Archive for November, 2009

  • At Least It's Over

    Every year I’m surprised by how much I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving. I’m not really excited by standard Thanksgiving fare (turkey is not my strong suit). I’m kind of nonplussed by the “working vacation” aspect that school always assigns the holiday. I tend to get into fights with everyone I encounter, too. I’m not really sure why, but I’m particularly prone to snapping at people in mid-late November.

    It just messes with my groove in a way that no two-day holiday ever should. School work becomes even less appealing but, as is the case now, it is more imperative to get it done. Somehow all of my final papers and such are due by Friday this week. But let’s not talk about that. I don’t even want to think about that.

    Perhaps it’s the for-real break preview aspect. There’s just enough time off to get me thinking about free time and reading a book for, you know, fun, but then WHAM!, it’s back to the grind. Only the grind is a million times worse. And it’s a sprint to winter holidays and real rest time. Time that I want now, dammit!

  • Happy Thanksgiving!

    Here’s a steampunk turkey!

    Steampunk Turkery

  • After Naomi: Thoughts on Beauty

    Almost three years in the making, I finally finished The Beauty Myth in the wee hours of the morning. It’s just a shame that the most dated part of the book is the last chapter. It is an artifact of a past that already seems like ancient history.

    The Beauty Myth was originally published in 1991, when I was four. The vast majority of my life has been spent in a world where Naomi Wolf’s rallying cry had already been heard. I think I’m much better off for it, too. The way my mother approaches her body and the way I approach mine are in two completely different categories. The biggest feature of note is that my mother flat out refuses to leave the house without any makeup on; it’s an odd day when I leave the house with makeup on.

    I never bought into it. I was always part of the rebellious crowd, but somehow the parts of the myth that latched on to my sister and my peers never found its way to me. I don’t know if it’s because I never wanted to feel like anyone but myself, or if it’s because I’ve spent half of my life with some form of overt baldness. It’s hard to feel shame for your looks when all of your shame and self-consciousness is rooted squarely in your hair.

    Or maybe it is because I was blessed with a naturally slim figure and a rightly colored face. It was a running joke at my boarding school: I’d devour six plates of food at dinner and the health services ladies would still think I was anorexic. They weighed me constantly, and lectured me on how eating is good for you, thinness isn’t everything. They had no idea I held the candy arsenal in my dormitory or that I routinely won eating contests against the burliest of the burly men on campus.

    This isn’t to say weight hasn’t been a big part of my life. My mother had to defend herself when my elementary school thought I wasn’t being fed due to being so underweight. I ate ice cream every night and was part of that dreaded “Clean Plate Club” at dinner. When I shot up to 5’7″, girls began poking at my sides in the locker room and asking me how I did it. I didn’t know. I still don’t know.

    A lot of it has to do with my mood. When I am happiest, I tend to weigh more. Depression makes me drop the pounds as if they were nothing. I started this past summer out at 145 pounds. Depression clubbed me over the head in September and by mid October I was hovering at 123. While the sadness has eased its grip again, the new medications I’m on are of the sort that make you lose weight. I’ve lost two more pounds in the past week. I haven’t seen 120 since I was 16.

    It frightens me. I don’t like being this skinny. Once you are of a certain thinness, the pressure is on to keep it. People tend to leave you alone though if you’re even 5 pounds heavier than that thin. I’m not anymore, though. My skinny jeans are just straight legs now, and I have to belt them in so tight to keep them up. I eat, but the weight keeps falling.

  • I Almost Cried Today

    Muffins

    My buddy and his mother presented these to me today. They baked them together this morning. It was such a sweet gesture and he held them out to me with such pride. I don’t know how I’m supposed to go without seeing his smiling face for a whole nine days. Let’s not even think about Christmas.

  • "It's Like the Opiate of Religion for Scientists"

    This comes courtesy of my wonderful friend John. He listens to this so often that I cannot think about Carl Sagan without thinking about him.

