What was January

Look at me, trying to be accountable with newsletter updates. The sense of possibility and ambition that marks the beginning of January has settled into the grimness of actual cold weather and grayness and answering emails, which means it's time for me to reflect on the month.

I continue to sort of ignore my PhD, which isn't especially wise but understandable

The spring semester for my program begins next week and while I have been working on things for the last month and a half, most of them have had little to do with the dissertation I promised a foundation I would write or the comprehensive exams I said I would do in the fall. A lot of this is simply just dragging my feet on activities that feel more like hazing ritual than meaningful use of my time, but they also just feel increasingly small relative to other concerns in my life. Such as:

Teaching amidst fascism is weird

I'm adjuncting in a classroom for the first time since 2019, back at the Cooper Union engineering program. Initially my anxieties about going back to teaching concerned the lost muscle memory and expanding generational gap between myself and the students. Those anxieties have been swiftly replaced with ones about becoming a target of fascists and ethno-nationalists. Let me explain.

Last week an adjunct at Cooper, Shellyne Rodriguez, was fired abruptly from her position allegedly for anti-Zionist social media posts. The semester is already underway and that class presumably has to find a replacement instructor. Based on what little I know of Rodriguez and her politics not to mention the hassle of hiring adjuncts I sort of struggle to believe that it could be something so offensive that the school could justify inconveniencing themselves and their students like this. I suspect Rodriguez was actually fired because she was already a target of the far right press, who were waiting for her to say or do anything that could be further scrutinized. I mean, some of these outlets wrote about the fact Cooper gave her a job in the first place! Meanwhile, the college is still dealing with fallout from a pro-Palestine student protest last fall. What I expect happened is that after getting wind of some new empty outrage that some conservative outlet planned to drum up, the college administration determined that the risk of drawing any more heat outweighed the impracticality of firing an instructor the second week of classes (as well as the optics of firing a Black woman instructor at a very white college). It may have also been deemed acceptable by the administration because Rodriguez taught in the art school, which famously produces the lowest number of alumni donations to the college—even if students were outraged, the administration is not burning an especially lucrative bridge.

A faculty friend has reassured me that the administration is unlikely to go rooting around in my social media. Admittedly, I am more worried about potentially getting doxxed by a surprise fascist student than I am of losing a $4,700 adjuncting gig (none of my students have shown fascist tendencies so far, but I've had them in my classes before!). But the fact that the administration rolled over this easily is a very concrete reminder of how complicity happens: not out of fervent belief in the cause but in the notion that silencing others or being silent will keep you safe. Silence and self-preservation tend to be a more important aspect of fascism spreading than fervent dogmatic belief in the cause. I started 2024 by going with Melissa and Tommy to see Occupied City, and it has been a little uncanny how relevant it feels at times.

At the same time that I've been told I'm unlikely to be subjected to a sudden investigation and/or firing, I've also been cautioned not talk about Palestine with my students. This is somewhat complicated by the fact I am teaching the computer science and ethics class, where morality and power dynamics are the core subject matter. It feels absurd to leave an ongoing genocide—one that's been documented as enabled in part by computational systems—at the classroom door. And yet, I don't even know where to begin talking to them about it. I expect that it's all going to come to a head sooner than later, and I'm not really sure how it's going to go.

Some behind the scenes work I can't talk about yet

Speaking of cowardice in the face of fascism, I blogged a little about an incident a few weeks ago that might lead to something good happening, but it remains in process and I don't want to say too much and have it fall apart.

I made some little drawings to self soothe

The small Shopify store for plotter art continues to slowly add items. I recently figured out a toolchain for making isoline-based terrain drawings. It's a bit of a departure from the format I've been using for plotter map art.

A black and white topographical terrain map of the San Francisco Bay Area.
A fragment of the San Francisco Bay Area as an isoline based terrain map.

New drawings in this style will probably go up this week; they may end up a little cheaper than the hillshade hatching ones just because they take less time to plot. I've also gotten some requests for postcard sized versions of the big plotter drawings which I will give some time to next month. Reminder that discount code receiving subscribers have a 25% off discount code that expires January 31. (February will have a different discount code.) Also a heads up that on January 31 I'll stop taking orders for the 2024 plotter postcard quarterly, which makes for a cute yearlong gift.

What else

Mostly extracurricular reading that will have to end this week, a lot of time with the dog, scripting the next episode of RIP Corp, looking for funding for RIP Corp, getting more sleep and exercise than I'll probably get for the rest of the next six months given work commitments but still having a lot of anxiety and grief because it turns out no amount of self-care fully turns it off. Some close friends are having a baby literally tomorrow; despite everything I'm really looking forward to hanging out with this new person. It's a weird time to be alive.

But we will keep living, I think. Good luck to all of you out there as we head into February.