It’s like catching snow on my tongue

30 08 2016

Gene Wilder died.

I liked him, liked his movies, and understand why more avid fans are distressed at the thought that all he’s ever done is all he’ll ever do.

I also understand why some like to imagine him reunited in the afterlife with his third wife, Gilda Radner.

David Bowie died, Prince died—Man, imagine those two in the Big Sky Studio?

It’s a nice thought, that those matched or who should have been matched in the world will find each other after they’ve left it. And it comforts, in that Julian-of-Norwich sort of way: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

We shall be released, and reconciled.

A lovely thought. . .

. . . that I don’t quite believe. I don’t disbelieve it, either, exactly, but I doubt that there is any great reunion beyond the grave. We take our delights while we can, bear our sorrows as we must, and the only mercy granted is what we give to each other.

I’m not very good with holding on to delights or letting go of sorrows or harms; I may get past without quite forgiving, and mercy, well, I’m still working on Vonnegut’s admonition God dammit, you’ve got to be kind—I am so rarely kind.

So it seems too easy to think that I can be kind, later, that as a ghost I’ll get yet more chances to be human, that I can put off the something more for. . . later, after.

It’s a lovely thought, that our chances never end, but better, if harder, to hold close the wisdom of Maxine Kumin: Our ground time here will be brief.





Doctor, my eyes

25 08 2016

I’m a little paranoid about teaching.

No, not the students or the work itself, but the schedule: when do classes start, end, what are the switch-up days (CUNY always has switch-up days, when, say, a Friday becomes a Tuesday, in order to balance out the schedule), what’s the room number, when do classes meet.

Shoulda double-checked on that last one.

I’ve been on a TThF fall schedule for, mm, years. I teach 2 classes TTh, then one on Friday; this works for me.

WELL, today I traveled up to the Bronx for the first day of my 300-level bioethics class, was in the office about to make copies of my syllabus, when one of the work-study students said she was looking forward to my class on Monday.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Nooooooo.

Yep.

The woman in charge of scheduling this course didn’t switch the days, didn’t know why the days were switched, couldn’t do anything about it. (I didn’t really expect her to do anything—the students have already registered, so there’s little to be done—but I did want to find out what was what.) Make sure you check your schedule, she said, helpfully.

But I diiiiiiiiid, I wailed, when I ordered my books. Coulda sworn I saw TTh!

Nope. Did not see TTh.

Now, this situation isn’t as bad as it could be, i.e., having to spend money and time traversing to the Bronx 5 instead of 3 days a week: my second TTh class is for a program which hasn’t yet registered students (classes start and end later).  The guy who runs it is great, and was willing to request a schedule change; the acting chair of my dept is my friend Jtte, who said she’d sign off on the request as well.

So, while it’s not certain that I’ll get a MWF as opposed to MTWThF schedule, there’s a pretty good chance I will.

Now, that same work-study student also said the course was an online class, which, OH HELL NO it is not; happily, she was wrong about that part.

One last thing, just to make this day super-duper: the water in my building has been turned off all week 8-4ish. This hasn’t been a problem for my new, late-night sched because, well, in the summer I take a shower in the early evening anyway. However, since I [thought I] taught this afternoon, I got up at 7:30am to shower. (Okay, I then went back to bed until 10, but, y’know, that second sleep is never as good as the first one.)

SUCH A FINE DAY.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, well, it actually could have been worse: the semester could have begun on Wednesday, and I’d have missed the first day.

If I get to choose my fuck-ups (which I don’t, but go with me on this one), I’d much rather have a semi-wasted—I had errands in Manhattan planned—trip than a missed class.

But what a fuckin’ way to start the semester.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: All this chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter

21 08 2016

Few bits:

I’m a fan of President Obama’s cool-competence approach to governing, and think he’s right to wait a bit before visiting flooded Louisiana (or burnt-over California): aid before optics.

That said, optics do matter, and some extended public remarks by the president (and candidate Clinton) about these disasters beyond a tweet or two wouldn’t interfere with the recovery, and might help to soothe some (although certainly not all) distressed people.

Material help matters, a lot, but so does recognition.

~~~

Is the Trump statue body-shaming?

Yeah, maybe, probably. From a cultural-studies point of view, the critics of the statue (and of many mirthful reactions to it) are likely correct.

But I’m reading this less from a cultural perspective than a political one, and that political one says, Look at this ridiculous man who thinks he should be president.

Is it nasty? Absolutely, as are the Hillary nutcrackers, as are most political paraphernalia  aimed at political opponents. They allow Us to smirk at Them, to cut them down, to reduce the other side’s champion to a joke; it’s not elevating, but then, put-downs rarely are.

There’s a lot that Carl Schmitt missed about politics, but he also nailed an aspect of it the more genteel would prefer to ignore: politics is a fight, and anything that can be weaponized, will be.

