Friday, August 26, 2011

546. Biologically Incorrect REVAMPING!

Dear Family and Friends and Acquaintances and Kind Strangers who are so gracious to lend an ear to such an eccentric Homo sapiens as myself:::

As you can see, I have not posted anything since the beginning of 2011.... There are many reasons why: (1) I went on leave of absence (2) due to mental and physical health issues and (3) I'm trying to regain traction into self awareness and self-inquiry of my potential place and relationship with this universe (which may or may not exist, and all may be a construction in my mind) (4) while simultaneously meditating on how to drastically revamp and re-organize and tremendously improve this website (5) while imagining how I will be designing a Biologically Incorrect webcomic environmental media project--in which comics, a combination of the visual language and written word, can be used to explore socio-ecological systems (humans and their environments... and all the problems that humans love to create in relations to their environments)... (6) all in the attempts to try to lead a very present and diverse, yet quiet, off-line life, such that I can have a solid game plan when I return to being plugged into the on-line World's Wild Web and hopefully the University Universe itself, (7) but I am still having problems with anxiety and panic attacks, (8) but I have learned I don't deserve to suffer like this, so... (9) if you give me a paper and a pencil and tell me to draw a cartoon, you generally tend to put my mind in a happy place... (10) so the best possible thing I can do right now is just stay in this happy place until I'm ready to face the cold, harsh wilderness that's just a hairline underneath my nose. Scary, huh?

So, I hope you all out there can be patient and I hope one day to be able to create something that you all may be proud of and excited about, and especially to think that I have made one person in this universe laugh (ha!)--perhaps you may even more proud of than myself :-). Thanks everyone in my life for supporting me... emotionally, mentally, and viscerally. It really sucks to turn 20 10; life's re-assessment is not so hot.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

543. Uh-oh, Vic's Brain Dumping::: Philosophisizing on My Return to Blogging, Autonomous and On Leave of Absence

I cannot believe that I have reached this point. This blog is the first blog I have written in ... perhaps 7 months. It is frightening (and traumatizing) to think about what has happened these past 7 months, but I can say that... this is the first blog I am writing on "leave of absence" from the Bren School at UCSB, so perhaps I may be writing with some new layers of consciousness, or maybe with some new sense of freedom--I am writing, and this is my voice, in absence of the 800 pound gorilla of academia clenching to my back. I am temporarily on break from the school that studies the "environ-mental" and now I have to engage in self-medicating my "mental."

It is also funny though, in these last few months of leave of absence, I have been approached by five or so people in my social sphere, and they were all wondering how I was because I was no longer writing any blogs. They encouraged me to continue writing, and they very much enjoyed my entries (strange! I know I am Victoria Anonymous, someone out in the world of 7 billion people wanting to read my blog! Ha ha ha). Perhaps my writing blogs is being enjoyed by friends and family who equally enjoy my *live* company--oh, there's that girl who endlessly rambles on about funny things, all the way from photographic composition to fisheries adventures to the California state budget to school committee drama to her dental work to the strange dream she had last night to the next cartoon she wants to draw. One way or another, I feel thankful that these individuals approached me and stated that they appreciated my blogs, and hope that I resume my "streams of consciousness." (I just learned a few days ago that "stream of consciousness" types of writing are actually acceptable in the literary world--consider Ulysses and The Invisible Man and even kind of All the Pretty Horses [at least the setting descriptions)]. I suppose this whole return to blogging is a re-focusing process, as well as a confidence problem... or also an artistic dilemma.

The more and more I have learned about the cartoon world and comics industry, the more I have come to realize that the sole expression of the Self through words placed in a linear-line-by-line format on a page, page after page after page... is very limited. Everyone uses words all the time, and so the combination of words placed line by line on a page now apppears to me to be equally cliche. I am starting to no longer view language, solely written stories, as art forms, but merely text messages or emails that anyone can write to anyone else (I told my advisor Oran that in this world where everyone text messages, from 5-year-olds to 80-year-olds, anyone on the street thinks they can become the next great writer... so I myself have given up on the idea of being a "writer" or one morally and financially supported by society, because practically everyone now is in the "competition pool" for this position (and the competition pool is so fierce that even people PAY literary agents to read their writing or pitch a story for merely a few minutes! And how could a literary agent have any sense of authority or command of such a spectrum of fields related to the environment?! I am in serious doubt of the sense of authority and expertism that literary agents portray, given their position of power in determining who becomes the "next great writer" and who doesn't), and plus when someone says they are a "writer" I laugh and say, "You just told me that you let your mind breathe; I would be disturbed if you didn't write otherwise").

