Devs, or, How I binged this show to avoid work and ended up fucking my brain

I did not expect this show to have such a visceral effect on me. From the very first episode, I understood that the slow pace of the narrative was in part to instill a sense of dread, I also felt the pull of another force: an undertow of awe. That was the promise at least. Devs for the most part just left me feeling desperate, confused, and eight hours farther behind on my work.

I’m not disappointed, but I am befuddled. Set in a Silicon Valley mega-corporation named Amaya, Devs entangles the world of tech entrepreneurship, industrial espionage, global politics, and, well, the true nature of love. This is not a standard review. I won’t be writing any episode summaries or talk about the performances in detail, but the setting of the show is arguably its main character. Amaya’s campus is situated inside a redwood forest and my brain mistakenly headed east, thinking of the Pando tree colony in Colorado from which Sarah Lacy, formerly of TechCrunch named her tech-focused spin-off blog. In 2012 that was an important fact that I knew and one that directly impacted my daily life. As a web developer in Seattle I felt the need to be jacked in to the tech world and the writers in Silicon Valley were my dealers. In other words I watched Devs, got my forests mixed up, and overdosed on nostalgia.

I never fell so deeply into tech that I could relate to the work environment. I’m not a natural coder, more of a tinkerer, and my skills, while good enough for newspapers and marketing firms, lacked the disruptive excitement that drove the industry before the gig economy started sapping all the drive from every one, every where.

I wanted to love Devs but had to settle for thinking about it, a lot. The violence bothered me. This means it’s successful and that bothers me. I was surprised by the amount of death within eight episodes, but later seasons of Breaking Bad would laugh in my face. Each one (nearly) felt terrible, awful, uncomfortable, brilliantly sound-edited (snap, still gives me chills) and sometimes even justified. I’ll never forgive the one. Never!

Nick Offerman as Forest…in a forest. You see how I got confused.

And ultimately, since this isn’t a regular review and I don’t have to worry about spoilers, I’m still not going to spoil anything and tell you to watch it for yourself. See if you’re still trying to parse out some things days down the road — not the large themes, they occasionally come down on the top of your head like a large hand descending from the sky to stop a nuclear war. I see you Captain Trips — but the flow of the narrative. The intersection of stories. The visual color palette. the magic of technology. The royal treatment and screwing we give to talented people. The giant statue of a child looming among the trees. The Everett Interpretation.

Sometimes, in the outer reaches of my vision, I catch a small glowing light above my head. I can’t tell the shape. Does it follow me? Do I follow it?

Devs is from FX and can be streamed on Hulu.

Composition and Contagion and Decomposition

What do I even say? As Costco sends me the nine-millionth email featuring products I either don’t need or they don’t have and the sheer volume of “How We Are Dealing with the BLAH BLAH BLAH” emails would be overwhelming if complaining about didn’t focus on the unimaginable privilege I have at my own situation and how fortunate I am to be safe.

It’s been hard to write. That’s why this daily blog is on episode three after a month. I wanted to chart what I did, how I changed teaching, how I adjusted my lessons, but that would assume I had an idea in the first place. After only two years of teaching I realize that I’m not a very good planner or syllabus maker and that since I teach a discussion-based composition course, I have been largely relying on the charisma and charm.

And I ain’t all that charming.

I am thankful that I’ve decided my major field for my comprehensive exams will focus on composition and rhetoric as there is so much I have to learn. So much I have to understand about teaching and lesson design. In fact, I was excited to drop $250 on the Digital Pedagogy Lab this summer, but when I realized that was per course, I had to say no. There’s no way I’m going to ask for funding when some of my peers have just lost their summer funding. I’ll follow the speakers, take a look at the free events, and get to know some of the recent journals on the subject. I may need that money.

The struggle with writing though has infused every project. Sometimes I can fall back on research, reading over journal articles and chapters, or, as is more likely, hoarding more texts that I’ll never get a chance to read or skim but will languish in my citation manager among the 2,300+ sources that I have and haven’t used over the years. Forcing myself to writing this post is an exercise in breaking through that anxious block we’ve all been dealing with. Having a writing group helps, work/writing sprints gets some words on the page. Cutting myself off with research also helps me shift gears.

