Work-a-holism in New York City grad-school (aka Parsons)
A recent moment of exhaustion led me to reflect on how my own work efficiency, quality of work and time invested in work impact my emotional state day by day. Usually equipped with high capacity for thinking and production of design work, supported with strategic thinking, this "burn-out" moment led to a temporary de-stabilization of my usual workstyle. Accordingly, feelings of hestitation, doubt and anxiety grew stronger in the face of decreased work efficiency, capacity to concentrate and willingness to work.
What is it?
"Chip-off Calendar – A reflection on work efficiency" (working title) is a visualization tool for graduate students to record and reflect on their perceived daily work accomplishments and the feelings evoked by the accomplished work. The one-week calendar, lasercut from plywood, becomes a token for reflection about the emotions related to work (not) achieved within 7 days.
The calendar records WORK ACCOMPLISHED in three different categories, which are usually required day-to-day by graduate students:
PEDAGOGICAL (Didactic) – Any type of "studying", such as reading, attending a lecture, participating in class, watching a documentary, etc.
GENERATIVE – Any type of synthesized and processed intellectual output that is not physical. This can be writing, diagrams, concept briefs, PDF presentations, etc.
PRACTICAL (Making) – Any type of physical design work may include paper prototyping, creating a self-learning tool, planning a workshop etc.
Additionally, a section for FEELINGS allows to recors the feelings that the student is left with after ending the work day. The four feelings listed here are ANXIETY, PRODUCTIVITY, JOY, SUCCESS.
How does it work?
The "Chip-off Calendar" will be used as an ongoing activity throughout a day or at the end of a work day. Holes in the surface allow for the insertion of smaller segments, that link on the backside of the board. These small segments will be equipped with a specific set of colored yarns that allow for nuanced visual representation of work accomplished and feelings generated.
- WORK ACCOMPLISHED
This section allows to record three different types of work accomplished each day on a 0-5 point rating – 0 being "no work of this type accomplished today" and 5 being "all work of this type accomplished for today". The rating works by connecting 0-5 smaller link-pieces to the board that are equipped with cotton yarns of different colors. To further improve the visual power of each rating, different colors of yarns (of the same length) resemble the raitng:
0 (no color), 1 (white), 2 (light yellow), 3 (corn yellow), 4 (light orange), 5 (dark orange). Example: I feel like I have accomplished all my pedagogical work today after going to school and reading all assigned readings for the coming day. I will score all five points, so fill in all five colors of yarns to represent the score of 5. For generative work, I may have to postpone some of the intended work for another day, so I will score only 3/5, which means I will connect white, light yellow, and corn yellow yarns for today.
This section requires one color of yarns (blue), but in different lengths. Located at the bottom of the tool, different lengths of carns will represent the perceived strength of each one of the four listed feelings. To accomplish easy use, a ruler on the left edge of each day-segment allows for precise and consistent measurement of each feelings-yarn.
Example: After achieving all pedagogical work, but only half of the intended generative and only a small bit of the intended practical work, I may be left behind with a low feeling of SUCCESS (4/10) and PRODUCTIVITY (4/10), very little JOY (2/10), but increased ANXIETY (9/10). I will then cut the yarns in different lengths according to the score and connect them to the day-segment.
To make handling and transportation of the calendar easier, the individual segments for each day can be chipped off the board and fit in any pocket. Like this, progress can be recorded in real time throughout the day and later be seen in comparison to the previous and following days.
Sometimes reflection means spending time with thoughts in a way that is uncomfortable to me. After 4 days of doing the probe, thinking about the way I accommodate and assimilate the material world, I hit a block. I didn’t want to spend time thinking about my interactions throughout the day. Mostly because I felt like my days were so unsuccessful. Like I couldn’t make sense out of anything, just moved through the motions in order to make it through the tasks I had to accomplish. But in a way, you could argue that this, too, is assimilation and accommodation at work.
If in assimilation I am using my framework to work with the material world, then avoiding self reflection in order to make it through the day is a framework that works for me at times. I am assimilating the materials around me, by avoiding much thought about them, like I am trying to build a wall between myself and my circumstances. I may not have control over what the day presents me, but I can try to exert some authority over what meaning I make of it.
Conversely, you could argue that avoidance of self-reflection is accommodation. In this case my particular avoidance of using the coloring tool to help me think about my learning experiences on 6 consecutive days was my way of accommodating, because I was immersing myself in the tasks and experiences of the day. Giving up control to the material, “diving in” and losing myself to the world before me.
What did get through then? How was I able to move back into self-reflection? What helped me bear spending time thinking about myself in the world?
