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"Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist."

— Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, highlighted in this week's Brainpickings newsletter by Maria Popova

Dissertation Workflow, August 2020 (day 13 of 100)

Every so often, I decide to refresh my systems for getting work done. I've never really settled on any one routine for very long; I guess I just like to shake things up sometimes. It's totally a form of procrastination, but at least it's one that gets me excited about working again after a hiatus or a depressive funk or whatever.

Writing out my process helps me untangle my thoughts and start moving forward again. I was originally just writing this out for my own benefit, but then I thought it might contain a helpful nugget or two for someone else. So I decided to share it. If you get something out of it, I'd love to know!

Tools

  1. Firefox / University library resources / etc
  2. Nebo with Asus Pen
  3. Adobe Reader
  4. Zotero
  5. Zotfile
  6. Workflowy
  7. Standard Notes
  8. Most Dangerous Writing App
  9. Idiomatic
  10. LibreOffice Writer

Goals

  • Every day:

    • write something
    • edit something
    • read something
    • discover something
  • Remember to:

    • Take breaks!
    • Leave a day between steps for the same source if possible; stay fresh
    • Break tasks into tiny mini-tasks
    • Use timers and stick to realistic time limits

Steps

  1. Gather sources via Firefox, university library, etc | discover
  2. Save citations to Zotero via extension or manually | discover
  3. Read source and annotate in Adobe Reader and/or Nebo | read
  4. Gather new citations discovered in the source; save to Zotero | discover
  5. Copy source notes to Standard Notes (for archival/reference purposes)
  6. Copy source notes to project page in Workflowy
  7. Tag individual notelets with themes in Workflowy | write
  8. Filter by tags in Workflowy; copy notelets of the same theme into respective sections in SN project doc | write
  9. Write using the arranged notelets in sections using Most Dangerous | write
  10. Edit and revise text in Standard Notes using markdown, several rounds | edit
  11. Export to rich text using Idiomatic; paste to LibreOffice Writer
  12. Final formatting edits | edit

Final Thoughts

As writing tends to go, this process is definitely iterative and requires lots of looping back. Oh, and "notelet" is a word I just made up to describe discrete ideas that I take down in my notes; a notelet could be a direct quote, a paraphrase, or an idea and/or response that I come up with while reading. You can think of them as individual index cards. Finally, I'm writing in an interdisciplinary humanities/social science field, so I'd be interested to know how well this process translates to other types of research.

Take care,
fruitkid

Pride, prejudice, and a laundry bag (day 12 of 100)

Two days ago I wasn't feeling great. I hadn't done any chores, or much of anything, really (thanks, depression) and my partner had washed some clothes. They asked if I would go get the wet laundry to hang it outside, and I said yes. I didn't want to, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Meanwhile, I was feeling judgmental and accusatory, silently and instantly critical of anything my partner said or did. It was pre-conscious, it seemed.

My partner told me they had left the laundry bag on top of the washer, so that I could bring it up. I really wanted to make sure there was a laundry bag, because I didn't want to go downstairs without one, only to have to come back upstairs for one. I felt I couldn't possibly bear two trips. And it would have been a pain to carry a bunch of wet rags and towels without a laundry bag. So I asked with a very specific purpose, and my partner assured me that they did, in fact, leave the laundry bag on top of the washer.

Lo and behold, when I went downstairs, there was no laundry bag on top of the washer. I huffed to myself, huffed back up the stairs, and then huffed at my partner about it. They seemed surprised when I told them that the laundry bag wasn't on the washer. "Well, it wasn't there." I said, accusingly. I huffed once more, grabbed a different laundry bag, and proceeded to retrieve the laundry.

Today, for a different reason, I went downstairs. I went to dump some water into the sink, next to the washer, and I found that our laundry bag had fallen onto the floor next to the washer. I hadn't bothered to look there. I had such tunnel vision from my mood -- or my stress? or my mindset? --that I couldn't have even considered any other possibility besides Bag There or No Bag There.

Let this be a lesson to me. Whenever I'm feeling critical or frustrated or hopeless, I can pause and ask myself if there's another angle to look at the problem from, another corner to peek around, a nuance that I hadn't considered. Hopefully I can grow this skill, and then translate it from mundane problems like chores to more profound issues in relationships, work, and my world/community.

Listening to: Lisa Bella Donna, Circulus


Bandcamp page here. Ambient synth music that's simultaneously otherworldly and grounding. Excellent for reading and writing.