I am starting to realize that the more combinatory the story becomes--e.g. combining words with pictures with music, etc, in which these elements occur in simultaneity, the more original, the more unique the artistic piece can become. And also, increasing combinations in complex simultaneity can eliminate a vast majority of the "writers" and now the pool of "talented multi-media storytellers" is actually, very small. So now, I no longer consider my written language as an attempt toward art, but merely a form of self-therapy, behavioral therapy, so that I can help understand myself, my thoughts... so that I can engage in stream of consciouness... and perhaps I can communicate a few ideas to a known group of trusted people out in the world. But writing now is psychological therapy toward self understanding. My most favoritist creative writing professor, Barry Spacks, would disagree with me--he tends to perceive writing as an art form, and so he will always perceive my work as art form though I perceive it as therapy. The reason why I am on leave of absence right now is that I had been perceiving my writing as an attempt toward art and scholarly-scientific work rather than treating it as therapy form. Now? I'm paying the price with my health. Yet if I layer my stories anymore, perhaps I can say I am attempting to hybridize self-therapy with a valiant reach toward creating art that can be appreciated beyond my family and friends. But, right now, I have given up on creating "art" all together. Everything I do for the next few months... up to a year (whether writing or visual or musical forms or motions)... are strictly for self-understanding, self-organization, and self-therapy.

Man, I have become repetitious, and yes, I have become a selfish bastard with my work (or is it "bastardette"?), but I have to: it's a matter of mental health and survival. It's a matter of desperation. Dr. Steve Ino at UCSB told me last quarter at UCSB's Counseling Center: whatever you do with your writing and drawings, never consider it to be selfish--it's called "self-care." So, I'm learning. One time I told Sarah, a science journalist in Riverside, the first time I write or create anything, the first audience is only myself, and then through rounds of advice and editing, the audience expands otherwise--to the appropriate individuals or groups the story is intended for. Sarah said that this mentality of interacting with a perceived audience is very healthy. So, first round, it's a one-man band (errr, one lady show), but then again, I consider my single mind to be an ecosystem of motivations, desires, voices, organisms with unique characteristics and behavioral traits. So even though it may seem like the first round of my "talking" to myself may be a one-person audience, I feel like I'm speaking simultaneously to an internal disjunct chorus that is trying to coordinate itself. I was trying to make a cartoon for my friend Julie R. last quarter: "Grad School: Ecosystem-Based Mental Management!"

Enough said. Much more to explore on this issue. Maybe I should leave these thoughts for the shrinks. But then again, my most wonderfulest of my friends and family are my "shrinks;" they're just not all that "official."

I can also say the last 7 months, I have learned a lot about several political issues in the marine and terrestrial world, not only the politics of the environmental issues themselves, not just the endless politics of academia (which I sincerely need a break from::: UNPLUG ME!), but even the politics of "generating stories" about these environmental issues, or any issue in particular. The politics of how literary folks, cartoonists, journalists, academics, film crews function, so-to-speak, in which the more I know, the more I realize that I want to work with a very small group of people with whatever stories I tell. Minimizing bureaucracy entails more self-responsibility and labor, but also constructs more self-control and overall efficiency. I would rather work much harder on a project knowing that I had more control rather than someone controlling me. As I have said a bazillion times to myself:
"I'd rather be a slave to my own ideas than the slave of others."

So, I'm continuing to learn about myself. The more I learn about political issues (that affect people that I personally know), the more I feel a bit scared to talk or write about what I know, or the more I doubt what is appropriate to include or not included in a blog. Which is probably one major reason I have not been blogging lately--I suppose I had to confront this issue myself. I think this self-censorship process has been happening since my initial participation in the south coast Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI) process. I will just say that the whole arena of stakeholders involved in marine environmental issues is much more connected and incestuous than I thought--and perhaps a little bit in a disturbing way (when a single funding source pours in money into the entire spectrum of professions--from scientific research to education/entertainment to policy and politics, in order to better choreograph these often-time disjunct, autonomous universes, I would become a little bit worried). Well, it's not that I'm being "censored" by anyone in particular, but whatever I say, I have to be VERY careful and very ARTICULATE about what I say. But would that be necessary? Would it be necessary to have a "Fisheries WikiLeaks" because many things going on in the marine world is so "under-the-radar" to the public? Even under the radar among pertinent stakeholders who are directly affected?

