Now what?

It’s fall, so that means I’m firmly ensconced in classwork again, this time in two theory courses. Theory is an interesting thing; it’s such a wide-open world, and it’s exciting to plummet into the depths of it, but it doesn’t always translate well to practice. The goal of the program I’m in is to help translate theory into practice – something that’s sometimes easier said than done. That got me to musing a bit about my academic career…

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Noticing what no one else notices

When people post pictures of things, I’m often more interested in what’s in the background. If a person is posed in a room, I’m looking at what else is in the room. What is the context behind the subject?

I’m not sure where that comes from, except that I try to notice things that go unnoticed, or aren’t in focus, or are deemed uninteresting. Sometimes I see things that are interesting, many times, not, but I always find myself looking around the subject of a picture.

Especially in paintings. In a painting, everything that’s there was put there on purpose, which automatically makes it interesting to me. Sometimes there are messages hidden in those things, symbols, statements, meant to go unnoticed. That’s what’s great about art – you don’t have to be obvious to be subversive.

In photographs, the things in the background aren’t always there intentionally – we tend to focus on the subject, and ignore the background. But what is unintentionally captured is interesting in that it was not a focus but can sometimes be revealing by accident…like little whispered confessions.


Chronic hives & Xolair

I see a lot of people hitting my chronic hives tag, thus I wanted to post an update for anyone scouring the internet for information about this rather strange condition.

I have something called Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria (CIU), which is a fancy way of saying ‘chronic hives and swelling that happens really often and we don’t know why‘. If you have CIU, it means you’re having consistent outbreaks, and there’s no known allergen causing them.

Also, we’re not talking small hives here – we’re talking massive hives and swelling, particularly around joints. Here are two photos – keep in mind, these are not the worst photos I have – but I feel like they show what CIU looks like:

Think head to toe giant hives and swelling of random body parts – that’s CIU. I’ve had both eyes swell shut, both ears swell up, massive swelling of the cheeks and neck to the point where I looked like an evil chipmunk, and I’ve had swelling inside my nose, mouth, and anus. (Anal hives are really not fun.)

Less than 1% of the population has CIU. It seems to be autoimmune, but can happen in conjunction with other medical issues.

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Data philosophizing

As I will tell anyone willing to listen to me wax poetic about how a person with two degrees in literature ends up becoming a data analyst, data (as a concept) is a narrative. The data you gather are all threads that, when woven together, tell a story.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently cleaning data, which is always a tedious task. Analysts are nothing if not tenacious in this regard, but even we get a bit weary of making sure every little detail is as valid as possible. It’s also a lonely task. Even though I often listen to music when doing things like this, my mind still manages to wander.

I started thinking about data purity. There’s this idea that quantitative data is the purest form of narrative; “the numbers don’t lie,” after all.

I had a conversation recently with someone about this concept, and how so many people, some quantitative analysts included, don’t recognize (sometimes willfully) how easy it is to introduce bias into numbers. Anytime you have humans involved in a process, you have bias. Bias can be introduced through study parameters, during analysis, or in the conclusions drawn and recommendations given. Many people bend data to fit a narrative that’s been pre-ordained.

What I like about qualitative analysis, which is my specialty, is that it doesn’t hide or deny bias. It encourages the researcher to think about and state their biases very clearly. Some methodologies actually use the researcher’s bias as part of the study. It’s impossible to completely put aside your own perspective, so why not channel it?

I’m starting to tackle with a lot of philosophical questions about qualitative analysis, and bias, and constructing studies that are useful operationally but true to what qualitative analysis is at its core. It’s an interesting place to be floating for a while, and gives me a lot to think about as clean, and check, and clean, and recheck the quantitative data I’m slowly polishing into something meaningful.

At the heart of it all, that’s really what all data analysis is about, be it quantitative or qualitative – finding meaning.

And meaning, and what meaning is, can launch a hundred different discussions and poetic manifestations…

Academic summer

I haven’t truly had an academic summer like I’m having this year. Two years ago, I was new to the job and overwhelmed with everything I needed to learn. Last year, someone left and I picked up his duties for a while.

I had academic summers as a kid and young adult, of course, but I always dreaded summers then. The more time I had to interact with my parents, the less I enjoyed my life.

This year, I’m having a bit of a true academic summer. I work 12 months a year, but things slow down for a bit. I have exactly two meetings all week – during the school year, it’s more like two meetings a day. I have things to do, but nothing urgent.

I don’t have classes right now. My mind is not constantly moving from one thing I need to do to the next. I’m not reacting to residual grade-related stress.

It’s sort of a mental cleansing.

I started doing beadwork again, which I haven’t done in a while. Made some new medic alert bracelets.

I’m delving deep into my writing, and I figured out how to flip a novel manuscript I actually finished years ago but never pursued publishing because something about it bothered me. I just figured out what that something was, and I know how to fix it now. If I work hard enough this summer, I could have the new draft done before classes start again in the fall.

Lupus is annoying, but sans academic year stress, things seem possible in a way that they sometimes don’t when I get busy and have less time to reflect.


It’s important to stop and look at the owls

I was a bit late to work this morning because I stopped at the end of the street to watch a large owl that landed on a neighbor’s roof, and proceeded to look around excitedly for a while. I leave so early in the morning that there were no other cars around, and I could safely idle in the middle of the street for a bit.

Yesterday while taking a break and walking over to a local coffee shop, a coworker and I stopped to watch a squirrel fight with a crow. The squirrel won, though the crow was twice his size. The spat was over a piece of food that it appeared that the squirrel had found and the crow was attempting to steal, so a fair win for the squirrel.

We have some really fragrant flowers blooming on campus just now, and I intentionally take certain paths when walking to meetings so that I can enjoy them.

It occurs to me that while this won’t solve all the horrible things going on in the world, it certainly helps recenter things in my world. Our president has a way of inspiring existential dread, and my Lupus caused me to have to drop a class because I couldn’t handle it. I’m pissed off about living in a country that will elect a hateful narcissistic madman then applaud when he drops bombs that he shouldn’t be dropping. I’m pissed off that I have limits to what I can handle because of my damn immune system.

That’s why it’s so important to stop and look at the owls. Even if all it does is remind you that Not Everything Is Horrible…well, that’s a pretty big Something, I think.