Look how happy she is. I bet she gets her stuff in on time.
(Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

The biggest burden is feeling as if I can’t completely immerse myself in my work while at home. I haven’t shaken the need to keep an ear out for trouble. My noise-canceling headphones sit charging, unused. There are things I’m listening for, but rarely hear. Things I hear but rarely need to intervene. It’s only been within the last two weeks that I’ve felt comfortable just shutting the door to my office when not in a Zoom session.

This is progress.

For now, I think I’ll just keep plugging, checking off little things on my to-do list (the big projects broken down in order to gain momentum) and worry less about productivity and more about process. As a composition teacher I want to be about the processes: the process of reading and thinking and writing and discussing. This time requires us to renegotiate our process on a daily (if not hourly) basis and that flexibility, I think, will surely be helpful in the long run. The product is just the record of work done.

The process is the reward.

Composition and Contagion: Days 2-4

When I promise to write something daily, inevitably, I will fail. This is proven by my illustrious fiction writing career that is, somehow, invisible. In this instance, I have a good excuse. We had to take a family member to the hospital Tuesday due to a stroke. What, up until a few weeks ago would have been an immediate decision, this time was weighed with the possibility of Covid-19 infection. But you don’t mess with a stroke, so they went.

Thankfully it was very mild and they are safe and sound. But we can’t visit, no one can visit, and getting information has been spotty. We can talk to our loved one, but have trouble getting in touch with staff. Understandable, yes, but frustrating too.

So these last few days have been overshadowed by this stressor, the rearrangement of items from front to back burners, the constant tempering of my own anxiety to retain composure (which sometimes fails, but not terrible, yet) and worrying about my English Comp students, the majority of who I haven’t heard from yet.

I’m lucky to have a tiny class, but that also means I feel more connected to them and when they’re not responding, I worry. Granted, they are getting inundated with emails not just from their professors but the university with their constant updates, closings, schedule changes, grading changes, etc. I think administration has to curtail the “status” emails of encouragement that, while thoughtful, only clog our already traffic heavy digital lives.

Just post cat memes in the university twitter account. At least for now.

No. Not like this…

My own coursework has been far from my mind as well, but that has to change today. While everyone has been flexible (these are the times we live in) there are some remnants of a strict schedule here and there. Adhering to a schedule would be best for my ADHD-brain, but I have to find the discipline — and energy, and motivation, and hope — to make one.

The days are going to run together, no sense of weekend or weekday for the next few weeks and I think that will have to be necessary. I can feel the pull of falling behind, of lagging in despair, of less sleep, less activity, of depression. The solitude isn’t the problem, it’s the removal of audience. Without people watching me work, how do I know its time to work? (Yes, Zoom hangouts are a thing, but they can be far more distracting than helpful.)

I am Schrodinger’s Teaching Fellow – am I on track? Am I behind? You have to open the box to find out. But bad things happen when you go around opening boxes…

Wash your hands!

Composition and Contagion: A Working Journal

Lehigh University has decided to move the remainder of its semester online in an effort to reduce the amount of contact between faculty, staff, and students on its campus. Is it an overabundance of caution? Sure. But, I would argue that is what’s needed now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and boy, am I worried.

But that’s not what this is about.

What this is about will be my experience rapidly transitioning to online teaching, what changes I made, and how my students reacted. I thought it would be important to keep a daily journal about this experience for any number of reasons that I’ll decide when we come out on the other side of this.

Today is the first day “back” from spring break and normally I would teach my English Comp I class at 3pm. Originally I thought about using Google Hangouts to have a real-time discussion and get a sense of how everyone was doing, but since students are probably scrambling to get their things from residences (with that deadline being today), they’ve got enough on their plate. This is an easy call for me. As an English instructor at a primarily engineering school, we understand how we sometimes fall in a student’s list of priorities.

Generally my enthusiasm and charm makes them realize my class is the most important. Ahaha.

