens her book of poetry This is a Picture of Wind with “The Beaufort Poems,” four short pieces of concrete verse, each comprising thirteen words or phrases that grow larger down the page. Here’s a page:
As the name suggests, “The Beaufort Poems” take inspiration from the Beaufort scale, an empirical scale for describing wind speed named after the Irish hydrographer Francis Beaufort in the early nineteenth century. The Beaufort scale sorts wind speed into thirteen classes of increasing intensity based on the wind’s observable effects. In this way, the scale isn’t an objective classification of wind speed, but rather subjective based on the viewer’s own judgment. Class 5: “small trees in leaf begin to sway.” Class 9: “slight structural damage.”
Class 12: “devastation.”
It is hard to write amidst devastation. Writing and thinking require calm waters such that we can see ourselves reflected in them.
After I finish this blog post and make my lunch I will probably work on that dissertation, because I recognize that much in my life hinges on its swift and capable completion. I will probably leave the IPCC report tab open on my computer for a few days and tell myself that I should read it, that I have a professional and moral responsibility to read it. By the end of the week I imagine I will close that tab. I am tired; I am busy; I am small in the universe.
Typically one is socially compelled to end any discussion of climate change on a note of hope, to remind us that there is still something we can do in the face of devastation. Reader, I don’t know what to tell you to help you hope. I don’t know how to tell you to hold hope through the death of an industry, a country, a planet. I don’t know how to tell you to be optimistic in the face of a disease that is looking to curtail, once again, for at least another season, our ability to share space together, to build the kinds of social connections we need if we are ever to learn to act collectively to save our planet and all life on it. I don’t know if I want you to hope.
I am supposed to be writing and I am writing. I might not be writing the right thing, but I am writing something. It’s a minor victory and I will take it.