Publish or Perish

“Do, or do not. There is no try.” Yoda’s raspy voice is unmistakable as it blares from my iPhone 5, kindly alerting me of a new message in my inbox. I chose this particular ringtone because the catchphrase always manages to elicit a cheeky grin out of me regardless of an email’s contents. It also echoes the desperate cries of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” and perhaps answers his question inadvertently. Act, or do not act; no point in trying unless you give it your all. With Yoda’s wise words in mind, I replied almost immediately to the Get Published invitation so that I can ‘do’ and not just try.

Being an author has been a lifelong dream of mine ever since the day I discovered the magic and wonder of words. To be immortalised in print and be read by others, not just in this lifetime but by generations to follow, would surpass winning gold at the Olympics in my books. This is because my sport is of a different kind; it requires exercising the muscles of the mind to produce text, or more precisely, literature. Orwell, Huxley and Coleridge were my schoolboy idols, the champions who coached me in the skilful art of writing. Now that the opportunity to publish has presented itself for the first time in my life, I am running as fast as I can to the finish line, hoping against hope, that I may stand proudly on the podium and collect a medal. As my quivering pen leaked my overflowing thoughts on to the page, line after line, paragraph after paragraph, I sensed that victory was on the horizon, to be punctuated at long last with a final full stop. But just when I thought I had crossed the line and could throw my hands up in the air to rejoice, I realised that writing was not a sprint but a marathon. I still had a lot of running left to do.

To run successfully on the literary racetrack requires a new strategy on my part. I could no longer rely on the romantic maestros and modernist mentors of my youth. I now required a training regime that was both flexible and systematic, and can overcome the many hurdles I was bound to encounter while “travel(ing) in the thinking that writing produces” (St Pierre 1997, 408). So after careful consideration I have decided to tell my story rhizomatically and reconstruct my memories in a “spiral moving outwards from unjoined thoughts” (De Carterer 2008, 236). By using excerpts or fragmentary ‘field notes’ from my LiveJournal – aptly named Homoskedasticity (2004-2010) – I hope to introduce ‘the self’ as the subject of my inquiry (Atkinson 2001, 307), making the researcher himself the ‘unit of analysis’ (Mezirow 1978 cited in Taylor 2008) in an autoethnographic context (Ellis and Bochner, 2000).

I first heard the word ‘homoskedasticity’ during a first-year Econometrics class. The lecturer was quite animated in his exposition of the concept and how it differed from heteroskedasticity. To this day I still remember the thrill in his voice as he described how much he loved inserting the homo/heteroskedastic dichotomy at dinner party conversations or other social gatherings. It was only natural that I became enamoured with these two words, if only to flaunt them in front of friends. Soon I was to learn that homoskedasticity occurs when a sequence of random variables plotted on a graph have the same or constant finite variance. It is also an important assumption in statistical modelling for it simplifies many mathematical computations and consequently provides more accurate descriptions of the world it tries to model, given the available data. So the concept of homoskedasticity immediately appealed to me, not just because of its ‘homo’ prefix, but because of its favourable quantitative attributes. In comparison, its ‘hetero’ counterpart is said to seriously violate ideal modelling conditions and thus was considered inferior.

In the midst of my econometric enlightenment came the advent of the ‘web log’ or ‘blog’ for short. My online blogging activities were captured via LiveJournal (http://malchick78.livejournal.com/profile) for the period of six years and survives to this day, although my last entry was dated 2010-10-09 15:32. Interestingly, this final post was entitled ‘More Than Words Can Say (Part I)’. Looking at my bio on the website now after all these years, I can’t help but chuckle at its absurdity:

I am time varying, seasonally oscillating and dynamically changing random variable, characterised by generalised autoregressive conditional heteroskedasticity and stochastic volatility.

The polysyllabic word, homoskedasticity, therefore became my living and breathing embodiment in the digital world where anyone can be an author. The body of work that I produced, although not beautifully crafted masterpieces, are nevertheless valuable resources for research. I didn’t know it at the time but what I was writing, in hindsight, was data. Data to be collected, analyzed and reproduced in the hope of making sense of it all and to find meaning, not only for myself but for others. As an embodied being in the digital age and culture we live in, what a historical and anthropological minefield I have rediscovered in the moment-to-moment, concrete details of life through my LiveJournal entries!

One moment that best defines my homoskedastic self is my first Mardi Gras parade when I marched with my local ACON ‘Fun and Esteem’ support group in 1998. As a young and unworldly twenty-year old from the south-western suburbs of Sydney, I composed the following poem the morning after the parade.

The Moment

The moment, the feeling, the uncontrollable
Clear emotions and yet nothing certain
Waiting for the inevitable surrender
The excitement, the indescribable

The masses have come to show their support
And still the undeniable suspicion
Lurks like a dark shadow
Silhouettes remain, hostility awaits

Here alone with all these people
Sharing one distinct similarity
But somehow overwhelmingly different
A nexus already broken

Yearning for accepting or
Challenging the ambivalence of gender?
I hold the banner with strength and courage
Qualities I never knew I had

And despite the fear shooting through my body
I begin to overcome all constraints
Physical, spiritual, individual

Our bodies slowly merge into one
But relying on each other’s differences
To hold the body together

The moment, the feeling, the uncontrollable
Mixed emotions by everything definite
Love and acceptance prevail, gender irrelevant
The body together alone