My class is content/discussion based along side process workshops, but I was finding that my group would get a bit sidetracked in our discussions. I wanted to try creating reading guides from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas and the switch to remote learning has given me the opportunity to try this out. We’re finishing up our “Animal” unit, where we’ve been reading and talking about how we use animals to tell human stories, what we get wrong when we try to tell stories about animals, and our general relationship to the non-human animal world. They’ve already selected their paper topics for this unit, and after break we were going to talk about dinosaurs.

Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

Rawwwwwrrrrr
My people have been much maligned!

Pairing an article about dinosaurs with and article about CRISPR editing of mosquito DNA seems like a no-brainer, but I wanted to have some guiding comments and questions for their reading as well as “Synthesis Questions” for them to answer at the end of the week. While this isn’t a perfect replacement for discussion (and I won’t be able to test how well these guides steer discussion in the classroom until the fall – hopefully) I hope they’ll provide some help in thinking about not only the content but how that content is delivered.

I also have a “Weekly Post” that is less about synthesizing content and more about hearing additional voices, or looking toward the next assignments. To make the transition to remote less stressful, I’ve made all the deadlines for weekly work due at midnight on Saturday. We normally meet on Mondays and Wednesdays, but I plan on just checking in by email Tuesday and Friday (for now). They can reach me by email or Google chat anytime and I hope they will.

As I’m still in coursework, I have a mix of remote learning experiences on the horizon, some wanting to do Zoom meetings, others allowing us to go at our own pace for the week (similar to my class). I keep thinking about the successful online classes I’ve taken and the real-time meetings have been few and far between, not because of technology, but because it isn’t always a good use of time. My suggestion, if you have to attend a online meeting, have a list of questions/items for discussion first, otherwise…

Bob? Bob? Turn off your damn ceiling fan. It’s so loud!

Good luck out there. Wash your hands. Stay the hell away from each other.

In the stall next door

(A poem I wrote a couple of years ago, recently found in a pile of papers. I appear to be channeling Benny Hill. I could do a lot worse.)

I heard the hesitation
and the grunt of forced cessation
and I realized that I’d caught you in the act.

And I smelled the strain and guessed
at your movement now suppressed
and in kindness, I found no cause to react.

So I banged and boomed and bustled
and I hacked and huffed and hustled
and made quick work what I meant to do.

Parted quick in hands-damp hurry
to release you from your worry
left alone to sigh and finish up your poo.

NYT Book Review – The Darkening Age by Catherine Nixey

Bettany Hughes writes a great review for Catherine Nixey’s The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. I knew I’d be interested in the book before I read Hughes’ review, but I’m so glad I was able to find a few interesting quotes:

…Nixey makes the fundamental point that while we lionize Christian culture for preserving works of learning, sponsoring exquisite art and adhering to an ethos of “love thy neighbor,” the early church was in fact a master of anti-intellectualism, iconoclasm and mortal prejudice.

And the following…

Nixey delivers this ballista-bolt of a book with her eyes wide open and in an attempt to bring light as well as heat to the sad story of intellectual monoculture and religious intolerance.

I love “ballista-bolt of a book.” I’m looking forward to grabbing this from the library when it comes out.

HOW to MRI…in some number of steps

Frens.

I have been through the Stargate and back and will now divulge the secret to having a pleasant experience inside the MRI machine.

Feel free to use this, unless you already have a process. This requires good brain muscles. Your mileage may vary.

FIRST! Do not, I repeat, do not open your eyes. When they push you into the magnetic womb, keep those peepers unpeeped. There is a nice flow of cool air spraying near your face and you can delude yourself into thinking you’re lying in an open area. That’s fine. NO PEEKING.

SECOND! Do not accept the gift of music. I have no idea what kind of playlists MRI technicians have available, but for this plan to work, you must not allow competing beats into your muffled earholes. NO COMPETING BEATS!

C! There will be some alarm sounds. That’s fine. That’s your signal to start the show in your mind theater. Take a deep breath. You are ready.

NEXT! There will be some thumping. Rhythmic thumping that once in a while will be paired with a second, deeper thumping. This is good. Don’t jig with it – you can’t – but move with the beat in your brain. This beat is permeating the depths of the earth, the only part of the EDM coming from a hedonistic celebration in your honor many miles above. You hear it. Your embrace it. Soon it will stop, for the ritual will be complete. For you are the…

VAMPIRE QUEEN!!!

