I am in Germany. Sumana and I have hiked across England.*

*almost; I estimate I did about 160 of the 191 miles if you subtract rest days due to tendinitis but add in accidentally-alternative routes, detours, etc. (which sounds better than "we got significantly lost several times"). Everyone's got their own coast to coast, and this was ours; I'm happy with it.

I have not even begun to try looking at my inbox yet (in fact, I'm now evaluating different mail hosts since downtime has been driving me mad). But I did incidentally come across an old geek feminism post of mine while clearing spam off my blog. It is writing I'm no longer satisfied with, mostly because of the (lack of) maturity of thought exhibited, but I venture forth from the same questions often nowadays, as Sumana saw on the trail (the stuff about Erdos) and which Sebastian is seeing me ponder now, usually quite incoherently.

(The rest of this post won't make sense without reading the geek feminism post, and in fact may not make sense even with it; I'm not sure of these thoughts yet, they are fledglings.)

Is privilege a zero-sum game, especially within the context of a relationship? I don't think so, but I do think that it's certainly easiest to see and portray and live out life as if it were, because so many of the examples and assumptions and infrastructure we're exposed to are wired as if that were the case. It used to be an actual constraint when humanity lived closer to the bone of survival; it's still an actual constraint for many people in the world -- but for folks like me who hold fairly privileged positions in an abundant world (i.e. I am unlikely to starve to death, be a victim of targeted or random violence, etc), I believe it's mostly a social construct, and the scarcity at play that prevents more people from playing parkour with alternate arrangements is a scarcity of time. Which is, don't get me wrong, a limited currency; early adopters always have to pay the highest price, but they pay it because the alternative of waiting is worse as far as they're concerned. But you know, at least it's not a law of physics.

So here I am in Europe for a few more days, trying really hard not to work on school or anything, trying to reshape the universe a thousand different ways inside my head until I've got a picture clear enough that I can use it as a blueprint for what to change the world into. That sounds ridiculously full of hubris, and it is. But I think one of the most important forcing functions of the hike was to make me give more time to that sort of activity, because it's valuable; you need to imagine your own end and plot it out, otherwise, you're always going on someone else's hike or walk or quest.

And I think the important discipline I need to get from grad school (in fact, I will practically be required to demonstrate it in order to graduate) is the ability to do exactly that; to imagine something big and complicated and long-term and big-change-that-takes-much-effort that nobody else has come up with before, and then to make it happen and prove it's there. At the same time, I realize a PhD dissertation is a Small Thing that you Get Done and which will probably not be Very Good; but that's by the standard of my Wiser Future Self, and right now it's a Really Big Deal for me that will be Very Hard to complete, so there. The biggest project that you really transform during your PhD is, I think, you.

And that sort of project is more of a lonely vigil by the sea, I think, than an adrenaline-fueled rush with a sword. But sometimes those can be the more impactful. Good things take time; big things and changes take time. Building a life goes alongside hacking the universe, and both take a lifetime. And I think what I'm trying to say is that I'm working on accepting being in that awkward in-between no-identity phase, because I've let go of one sense of self (I am my work and that's about it) and haven't constructed a different one and don't want to simply latch on to another job-as-self; I want to make another type of self entirely.

And it reveals weird and interesting bugs. Last night Sebastian asked me what I wanted and what made me happy, and I couldn't answer. I could think of lots of things I could get excited about, but happiness is not hyperactivity. And the fact that I could not really answer those questions was disturbing; I had generic coffee-table answers that weren't really mine, but no actual answers. Eventually, after he poked me a little more, I was able (with great difficulty) to come up with a half-dozen things. So here are the things that make me happy:

  1. a well made cup of green tea
  2. making things for people I care about; the detail and the craftsmanship, in any medium (including temporal things like theatre or music, as well as technical things -- as if these distinctions had firm boundaries!)
  3. cooking, a particular form of making that I'm highly conscious about
  4. blues dancing with a good partner
  5. being fluently and effortlessly a part of complex conversations
  6. teaching a good student

And I think I want to be a writer.

I don't know. I am trying these things out. I can feel the tentativeness in my words, the hesitation, the cautiousness that makes the picture fragmented and fuzzy and not-strong and not-particularly-making-sense. That's fine. This blog, this space for writing -- this is mine. I have an audience of one. That's what it's for. It's okay.

Oh -- a glass of water has appeared beside me. I will go and be with people for the evening.