And then, there was usefulness

One of the oddest parts of a doctorate, at least at the beginning, is that you enter the program because you want to help people learn, but then you basically ignore undergraduates in favor of studying like mad. It can be very isolating; you sit in your apartment and study most of the time, unless you leave your apartment and study. Plus, you have all of the normal household duties (dishes, laundry), and since you probably moved to a new city for your program you also have to set up a new apartment and adjust to a new city. Last year, my biggest “hobby”, time-wise, was shopping for new furniture and household goods. I brought a lot of stuff across the country with me, but most of it was of the clothing-and-books variety.

Postcard advertising tonight's event

All of which is to say that I didn’t feel like I had much of an impact on anything last year. I wasn’t really helping anyone or creating anything, just ingesting books and discussing them. That’s important, and I learned a lot last year, but my background is in the educational non-profit sector. It was odd to be not helping people. I’m already working on changing that this year, but yesterday something great happened. I was wandering around whiling away the hours between classes when I ran across a fellow student from a different department as he was showing a pair of visiting Japanese artists (collectively called Tochka) around. I tagged along for lunch, and suddenly it was seven hours later and I had helped translate subtitles for a short video and a set of informational cards for an exhibit of the artists’ work that is going on today and tomorrow. I had a blast, I got to help some great people, and (I hope) I helped make a suite of pieces that will explain Tochka’s art to the students who show up tonight and tomorrow.

Example of PiKA PiKA

Tochka uses long exposure photography to create gorgeous images of light (usually made by volunteers holding LED flashlights), then brings the photographs together to create short, animated films. They call these works “PiKA PiKA” in reference to the Japanese onomatopoeia pika, which means the sound of light flashing. (And yes, that’s where the pika in the name of Pokemon‘s Pikachu came from. After all, his power is lightning, right?)

I did not see that coming. I have to admit to being tired and behind in my homework, but I can handle it. I’m just excited for tonight. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, Tochka will be leading a workshop tonight, and there will be a showing and a Q&A with the artists behind Tochka, Kazue Monno and Takeshi Nagata, tomorrow. Here are some links with more information:

Details for the event tonight
Tochka’s English-language blog, which has sample video files