Friday, August 17, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 19 & 20 (double-espresso edition)

Aug 16.

Barnes & Noble cafe on the TTU campus. This is a preferred workspace for me when I have to be on campus. If I'm in my faculty office, I'm vulnerable to the kids who'll come knocking. It's not that I don't want to see them--it's just that they can eat all the time allocated for own-work. Historically this is why faculty run office-hours, but with the insanely busy and on-demand lifestyle that a lot of the students (and the faculty!) maintain, fixed office hours usually result in no takers and a faculty member pinned down in the office awaiting those no-shows. Makes more sense to have office hours "by arrangement," to do as much using email/remote means as possible, and to work
away from the faculty office. Of course this means that I have to relocate periodically, because once I've been sighted, then some percentage of folks know where they can find me.

This cafe is part of the massive renovation of the Student Union Building completed about 24 months ago. Prior to that time, we were mired in the 1960s Ag-school decor (furnace brick, ugly stacking chairs, and lunchtime options limited to sub sandwiches, barbecue, and pizza (which Dharmonia termed "sliders" for their gastrointestinal motion). This renovation, undertaken by the same teams of architects who redid our English & Philosophy complex, succeeded at the remarkably difficult task of matching the existing architecture, making it seem much more elegant, and providing modernized facilities of the sort that both incoming students and prospective faculty count on: post office, computer support, healthy-alternative food options, and, crucially, a coffee shop with a good cafe and serving good coffee. With the campus-wide free wireless, it's a nice place to work, while also being 2 minutes' walk from the School of Music, 1 minute from the library, and equidistant b/w my office and Dharmonia's.

Aug 17. Back at The Office, but later in the day, so had to settle for station along the front wall. Overcast day today with bits of rain: we're at the far NW edge of expiring Tropical Storm Erin, just getting unexpected rain, instead of getting flooded out as in Houston and the Hill Country. Late start due to three hour plumbing job this AM--not the plumber's fault, just pipes that, for TX, qualify us as an "old" (e.g, more than 15-year-old) house. Ouch!

Mostly working my ass off to get department, systems, and staff ready for start of fall semester. Any problems I solve now, while in residence, are problems I don't have to solve later, at long distance. After 7 years renovation, departmental offerings and procedures are actually in pretty good shape: we are finalizing the third part of a tripod revamping (graduate, undergraduate, non-major) and it's all pretty much done; that "non-major" renovation goes online this fall semester. Expanding de facto "adjuncting" (really, a practicum for finishing doctoral students) to teach Music Appreciation; consolidating various classes for greater efficiency; integrating more consistent syllabi, delivery, procedures, course requirements. Hoping it all pretty much works while I'm gone.

Still slugging away at the minstrelsy material. Almost through the re-read of Lhamon's Raising Cain; my own contribution (performance practice, context, and musicianship in early minstrelsy) continues to come clearer. Seeing more and more extensive overlaps b/w African-American and Anglo-Celtic sonic and visual vocabularies in this period, up to and including not only tune types and rhythms, but sounds, instruments, and dance moves. You can see these overlaps, syncretisms, and creolizations in my artist's works. 3-week research trip coming up, also involving taping for a banjo documentary and meeting with publisher's rep for the "100 Greats" project.

Apropos "100 Greats", friends and other readers continue to be very encouraging about the writing, most recently about Blind Willie Johnson. It's hard to understand one's own writing, and, especially in the immediate aftermath, it's damned near impossible to judge it. I finished the Blind Willie, which has been gestating for at least a year, and thought, "Well, shit, I dunno. Maybe that's just going to be one of the second-string near misses." And then various kind correspondents write to say "fuck no! This is one of the best." This is the most tangible argument for the inevitable and essential separation (preferably in two different bodies) of "editor mind" versus "author mind", a distinction that we try to teach to students also. In my observation, writer's block usually emerges from a combination of insufficient time or preparation, lack of confidence, lack of experience, or--most immediately and most tangibly--the attempt to simultaneously compose and edit. You write a sentence and a half, you run into the "oh, that's not the right word, let me delete that and think of another," and then you scroll back a little more and say "oh, God, that's not the right word either, I have to fix that one too," and you scroll back and get entangled in fixing something before it even exists. We try to teach students to free-write (close your eyes, turn off the monitor, recite into a tape recorder, visual someone with whom you're conversing, whatever it takes to turn off the editor mind--I even have one student who plays Tetris for a while before writing, just to shut down the editor mind) first, and edit later. Preferably way later.

So you finish Blind Willie, and you think, "oh, fuck it. Maybe next time." Then readers turn themselves inside out over it, say "they're getting better and better," and you think, "Oh yeah. Shut off the editor. Just write the fuckin' things; let somebody else worry about which are good."

Hence the editorial meeting, in NYC in September.

Hence also this experiment: an audio podcast of one such "100 Greats" post, the one on Lou Reed's Rock & Roll Animal. The idea is to imagine the same material in a different medium, one that could be used to complement the written essays. Though I've produced good radio for at least 15 years, this experiment brought home to me just how much there is a gap between what makes good prose versus what makes good radio--they are dissimilar media with dissimilar needs. Not sure this works--but in the spirit of the above, I don't have to know whether it works. You try something: you take an idea and you bring it into existence--e.g., you make something--and you worry later and in a different mindset whether it works.

Back on the docket.

Now playing [nb: This is a fuckin' awesome trad record, recorded live in a room the way it should be]: Zoe Conway - Wild Strawberry Hill Live/The Horse's Tail

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