(Almost) No comment

30 06 2010

“The challenge here is . . . to see what could be done to restore this baby to the normal female appearance which would be compatible with her parents presenting her as a girl, with her eventually becoming somebody’s wife, and having normal sexual development, and becoming a mother. And she has all the machinery for motherhood, and therefore nothing should stop that, if we can repair her surgically and help her psychologically to continue to grow and develop as a girl.”

Pediatrician Maria New, in a 2001 presentation to the CARES Foundation, a ‘nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of families and individuals affected by Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia.’  Girls affected by CAH have been prenatally exposed to higher-than-normal levels of androgens, and can lead to ambiguous genitalia; there may—emphasize may—also be a link to bi- and homosexuality.

New has been experimenting—without any institutional review board approval or the usual experimental controls—on pregnant women, dosing them with the steroid dexamethasone. Notes Alice Dreger, Ellen Feder, and Anne Tamar-Mattis in a recent Hastings Center Bioethics Forum post quote another paper by New & her colleague Saroj Nimkarn:

“Gender-related behaviors, namely childhood play, peer association, career and leisure time preferences in adolescence and adulthood, maternalism, aggression, and sexual orientation become masculinized in 46,XX girls and women with 21OHD deficiency [CAH]. These abnormalities have been attributed to the effects of excessive prenatal androgen levels on the sexual differentiation of the brain and later on behavior.”

Dreger et. al. note that ‘It seems more than a little ironic to have New, one of the first women pediatric endocrinologists and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, constructing women who go into “men’s” fields as “abnormal.”’

(h/ts: Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage, the Bioethics Forum)

If green pears you like. . . why nobody will oppose (pt III)

26 06 2010

It’s been a long time since I believed in my own life.

This is a problem.

Yes, I know (as well as anyone) that I exist, that others recognize me as [absurdbeats], that there are things I can and cannot do, and I claim my rights as a person and as a citizen. Human status is not enough, as Arendt pointed out, for one to be treated well, but in most matters it is necessary for one to claim it—and so I do.

But I haven’t done well in claiming the full range of human possibilities as possibilities for me. My belief in possibilities is so strong as to be fantastical, but belief in making the possible real so weak as to be self-erasing. (Bad dichotomies!)

This isn’t, really, about hopes-and-dreams, but about stating ‘I can do this’ and then acting as if I can do this by actually doing ‘this’. I think about ‘this’, worry over ‘this’, work my way around ‘this’, but truly and practically believe that ‘this’ and me have anything to do with one another? No.


It drives me crazy, this passivity, but I don’t know how to get past it—even as I have evidence that I have done or accomplished various ‘thises’: I went to college, worked for the college newspaper, demonstrated competence in a variety of intellectual pursuits, was admitted to grad school, FINALLY finished grad school, taught, moved around, and (also FINALLY) moved to New York City. And then, completely unexpectedly, I wrote not one but two reasonably good novels

These were things I wanted, thought about, and did. Evidence, it would appear, for my ability to create my life.

But somewhere along the way I lost that ability to translate my imagination into practice, to shape speculation into something concrete. I have evidence of ability, but fear a reality of inability.

In my two previous posts I mentioned both (internal) dichotomies and structured externalities, each in their own ways markers I could use to track myself. I need. . . something to get my ass moving, but I don’t know what that something is.

One something is financial need, which does work, tho’ not necessarily in the most productive direction. I need to make book, I’ll take a job, any job, just to get through. So, driven by anxiety, I can bring in paychecks, but because I’m driven by anxiety, I’ll take the first thing I can get—which usually means small paychecks which don’t do much to relieve said anxiety. I then may pile on another first-grasp job, which may help me to run even with but never to get ahead of myself.

(As a sidenote, most of this anxiety can be traced to debt incurred in my moves both to Somerville and even more so to Brooklyn. If I could just get on top of this. . . .)

In any case, having two or three jobs and living to work works, in its own way, for awhile, but then I say I moved to NY for this?

Which tells me that even beneath my passivity and anxiety is something which is holding out for a real and not merely simulated life.

It’s there; I just have to find it.

But now, God knows, anything goes (pt II)

24 06 2010

I don’t much like bosses, orders, obedience, rule-for-rules sake, cheerleading, team-building, hand-holding, attitude-adjusting, and doing something because ‘this is how it’s always been done’.

I may have mentioned on one or two occasions previously my anarchical streak.

But this isn’t just reaction against authority. I’ve had good bosses (as I do now) and have followed reasonable rules (and snarked about unreasonable rules and have almost never been sincere when obeying orders), and am not opposed to structure. I just don’t think that the structure of a phenomenon matters more than the phenomenon itself.

I likes me some liberty.

