[-empyre-] looking further back

Antoinette LaFarge alafarge at uci.edu
Mon Feb 11 10:06:03 EST 2013

> Shani was working on a robotic cello piece. The project had a steep
> technical learning curve that she embraced with a joy and intensity that
> was pure Shani. It was only on the tail end of three years at CMU that
> Shani and I talked about doing a project together. We began to conceive the
> project SWIPE and Shani brought in Jamie, whom I had not met before. 

Brooke, I remember that terrific robotic cello piece from back when we were interviewing Shani for the UCI faculty. Your description of that period inspired me to troll back through my email to see when and how Shani first turned up. There are a bunch of fairly dull-but-important-at-the-time emails having to do with the early days of our Arts Computation Engineering (ACE) program which she worked like mad to help build-- a huge responsibility for a junior professor. There is a reminder about contributing data for the SWIPE project when it was at the Beall Center. And there begin to be emails here and there about having dinner or commuting or going to a lecture together; small traces, nothing dramatic. In one of these, in a list of people she thought might be good to bring out as visiting artists, she wrote: ‘may be we can piggy bag onto an existing trip of hers.’ It was always easy to forget that English was Shani’s second language since she spoke it with such fluency, until she stopped you to demand the meaning of some obscure bit of slang, or poetically mangled an idiom she hadn’t gotten quite right. I suppose the above example could be a mere typo, but even so it immediately brought to mind how much I loved those moments when her speaking would run off the rails, into some temporarily surreal territory. I wonder if the mingling of languages in which she thought contributed to that vividness of her project titles which someone mentioned earlier?
Brooke’s reminiscences about those days of intensive work at CMU speaks also to the relentless forward-lookingness of life in a research university, where the next production often seems to be all that matters. It suited Shani very well, I think, but it also means that almost the only time we are prepared to stop and explicitly reflect is in the context of a promotion review, when what we make with our life’s blood becomes subtly converted into evidence in a case for or against us. Or, as now, under the spur of loss. It is as though we stand on a bridge that we are constantly chopping off behind us just so that it can continue to extend in front. When else would any of us have ever gone back and re-conjured our shared history with Shani in such detail? Anyway, I came away from my email troll-through with a strange sense of relief: yes, there was a time when our friendship was ordinary, even light-hearted, before it fell under the sign of the crab. 



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