It was through reading. I found myself returning to a book I was almost finished reading and began sending segments of text to myself as I read. Again, it was a task that incorporates assimilation and accommodation at the same time. There’s something about an author’s ability to capture a truth that both fits with your personal framework and helps immerse you in something other than yourself. A piece of writing can allow you to “listen to the world” and adjust “one's current views in the light of perceived mismatches.” As you read, you encounter sparks of recognition…
Quotes from Outline by Rachel Cusk that got through:
“All the same, it seemed to him now that life had been lived almost unconsciously, that he had been lost in it, absorbed in it, as you can be absorbed in a book, believing in its events and living entirely through and with its characters” (10).
“What I knew personally to be true had come to seem unrelated to the process of persuading others. I did not, any longer want to persuade anyone of anything” (10).
“...the translator says that a sentence is born into this world neither good nor bad, and that to establish its character is a question of the subtlest possible adjustments, a process of intuition to which exaggeration and force are fatal” (16).
“Without structure, events are unreal: the reality of his wife, like the reality of the house, was structural, determinative” (18).
“Reality might be described as the eternal equipoise of positive and negative, but in this story the two poles had become dissociated and ascribed separate, warring identities” (22).
After 6 days of trying to avoid self reflection, here's what my probe looks like now. I think I'm going to add the quotes from Cusk's book too. They kind of fit with this theme.
My learning probe is documenting, for the next 6 weeks my eating choices with the intention of becoming more mindful. I will paint a square on the grid of this canvas with either the orginal color, a hue or a shade. The shade would represent a bad eating day, and the lightest hue would represent a day on target. The original color would be a moderate day. At the end of the 6 weeks, I'm hoping to have all the squares filled in and a better idea of how often I get off track and how often I push myself to stay on track. I will also have a complimenting graph to have something to compare the final product with.
UPDATE: This is my result after 7 weeks:
I wanted my learning probe to focus on when I was censoring or shutting down to new ideas, when I was open, when I was critically open, and when I took action. I started by thinking of how to represent these stages using colours, as I usually always use language to express things:
I'm hoping this probe will challenge me to become 'critically open minded' and to turn this into specific actions. Also to challenge me to use images, colours and visual metaphors rather than always falling back on language. I know it's pretty rudimentary and basic, and that such a simple taxonomy is probably problematic (!) but I have a tendency to overcomplicate things, so I hope its simplicity will make me more likely to actually complete it every session.
The puppet idea continues, based on the following precepts:
It works as a cultural probe because everyone responds intuitively to puppets. Puppets are an ancient and enduring art form that shows no signs of dissapearing (in some way humans will always find a way to make and play with puppets). There are interesting developments that include technology (robotically controlled, for example) but they work just as well in a low resourced, low tech fashion, which appeals to me at this time. Puppets allow the "user" to engage wth the object, themselves and their own thinking process, and others, - being as they would like to be, trying somethng on, saying what they wish - at a degree removed from "reality" ("it's the puppet talking, not me!"). Regardless of one's cultural background, everyone knows what to do, no instructions are necessary. One's insecurities about their personal attributes are set aside, they're invisible during this time of play (even if they're not they can feel invisible). It seems perhaps the simplest puppet form is the ideal one, so though I'd love to use the woodshop to make a real marionette, a Rod Puppet may make a better choice now (wood and casting). With any luck, I'll make more than one, so there can be a dialogue between them.
Play and Fantasy are children's ways of exploring their world as navigators, explorers, inquirers. They don't need to be taught, minimal materials and support are ideal when considering the 90/10% rule - 90% child, 10% toy. The "materials" in this case are the handmade puppets themselves, props for them to interact with, and a little guidance to get started. There is room in this idea for the children to make their own puppets, or build on existing forms to their hearts delight.
I'm looking at Edith Ackerman's suggestions for "Tinkering", and finding every correspondence: Engagement/Intentionality/Innovation/Solidarity, bringing from the past into the new. More on this to follow.
I'm happy that the class is bringing these frameworks to my attention and asking us to activate them in a practice -
Meanwhile, if anyone is doing a Dance intervention, I'm in! :-)
I'll be at a casting training in the Ceramics lab in the basement of the Parson's bldg. at 10:30 tomorrow (Thurs) if anyone wants to join me, or to work in the woodshop next Friday!
Basically my idea is kind of like those adult coloring books, where the act of coloring is designed to make you more contemplative. Focusing on something small, like coloring in a shape, gives you a different perspective on everything in your life. You could say that mindful coloring is an example of accommodation, in that these types of coloring books give you the opportunity to get lost in something. Edith Ackerman says that accommodation is when you “listen to the world.” Coloring can be used as a way to listen.
