make your own word drawing
to make your own word drawing, you will need one sheet of paper and a pencil or a pen
after finding a quiet place to sit with access to a flat writing surface,
to make your own word drawing, you will need one sheet of paper and a pencil or a pen
after finding a quiet place to sit with access to a flat writing surface,
Reusable Grocery Bags: Fashion Accessory, Environmental Necessity
It’s not often that trends in the worlds of New York fashion and the PSFC collide, but with the summer of 2004 having been declared the season of the tote bag by both Coop members and the fashion-forward crowd, the two are set to meet, however briefly. Though what fashionistas may not know (and what, of course, Coop members do know), is just how important the adoption of these totes as reusable grocery bags is in efforts to protect the environment.
At the May General Meeting members considered a discussion item related to reducing plastic bag usage. Elizabeth Tobier, the Coop member sponsoring the plastic bag discussion item, said in an interview that she “wanted members to be aware of the devastating effects that plastic bags have on the environment and on marine life and wildlife in general.” There are two types of plastic bags at the Coop: plastic grocery bags (those gray bags at checkout that are commonly referred to as “T-shirt bags”) and the clear plastic bags that are used for produce and bulk items and are generally referred to as “roll bags” or “produce bags.” As a result of the GM discussion, the environmental committee, the sign committee, and Coop staff are in the process of creating new ways of informing members about alternatives to plastic bags and drawing attention to the number of plastic bags Coop members use.
These bags are available everywhere, and are sometimes re-used, but very rarely recycled. Because production of new plastic bags is relatively inexpensive, there is a limited market for recycled plastic bags, and only an estimated 1-3 percent of bags are eventually recycled. And the rest? Well, some land in trees, others blow down streets or float in oceans, with the ones making it to the landfill requiring 1000 years to biodegrade. Plastic bags have not only become a blight to urban and rural landscapes, they have proven to be damaging to various types of land and sea animals who at times ingest the bags, having mistaken them as a source of food.
In response to what some call the epidemic use of plastic bags, several countries have passed legislation to curb plastic bag usage, and the results have been dramatic. In March, 2002, Ireland initiated a PlasTax, which adds a 9 pence (about 20 US cents) tax levy to each new plastic bag. In three months, according to the Web site http://www.reusablebags.com, Ireland recorded a 90 percent drop in the use of plastic bags, and accumulated $3.45 million in PlasTax money, which was then used to fund environmental projects. Ireland’s program has been particularly effective in reducing plastic bag usage because it is consumers, rather than retailers, who pay the tax. Though even the latter strategy, which was adopted by Denmark in 1994, has resulted in an estimated 66 percent decline in plastic bag use.
While England and Australia both consider adopting PlasTaxes, Taiwan has already passed a law that it hopes will reduce the use of plastic bags and disposable silverware by requiring merchants to charge customers for both. And, in Bangladesh, the government passed legislation in 2002 banning all high density polyethylene bags in the capital Dhaka after it was discovered that improper disposal of these bags aggravated the massive flooding that occurred in the city in 1988 and 1998.
Although the Coop accounts for a very small percentage of the 100 billion plastic bags consumed annually in the U.S., we can still reduce our reliance on them. General Coordinator Mike Eakin reports that the Coop’s “recent usage of roll bags has been running at an annual rate of 1,750,000 bags annually, costing $8,500, and usage of T-shirt bags has been running at an annual rate of about 780,000 bags costing $9,750. Interestingly, our collection of money to pay for plastic bags is running at an annual rate of just under $13,000, or about 70% of the total cost. This is the highest proportion of our cost that we have ever collected, and it has been rising, perhaps because of better placement of collection boxes and increased publicity.”
