Beside as one literal space: beside the Mississippi River Gorge, above it, running + the classroom where I experiment

Beside as figurative space: a new relation to the norms/values/discourses that have shaped/continue to shape me

from Queering Ethics in 2011, lecture notes

Beside/s*: a few definitions that inform my understanding
  • Next to, in proximity to, in relation to others
  • In addition to, another perspective, another direction
  • Outside of oneself (but not fully outside of oneself), torn from self/bound to others/undone by others/implicated in lives of others
  • Overwhelmed with emotion: grief, passion, anger, fear, panic
  • Result of extreme event, causing person to realize vulnerability/precariousness
  • A space of uncertainty and unknowingness
  • A space of (potentially) productive failure
  • A counterpublic space of radical intervention that produces material possibilities for subversion/resistance
  • A space of community, a “we” that is fashioned through “undoneness,” refusals to fully identify, and inability to fit
  • Tactics for survival, strategies for imagining new worlds/ways of being
  • To identify with and against
  • To suspend or avoid judgment, not about what is good or bad, but what is “useful” or valuable
  • Not a “good subject” or a “bad subject” but a subject who doesn’t fully identify (good) or fully reject (bad), but reworks
  • At the limits
  • Another direction: using codes differently, reworking them, creating possibilities that have been impossible, imaging worlds that have been unimaginable

*Inspired by the following sources:

  1. Butler, Judith. “Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy”
  2. Chávez, Karma R. “Spatializing Gender Performativity: Ecstasy and Possibilites for Livable Life in the Tragic Case of Victoria Arrellano”
  3. Foucault, Michel. “What is Enlightenment?”
  4. Muñoz, Jose Esteban. Disidentifications

from my 2014 talk, Living Beside/s the Academy

I love the concept of besides and beside. Understanding mySelf as living BESIDES allows for an additional approach other than the Academic way of being that I had been trained to believe was the only way to be an intellectual. The only way to do something valuable with my Ph.D and my promise as a Scholar. Living besides opens up the possibility for other models, other approaches, other directions, other perspectives, and other ways to answer the haunting questions, What happened? and If not this, then what?

Understanding mySelf as living BESIDE the Academy enables me to craft a relation to the academic norms that is neither for nor against them. I’m not interested in fully rejecting or endorsing the academic values that helped shape who I am or how I engage with the world as a troublemaking Undisciplined scholar. Instead, I’m rethinking and reworking those values, creating possibilities that have been deemed impossible and imaging worlds that have been unimaginable within the academic spaces that I’ve inhabited.

from my 2016 talk, On (Re) Claiming an Education

A life beside/s the academy. That’s the tagline for my unDisciplined site. And that online space, along with my TROUBLE and STORY blogs, are where I’m doing most of my experiments with living beside/s as an undisciplined troublemaking feminist educator. How? So far, I’m using my spaces to undiscipline myself, to stay in trouble, to make visible and accessible my process of feeling the force of my questions, and to archive my teaching materials: All of my past syllabi, course assignments, and some lectures are posted on my undisciplined site. Processing notes, analyses of texts, reading lists, and critical reflections are posted too.

I’m Staking a Claim to a beside/s space where I can imagine and practice new ways of being an educator. Where I can imagine other answers besides Success!, Status!, Earning an degree to get a job that makes tons of Money!, to the question: What is an education for? Where I can continue feeling the force and living the questions that my undisciplined thinking and troublemaking and trouble staying create. And where I can dream up, and maybe experiment with developing courses that I’d teach if the university was less expensive, more experimental, embraced trouble, and was more resistant and transformative.

My Current Thoughts in 2020

I was first drawn to beside and beside/s as a theoretical concept about being undone and beside ourselves with grief. Then it became the structure for an article I wrote about negotiating my multiple selves–academic, mother, daughter–as my mother was dying from stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I taught it in a graduate course on Queer/ing Ethics and made it a category on by troublemaking blog. When I left the academy in 2012, it became a virtual space and a way to make sense of my changing relationship to the academy and my academic training.

Now, since 2017, when I started running beside the river in South Minneapolis and writing about it in RUN!, it has become a literal space–a hormespace: the Mississippi River Gorge. In some ways, my focus on this literal, physical space is a departure from my academic/theoretical work, but in other ways, it is taking concepts like care/paying attention, curiosity and wonder, discomfort/ uncertainty/ bewilderment in new, more creative directions. And, beside/s is a new way of seeing. Several years ago, I was diagnosed with cone dystrophy. I am gradually losing my central vision and within the next 5 years, will most likely have to rely almost exclusively on my peripheral vision to see. I will not be able to see straight, only sideways–which is the name of a poetry project I’ve been working on.

Off to the side, Peripheral

peripheral vision: the side vision; the things you see that you aren’t looking at directly; the larger landscape/background

If central vision represents the trees, peripheral vision is the forest. I will never lose the forest, even as the trees fade further.

To See it from the Side

while otherwise engaged

The best way to get a vivid impression and feeling of a landscape, is to sit down before it and read, or become otherwise absorbed in thought; for then, when your eyes happen to be attracted to the landscape, you seem to catch Nature unawares, and see her before she has time to change her aspect. The effect lasts but for a single instant, and passes away almost as soon as you are conscious of it; but it is real, for that moment. It is as if you could overhear and understand what the trees are whispering to one another; as if you caught a glimpse of a face unveiled, which veils itself from every willful glance. The mystery is revealed, and after a breath or two, becomes just as great a mystery as before.

Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife/ Julian Hawthorne (via the Marginalia)
originally posted in RUN! log on April 24, 2017

So I’m thinking about how walking works differently and I was reminded of a couple things.1. I read this article earlier today and it was this scientific study and it was talking about how certain decisions are better made when we’re not directly thinking about it or analyzing it. We sleep on it, we just don’t even think about it. 2. And that made me think of how my vision works and how I see things through peripheral vision better sometimes when I can’t see it through my central vision. So it’s almost as if I’m not really paying attention to it and I see it from the side but that’s how I can actually see it better. 3. I was reading this book by a philosopher emeritus from Stanford and he writes about procrastination, deliberate procrastination, and he talks about how he’ll never do the top priority, the most important thing on his list, but if he can engineer his list so that the things he really needs to do are lower level, he ends up doing them in an effort to avoid the thing that he’s really supposed to be doing. I think that’s how my writing process works too, where if I try to come up against something head-on, i have difficulty and get kind of paralyzed by all the ideas, but if I work around it and try other angles and just follow whatever I’m thinking about then I end up actually doing what I intended.

Dear Margins

Why does it move me, the peripheries—the overshadowed, the speechless, the passed-through? When we look from here, everything is slant. Though its spaces are by definition residual and immaterial, it is residuethat I want to call center; disembodied and irrelevant that I want to hold dear; murkiness and muteness that I want to resound. This, too, can have a political stake: a word is a sound to which we give meaning-filled boundaries. If we were to trace a shape around an invisible field of leftover particles and energy, let it be filled with all our ephemeral excesses, grief-stricken, displaced, tongue-tied, full of formidable size and strength, however vague. My truth is this, which the astronomers also knew: The world is blurry around the edges. When I’m looking intently at the page, there is always something in my peripheral vision, some dark shape I cannot shake.

Structured Procrastination

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, such as gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they find the time. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because accomplishing these tasks is a way of not doing something more important.

To make structured procrastination work for you, begin by establishing a hierarchy of the tasks you have to do, in order of importance from the most urgent to the least important. Even though the most-important tasks are on top, you have worthwhile tasks to perform lower on the list. Doing those tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, you can become a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

Do I want to be a “useful” citizen? Useful to whom?

Close By, Near, Next to

see Kamran Javadizadeh’s podast, Close Readings

Beside others in an in-between space

What if, when we experience empathy as perspective-taking, we weren’t stepping fully outside of ourselves into someone else’s life, but instead residing beside ourselves (and beside them) in an in-between space where we can see how our lives are connected and implicated in each other’s? So, empathy isn’t about “discovering new worlds,” but about refusing to ignore the richly complex and diverse worlds that we already inhabit.

This in-between, not outside but beside, space is where we can witness our entanglements.


Ross Gay: Yeah. It’s like it’s collaborative. It’s deeply collaborative. And if it’s not, fuck it, not gonna work. And it’s-and it’s… I’ve been thinking a lot about like this idea of purity, which is like, an aspiration for a lot … to be like, pure. And it feels like one of the things that you all were saying in that thing was like, we are entangled. That’s the word. We are fucking entangled. And any movement toward disentangling ourselves from each other, all these aspects of each other, is wreckage. It’s wreckage.

Ross Gay vs. Entanglement
Threshold/ Maggie Smith

You want a door you can be
            on both sides of at once.

                       You want to be
           on both sides of here

and there, now and then,
            together and—(what

                       did we call the life
            we would wish back?

The old life? The before?)
            alone. But any open

                       space may be
            a threshold, an arch

of entering and leaving.
            Crossing a field, wading

                       through nothing
            but timothy grass,

imagine yourself passing from
            and into. Passing through

                       doorway after
            doorway after doorway.

Beside as somewhere else, between worlds

There are gaps in the mesh of the everyday world and sometimes they open up and you fall through into somewhere else. Somewhere else runs at a different pace to the here and now where everyone else carries on. Somewhere else is where ghosts live, concealed from view and only glimpsed by people in the real world. Somewhere else exists at a delay so that you can’t quite keep pace. Perhaps I was already resting on the brink of somewhere else anyway, but now I fell through as simply and discretely as dust shifting through the floorboards. I was surprised to find I felt at home there. Winter had begun. Everybody winters at one time or another. Some winter over and over again. Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, side-lined, blocked from progress or cast into the role of an outsider.

Wintering/ Katherine May

liminality, betwixt and between, threshold, Victor Turner, beside as to the side of but also beside 2 things at once–not outside but between

Beside the Edge

No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Still, there are indications. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen. It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind, It likes solitude. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker. It isn’t that it would disparage comforts. or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place. Its concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge.

Upstream/ Mary Oliver


Mary Oliver likes the word “meanwhile,” which I first encountered and enjoyed in her wonderful poem, “Wild Geese”: “Meanwhile, the world goes on./ Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain…/Meanwhile, the wild geese…” I like this idea of meanwhile as another word for beside/s, and to mean: there are other things beside you happening in the world AND you are not alone in your suffering/sorrow/joy AND life/the world contains more than we can imagine or reconcile, all happening at the same time. I like thinking about meanwhile as a way to connect different stories/lives/creatures without collapsing them into each other as one story or way of living/being.