  • Finishing the Tao of Teaching

    51H9DT5GMML._SL160_I have finished a book, and granted it wasn’t the book I planned on finishing next, but I finished a book no less. This one I had the pleasure to read for class, but that doesn’t mean reading Greta Nagel’s The Tao of Teaching was boorish work. The fact that I read it in two days–two busy days–is endorsement enough.

    Part of my enjoyment came from the fact that I have had a long standing interest in Taoism. I had the pleasure of having the Tao Te Ching introduced to me by a very proficient scholar while in high school. I recall being 16 and reading aloud with gusto in my dormitory’s lobby. It was total revelation.

    In an adaptation of her thesis, Nagel relates the 81 “main” ideas of Taoism to their application in the classroom and attitudes of teachers. It is interesting as my wise scholar mentioned earlier often espoused that Taoism was knowledge without knowledge, knowing without knowing. To transpose it to the structure that by definition deals with knowledge is such a wonderful idea, and also intrinsically Taoist.

    Of course, one does not have to be a scholar of Tao to appreciate Nagel’s writing. Admittedly, my own studies have been lacking in the past year or so. She makes everything accessible, which is one of her strengths. She encourages the very intuition that bureaucrats have fought hard to kill in teachers of late. That intuition is the very thing that makes good teachers excellent.

    I love alternative views of the traditional classroom, likely because my experiences as a public school student were often full of woe. A major premise of anthropology is that diversity is far more advantageous than homogeny. The standardization of the contemporary classroom is the downfall of education. We should embrace the examples Nagel uses, even the ones that have been legislated out of existence.

  • Harper's: Understanding Obamacare

    The December issue of Harper’s has a great piece on health care reform in their Notebook section.  Luke Mitchell’s Understanding Obamacare looks at the more subtle aspects behind the politics of reform.  As some of you know, health care reform is very near and dear to my heart because I am one of the millions of Americans who are uninsurable in the individual policy market.

    Mitchell points out that it’s not really about “red” vs. “blue” America. Instead it is about keeping privilege, power, and wealth with those who already have it and keeping it from those who don’t. You don’t have to be one side or the other to carry favor and advantage.

    The debate in Washington this fall ought to have been about why the United States has the worst health-care system in the developed world, why Americans pay twice the Western average to maintain that system, and what fundamental changes are needed to make the system better serve us. But Democrats rendered those questions academic when they decided the first principle of reform would be, as Barack Obama has so often explained, that “nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.”

    This is what I find so frustrating. Our system is fundamentally broken. By refusing to rebuild it from the ground up, it keeps that fundamental sickness in the administration. As someone who has taken a lot of antibiotics knows, you don’t stop taking the pills when you start to feel better. Doing so is dangerous because it can breed resistant strains.

    We are at a turning point where we as a nation can take a stand on profit vs. ethics. Unfortunately, it seems we are taking the route of profit, even when we know better. The universal mandate without a public option simply delivers 47 million new customers to a system that doesn’t actually do anything. The health insurance companies don’t actually provide a necessary service. They don’t help sick people. They are bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake. One could argue a public option would be more of the same, but at least it wouldn’t be a for-profit bureaucracy.

    This is unethical. The health insurance system is unethical because it is privately profitable. When you mix profit with human life the only outcome is violence. We are all victims of that violence, even if we don’t recognize it readily. I, for one, am ready for a less violent system yesterday. Denying sick people the care they need is a violent act. It’s disgusting that our manipulated sympathies with corporate entities has made that immediately unrecognizable.

    We need change, and this is one case where we need to change everything. If we let any portion of the old system survive, the inherent violence in it is going to fester and one day we will be back to where we are today. We should be working to end this violence against our citizenry, to end private profit on human life at the expense of the individual. We’ve been hoodwinked into thinking about individual needs as academic questions while corporate needs are economic. This is, on the most basic level, backwards.

  • Letting Him Go and Shine

    Lately I’ve felt like a Mom-Away-from-Mom to my special buddy. He’s started vying for my attention in the ways I’ve seen him do with his mom. I’m not his mom, and that is not my role in any way, shape, or form. It’s hard because I do care about him and want him to succeed. And it is hard because I don’t have my own children, so I am having to learn in many ways how to be a parent…where to draw the line with helping, with enabling, with coddling. And it’s a hard thing because the impulse is always to comfort.