To promote member awareness and use of reusable shopping bags, General Coordinator Janet Schumacher has created a new consolidated area for displaying reusable grocery bags at the end-cap of Aisle 2. “We want people to be conscious about their use of plastic bags and to know that they have a range of options available in terms of reusable shopping bags.” To appeal to the breadth of tastes, budgets, and lifestyles of coop members, Schumacher has ordered a variety of new bags, including a small canvas tote bag with black handles ($4.11) that fits over the shoulder and comes in a range of fashionable colors. With pink and orange already sold out (more should be coming soon), snag one or two of the remaining yellow or black ones and you’ll have a great shopping bag and/or spiffy summer purse. For those looking to conserve space, Schumacher points to the line of string bags available, which, she emphasizes, “are highly compressible.” And, of course, those sturdy, graphically appealing Coop printed bags, which are already very popular with members, continue to be available.
One of the notable new additions to the bag selection at the Coop has been a reusable plastic zipper bag priced under one dollar. Who knows whether it is fashion or function that is driving sales, but these bags quite literally went flying out the door. Holtz, who assisted Schumacher in finding the low-cost bags, says that “we sold 120 bags in one week, it was amazing, I think having a price below one dollar and the fact that the bag is sturdy and light and reusable really appealed to a lot of people.” The Coop, which sold through its first shipment of 82 cent bags, received a new order last week and these bags are priced even lower! So make sure you grab one of these 61 cent bags while they are still in stock.
In addition to reusable grocery bags, Coop members may be interested in reusable produce bags. Although many members already reuse standard roll bags (2 for 1 cent), for those who don’t feel these bags are sturdy enough, there are currently two options: muslin produce bags and green plastic bags. Both can be found either in Aisle 4A, near
The Coop Articles: Dispatches From the Park Slope Food Coop 2002-2007
the cleaning products, or in the new end-cap bag display. The muslin produce bags are47 $1.11 and are machine washable. The bags are durable and can be used for produce and dry goods, as can the reusable green bags, which come in three different sizes: small (10 for $2.38), medium (10 for $3.23) and large (10 for $5.20).
The problem for most of us, of course, is how to remember to bring the bags to the Coop or how to have the bags handy when we shop. Although even Schumacher cannot help members with these issues, she and Holtz do have some suggestions. For those who make big weekly or monthly shopping trips, she and Holtz recommend having a system in place, and a bag of empty bags handy that you take with you each time you plan to shop. For those who shop at the Coop daily, or straight from work, keep one of the canvas or string bags in a briefcase, or purse, or even in a coat pocket, so you will always have it ready. As a committed spur of the moment Coop shopper, and someone who is used to using T-shirt bags as trash liners, I can only say that Holtz and Schumacher’s advice really works. Having taken the time to put aside a designated shopping bag, which also contains a spare tote bag, and a few muslin produce bags, I have significantly reduced my use of plastic T-shirt and produce bags.
© johannah rodgers
Academia.”edu”: A Site of Many Questions
American Book Review, Volume 38, Number 2, January/February 2017
The first question, “Why Are We Not Boycotting Academia.edu?”, which was also the title of a December 8, 2015 symposium organized by Gary Hall and Janneka Adema at Coventry University, is undoubtedly a crucial one. Unfortunately, it is also, at this moment in time, an apparently easy one to answer. The main reason “we” are not boycotting Academia.edu is because, as an organization backed by an estimated $17.7MM in venture-capital funding, Academia.edu has been able to successfully fulfill a need for a well-designed, easy to use, freely accessible, global repository of scholarly work across the disciplines. In fact, there is so much scholarly content posted currently on the site, including, it is worth mentioning, information about the 2015 Coventry University symposium, that Academia.edu has become difficult to avoid.
Yet, as a privately-owned, venture-capital funded commercial venture, Academia.edu has also been the object of some scrutiny, thanks largely to the attention brought to the it by the 2015 Coventry University symposium, an event recorded and archived at the archive.org website. The subject of two 2015 articles in the U.S.-based magazines The Atlantic and The Chronicle of Higher Education, Academia.edu was, more recently, profiled and criticized in the Canadian magazine University Affairs for its ongoing use of the .edu domain despite the fact that Academia.edu has no educational affiliation. And, however educational its wider mission to facilitate access to scholarly work may be, its business model, ever evolving and not publicly disclosed, is a for-profit one that depends on the free donation of intellectual property originally funded by a range of government and non-profit sources.