An example of "under the radar." About a week ago I spoke over the phone with my Cousin Mike, who wanted to know all about the MLPA process I have been in tune with (as if I had a fetish following a particular athletic team, except it's a political process, not sports, what's the difference?); and after explaining to him the nuts and bolts of this public-private partnership, the stakeholders involved, the outcomes, and the current state of the process, Mike was appalled that he did not know that any of this was happening. He also didn't know that public-private partnerships could exist and be held unaccountable to the public vote. That California Citizens did not vote for this political process to occur, or be okay with. Mike was thinking about maybe he could invent some new cool gadget like an iRobot or iPhone5 or something and then he could earn gobs of money and then he had nothing else to do than meddle with the California State Government and re-wire the bureaucracy as to however he saw fit, as long as he was a private individual dumped a bunch of money on the state, demanding its reform. And no, my cousin Mike has no ties whatsoever to environmentalism. He's just a wickedly smart dude who keeps me on my toes, and I'm extremely proud to admit we are related (family acquisition through a marriage!).

But then again, what should I be scared of talking about? First amendment rights, right? Maybe I should just call things out "as they are." Tell the "truth," like what a scientist is supposed to do. Observes the world, and states his/her findings. Except I have found out there are frequently multiple versions of "truths" or "truthy-isms" and it's better that I just consider stories as merely stories (whether scientific or not) and not observable realities held by nearly all citizens, and just say okay,
"Here's my story, dot, dot, dot. And it's just another of 101 stories on the same topic, so why in the hxll would anyone listen to me anyway?" There is so much information transmission in the world today that whatever stories I tell will be drowned out by information overload anyway.

I do say it's quite funny. The other day I had a discussion with my quasi-religious mother (religion, fate, spirituality, what's the difference?!), and she questioned me about a particular "end of the world" issue as a "scientist," and I told my mother flat out, in a very instinctive, impulsive way, as if I went through a very long, quasi-subconscious internal discussion with myself the last few months that rendered an autonomic response, "I am NOT a scientist." I can practice some scientific forms of thinking (left-brain linearities), and I have been raised by my scientist Dr. Bubsy (ha ha, my dad), but given arbitrarily constructed cultural and bureaucratic definitions, restrictions, boundaries of what a "typical" scientist is, and that my right brain gravitates toward reflexive, multi-layered, visual, synthetic, contextual thinking rather than strictly rational, computative, linear reasoning that denies the presence of self-perception and socioecological context that can influence anyone's research agenda, hence I am NOT a scientist. I do not think that "scientists" would survive to well in the world outside academia, which requires a sense of multi-dimensional, intuitive thinking that goes far beyond gaining knowledge by reading the bottomless pit or accumulated coral reef of "scholarly literature" and being a tweaker with a particular, specialized research project. So, as you can see, I am so bitter, I really need a leave of absence. I can't even call myself a "scientist" anymore, even though I know all about scientists and know how they think, and I interact with them a lot. And sometimes they drive me nuts.

Well, I'm beyond that box. It's funny to even say that "scientific thinking" is actually a very restrictive form of thinking, even though supposedly science is to "expand knowledge," only very limited forms of knowledge. Even my fisherman friend Bob stated that if scientists continue to perceive environmental problems strictly as "scientific problems" and not "human/social/perception" problems--err, multiple problems in simultaneity--then scientists won't get anywhere with their goals and agendas. They will continue to hit intellectual walls and roadblocks, and their audiences will not be all-inclusive.

So, then, if I'm not a scientist, then what am I? What should I call myself? Besides, "Victoria Anonymous" and "Victoria, Fud. The more you become an expert at one particular thing, the more and more you become an idiot with everything else." Yes, yes, besides that, let's just say I'm a "multi-media storyteller" who has academic strings attached, trying to bring out the best of academia in my stories and really get to see what theories actually do map out onto a physical reality we can all agree upon. Though we all know that much of the narratives in the university seem to be abstract, esoteric blobs that cannot take concrete shape or function when letting them run loose outside the academisphere. But I have discovered many jewels in the haystack....

