So, I’m pretty good at grilling steaks. I get perfectly perpendicular searing lines and my medium cook always ends at a round 150°. The outsides are perfectly crisped and the inside is juicy. I recently started cooking for my friends and family, and I plan to have my michelin stars very soon (friends and family can give you those, right?). I have a couple of tricks, one being a small slice of butter on the top of the raw steak before it hits the fire, another being black lava salt that I use as a dry rub. Top it with gorgonzola cheese… and why ever bother dining out? The best steak I ever had wasn’t in some fancy restaurant, it was in my room while watching Netflix.
I also know a lot about coffee. Between my moka pot, chemex, press, espresso, and standard brewer, I have more means of making coffee than my local shops. I have about a dozen different bags in my room at any given time, my favorite being Java Estate (cliches be damned) and more recently, Vietnam. I know which regions possess a citrusy flavor (South American and African) and why those coffees are the preferred type for ice coffee and cold brewing. I know thatbitter coffee is caused by uncleaned brewing apparatus or water temp, and not low quality/dark beans. Coffee secretes an oil, and that oil is capable of getting into the pores of brewing chambers (especially if they’re plastic) and rotting; that’s why glass is a better choice! Further, I know (or at least, I believe) that when Starbucks puts together their annual Tribute/Anniversary/Three Region blends, that they are dumping all the leftover beans from the last season together and calling it an “international mix, carefully curated™” Those blends are pretty much the same as the “Mystery Flavor” Dum Dum lollipops. It’s not something I read up, it’s just something that became apparent after years working with them. Maybe I’m a coffeespiracy theorist, but there’s gotta be a reason why these blends always get the most beautiful bags:
There are topics that I know a lot about, and things that I am naturally good at–but what about in Academia? I’ve always been pretty capricious in my studies, and I never “settled” into something or found my niche. I don’t have Jean Grey’s telekinesis or Danielewski’s meta-textual-storytelling ability. This is probably how I found my way into Digital Humanities to begin with: a discipline that’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that is perfect for someone as indecisive as me. It’s like Panera’s You Pick Two: sometimes I want a salad, sometimes a sandwich, but more often I want a little of both.
I’ve never referred to myself as a humanist, nor a scholar, especially never a lit scholar. I don’t think that I’m like SUPER GOOD at reading books, or capable of wringing moist metaphor from dry text. Honestly, I struggle to keep awake reading most academic articles, even if it’s something I’m genuinely interested in. I don’t know if that means my attention span is bad, their writing is boring, or a You Pick Two. If I’m not in the mood to read, and I can tell the piece is structured properly, I’ll get through most of it by reading the first and last sentence of each paragraph. When I told this to one of my undergraduate professors at the end of a semester, she got REALLY mad at me. Apparently (according to her) this isn’t a great idea for non-fiction (or any piece, again–according to her), but sometimes I do it anyway.
Similarly, I’ve never called myself a writer. Yes, I write. We all write, alright?
It’s been on my mind recently: what do I bring to academia? Why does it need me? Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been surrounded by people like me (English majors, etc), but I do not know what a computer scientist (or two computer scientists) might learn from me, or how I would be able to assist them. I mean, I’m great at troubleshooting! My Google-Fu is unparalleled, and I have never had a computer-related problem I was unable to solve, whether it be software or hardware. I know how to replace thermal paste on a GPU, and I know how to work regedit and insure a malicious program has been properly dealt with, but again… this is not relevant to my “humanities” background. What is it specifically about my ability to read, write, and think that makes me useful in a group variously-disciplined academics? What is unique about the thoughts and goals of a humanist such that they will aid the efforts of those developing new technology? Is it my perspective? Everyone has one of those, what makes my perspective special or unique? I have tons of interests, and plenty of things I want to know more about but I imagine that makes me no different from every other person attempting to become educated.
I can’t recite Paradise Lost from memory, nor can I explain the events of the Táin Bó Cúailnge (there were some people fighting over some cows and maybe a river of blood… and some ghosts… The Decemberists wrote a song about it). Ask me about coffee and I can tell you the correct water temp for whatever region of bean you’ve got, ask me about an Irish epic and… well, there were definitely cows, ghosts, and maybe a river of blood.
How do I discover my academic super power? Is it even important? Is it okay if I’m sorta good at a bunch of stuff and can’t shoot lasers from my eyes or summon flame from my hands? Like I said, I can cook a great steak, but the fire comes from the grill.