The publicly available facts about Academia.edu are astonishingly consistent: It has a, somewhat inexplicably , large and growing user base that totals an estimated 46MM account holders (2016) and 36MM unique visitors per month. It is free to use for its registered users and it is designed and architected to be at once easy to use and feature-rich, meaning, even if you do not regularly visit the site, it will stay in touch with you via e-mail to keep you abreast of new research posted by those “academics” whom you “follow” and the “impact” of your work based on the number of users accessing it. Further, unlike other existing scholarly databases, such as JSTOR or ProjectMuse, Academia.edu offers users access to analytics related to the reception and readership of scholarly work and a daily-updated percentile rank, i.e., top 1%, 4%, etc., of work and profile views relative to others posted on the site. Designed at once to appeal to university administrators looking for quantitative statistics related to research employees’ overall “impact factor” and to time-pressed and post-PTSD full-time and adjunct faculty members raised and perhaps fueled by comparative, and particularly, percentile rankings, Academia.edu clearly understands its target audience. As a privately held company, Academia.edu is not required to disclose any financial records and how the company is generating or plans to generate revenue is a work in progress. However, possibilities for monetizing its very rich and freely donated content, which, aside from information about its ever growing user base , currently totals 16.9MM “academic” papers, range from the highly ambitious plan of data mining content for innovative and profitable product development plans, to the more mundane and currently operational one of hosting and selling advertisements for job vacancies on its site, a fact that is all the more ironic in light of the increasingly irrational economies fueling the growth industry that is now known as “U.S. higher ed.”
Though not an educational institution, Academia.edu retains the right to use the .edu domain address because it purchased the name prior to October 29, 2001 when new guidelines related to the use of the domain were implemented. In other words, with respect to its use of the .edu domain, Academia.edu is “grandfathered” in. While this fact has been widely reported, and as much as Richard Price, the founder of Academia.edu can be congratulated on his foresight and financial acumen in registering the domain name Academia.edu on May 10, 1999, the company’s right to the continued use of the .edu domain is not guaranteed since this use is subject to U.S. government policies that can be amended. In April, 2012, a proposed amendment to current .edu policy was introduced to assess the intent and purpose of the sites maintained by existing .edu domain holders and to disqualify those sites with “Use Inconsistent with the Purpose of .edu.” Though never ratified, the amendment was open to public comment through July 3, 2012, and the eighteen comments posted pointed out both the long-overdue need for such an amendment and its potential drawbacks, particularly with respect to its somewhat intentionally vague language. A lengthy comment posted by Academia.edu founder Richard Price opposed the amendment in no uncertain terms, arguing that it was the scope of the definition of terms such as “educational” that were at issue and subject to debate,interpretation, and application.
Words, Their Values, Valuations, and Costs
I very much agree with Price’s assessment of the situation. It is issues of definition that must be discussed, both what words mean and who is in charge of the dictionary, meaning, increasingly, directory, being used as a reliable reference source to define them . The U.S. Department of Commerce oversees the policies related to the use of .edu domain name, and, though it has outsourced, in exchange for $54K per year, the administration of the .edu domain to the not-for-profit educational information technology association Educause, an organization with 2015 revenues of $32MM and a director who was paid a $450K salary in 2015, it must address what this word education and its virtual place-holder .edu signify to U.S., state, and local governments in 2016 and update its policies accordingly .