Oh, I know it's horrible for me to "talk about myself,"--I am having a moment of self-consciousness here--but that is partially why I am on leave of absence. I have the CRICs disease: the Chronically shifting Relativistic Identity Crisis, and part of the goal for the leave of absence is to better understand this disease I have, and the shrinks say it's for "self-care." Identity exploration, like what humanities people seem to do. Except in this case, the notion of identity relative to the "environment." I should be okay. Since all my writing has a basis for psychological therapy, I should be open and willing and accepting that my own Self is a part of the picture of all the things I write. It's a necessity for me to plug in and stay tuned to myself. *Sigh*

I guess so far in this post, I have discovered two new Laws of Lacunacea (and of course, every new rules has exceptions). (1) The more I know about political issues that directly affect people I personally know, the less willing I am to be open and express the ideal form of freedom of speech. Maybe it just reflects that my own social sphere and social consciousness is changing. And the second law I have picked up by observing and dealing with harsh encounters within the abrasive perimeters of Hollywood (why do I feel the film industry is like some form of intellectual war zone? Well, perhaps it's the only landscape on this planet where ideas can be valued at millions of dollars, and everywhere else, each new idea we have is worth close to zero). So, the second law is: (2) The more money you get paid, the more you lose your freedom of speech. This is a general truth, unless someone provides funding to an independent individual (not an individual embedded within any corporate bureaucracy) that is completely "no strings attached" or "We give you money because we love you for who you are, and we want you to continue being who you are."

I guess the final question here in this blog is: What does it mean to go on leave of absence? (And to shamefully state, for the THIRD time, once from UCLA, once from UCR, and once from UCSB). First of all, a problem is a problem when you perceive it to be a problem. What I perceive to be a "problem" is not necessarily what other people perceive to be a "problem." Many problems in the world exist as "distant chatterboxing characters on televisions or computers" to most people, but I have faced four "systems" of problems that were either by birthrite, partially acquired, or took a level of sophistication to perceive: (1) my birthrite, inherited problem of wildfire ecology, in relation to my father's (the scientist's) research (2) my quasi-acquired, quasi-biological problem of anorexia and attempting to understand the relationships between mental disorder and "environ-"mental disorder, (3) the somewhat problem of understanding the university as a "landscape," in which every one of us was promised that the university would teach us about the "universe" and our place in it, but when any particular student attempts to go "department hopping," each specialized discipline is perceived more so as a historical accumulation of intellectual trash largely dictated by power structures, that renders no coherent, composite picture of the world we live in and try to interact with, and how was I going to sort through all this intellectual trash to find the necessary tools in order to find a way to contain, define, and solve any particular "environmental problem" in the world, first with my own health, second with my father, and third with California fisheries... (and now the state's broke, who really knows if anyone is getting their money's worth at the university?) and (4) my "matured state" problem in which I had to develop a level of perceptual accuity to see and comprehend, is all things related to California fisheries, evolution of ecosystems and social systems through time, particularly the Marine Life Protection Act process. Four massive suites of problems in my life that may be perceived as "distant" issues in most people's lives but have come to occupy intimate, personal spaces in my mind.