    But comforting isn’t helping. Letting him get away with less than he can do isn’t helping. That’s not why I’m there. I’m there to help him grow, help him succeed.

    And that means pushing him away. It means separating myself, because he and I are not a unit. In some ways we are, but this is his time to be in school and my time to work.

    I walked away from him today. I’ve had to do it more often lately, and it’s never easy. It’s never easy to ignore a child who wants your attention desperately. Sometimes, however, it’s good for him.

    He didn’t want to participate in P.E. today because getting attention from me is more fun. I had to walk away. It’s weird to walk away from the child you’re supposed to be working with: not everyone understands that, in the long run, it’s what is best.

    I left him lying on the floor of the gym. And he pouted real hard when I walked away and sat down far, far away. He rolled around and stamped his feet. But after a few minutes, he began watching the class. And then he stood up. And then he walked around them and looked at them some more. And just before class ended, he walked over and joined.

    The rest of the kids shouted his name and cheered. They begged the teacher to pick him to run under the parachute. They were so excited he was joining. He was, too.

  • Writing Again

    The bug has hit me again. I found myself pouring through Duotrope this morning, pondering submissions. Which is naturally silly as I don’t have any material I would consider suitable for submission.

    The good thing, though, is that I feel that need, that hunger again. That need to succeed will drive me to start writing again. Writing for myself isn’t something I have done in quite some time. I began writing poetry again on and off about a year ago. We’ll see if the fiction comes back, too.

  • Riding on Trains with Creeps

    Let me preface this with the fact that I am not a softy. I spent four years in New York City riding the MTA. I’ve been groped. I’ve been flashed. I’ve been eyed. Hell, I was once even threatened with a knife by a crazy man on the A at 3:00am because I was reading a book and he was convinced it was about him. Yeah, I’m not some scaredy-cat.

    Chicago’s transit system is generally a much friendlier place than the MTA. I’ve never really had to put up with a lot of things that are just part of life in New York. For instance, I have never-ever been touched inappropriately–on accident or otherwise–on the CTA. I’ve never seen genitals on the CTA either.

    Last night, however, was by the far the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been made to feel on any public transportation system. It started on the Red Line. I sat down at around 9:30. About 15 minutes later I felt the prickle of being watched. And then I noticed this guy just staring at me. He looked away as soon as I spotted him. No big deal, I told myself. I’m used to being looked at: I am an attractive young woman after all (not that it makes it okay for dudes to stare at me all creepy like). But again, it didn’t rattle me.

    But then he kept staring at me. His eyes kept finding me and the look he had was not the kind I’m used to dealing with. It was all out staring, and without embarrassment at all.  And it made me uncomfortable. I’ve never felt that uncomfortable before from just being looked at.  I felt uncomfortable enough that when we reached my stop, I waited for the doors to open before collecting my stuff and rushing out.

    I thought that would be that. I kind of laughed at myself when I glanced over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t there. And he wasn’t. I didn’t see him.

    I walked up Adams to Union Station to get on the Metra back to Aurora. I got in a car and sat down, pulled out my book, and thought I’d just read for the 20 minutes until the train was scheduled to leave. But then I felt that prickle again. I looked around but nothing. Then I looked up. Sitting above and across from me, and still staring me down, was the dude from the Red Line.

    Okay, it’s one thing to be a creepy dude staring at me on a train, it’s an entire different thing to follow me to a different train and continue being creepy. I texted my sister and a friend immediately, then promptly switched cars. Luckily, I did not see him again.

    The whole situation really shook me though. I’ve never felt that vulnerable in a public space before. I’ve never felt so violated without being touched. I’ve never felt so threatened without an exchange of words.

    I mean, WTF? Why do some men feel like this is acceptable behavior? I am a woman, but I’m a human being first. Don’t follow me and certainly don’t be a creepy fuck about it.