Thursday, February 18, 2010

Maps, mud, and missing folks...

So, last night while I was waiting for some folks to meet me out at the bar, I took a few minutes to sketch out a little “map” of my project at this point, trying to organize my thoughts.

I’ve been taken with the concept of “mapping” since I read a book by Thomas Gieryn (an IU prof – holla!) where he applies the concept of “map-making” and cartography to the idea of science at various junctures. Basically, his argument is that “science” is not a fixed idea that stays constant through space and time, but rather a claim that people make to give their point-of-view credibility in one way or another. People create boundaries, in other words, to demarcate what science is and, just as important, what it is not to give their arguments more rhetorical weight.

Gieryn examines, for instance, the ways that the US congress and the National Science Foundation (NSF) dealt with social science and whether or not to include it under the NSF or have a whole different program to deal with it. He also looks at things we now think of as “junk science,” most notably phrenology (i.e. reading the bumps on a person’s skull to infer personality traits) and points at which there were turf wars with other sciences and how the different sides staked their claims.

So I thought if he can make a map, so can I. So I started to map out the terrain I'm going to draw from for my talks at the Fulbright mid-term conference in March and my talk at UWI late in Spring semester.

Unfortunately my map started to look like I was planning some really detailed military invasion. Or one of those Arthur Murray dance step charts for a really really complicated dance.

I began to think that maybe what I needed was a 3D representation of what I was thinking about, but then I figured Turok and Asha might have risen from their post-Carnival lull to insist I leave. Arts and crafts at a swanky bar…even on Ash Wednesday that is probably not the best idea.

So what does this mean, besides the fact that my perennial issues with maps and directions have even followed me into graduate school?

I think it’s a good sign. It was a nice exercise, trying to shrink my project down to an index-card-sized drawing, and it helped clarify some things and let me know what areas of my work I need to push a little harder in the next few months. But ultimately it seems what makes a living, breathing, vibrant project is the inability to hack off its extra limbs to make it pretty and neat. Kind of like it’s hard to say exactly why you like someone after you’ve known them for awhile – there are so many little pieces that fit with other little pieces that it’s almost impossible to capture them all at any given moment. [But don’t fault me for trying to do that exact thing below]. Life is messy, so if your project is, essentially about people, their lives, their work, their diseases, and their creative expression, the project needs to be messy, as well.

I’m looking forward to some great oral history-type work in the next few weeks, as well as some intriguing interviews and some really exciting collaborative projects with activists and NGOs here. I love that we can all learn from each other, even if saying that makes me sound like a dirty hippie. I’ll stop before someone cues the tambourines and the Kum Ba Yahs start.

Below are some pictures – of my map, of jouvert, and of Carnival in Trinidad. Jouvert is basically the “opening” for Carnival proper and the beginning of the bacchanal, when the revelers smear themselves in mud, cocoa (which is all over my face), paint (on the side of my face – thanks Svenn and 3canal!), and whatever else to palance around in the streets to transition from “normal” life to the spectacle that is Carnival in Trinidad.

On a more serious note, I’m going to use a little space here to say goodbye to my friend Mike Land who passed away suddenly earlier this week at his apartment in Bloomington. It wouldn’t make sense to go back for the memorial (which is Friday), so I thought I’d make my remembrances here, since this is my blog and I can do what I damn well please with it. I’d known Mike for a few years and we saw each other occasionally to talk about life, love, and school, but we became closer in the last year through, of all things, vampires. Watching True Blood (the HBO series – not to be confused with Twilight) and Chelsea Lately with him last summer (and with Sean when he wasn’t being lame) helped keep me sane through an otherwise stressful time in my life when I was preparing for my qualifying exams, getting ready to move to a different country, and having to sleep on couches and spare beds. I was already starting to look forward to comparing notes with him on the next season of True Blood when it came out...

Mike is also the guy who turned me on to the Sookie Stackhouse novels, which served as the inspiration for True Blood and which I read incessantly during the winter months when I was waiting for my eye exam results and MRI results to come back. Mike was bright, funny, generous to a fault, but had a quick, sarcastic wit I had to work to keep up with. I hadn’t realized until I heard of his passing how much he helped me stay together during some rough times. I never really thought to thank him but I hope he knew.

You’ll be missed, Mike.