I guess the whole goal here is the individual and collective pursuit of exploring and manufacturing the "truth" (though we all know even truth changes all the time, because systems change). Truth being some form of universal perception of understanding of our contextual existence. So, first I started with science. I thought that scientists were the smart dudes and babes who were to discover the "truth." But I soon discovered, scientists--among many other intellectuals, such as Malcolm Gladwell (his disclosure statement here) and Vladimir Nabokov (Lectures on Literature) and The Gonzo Scientist series--worried about the notion of "objectivity:" that potentially it was possible to explore the system of study for what it truly was, independent of human perception of the system, or independent of human value and motivation, and independent of the context of the system. The only "legal" mode of objective thinking was complete left-brain, linear "logicality," and through this venue was the discovery of "truth." And then, I started to realize this goal of "truth" was a total joke (only rendering a limited, partial truth) as I started to feel mentally restricted, trapped, essentially--all these layers and spheres started to form around me, the humanly perceiver of any particular system of study, and the actual inter-related context of the system of study in space and time. I didn't know it at the time, but my mind was trying to find an alternative view (or views) of exploring "the truth"--and alternatively more complicated--and instead of blocking out all the layers and spheres and variables--as all these modern scientists do nowadays--that the more inclusive that I tried to perceive myself and my relationship to a particular system of study, the closer I was toward achieving a level of truth, though this truth is now much more personalized, it is an acknowledgment of personalization embedded in an a mapping exercise of the universal/collectivism. These layers and spheres and "acquired lenses or points of view" evolved more coherently through my continued education of science, social science, and humanities courses, trying to find a conceptual configuration--trying to find internal conceptual places for every thought that came from every possible discipline I encountered. Truth in my mind led to INCLUSIVITY, REFLEXIVITY ("Gonzo science"), CONTEXTUALIZATION, NARRATIVE, QUALITATIVE MATRIX VIEWS, BRIDGING KNOWLEDGE AND ACTION, and SYNTHESIS rather than EXCLUSIVITY, EXTERNALITY, REDUCTIONISM, NARROWING, SPECIALIZATION, QUANTIFICATION, LINEARITY, etc. One of my first cartoons has Terra screaming, "Don't shove me in a box! I'll create my own box!" or even with cartoons: "Don't shove ideas in a fixed-sized box. Let the ideas define and shape and size the box." Because all science was doing to her was trying to narrow her into a subset of a subset of a subset of a subset of a subset of a subset of a system. Oh, what other lovely words I could place here? I'm asking the same simple questions here: What do people know? How and why do they know it? And how does this knowledge influence their actions? All related to human-environmental relationships. And supposedly these simple questions mean that I'm epistemologizing and that I worry about ethics. Ecopistemologist, to be corrected. I'm the first one, because I invented the word anyway, and I am very proud of that. And besides my suffering a sense of constant information overload, being overwhelmed with chronic change, not having the ability to freeze or slow down time, breeding a sense of panic, stress, paranoia, sleep deprivation, poor eating, teeth pain, etc--physical manifestationS of psychological distress--and besides all this, I came to realize, that given today--that the pursuit of science is embedded in a massive bureaucratic context (whether in the university or industry), where my dad told me, "Science is 50% people, 50% politics, and something you do in your spare time," I was wondering whether any scientist or any individual drowning in some massive bureaucracy would really have a sense of autonomy, individuality, and develop a sense of truth, independent of the "invisible academic 800 pound gorilla" that lives on every researcher's back, exists in every professor's mind?"

So, besides pure stress and panic and physical pain experienced through and induced by my desperate, primordial, reptilian brain , I actually have a philosophical underpinning for leave of absence: the attempt to see a truth merely through the politics of my own mind, independent of an 800 pound academic gorilla on my back. And I have up to a year to figure this out. I was thinking, perhaps I was doing the "Thoreau-Into-the-Woods" thing, like what Michael Pollan was trying to do, which is kind of difficult when you were born and raised and currently live in southern California (but northern California is ONLY a few hundred miles away, so I have no excuse to go chum up with black bears in the Sierra Nevada), so the closest I can be to becoming an enlightened hunter and gatherer around this part of the planet is to be something like a gypsy freeganist type, and continue hanging out with fishermen! The goal this year is to experience my mind and my life and my environment by maximally unplugging myself from the system, from "The Matrix" of information and resources (except I'm not doing any bullshxt daredevil "Into the Wild" or "127 Hours" or "Deadliest Catch" crxp, which I think is totally sensationalizingly dumb, my being a female and conservative adventurist and acknowledging it is very important to venture into humanly unpopulated landscapes with at least a buddy system, whether scuba diving or boat-riding or mountain hiking. And I still feel entitled to being jacked up by Starbucks coffee, my staple luxury that is only financially affordable given that every cup of coffee I purchase must be accompanied with at least tw0 50-cent refills. But 85% of all my clothes are old, full of holes, and came from Goodwill or the Old Navy end-of-the-year sale where everything was around 75% off original price, making brand new clothes equal in monetary value to that of used Goodwill clothes. Funny how those things work out.

I have come to realize it's better to explore the truth through the mere politics of my brain--explore personal truths--an investigation not highly accepted in Objective Academia where the Personal and the Self don't have much of a Place, especially in the realm of science. Just me and my mental ecosystem. Woohoo! Now I need to re-configure my inner wirings with the outer world.