~~~

Have you listened to this old audio of Hillary Clinton’s Wellesley address?

She sounds so relaxed, so confident.

So unlike how she sounds today.

It was another online writer—who I can’t find—who first pointed out how at ease she was back then in front of a microphone. She was direct and open and conversational and even inspirational. She is as yet unbroken.

It’s tough to think of her, likely 45th president of the most powerful nation on earth, as broken, but I think the decades of political battering have shattered some bones. And while I admire those who, like Obama, seem to glide right past whatever hits are directed their way, there’s something to be said for the scrappers.

In any case, that she has been shattered doesn’t mean she hasn’t recovered: she is hardly fragile. But she is scarred, and that her experiences have toughened up has meant she’ll likely never be as easy and open as she was as that 21-year-old graduate.

There’s no tragedy in that—many of us grow wary as we grow older—nor any pity. It’s just the cost of experience.





Do you feel real?

19 08 2016

I am not a successful academic.

I’m a pretty good teacher, but I’ve neither attended a conference nor submitted any papers for publication in over a decade. And yes, while I’m working on this ideologies project (which means I may end up submitting paper proposals to a conference or two), I’d have to say that I have not done the work of a good scholar.

I don’t like admitting it, but there it is.

Which is my way of wandering into this New Yorker profile of Martha Nussbaum. Nussbaum is, of course, a successful—a very successful—academic. She has, per that profile,

published twenty-four books and five hundred and nine papers and received fifty-seven honorary degrees. In 2014, she became the second woman to give the John Locke Lectures, at Oxford, the most eminent lecture series in philosophy. Last year, she received the Inamori Ethics Prize, an award for ethical leaders who improve the condition of mankind. A few weeks ago, she won five hundred thousand dollars as the recipient of the Kyoto Prize, the most prestigious award offered in fields not eligible for a Nobel, joining a small group of philosophers that includes Karl Popper and Jürgen Habermas.

Very, very successful.

Now, it’s true that I don’t like all of her books, but I have a number of them on my bookshelf and have used her work in my classroom. I’d guess that not only does she work harder than me, but that she’s also smarter than me and that if I ever got into an argument with her I’d almost certainly lose.

So, I’m not competing with her because I can’t compete with her: she’s way out of my league.

That said (you knew there’d be a “that said”, or maybe a “but still”), reading that profile made me uneasy: Is she for real?

~~~

“To be a good human being,” she has said, “is to have a kind of openness to the world, the ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be shattered.”

This makes a great deal of sense, and Nussbaum certainly does seem open to the world.

Her work includes lovely descriptions of the physical realities of being a person, of having a body “soft and porous, receptive of fluid and sticky, womanlike in its oozy sliminess.” She believes that dread of these phenomena creates a threat to civic life. “What I am calling for,” she writes, is “a society of citizens who admit that they are needy and vulnerable.”

But, as Rachel Aviv observes,

In Nussbaum’s case, I wondered if she approaches her theme of vulnerability with such success because she peers at it from afar, as if it were unfamiliar and exotic. [. . .]

. . . when I first proposed the idea of a Profile . .  [s]he responded skeptically, writing in an e-mail that she’d had a long, varied career, adding, “I’d really like to feel that you had considered various aspects of it and that we had a plan that had a focus.” She typically responded within an hour of my sending an e-mail. “Do you feel that you have such a plan?” she asked me. “I’d like to hear the pros and cons in your view of different emphases.” She wasn’t sure how I could encompass her œuvre, since it covered so many subjects: . . . “The challenge for you would be to give readers a road map through the work that would be illuminating rather than confusing,” she wrote, adding, “It will all fall to bits without a plan.”

I understand that one may seek to control as much as possible about one’s own life in recognition that there’s so much that can’t be controlled, but there’s appears to be little that Nussbaum accepts as out of one’s control.

That philosophers write one prescription and follow another is so common as to be axiomatic. But I find it jarring that a scholar of humanity who, remarking on operatic role she’s rehearsing, says “I feel that this character is basically saying, ‘Life is treating me badly, so I’m going to give up,’ ” she told me. “And I find that totally unintelligible.”

Oh my Hera, Martha, so many of us give up so often, how can you talk of a “society of citizens who admit” being shattered, needy, and vulnerable when you can’t see that humans who are shattered sometimes give up?

As Aviv notes, Nussbaum does give emotions pride of place in her philosophy, as a kind of ur-cognition. And there’s something to that, to the breakdown of the affect-vs-intellect duality. But in assigning emotions a cognitive role, she overlooks that emotions have their own role, as emotions.

This is tough for me, not least because I once aspired to the kind of Stoicism that Nussbaum seems to have achieved (and which may be yet another reason I respond so strongly to her). Yet I’ve spent too many years twisting and then untwisting myself not to see that feelings are more than just thoughts untamed, always to be subordinated to reason. I have difficulty with this still, but I can at least acknowledge that sometimes, sometimes, it is not the worst thing to feel, first.

Nussbaum allows the feeling, but only properly tamed. She feels through her thoughts, which is an accomplishment. And a loss.