Life is Surreal Today

I don't even know if this is going to make sense, but I had to share it somewhere.

So, something compelled me to listen to Frou Frou's album Details a few minutes ago and I was mentally/emotionally transported to 2008-2009, when I was most into that album. At the same time, I was also texting with my good friend to check in about how we were each doing in our self-isolation bubbles -- a friend who was especially close to me in 2008-2009.

She responded with a picture of her partner standing next to an extremely realistic-looking duck in their living room. Or at least, the duck would be realistic-looking if it wasn't about eight feet tall. The caption was "playing with augmented reality lol."

And I'm not totally sure how to convey the feeling I had in that moment. It was basically like, "when I was sixteen, could I have ever imagined that in the year 2020 I would be self-isolating from a global pandemic while receiving augmented-reality updates from my best friend?"

Is there, like, a German word for that feeling?

tech projects I want to try (11 of 100)

I'm an aspiring/nascent computer nerd, and I'd like to do more tinkering with hardware and software. Here's a list-in-progress of projects I'd like to try:

**Soon**

- set up a Glitch account and start exploring the apps

- run Linux Beta on my Chromebook and explore what I can do with that

**In 2020**

- do Mozilla's digital detox

- start reducing my presence under the Googlesphere

- DIY replacement of the fried logic board in my 2011 MacBook Pro (and reinstallation of its hard drive)

- pick up where I left off in learning C# on Codecademy

- set up a personal website and join a webring

**Someday**

- create an extension for Standard Notes

- create a simple video game

- set up a private server to host my website, email, etc.

bonus post for today

Hoo boy, here I am having all kinds of personal revelations. Funny how that happens when I really, truly need to be focusing on something else...

As a kind of addendum to my Day 8 post, which was about my procrastination problems stemming from my need for chaos ~slash~ fear of the remotest disapproval, I just had the thought that I get a perverse kind of energy from putting myself through an ordeal (such as, for instance, staying up all night telling myself I will spend the night working on my project, and then actually spending the night compulsively devouring ACOA blogs, taking career quizzes, and googling "what's wrong with me," not sleeping, nor eating, nor moving from my spot even though I've had to pee since like 11pm--in other words, creating a stress response in my body). But lo and behold, the next day, like a phoenix rising from the ashes (or something), I find a weird kind of pride in forcing myself to power through the stress and pain, a pride that minimizes the fear response I have to the work and lets me move forward to a minimal degree with the project (which I now have woefully few hours to complete).

I think the root of this is in ninth grade as my mom was dying of alcohol-induced liver disease -- that's when I really started royally procrastinating on my work. At least before then, I could more or less accurately gauge how long it would take me to complete a project and do it the day or night before. In ninth grade, I so desperately wanted someone to care about me, to hold me and love me and accept me for who I was and all the pain I was feeling, and yet I wasn't even allowing myself to completely feel it. So I was as stoic as I could be. But!! I also wanted to somehow signal to the people around me that things were very wrong; because my stoicism would be all the more impressive as the intensity of my hidden turmoil increased. Whenever someone during that time, like a teacher or other trusted adult, would acknowledge how hard things must be for me, I would get a boost of self-esteem for being so strong through something so hard. Or at least, that's how I imagined they saw me, which I realize now was a projection of my own pride, that is, my own over-valuing of stoicism. And here I am, reproducing that dynamic within myself every time I have to write a damn thing.

It's been this way throughout so many parts of my life--the choices I made in college, the sport I worked so hard at (such an uphill battle), the decision to even go to grad school at all, all the activism/organizing/service-type work I've pushed myself to do despite not being very good at it... all along I've been the one making things difficult for myself. What if I just let go of that?

shared joy (day 10 of 100)

Reflecting as I run out the door after an all-nighter spent not working, but dreading and avoiding work that has to be presented later today: what if what’s needed (in my case, which is chronically procrastinating on writing projects) isn’t accountability, but a sense of shared joy?

I have a shared folder with a friend to which we’ve endeavored to contribute two pages per day. Both of us have fallen short of that ideal by quite a bit, and this morning I briefly found myself wishing that she and I were both more hard on each other. But then I thought, perhaps holding each other to exacting expectations isn’t the answer - maybe the answer is to infuse more joy into the process of creating, sharing, and reflecting on our work together.