(Now, I’m not the Aaliyah “Queen of the Damned” type, more of the Brienne-of-Tarth-as-a-Vampire type, which, let’s be honest, would have ended that show in Season four. ALL HAIL THE BLOODY QUEEN OF THE SEVEN * crash * SIX KINGDOMS!!)

So, you, the Vampire Queen, lying in your coffin in the depths of hell, awaiting your resurrection. Your most dedicated followers are engaged in a deadly disco (picture the “Bloodbath” scene from “Blade”) and you hear them calling you from your black soul.

The beat stops. For a moment, silence.

Suddenly an insistent “rat-tat-tat-tat-tat” echoes overhead. You know that the forces of good have come to break up your ceremony. These are the machine guns, silver bullets blazing, mowing down the weakest of your kin. Fine, you think, safe in your sunken cocoon. Their flesh will be the centerpiece of a celebration feast. Two more short rounds of “rat-tat-tat” are heard – then a long, nearly insufferable staccato of noise. You try to shift, but the long centuries of sleep have left you stiff and sluggish. And as you begin to think of the loss of your brethren, a feeling of peace diffuses through your blood. Of course, you realize, the tables have been turned and the human interlopers are now the ones staring down those metal missiles of misery.

FOURTH!…FIFTH! It is quiet again, for a moment, and then the EDM returns. Here, your brain projector switches from the crimsons and whites of the previous disco to the browns and tans of the overlong, sweat-stained dance frenzy of that one Matrix movie. You forget which one.

YOU HAVE EXISTED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS AND IT IS DIFFICULT TO RETAIN FILM FACTS.
I AM THE ULTIMATE PREDATOR BUT BAD AT BAR TRIVIA.

The beats are not as insistent now and then more “rat-tat-tats.” But these have a distinct sound, as of a long heavy chain being pulled through an infinite chasm.

SIX! As your chained coffin is being pulled upwards through an infinite chasm, you begin to sense an end to your stillness, the bulbous stress ball some smarty-pants buried you with in 1987, now feels like the soft completion of a promise. You rise….RISE, noticing for the first time, a cool breeze across your face and you hope, desperately hope, that these dancing morons timed this right. No one likes being resurrected at dawn.

SEVENTEENTH!! In your ears a kind voice says, “okay, you’re all done” and you smile, knowing that you’ve successfully passed through the gate from undead to, well, technically you’re still undead, but now you’re ANIMATED UNDEAD and hey, lady, you said that like ten minutes ago. It’s time to release me from my IMMORTAL PRISON and let me out. Seriously, how far away are the operators from this thing? And if they’re that far away, should I even be in here?

END!! Not a moment before, but when you feel the table move out, out of the area, then, and only then, should you open your eyes, dismissing the previous twenty minutes and returning to a certain reality. Pluck out those ear plugs, thank the staff for their kindness and professionalism and emerge into the sunlight, ready to take on the day.

You squint at the sun. “Idiots!”

Facebook and the Discontinuity of Narrative

I find Facebook frustrating. As storyteller, the Facebook algorithm creates a logistical dilemma. In some cases, I like to use the first comment as a, for lack of a better term, the punchline, or, in most cases, a secondary punchline. Sometimes it is to give further comment to what I’m posting, other times it is to beat my readers to the obvious joke. I am not always successful, but narratively I find that first comment area gives me the necessary “beat” before a nice aside. It’s is the “Ching” to my “Ba-dum, dum.”