Government investment in network and communications technologies related to the internet were intended to serve both commercial and public purposes. Just what the appropriate balance is between these two aims is open to debate. However, the privatization and commercialization of public resources, which are then monetized and sold back to the public, seems to be both a shady business practice and decidedly not in the public interest. What is more, Academia.edu’s actual cost to public information and educational initiatives is ever growing and needs to be quantified. As university administrators look increasingly to private companies and their “free” services to supplement and, increasingly, replace internal information technology initiatives related to instructional, research, and curricular support, the question of what words mean, where and how their definitions are verified, and what real and virtual value is attached to them becomes all the more pressing. For, the last, if not the least, of the many questions that need to be posed regarding Academia.edu is one that applies equally to both public and private Higher Education in the U.S. generally: “Is monetize a for-profit word?” 
 As a registered user of academia.edu, I have some first-hand experience with the site’s functionality, its ease of use, and, as a result of both, several questions about its user base and the demographics of its 36MM unique monthly visitors. Although advertising itself as a platform with 46MM registered academics, the lack of any requirements for registering an account means that its user base is highly diverse and almost certainly not comprised of 46MM “academics,” unless that term is understood in the very broadest sense possible. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 there were just over 1.3 MM job positions in post-secondary education in the U.S. Assuming that the U.S. represents the largest post-secondary job market globally, the fact that this number, in its entirety, represents less than three percent of Academia.edu’s user base is just the most obvious indication that the demographics of academia.edu’s user-base are wide-ranging. Further, having posted the table of contents to my 2014 first year writing textbook on Academia.edu, I know from comments posted by users downloading this material that over two thirds of those accessing this resource are undergraduates. While I am not suggesting that undergraduates should be prevented from accessing Academia.edu nor that they should not be encouraged to access research on the site, I do think it is worthwhile pointing this out as one discrepency in Academia.edu’s advertised claims regarding its user base.
 In her December 11, 2015 Chronicle of Higher Education article, Ellen Wexler documents some of Price’s further thoughts on issues of definition, quoting him as saying “‘“Monetize” is not a for-profit word.’”
 Regarding answers to the question of whether academics should or should not use Academia.edu, there is, to date no consensus. Although most universities now maintain repositories of scholarly articles published by their faculty and these can be somewhat easily accessed by scholars unaffiliated with the sponsoring institution, unaffiliated users cannot deposit material to these repositories. The 2016 MLA Commons/CORE initiative is the most recent publicly available repository of scholarly publications. However, this project, like the Humanities Commons project is only for scholars in the Humanities. While I applaud these initiatives, both of which are “related” to the Scholarly Commons project at CUNY, where I am affiliated, I continue to believe that all of these initiatives need to be combined. The centralization of Academia.edu and its ease of use is unparalleled compared to any other scholarly repository that I have accessed. That said, I advise academics to post LINKS ONLY to Academia.edu and upload their intellectual property to repositories hosted by unversities.
 The Twitter “conversation” related to #deleteacademiaedu revealed that some universities–Arizona State, for instance–is in the process of “getting rid” of faculty websites. The college where I was employed, The New York City College of Technology at The City University of New York, has also made it harder, not easier, for faculty to create and host publicly available web sites at the college.
 See Footnote 
Some Alternate Titles
What’s In a Name? At Academia.edu, About $17.7MM
Academia.edu: What’s In a Name? Lots of Questions
As Social Media and Academia Collide, It Increasingly Appears That None of Us Are Wearing Any Clothes. However, University Librarians May Have Some We Can Borrow.
Rodgers, Johannah. “Academia.”edu”.” American Book Review, vol. 38 no. 2, 2017, p. 9-13. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/abr.2017.0007.
Rodgers, J. (2017). Academia.”edu”. American Book Review 38(2), 9-13. doi:10.1353/abr.2017.0007.
© johannah rodgers
We’re bringing you a list of our favorite green cleaning products you can make at home. But before we get started, let’s take a minute to talk about why you should bother making your own green cleaning products when stores are loaded with options – even ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ ones.
Everyone from Martha Stewart to Good Housekeeping’s editors is spouting the virtue of DIY green cleaning products for house cleaning. They offer up their favorite homemade cleaners – but why?