Last week I had a talk with my advisor Oran about the leave of absence. I told him that when I was in high school, I thought I was stupid because I would be very slow in finishing my homework and completing my exams and writing my essays, and I'm still a bit slow to this day. It took me about five years after high school to start realizing that I wasn't "stupid" or "dumb" or "slow," but I was processing the world differently. I wasn't trying to memorize or computationally, linear process information. I was trying to visualize the world, visualize knowledge, all this time. I was trying to grow a virtual "tree" in my head. That knowledge did not exist in mere words and numbers, but knowledge had a sense of place, relativistic location. That there was a place, a space and a time for every thought. And here I am now. I have been overtaken the last few years, blasted with information--frantically foraging across several disciplines--and not everything is processed the way how I need it to be processed: visually, cognitive maps. Not only visually, but also through written words, through sounds, through the generation of personal stories. I need time, time to slow down, so I can slowly, deliberately process all this information to let it have conceptual meaning within me. It sounds strange, but visualizing the world is my healing process. It transforms intellectual trash into landscapes of meaning. So, it's funny, my road of environmental media, though I'm fighting for it to be an academic discipline, and I will fight a long road ahead of me, that multi-media production also needs to be welcomed as an academic endeavor, perhaps even with a "peer review" process--not a Hollywood industry or journalistic endeavor--though I'm fighting this road as an academic discipline, this road has psychological roots, to my being right brained, toward my core mannerisms of processing information, toward my personal routes of coping and healing and self-therapy. I walk a dangerous road, where the personal and academic are severely intertwined--and it's more so dangerous for me because, here I am again, turmoiled, in pain mentally and physically, and again... on leave of absence. *Sigh* I wonder how I will ever be able to function "normally" in the world. I have to work so gxdxmn hard to channel my positive energy into the positive, desirable places. It's been so hard to find these spaces, but it has been worth the fight. I don't have much else of a choice.

My friend Hector tried to console me yesterday. He explained to me that "Back in the day, like in the 1960s, when the University of California wasn't in a financial pinch... or slump... students used to go on 'leaves of absence' all the time, either for breaks or for saving money while trying to get their degrees. But now the university has added intense layers of bureaucracy to make it difficult to go on leave of absence." I said, "Ya, like I had to have evidence that I am partly a nutcase in order to go on leave--I REALLY need to go on leave though. If I were back in the 1960s, I would have been on leave of absence since April of 2010!" Hector agreed that a leave was necessary because I couldn't function otherwise, if I had stayed. But nevertheless, he consoled me, but I still don't feel so hot about myself right now. Like yesterday, I was trying to write a simple blog, and I ended up barfing out 20 pages single spaced on how I got into this whole "marine, fishing" thing in the first place. I couldn't believe I never had a personal discussion with myself about this... until now... on leave... where I finally sense my own autonomy and independence of thinking from university bureaucracy (I was just thinking that science funding sources give researchers money for testing hypotheses, not asking questions, meaning you have to have an existing agenda before asking for money, rather than leaving the process an open-ended inquiry. I come to trust Dr. William Cronon's viewpoints more and more every single day). I feel like now I can think and talk about things that probably are not good to talk about while being in the U--now I can be free and uncensored like the main character is the "Turko Files" of KUSI News in San Diego, who calls out bullshxt when he sees it: "That ain't right! You can't do that! That's not fair!" Turko is very good at getting people involved in solving multiple problems around the city of San Diego.

And now that my cartoon characters Terra and Buz of Biologically Incorrect feel my sense of freedom from being on leave of absence, they both have the license to cite Cartman from Southpark: "I say what I wanh! I say what I wanh! I say what I wanh! What-evah! What-evah!" and "Myanh, myanh. Myanh. Myannhh. Screw you guys, I'm going home!" "What-evah!" Happy ending to ending my blog hiatus. Happy endings to new beginnings of mental barfing on blogs! Woohoo hoo hooo! :-)

Key Words: blogging, storytelling, limits to writing, leave of absence, stream of consciousness, writing as therapy, censorship, Fisheries Wikileaks, information overload, science versus storyteller, define science, CRICs disease, identity exploration, exploring truth, truthy-ism, 800 pound invisible gorilla, 101-legged squid, environmental media as an academic pursuit