~~~

There’s a great deal more in the profile—the discussion of her colonoscopy, her willingness to strip in front of others, her use of Botox and plastic surgery, and more—which, as someone who’d rather not appear in my skivvies in front of colleagues, older or younger (and would prefer they keep their clothes on, as well), only heightened my unease.

But then, on submitting that feeling to reason, I admit that it doesn’t make sense to feel embarrassed on behalf of someone who is matter-of-fact in dealing with her facts of life. And it allowed me to see Nussbaum, in all her determined discipline, as, well, a bit odd.

And thus, all the more real for her oddness.





Is there anybody out there?

17 08 2016

Hello! Long time, no see!

I’ve been away for a bit, and not for anything urgent or tragic or earth-shattering or delightful or infuriating or, really, anything other than ordinary life.

I was unemployed in June, which causes my rib cage to tighten and thoughts to shrink, but both taught and worked my second job in July and into this month; next week, fall classes begin.

So, yeah, ordinary life.

Which hasn’t been working for me.

I mean, unemployment obviously didn’t work (no puns, please), and not just because not having money is no good: I don’t do well with nothingness. But even with something, even with teaching (and regular paychecks), my life was—is—just. . . floating by.

I don’t mind a good float, but this wasn’t that. No, this was a haze, out of phase, a time-loop of the year before (and the year before that).

There might be a bit of depression.

So I’m trying something new, a something old which I’d tried half-heartedly before. Can’t say my whole heart is in it now, but, goddammit, there’s really no reason not to do this, it’s so simple.

I’m a night person, have been for as long as I’ve been aware that one could be a night person. I wrote college papers at night, then grad papers, then my dissertation, then my first novel, then my second. I want to write; I write at night.

But I haven’t been keeping a night schedule, and I haven’t been writing, and for all my scribbling in various notebooks, I haven’t been thinking through anything.

That’s not just about the lack of night, of course. I am undisciplined without a deadline, without a commitment to someone or something else; lacking that outside pressure, it’s too easy to shrug away the day.

But at night, late night, everything seems clearer, and what I couldn’t be arsed with during the day emerges, unbidden, from the dark.

Sounds weird, I guess: why should the time of day matter? I don’t know, but it does.

And that’s been the problem. Most people aren’t on a night schedule, so even when my work schedule has allowed me the night, I’ve been mimicking the ordinary schedule One Ought To Keep.

Which is ridiculous, because no one, not one damned person, has been tossing any Oughts at me about when and how I work. No one cares if I’m up until 2 or in bed until 10. It doesn’t matter if I’m regular or not to anyone but me.

And, goddammit, I’m more than halfway through my life so you’d think I’d have learned by now that when I get to make choices then I get to make the choices that actually suit me.

So, I’m staying up late and getting up late, and seeing if that will help me sync back up with my own life again.





What are words for?

19 07 2016

Sorry, little but little bits:

*I don’t care about Pokémon Go, and don’t care that others care about Pokémon Go.

*Melania Trump’s plagiarism was a) not that big a deal in and of itself, but because it was b) an easily avoidable error, it c) plays into an already-existing narrative that the Trump campaign is a mess. While this might not matter to his supporters, he can’t win the election unless he picks up new supporters, who might side-eye such chaos; thus, d) Melania Trumps plagiarism matters.

*That said, political scientists (yes, the same folks who argued that Trump wouldn’t win the nom, but, moving on. . .) aren’t sure how much campaigns matters.

*I like gin sours more than gin sours like me.

*PSCUNY has finally managed to wrest a contract from the state. Some are opposed, but, man, I don’t know that we can do better than this. It actually more of the past than the future—it deals with 2010-17—so whatever the weaknesses, well, the union’ll be back at the table for the next round soon enough. I’m voting yes.

*Unlike last year, I did stuff my air conditioner into the window and am using it—tho’ not enough to please my cats.

*I have no idea who Hillary Clinton will pick as VP. I’d like to see a pol (not a general), but I’m sure s/he’ll be fine.

*This will haunt me to the end of my days:

 





None but ourselves can free our minds

10 07 2016

What a shit week.

Some people have been posting photos of cute critters—of which, as a general tactic, I approve—to try to blot out the blood, but I prefer something steelier:

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSH3XR

Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

Ebon @tyriquex has identified her as LIeshia Evans, mother of a 5-year-old son; according to ebon, she was released Sunday afternoon.








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