Coloring can help you reflect, and it also allows you to express yourself at the same time. The fact that this activity can hold within it two very different types of being, reminds me of that opposition between accommodation and assimilation in the learning process. The act of coloring allows you to assimilate and accommodate information at the same time. You exert your own order over the material, because the markings on the page are yours. You also give over to the structure of what’s on the page. What if I used coloring as a tool to help me reflect? How would I use that to help me think about my day? How could I use it as a means “to dive into situations?” This line of thinking is what led to my design.
Reading Ackerman’s work, created a change in my focus. At this place in my learning, I find myself backing up a bit from wanting to understand more about the ways in which we learn from television to wanting to understand more about learning in general. I want to know more about the places in my own life where I am accommodating and assimilating. What are some of the specific moments in the day to day of my life where I exert my own internal structure of understanding on the things before me? Conversely, what are some specific examples of times when I accommodate and allow myself to “become one” with my outside world? Pairing this with a coloring activity, I could create a code to represent my approach to different opportunities for learning that I encounter throughout my day. Each color represents a particular type of learning.
“My own life-long interest in constructivism and socio-constructivism grows out of a personal belief that wherever diversity reigns, the mere transmission of traditional values just won’t do. That is when people(s), young and old, need to become their own path-finders, speak their own voices, bring their own personal and collective experience to the world, and negotiate their differences with others.”
Constructing Knowledge and Transforming the World
In the back of the book, I'm writing about my thought process as I progress through this learning probe. I want to keep track of my thinking about this over time. For me, writing is a way to sort through what I have learned.
I am honestly having a lot of trouble figuring out what this assignment would look like. I have no idea how to proceed BUT I love the idea of cultural probes... so I have created a mock up of an idea for my own. The probe fits in really nicely with my ideas around both art and education. When I think about what the core focus or goal of my work might be, I end up at looking and seeing. And I think the same potential for raising consciousness through attentive looking and seeing can happen equally in front of an artwork and out in the world.
This is the basis for my cultural probe:
How is Your Environment Speaking To You?
Looking and seeing
Taking note of images and texts encountered in one’s daily movement
Awareness of mark-making in the environment
Response to mark-making as taking ownership, consumerism, and control through flyers, tags,
graffiti, posters, billboards, signs,
Disposable cameras or
Flash drive (to which images can be downloaded from personal camera)
Small sketch book
Different color sticky dots
It seems to me that many people, especially in a dynamic urban environment, move through the space without looking and seeing. We are often lost in thought, rushing to our destination, focused on our phones (devices), overwhelmed, disinterested, or perhaps even fearful. The spaces we move through are filled with human-made mark-making in the form of images and text: advertisements (consumerism), control (street signs, warnings), taking ownership (tags, graffiti). My cultural probe How is Your Environment Speaking To You is geared towards taking note of images/messages encountered in one’s daily movement and encouraging an awareness of the various kinds of mark-making in our environment, and how we respond/relate to those marks.
In order to document the encountered mark-making the participants will be given the following materials:
- A disposable camera or
- Flash drive on which to download images from personal cameras
- A small sketch book
- A map
- Different colored sticky dots
The camera becomes an instantiation of the participant’s eyes allowing others to see what they saw. The sketch book can serve multiple purposes such as noting the participant’s reaction to the marks they encounter, drawing images of or transcribing text from marks they encounter, making notes of mark-making in places where photography might not be allowed, noting any other reactions to environment and experience of looking and seeing. Pencils will be provided but participants may use their own writing implements if they choose. The purpose of the map is document the participant’s movement and to locate the different types of mark-making. A different color dot will be used to note a particular kind of mark (ie. Blue: tags/graffiti, green: consumerism, red: control) if participants identify another type of mark-making they can use an additional color to document.
This is a sample kit:
These are some sample images of pics of signs that a participant might include:
I'm still thinking this one through, but am playing around with the idea of creating a form that's a mix of visual and verbal and filling it out every day (or multiple times a day) in terms of where I land on a spectrum between various binaries. The completed worksheets would provide me with some quantitative data, as well as become artifacts in and of themselves as I fill it out each time in a different way, adding words for context or drawing responses as I see fit.
The end goal would be to see if my feelings follow patterns (e.g. am I more open when I'm well-rested? Or inspired when I'm thinking abstractly?) and specifically to focus on how these spectera relate to my ability to think vs. feel and be engaged in the world in general. I'm also curious to see how these internal state measures map to productivity. I'm still deciding whether I want to stick with these words/phrases or add more.