Every year, the list of chemicals that aren’t safe grows, and the number of products on the market that meet every health recommendation you’ve read shrinks. That’s good motivation for turning to the kitchen cupboard for solutions. The green cleaning products you can make at home often cost a fraction of the price you pay for comparable store-bought cleaning products, especially if you buy the earth friendly options. They are also surprisingly easy to make, effective and safe for the kids.
Bleach is a big no-no in green cleaning. It’s a toxic chemical, dangerous for kids and adults, and can cause damage to wildlife, too. More than ¼ of the calls to the poison hotline each year are bleach related, and a fair number of them involve young children. When combined with ammonia, bleach produces a toxic gas – breathing it is potentially fatal.
I don’t love bleach, but I do love this DIY bleach alternative from The Hippy Homemaker:
This homemade green cleaning product is perfect for softening clothes, tackling tough stains, and using almost any way you would regular bleach.
NOTE: Test a little on any fabric before using for stain removal – just like regular bleach, this is a powerful cleaning agent and germ killer. Don’t use it on anything you wouldn’t normally bleach.
Stubborn stains in your oven? I know the feeling. Anytime you cook something delicious – like cookies, pies, or a holiday feast, splatter is inevitable. Caramelized sugar, gravy drippings, and all manner of ick bake and broil their way into stains and getting them off without cleaners with more warnings on their labels than instructions can be a challenge.
Don’t sweat it. Put away the hazmat suit your old store-bought oven surface cleaner required, and rest assured that this recipe and guide will get your oven clean without leaving a toxic mess in the place you prep your food:
NOTE: Do NOT apply the cleaner to the electric heating elements in your electric oven.
When I first saw this tip from Courtenay at The Creek Line House, I was skeptical. Once I tried it, I was hooked. If you’ve got mystery stains on your carpet, this DIY green cleaning solution is the perfect remedy.
Ingredients and Supplies:
NOTE: The stain will transfer to the rag, so don’t use one you care about – just in case. Do NOT use this method to remove stains from red wine, berry juice, or permanent marker.
If you’re tired of toothpaste mess on your windows and willing to spend 3 minutes making a really cheap, highly effective alternative, check out this recipe from Crunchy Betty. She tested three homemade glass cleaners and eventually created this recipe, which outdid the others by far.
NOTE: Do NOT forget to shake this cleaner before use. If the corn starch settles on the bottom and you don’t shake it before using, it might plug the spray nozzle.
There’s a bit of debate about borax in natural cleaning products. Although it’s a naturally-occurring substance, it can be an irritant if overused. While I respect the choice not to use it, I’ve yet to find something as effective as borax for those really tough-to-get-clean messes. Wellness Mama shared this recipe on her blog, and it’s the best DIY multisurface cleaner I’ve found.
If you’ve got toys to clean, a kitchen in need of some elbow grease, a dirty bathroom, or floors that need pre-treated, this is the answer to your cleaning woes. Also try it on countertops and plastic kid’s furniture.
Robin on Thank Your Body has a great alternative to chemically-fragranced air freshener sprays. This mix will leave your home smelling beautiful, without the toxins, and while it’s not exactly a green cleaning product, everyone loves the air quality and clean smell a good air freshener provides.
NOTE: Do NOT spray on electronics.
Over on DIY Natural, Betsy Jabs offers a great alternative to Lysol and Clorox disposable cleaning wipes, and her reasons for creating it. The reusable option she provides is a green cleaning product that’s powerful, affordable, and free of the myriad toxic chemicals found in commercial brands.
Ingredients and Cleaning Supplies
NOTE: You can use these wipes almost anywhere. Just make sure to wash them after use – don’t toss a used wipe back into the container with your clean wipes…you’ll contaminate the whole batch if you do.
Bathrooms can be…nasty. If you’ve got a lot of cleaning to do, and the germs are intimidating, turn to this reliable DIY green cleaner for help. Thanks to blogger Kristin on Live Simply for creating this great recipe!
If you couldn’t get your carpet stains out with the method we mentioned above, give them a go with this spray. Kristin swears by this method.