Maybe these are just the ravings of the sleep-deprived. But I’m going to look for ways to create that joy, and see if that helps.

cover song update (day 9 of 100)

I have a couple of ideas for longer posts, but they're both on the heavier side. Since I'm not feeling very up to going deep into my feelings today, I'll give a little update on "Hallelujah." Slow and steady progress!

So far, I've:

  • figured out the main fingerpicking pattern and chord progression for everything except the bridge
  • transcribed the main guitar part into musical notation (both for future reference and to strengthen my music-reading muscles)
  • practiced playing and singing the lyrics at the same time, which I feel decent about at this stage
  • (new!) gotten the lyrics locked down
  • (new!) figured out the bassline (the notes the right thumb plays while fingerpicking) for the bridge
  • (new!) practiced all parts of the song except the bridge, and they're coming together nicely

What's left to do:

  • figure out and transcribe the rest of the guitar part for the bridge
  • practice the bridge, focusing on tricky parts
  • figure out the vocal harmonies
  • decide which other instruments to include in the arrangement, if any
  • record the various parts: main guitar and vocal, vocal harmonies, and any others, like second guitar or subtle keys
  • mixing and other simple post-production
  • record a simple video, edit if necessary
  • put it up!

writing is hard (day 8 of 100)

I think my procrastination problem may be my way of manufacturing crises for myself. I grew up in an alcoholic/dysfunctional family, and I've been coming to terms with that in a deeper way in recent weeks.

Important note: I feel it necessary to add the caveat here that alcoholic/dysfunctional families come in many shapes, sizes, and flavors, and that calling a family alcoholic/dysfunctional does not mean that the people in it are necessarily bad, or that the dynamic itself is bad. Rather, it's just a fact, and a name that's useful to group together a set of similar types of experiences so that people can find resources that may help them live happier, more fulfilled lives. Alcoholic/dysfunctional families may still be full of good people, and they still may be full of love. My family certainly is both.

At any rate, I think it's worth thinking about how I feel about myself as a result of my upbringing, and how that affects the way I write now. For a long time, the very act of making a statement for myself has felt scary to me. It creates an actual fear, as in my throat closes up, I feel my shoulders round downward and my body shrink, as if to take up as little space as possible, as if to disappear. Then afterwards, if I do manage to ever eke out some opinion, I become wracked with guilt and self-recrimination over the possibility that I've said something that would make someone dislike me.

I just desperately need to be approved of. I was the oldest child, with heaps of expectations piled on me. The conventional story goes, with dysfunctional family roles, that the oldest child becomes seen as the savior of the family, the golden child that everyone in the family can point to and say, "Look! If we produced a person like this, who effortlessly gets good grades and follows all the rules and validates our way of being in the world and never makes a fuss... if we can make that person, then we must be okay!"

The thing with writing is that it's such a minefield for the kinds of things that strike fear into the heart of my inner child: the possibility of being critiqued by a real or imagined audience, confronting the fact that I don't know everything (obviously), being wrong over and over again. Writing requires all of these things, and at bottom it demands a comfort with my own imperfection. I never did develop much of a growth mindset (see the research of Carol Dweck, it's great), but I'm doing my damndest to re-parent myself into having one.

the Conversation (day 7 of 100)

I just discovered this news site committed to academically rigorous, evidence-based journalism. I haven't really investigated it yet, but I'm intrigued by their description. Hoping it can be of use, perhaps even while I'm visiting family this week.

https://theconversation.com/us/who-we-are

on making cover songs (day 6 of 100)

For a long time, I've admired people who aren't afraid to be seen and heard. I have wanted to be the kind of person who can put their ideas and creations out into the world. The problem is that as much as I want to do those things too, I'm extremely afraid.

One possible way around it is to conceive of my creations as gifts to people I love. Right now, I'm working on covering the song "Hallelujah," recently released by the band Haim (it's not another version of the Leonard Cohen song). Instead, the Haim song is about sisterly love and support. I've found that if I frame the cover song as a gift for my sister, with just a simple dedication, it makes it so much easier for me to stomach the idea of it being out in the world.

The key here is follow-through. I have lots of cover songs that I've started and abandoned out of self-criticism. I want to just put something out there for once, finish it before I convince myself otherwise. Who cares if it's not perfect? It will never be perfect anyway. I become ready for a thing by doing the thing, right?