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On The Road To Postmodern Science: Kerouac And How Not To Skin An Onion

Oh what a mess! My brain has turned into mush. Mind overflowing with thoughts. Thoughts dying to be scribbled down on paper. For all the world to see. But who would want to read me? Little old egocentric egotistical me. Shut up id! So sick of the one-way conversation in my head. Can someone please talk to me? Please. Say something…Where do I begin? From the beginning, middle or end? The rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980/1987) would tell me to start from anywhere, it doesn’t really matter. Chronology shmology. Death to sequential order. Entry equals exit. Meanwhile the hipster would say, “That’s so organic!”. Hipsters are cool. Too cool for school. I hear Shakira’s voice on the radio singing, “My hips don’t lie”. I grab my hula hoop and shake my hips for a while. Song ends. My hoop drops to the floor. What am I to do? I’m having a crisis of representation (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994). It feels like I’m in limbo. A chaotic place of unknowing (Somerville, 2008). The multiplicity is killing me. My identity is being folded, slashed and/or hyphenated. Suddenly I am double-barrelled, delineated and deconstructed; my boundaries blurred (Atkinson, 2001). Am I a scientist or an artist, mathematician or poet, physicist or philosopher, economist or ethnographer, number or letter? Binaries ad infinitum. 101000101. Ooh I’m a palindrome! Am I prime palindromic as well? Mental note: must work that out later.

Labels, labels, everywhere I see labels. The literature is littered with these unhelpful unnecessary clothing tags, fraying the very fabric of my being. Who the fuck am I? Descartes would say, “Cogito ergo sum”. Joy Kerr has a better idea, “Scribo ergo sum”. I write therefore I am. Wish I thought of it first. Richardson (1994) says writing is for inquiring minds. A form of inquiry, not just inscription. Laurel sure knows her shit. Must read more of her work especially, Fields of Play: Constructing an Academic Life (1997). The title appeals to me because it ‘constructs’ rather than ‘deconstructs’. Years ago Lyotard visited me in a dream. He was wearing only a leopard print leotard. Not very flattering. He takes it off and tells me to try it on. I do. It looks much better on me. Even Derrida and Foucault say so. Out of the fitting room and into the catwalk, I donate all my modern clothes to Vinnies and fill my wardrobe exclusively with postmodern designs. Oh how sweet it was to be on top of the fashion world, to reach such lofty heights and be crowned Catwalk King! But just as soon as Madonna’s eternal commandment “strike a pose, there’s nothing to it”, could be heard on every turntable in every gay bar on Oxford Street, my leopard print leotard was no longer in vogue. Fashion, you fickle bitch!

My world was a catastrophe,
All else seemed incomplete.
Evil emperors donned their new clothes
Yet all I could do was fall at your feet.

Crash. Boom. Bang. I’m having a late 80’s flashback. Boom Crash Opera, an Aussie pop (hyphen) rock band who had the hit ‘Onion Skin’. Funny how the onion is the symbol of deconstruction. Shuddering at the thought of being labelled an armchair theorist I decide to practice what I preached. Layer after layer I kept peeling; peeling the onion endlessly until there was nothing left to peel. Nothing indeed. Over time this nothingness consumed me. Lying awake in a dark empty room, slowly spiralling down the path to insanity, descending deeper and deeper into madness just like my good friend Foucault. At rock bottom I found myself knowing absolutely nothing. I was skinless, naked, destroyed. My psychiatrist calls my affliction Postmodern Stress Disorder (PMSD). Sadly, this proposed illness was rejected by the recent release of the DSM-5: the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. How then will they ever find a cure when PMSD isn’t even recognised as a disease? Am I destined to live out the rest of my days suffering in silence? Marginalised and without a voice? Another song pops into my head. I sing along.

“Hey little girl, where will you hide? Who can you run to now?”

Who can ‘I’ run to now? Who can I turn to? What’s my next move? Ironically, some people seem to think that postmodernism itself is what my doctor should be prescribing. They claim that by writing an ‘illness narrative’, not only will I be helping myself be cured but I’d be helping others as well. A sort of universal therapy. Don’t know. Sounds pretty dubious. A bit airy fairy. More like a placebo than panacea. But when a man is overboard he has no choice but to grab hold of the precious life jacket that is thrown at him and cling to it until rescue arrives. Beggars can’t be choosers. So despite my lifelong faith and devotion to the ‘science model’, the backbone of modern medicine, I was now to willing to conduct an experiment to test the creative potential of these postmodern emergence practices (Somerville, 2007) and determine whether they generated new knowledge about my illness. By telling my story in the name of research praxis and to use it as data (De Carterer, 2008) through what’s known in the business as autoethnography, it is said that I would come to understand myself in deeper ways, and with understanding myself comes understanding others. “Autoethnography provides an avenue for doing something meaningful for yourself and the world.” (Ellis and Bochner, 2000). Sounds just like another academic buzzword to me. But as the old cliche goes, don’t knock it until you try it. Eisner (1996) even suggests that if I wrote a novel, akin to the self-indulgent jibberish writings of Kerouac and his Beat Generation friends, that I could pass it off and call it a dissertation. Ha! That’ll be the day. Imagine the shock and horror on the faces of my thesis committee when I present them my very own stream of consciousness manifesto: ‘On The Road To Postmodern Science: A Freudian Perspective’. Analyze this Freud, you fraud!