NOTE: For serious mold, mildew, or soap scum, spray your tub and shower down with a mixture of 1 part vinegar and 1 part water, scrub, and then clean with the recipe above. Sometimes, a water + laundry detergent also does the trick.
If you’re looking for a simple alternative to wood polish that takes seconds to make and leaves your furniture looking beautiful, the recipes on Nourishing Joy are perfect for you. I’m a fan of the simpler version she lists – it’s cheaper, and just as effective.
NOTE: Be careful not to overspray.
If you love the smell of Pine Sol (I do!), but hate the idea of harsh chemicals in your floor cleaners, check out this recipe from One Green Planet. Not only is it great on floors, it also makes a wonderful polish for wood furniture.
If you’ve scrubbed your kitchen until it shines and a smell still lingers, your garbage disposal is likely to blame. There’s a quick and easy fix to this problem, and I’m glad Amy at the Saving with Shellie blog shared it – the other alternative (grinding up key limes or lemons) can be a bit more costly.
Ingredients and Supplies:
Now you’re ready to get started green living by making your own green cleaning products. From oven cleaner to a homemade Pine Sol alternative, you’ve got what you need to get your house sparkling.
From carcinogens to mild irritants and allergens to noxious chemicals no one should use and environmentally hazardous chemicals, store-bought cleaners can cause a world of problems. But the impact they have on your health isn’t the only reason you should consider DIY green cleaners.
If you’re thrifty, look through the options we list in this article, and do the math yourself. Figure out what your yield per batch will be and what it will cost you to make your own vs. buy in the store. The numbers speak for themselves.
DIY natural products are effective, too. I once had to remove a stain from a glass stove top and it just wasn’t budging. I tried every store-bought product you can imagine. In the end, nothing worked. And then I tried the simplest recipe – baking soda and water. 3 minutes later, the stain that had cost me hours of frustration was gone.
Let me know how these DIY green cleaning products work for you. I’m happy to share pictures and stories of your experiences here on the blog, too. And remember – sharing is caring. Help your family members and friends get a greener clean by sharing this guide with them!
Beginning with the assumption that storyworlds—textual or actual—are made up of words, “Portraits and Conversations,” my collection of short prose pieces, investigates and raises questions regarding the ways in which written language constitute such worlds. These pieces are, if I were to give them a name, fictional essays or sketches. Or, to name them less metaphorically, compilations of verbal signs that function as fiction generators. While the term “fictional essay” will be, for many, oxymoronic, given that essays are generally and generically considered non-fiction and fictions are generally and generically considered fiction, I am, in this collection, focusing on the meaning of the term essay as a verb. Read as a verb, to essay is a trying or a working out of something, and these pieces are all investigations of the processes involved in the construction of fictions. Furthermore, each refers to and describes not an actual world, but a fictional one.*
Composed over the last several years and arranged in roughly reverse chronological order, the pieces continue the exploration of written language as a generative medium addressed by many writers, both past and present, in particular Leslie Scalapino, Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian, and Nathalie Sarraute. Seeking to create narratives that avoid conventional notions of temporal and structural progression, limit authorial intention, and place in question the expressive and descriptive functions of verbal language, I employed three different types of constraints in the composition of these verbal assemblages. The first involves the incorporation of found text, which was taken from overheard conversations, in-flight magazines and catalogs, and various books from the Brooklyn Public library, including foreign language study guides, travel books, and philosophical treatises. The second constraint employed involves the adaptation and use of the poetic form of the sestina. To apply the sestina form to prose narratives, I adapted the rules of the sestina form for the poetic line to the sentence either by employing the same end word in rotation for each of the six sentences in each paragraph, or by reordering the six sentences of a paragraph to create a narrative with six paragraphs, each beginning with a different sentence. The third constraint applied involves the application of an algorithmic function to randomly sort and combine the verbal signs, i.e., words and sentences, that, once collected, facilitate the creation of a fictional world and the character or characters in it. These include descriptions of the character by a narrator, another character or the character him or herself; statements made by the character and recorded as dialogue; thoughts that occur, or could occur, to a character; descriptions of the objects, both real and imagined, that a character sees and is placed amongst. Serving to enable the creation of multiple versions of a narrative based on differences in the placement and sequencing of the statements in it, this constraint was applied by importing the sentences of a narrative into Microsoft Excel and using an algorithmic function in Excel to assign a “random” number** to each “statement,” or string of verbal signifiers. By sorting and resorting the statements based on these values, the order and progression of them are determined by chance rather than by intention.