So far, I've:

  • figured out the main fingerpicking pattern and chord progression for everything except the bridge
  • transcribed the main guitar part into musical notation (both for future reference and to strengthen my music-reading muscles)
  • practiced playing and singing the lyrics at the same time, which I feel decent about at this stage

What's left to do:

  • figure out and transcribe the guitar part for the bridge
  • get the lyrics locked down
  • practice the whole song, focusing on tricky parts
  • figure out the vocal harmonies
  • decide which other instruments to include in the arrangement, if any
  • record the various parts: main guitar and vocal, vocal harmonies, and any others, like second guitar or subtle keys
  • mixing and other simple post-production
  • record a simple video, edit if necessary
  • put it up!

I'm hoping to put it out into the world by the end of November. I've been practicing the art of putting out imperfect things with this blog; now I just have to translate that into another medium.

modular notes and SER: how I work, part 2 (day 5 of 100)

As promised yesterday, and in the hopes that thinking about my writing process will help me jump into writing mode, I wanted to explain how I go from notes to writing. Historically, this has been the most difficult part of writing for me--that is to say, I'm fine at taking notes on texts, but the act of getting started coming up with my own ideas about them is supremely challenging. But I've had some luck with a process like the following:

When I read a source, I take notes by hand, in a smallish notebook. I use the Cornell method, even though I often forget to note the main ideas in the margins. I use a symbol system that I've used since high school: an asterisk for a main point, a circled asterisk for an item that requires follow-up, a simplified arrow (actually just a greater-than sign) for a connection to another source or a citation I want to investigate, and an exclamation point for original ideas I have. If an item seems especially useful or exciting, it gets a double or triple symbol (!!!). Regular old notes just get a hyphen-style bullet. Each note has a page number associated with it, of course, so I can cite it later.

Once I get all these notes collected in my notebook I let them sit for a little while, but not too long (ideally a couple of hours). I return to the notes with the intention of mining ideas that are relevant for my current project. I take these pieces of evidence and form them into units that I call SER blocks. I got this term from, again, high school. (It may be simple, but if it ain't broke...).

SER stands for statement-evidence-reasoning. It looks like this:

"Here is a statement describing the evidence I'm about to present, and noting its context in the original source. Here is the evidence, either paraphrased or quoted directly, with a proper citation. Here is my reasoning about this piece of evidence: an evaluation, a synthesis that brings in other ideas, etc."

The process of creating these SER blocks happens in WorkFlowy, which makes it easy to move the blocks around and cluster them into relevant subtopics/subarguments. The key thing here is that the WorkFlowy page I dump the blocks into isn't restricted to the one source: it contains all the sources for the project I'm working on. That way, the sources can play together and I can start to find the connections and contradictions between them.

Once I have a bunch of SER blocks clustered around similar topics, I simply start writing out my ideas without looking at an outline--I try to get into a writing flow state. (I truly don't think I could do this without The Most Dangerous Writing App. It's been a lifesaver.) Once I have a rough (rough) draft of where I want the argument to go, I insert the SER blocks in relevant locations. Only later, at another sitting, do I edit for consistency and flow.

I like creating SER blocks as an intermediate step between reading (collecting) and writing (creating), because forcing myself to contextualize and evaluate each piece of evidence before I insert it into the outline gets my critical thinking going. That way, when it comes time to get into the flow space of writing, I have seeds of ideas to start with.


SHOUT OUTS to my high school teachers, and to the book Destination Dissertation by Foss and Waters, whose explanation of how to write a literature review describes a similar process.

in defense of ephemera: how I work, part 1 (day 4 of 100)

tl;dr: The Zettelkasten method is mostly not for me, but I like the part that forces you to synthesize different ideas in your own words and make connections to other ideas at the level of the note. This is something I will incorporate as an intermediate step between collecting information from a text and writing in a project (more on that in part 2 tomorrow!).


Yesterday, I engaged in some excellent "productive" (read: not really productive at all) procrastination. I went down the rabbit hole of note-taking methods and found myself reading about the Zettelkasten method for a few hours. While the method is undeniably a great exercise in strengthening one's capacity for critical and organized thought, I concluded that most of the system is probably too cumbersome for my purposes.

I've found that for me, a guiding principle of the research process must be to have a project in mind. In my case, that project is a dissertation (or the steps leading up to it: term papers that may one day become chapters, literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, etc.). In the case of Zettelkasten, it seems like the end goal is to create a comprehensive, interlinked network of atomized ideas. That is, the project is the Zettelkasten itself. That's a noble goal, but I'm just trying to get through grad school intact.

