Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Three Days, A Fractal Coastline

What can I say about the last three days? They have all been approximately the same. I get up, talk to Colin, go to the reasonably empty library and work until lunchtime. By contrast with the library, the cafeteria is a zoo; the lunchtime crowds truly unbelievable. But I should be used to that by now. Then back in the afternoon to work some more until the library closes at five. Then I either go to a coffeeshop and eke out an hour or so more before dinner, or just go home. In the evening, I take care of e-mails, or blog, or just relax a little, then try to do a quick gallop through my other projects, which keeps my mind a little fresher. Before bed I read a chapter or two of Moby Dick. In fact, this is a highly agreeable life for me, but there isn't much to blog about I'm afraid.

I have to admit that research is like a fractal coastline. You zoom in on one small bit and it opens up into nearly infinite length and complexity. You zoom in again, and you find the same thing happening. In the end one has to accept the hated "logic" of generalization and case study, where your readers have to accept that the case study you present is truly representative. The ideal would be completeness--discuss every piece you have read, and then show how your conclusions have grown organically out of it--but in reality time is finite and what people want is just a good meaty case study… It's a flaw in my disposition that my training has only exacerbated, the insistence on perfection… One ends up investigating everything and writing nothing.

No, better to just at some point get started writing things up.

On Monday and Tuesday, there was a man squatting outside the Farm Garden cafeteria, making quick cartoonish drawings with a fountain pen and colored pencils. It was very cold, and I don't know his hands didn't go numb. I suppose he was selling the drawings. A crowd gathered round to watch him draw--he could draw so swiftly and sure with those hands. I wonder what he does when he's not selling Chinese New Year drawings outside the Farm Garden? He drew so fast and fluently, he could have had a career as a cartoonist, perhaps, in another possible world.

I did not buy any of his drawings. On the second day, when the crowd around him was considerably less, I considered asking for one about romance between sheep and rabbit (Chinese astrological signs of Colin and I) or one about the amusing menage of a dog, two rabbits, and a rooster (my nuclear family), but I felt too weary to embark on this adventure of art, commerce, and negotiation. Instead I took this picture from behind the glass.

Lately I have been feeling very misanthropic. I suppose it is a delayed feature of culture shock, or a side-effect of working too hard, or a manifestation of home-sickness. In any case, I mostly just want to be left alone to do my work.

On Tuesday as I was walking home, I saw from a distance a young man and a young woman selling what appeared to be small plastic fruit. Hmm, plastic fruit. Why would anyone want to buy that? They were tossing the plastic fruits up in the air and catching them again. Just as I walked by (trudging misanthropically along with headphones on), the girl threw down one of the fruits she was tossing. It was a pink strawberry and it landed on the top of their box--with a splat! It was squished flat! They were squishy plastic fruits. I couldn't help it, I involuntarily let out a giggle as I walked past. They shouted after me excitedly, but I kept on walking. Yeah, okay, it was funny but what would I do with a plastic fruit, and besides, who knows what chemicals are in there? Buying and selling, buying and selling--people are so desperate to capitalize on any flicker of interest, it is both pathetic and exhausting.

Near the same intersection, I saw this guy with his tricycle trailer full of mysterious vegetable matter, for which I may never know the name. I think I may have eaten it before, but I have no idea where it comes from or what it is. I followed the guy into the middle of the street to get this picture, as he crossed against the red light!

Last night, I finished filling out the FB mid-term report on my activities. It was an astonishingly long process, big multi-part form. But I put some thought into it, and it was a good chance to evaluate what I've accomplished so far. So much of what I've done has the character of getting set up. I hope that from here on out I will be able to use everything I now have gotten set up, and actually make some good progress. I hope I can.

But speaking of that, I think I will get to work now. I am breaking the pattern today and staying home. I think it is time to stop digging around for sources, and just sit down, and write things up.

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