Serving to alter the relationships and dynamics amongst writer, character, text, and reader by introducing the possibility that each composition can be read only as a provisional one, the constraints draw explicit attention to the dynamics and functions existing in every act of reading and writing to enable a a reader’s investigation of these as s/he reads. While we all know that what a writer writes can only ever be understood by a reader as what he/she reads and is necessarily some approximation of a writer’s intentional and unintentional meanings, the fact that what is on the page (the “said”) and what is understood in the mind of the reader (the “meant”) exist in some relationship to one another is usually assumed to be sufficiently similar for an approximate normative meaning to be created, i.e., what is “meant” by the writer in the “said” will be received by the reader in an identical or similar manner. In fact, this assumption of an approximate normative meaning that will be created by what is on the page and what is comprehended by a reader is only a tacit agreement. A reader could, for instance, decide to read what is on a page either somewhat or radically differently because of various assumptions, generic or otherwise, that he or she brings to the text. In those cases, the “said” and the “meant” represent not identical, or even similar, but widely different meanings. Such an event is usually described colloquially as a “misunderstanding.” However, a misunderstanding can only be said to occur in texts approached with the belief that the reconstruction of a writer’s messages (both intended and unintended) are more important than the reader’s comprehension and interpretation of those messages. With more “open” texts, like the ones in this collection, the signifying events that take place in each may relate to but can never equate with the writer’s intentions since these intentions were originally diffuse and since whatever was intentionally written is always placed alongside non-intentional meanings created through the arbitrary ordering, placement, and juxtaposition of statements. For instance, in the case of the pieces incorporating found text or composed using the sestina form, the subject matter of each narrative could be altered by swapping out the found text or the end words used. In the case of the pieces composed through the recombination of sentences, each could begin or end anywhere and could, in fact, exist in many other configurations than the one presented on the page. As a result, the reader becomes more self-consciously aware that what exists on the page is only one of many possible versions of a narrative, each of which is made up of pieces of information that must be processed by the reader in order for a story to be constructed. The repetition and recombination of statements in a given piece also raise a reader’s awareness of the variability of the meaning of a statement depending on whom the reader attributes the statement to (a narrator or a specific character) and on what discursive function the reader assigns the statement (free indirect discourse, implied dialogue, actual dialogue, etc.). As an active participant in the composition process, a reader may also become aware of the peculiar existential status of characters, who have been selected by the writer to be represented, but who are subjects that are never completely described or contained by a narrative. The lives and opinions of a character extend beyond the pages of a text, with the words attributed to them functioning at one and the same time as clues to possible and past actions and thoughts, as well as descriptions of thoughts and actions that take place at one specific time.
Like every collection of fictions, this one presents claims about what fiction is. However, whatever claims may be being made in this one are phrased more as questions being posed to the reader rather than as statements in order to highlight the interactivity involved in every act of reading and writing. My work is and has been for some time, by design, interactive and dialogic, meaning it explicitly and actively inscribes a place for the reader, who must engage with the work in order for it to be complete. Some of the issues on my mind when I was creating these pieces included: how to limit the role of intentionality in the creation of texts; the immersiveness or lack thereof of specific types of fictional storyworlds; and what constitutes realism in writing. In retrospect, I now see that all of these issues relate to my interest in writing as a medium of representation and the sometimes shared and sometimes entirely unique characteristics and attributes of this medium compared to others, in particular painting, photography, and film.