Zettlekasten and I agree on a central point: the most important part is the process (it's always about the process, isn't it?) of developing one's own original thoughts out of the links between already-existing ideas. But the way I see it, it's okay if I lose notes after they've served their purpose. I don't have to collect, catalog, and physically link everything, because I don't need to have my brain-library outsourced. And I think this is in line with the Zettelkasten philosophy anyway. I read on one of the blogs (forgive me for not remembering which one; it was a frenzied binge) that the point is not to outsource the brain to find things later. Rather, it's to strengthen the mind's capactity for connections and deep thought, so that when the time comes to answer a new question, one doesn't turn to the archive of notes. One turns to one's own brain, superpowered from the repeated act of breaking ideas down and linking them together.

For me, it should suffice to take active notes, keep them somewhere I can easily clip them for the specific projects I'm creating now, and then archive them. I don't find it necessary to tag each note with a unique ID and painstakingly cross-reference each note with every other relevant item. And I would be overwhelmed by the prospect of having a bunch of disconnected (atomized) ideas. It's my preference to keep them associated with the book or article they came from, in the same note (even if that means having a very long note for an entire book, for example). This also makes citation much easier, which is critical for my work. When ideas are synthesized at the level of the note, it's hard to tease out which item comes from which source. I realize this comes at the expense of building a dynamically connected system, and I do love the idea of freeing individual ideas from their sources. But since I go through all my book/article notes to dump in relevant "atoms" for each project I'm working on, for me it's sufficient to create project-sized dynamic systems rather than one overarching one.

Plus, I enjoy writing by hand and I like having physical notebooks that correspond to particular times in my life (on average, I go through three small notebooks per semester, filled with class notes, meeting notes, reading notes, song lyrics, and miscellany). I'll probably digitize these at some point to get rid of the clutter (probably by scanning them, to save time). True, it's hard to search for a specific thing, but I have a general sense of what items/topics are in which notebooks. If I really have to go back for something, I can generally find it pretty quickly. So I suppose I'm defending the concept of selective ephemera: the ideas are logged somewhere, just not necessarily neatly categorized and linked to other ideas. They're ephemeral in the sense that I'm letting them go for now (once the notebook is filled and/or the project is finished), and they may or may not come back later. If I do choose to find them again, I will engage and strengthen my brain in new ways, as the information is bound to fit into my knowledge network differently in light of new experiences.

I will say that, in light of my Zettelkasten reading, I will make a new habit: Each time I finish taking notes on a new source, I'll skim through my library of notes to see if any connections jump out, and spend some time jotting down any new ideas.

I'll probably change it up someday, but this is the system that works for me now.

procrastination (day 3 of 100)

I have a confession to make—okay, it's probably not much of a confession, since lots of bloggers seem to start out with a similar idea; that is, lots of writers struggle with a similar problem.

Here's the confession: I have made a terrible habit of procrastinating. One of the main reasons I started this blog was to get into the habit of putting words on the page every day. My history with procrastination is long and storied. It is the stuff of legend, truly. (Maybe someday I'll tell you the whole sad tale.)

Somehow I've managed to make it halfway through a Ph.D. program in a humanities field, and this is where I find myself: My dissertation proposal is behind by about a year. I have a paper from last year that I have to make up for. And I'm behind on two response papers—no, make that three—for the seminar I'm currently taking. And that's just the stuff I'm behind on! I also have to write a term paper for the seminar, one which will hopefully overlap (research-wise) with my dissertation proposal literature review section, and will hopefully lead into a future dissertation chapter. And finally, I have to assemble an in-depth annotated bibliography for an independent study I'm taking with a different professor.

I have about a month to finish all of these things, and the panic is beginning to set in on a low level. Which, in a way, is progress—in prior semesters, it usually took until the last week of the semester for me to begin to feel the panic, and it took until the passing of the due date for me to begin to write. Whoops.

For now, I'm taking comfort in the fact that this brief post has been a moment of zen. I did feel a sense that the words were coming naturally and my mind was in a flow state. This is a nice change from the frantic, fragmented feeling I normally have when I'm writing. I hope that, by keeping up the habit of writing a little at a time, this good feeling will be easier to come by.

If you're here, thank you for reading.