Unfortunately, when enough comments appear, Facebook shifts the order around, placing the “Top Comment” in this coveted spot, erasing any of my intended narrative flow—a small example of the Facebook news feed as a whole—shifting the narrative flow from a temporal progression of my Facebook feed to one decidedly non-temporal. Were I to view my feed in the default view, I would find posts from the day before at the top of the list because that one friend is a particularly prolific poster, or due to the apparent closeness of our “relationship.” As one who developed her online narrative style on bulletin boards, forums and IRC chat rooms, this presents a neverending mish-mash of content. More importantly, from a reader’s perspective, it completely undermines the immediacy of social media. This is also why I find Twitter much more useful, though not without its own narrative obstacles. (Snapchat, for what it’s worth, is useless to me, since I was never comfortable with the app’s user interface. Snapchat understands this and has been working on redesigns, but that ship has sailed for me.) The immediacy that social media promises is rendered moot within the confines of Facebook, a platform that was never interested in keeping its users in touch with their friends, but only interested in keeping its users on Facebook. A high-walled garden where all your friends play is still a prison. Yet Facebook’s greatest illusion is how it has completely obfuscated the temporality of human storytelling.

Typically, our narrative history progressed from one white man to another, creating a canonical trajectory. The present is easier to deal with if one can see a straight line leading up to a moment. Yet we have been and will continue to expand that canon, introducing and recovering new voices adding breadth to that timeline, or, more accurately, adding parallel lines of narrative, creating a multiverse of voices and stories. Though parallel may not be the accurate description, because these narrative lines dip and cross and intersect, changing the vectors of other stories, shifting perspectives and, in the worst instances, ending narrative lines altogether. How then do we find the time (in a tactical sense) to make sense of all the intersecting twists and turns that make up our present? What is the defining feature common among this tangled mess of narrative?

We are temporal beings, therefore the stories as we write them tend to flow forward, not necessarily from one action to another, but in enough of a recognizably linear fashion that we, as reader, find some sort of progression in narrative. Even stories that break timeline rules still follow a version of linear progression even if that movement is not past to present to future. So our stories are created and consumed temporally, by necessity of the mortal time boundaries of their creators. Yet, the stories as entities do not. They exist out of time, in a sense, from the first moment we were able to record an idea in a semi-permanent manner. Our stories exist as delineated moments along a our timeline, if not reflective in the narrative itself, then reflective of the fact that it was created at a particular time by a temporally-bound being.

Facebook essentially shifts our narrative from time-based to topic-based, disallowing users to see stories develop from one moment to the next in favor of feeding users similar stories hoping to keep users on the site and deliver sponsored content. By creating these new lines of narrative, Facebook (and those that use a similar method) disrupt not only our natural ways of telling stories, but our natural ways of consuming stories, creating less of a network of ideas that touch and influence each other, but a sticky web of stories that envelope a perceived desired narrative. The news feed does not damage us by hiding stories that are in political opposition to our own worldview, it damages us by disappearing the existence of other worldviews entirely. Our ignorance is actively curated.

For all of our discussions about Facebook and politics, we sometimes forget that we are creator ourselves. Facebook should be approached as just another publishing platform, one with its own rules and quirks, yet something that should be manipulated by us instead of the other way around. While many of us create with a rhetorical mindset, we must learn to consume in the same way: looking at dates of publication, looking at sources, reading critically even the most innocuous post. We must remember that we are temporal beings, stuck in a mortal timeline, all with the same end. Only our stories survive, unless the algorithm pushes it off the page.

Keep your Woodstock.

Warning: contains Zizek.

I would like to offer this screenshot as a visual representation of how GenX was raised in the most disillusioned cultural environment, while continually doused with the marketing of Baby-Boomer nostalgia. (That nostalgia leaned markedly white and middle class.)

My argument is GenX was disallowed its own cultural validation while standing in the shadow of the perceived greatness of its parents’ generation. While the argument of eternal generational comparison may be made, I offer that this was right after the birth of marketing and the onslaught of nostalgia-based culturalization found its birthplace in the 1980s. From music to film to literature, our desires, interests, and ideals were continually compared to the 1960s and fell short, just as those idealists voted for Ronald Reagan and began purchasing McMansions in droves.

And this is why, when we speak to Millennials, we speak to them as equals, as leaders, not followers. I will correct people when they have historical or cultural things wrong from my era – we are all subject to the marketing machine – but I hope I do not deny them their voice, or their process, or render them invalid because my generation was “more important.” I’m GenX. I never learned that generational self-importance.

The vast majority of Baby Boomers took no part in any revolution, but damn if they don’t want you to buy into that.