The title of the collection comes from the two categories that most of the pieces fall into: portraits or conversations. One thing that I find interesting about portraits as a genre of painting is that they are most often considered to be a unique combination of an objective documentation of an individual and the painter’s subjective description of the same individual; another unique attribute of many portraits is that they are assumed to serve as representations of both the physical and psychological characteristics of the individual being portrayed. The extent to which a specific portrait is interpreted by a viewer to be primarily an objective or subjective description varies depending on a number of factors: the context in which the portrait is presented, the biographies of the artist and sitter, the media selected for the portrait, and the artist’s use of that media. Whether photographic portraits exist in the same way is open to question since the photograph is usually perceived to have a different relationship to objects and their potentially objective representation than a drawing or painting or verbal description. Conversations are likewise a unique meeting place of subjective and objective interpretations. Depending on the perspective from which one hears or overhears a conversation, the meanings of the verbal statements made will be highly variable. “To say nothing of her” is, for instance, an utterance that can be interpreted in many different ways depending on how, why, and in what context it is received.
After entitling this collection “Portraits and Conversations,” I learned of a collection of short prose pieces entitled “Portraits and Observations” by Truman Capote. Misremembering this title as “Portraits and Conversations,” I thought for some time that my title was identical to Capote’s. It is not, but it is, of course, related. Titles are not copyrightable, which is one of the more curious facts of copyright law. As a result, I did not need to worry about rights to this title had it been Capote’s. However, I did have to worry about what might be implied by my use of this title regarding connections to be made between my work and Capote’s. I have read very little Capote, but I have become an admirer of his essays compiled in this early collection “Portraits and Observations.” All of these words are, of course, connected, or can be connected by a reader who carries around with him or her a collection of books and words. While I was in no way making an explicit reference to Capote or his work with this title, given the fact that this collection is very much about textual references and their functions and dynamics, it seems fitting that the title, which I had intended to be an original one, is only, as most titles are, somewhat original since they are always operating as a reference to an already existing actual or imagined text.
* Regarding the relationships between fiction and non-fiction, or, as I like to refer to the problem, between fiction and fact, I distinguish fictional stories from nonfictional essays based on whether the words contained in them refer to invented or actual things. The referent of a story and any object or character in it can be fictional or factual or some combination of the two. If the storyworld is called fictional, it is deemed to have been invented. It does not exist in any tangible form that can be experienced. It is created via description for the purpose of the invention of a textual world, not textual documentation of an actual world and a writer’s perceptions, descriptions, and interpretations of that world. As a result, the intention of the words on the page is distinct in what we call fiction and what we call nonfiction. While the antonym of fiction may not be, technically, “fact,” I like to use this term anyway because, in using it, I am making a little joke. To me, all representations are fictions. However, I understand the socio-cultural and economic necessities involved in distinguishing fiction from nonfiction.
**Because Excel uses an algorithm to assign numbers, these numbers are technically not “random,” but “pseudo-random” numbers. However, for the purposes of altering the order and sequencing of sentences so no two combinations in any given paragraph are identical, the appearance of randomness created by the assignation and recombination of pseudo-random numbers is virtually identical to the appearance of randomness created through the use of random numbers.
***Regarding what constitutes realism in writing, my answer is and and like and as.
If you are interested in jazz, or interested in learning more about jazz, or just interested in listening to some great music, MfL strongly recommends checking out the ever growing archive of radio broadcasts accessible via the Phil Schaap WKCR Jazz Archive.
What to Teach Next: #openaccess literature, culture, and #technologies readings published by http://www.datasociety.net:
Re: Imagining the near future of race and biology: “Ferguson is the Future” by Ruha Benjamin
Re: Global politics, indigenous cultures, and mining: “The Irradiated International” by Lou Cormun
Re: Envision (and participate narratively in) the future of aging and elder care : “Welcome to Vanguard Estates” by Rose Eveleth