I have also, it pains me to say, not done terribly well with the liberty I do have. I may likes me some liberty, but I needs me some structure within that liberty—not to overwhelm it, but to support it.

I noted in the last post that I have been depolarized, and to no good effect. Both GeekHiker and Sorn argue in favor of moderation, and it’s not that I disagree with them so much as I need those poles in order to find the middle. I don’t know what that middle is without checking out the edges.

I may admire Aristotle’s golden mean in theory, but I am Goldilocks in practice.

(Not in everything, of course, only in the things which really matter.)

Hence my dilemma.

Those poles provide a kind of existential structure for me, so lacking a set of positive (as in articulated or existent as opposed to negated) opposites leaves me uncertain of where I should stand, of how I could find out who I am (becoming).

Economically, the issue is less one of dichotomies than of having a set of expectations; structure, in a job, comes in the purpose of the job itself, tho’ often as defined by someone else. Thus, even a bullshit retail job is manageable insofar as there are tasks to be performed, results to be measured. It may be a soul-suck, but I can at least see what I’m doing.

That it’s a soul-suck, however, means that it’s not something I care to do for long. I’ve done it because I needed the money or the benefits, but, given a choice, I’d rather not. (That there’s rarely much money or great benefits praaaabably enters into the equation, as well.)

So, given a choice, what?

I like teaching, and want to continue doing that. There’s some structure, but as most of it is internal to the process itself, I’m able to use my autonomy as a professor to shape that structure in service to the purpose of the class itself. I’m not always successful in doing so, but every semester I have the chance to get it right.

Unfortunately, I don’t make enough money teaching to rely upon that as a means of support. I’d thought that I might try to find some kind of suitable corporate work, but, ye gods, even as low-key a job as I have now is damned near unbearable. Nine-to-five for the rest of my life—just because nine-to-five is expected? Yeesh.

So, too much and too extraneous a structure.

I like work, hell, I need work, but I don’t necessarily know how to go about creating work that others will pay for.

In other words, I’d like to freelance in some form or another (I have a few ideas), but am undone at the thought of how to do so. Once I get the work, the need to meet the expectations of my clients will provide sufficient sinew actually to do the work, but jesusmary&joseph how to get that work?

That—a big enough barrier—is not even the main one; no, that, unfortunately, is the very basic one of saying ‘I can do this.’

‘I can do this.’ I know I can do the work, I know that what I have to offer is valuable, and that someone or some organization would pay for it.

Yes, I’m being vague about that ‘it’, but the problem is less with the success or failure of that ‘it’ than my inability even to try.

I know I can do the work (itself), but I don’t know that I can do the work (of approaching and persuading others of the worth of that work).

I know and I don’t know. Two poles—ha! I should be fine! But I’m not. I’m shrinking away from my own possibilities because I lack those infuriating, banal, and soul-sucking externalities.

I have to set my own markers and convince others of the purpose and value of those markers.

Too bad I have no fucking clue how.

Writing prose, anything goes (pt I)

21 06 2010

I’m very hard-working for one so lazy.

And analytical, for one so emotional. Ditto excitable and nonplussed, enthusiastic and apathetic, ambitious and resigned, arrogant and doubtful, ignorant and well-read, watchful and impatient, attentive and brusque, orderly and chaotic, disciplined and scattered, impetuous and thoughtful, collegial and contrary, motivated and inertial.

It’s not that I’m unique in my dichotomies, but I am certainly of the type that veers toward one end or another. Some of us are naturally moderate; some of us are. . . not.

Temperament has popped up fairly regularly on this blog, and against all expectation: I don’t know how much I thought about it before I began blogging (or before I passed the midpoint of my life).  And I’m not sure what to make of it.

I think it’s a real phenomenon, but I’m uncomfortable giving the concept (completely) over to psychology. I’m not anti-psychology, especially in the psychotherapeutic realm, but my eyes thin at some of the grander, i.e., more reductionist, claims of the field. To the extent that psychology has modeled itself on the physical sciences, it has, like all non-physical sciences, lost sight of its subject.

(I think this is even a problem with the biological sciences, although much less; that’s another post.)

I used to joke with my grad school therapist that she spoke psychology to me and I, philosophy to her, and most of the time we managed to make ourselves understood to one another. So I guess that as much as I recognize the psychological aspect of temperament, I’d like to preserve, perhaps even privilege,  its practical-philosophical dimension.

What is it to be one way rather than another? How adaptable are we? What is temperament’s relationship to character?

How I am now is not how I always was—no surprise, given that I’ve aged—but I’ve also wondered how durable is my who-ness. Circumstances matter—it’s highly doubtful a woman from the lower-middle classes could have earned a PhD even a hundred years ago—but would I have been as driven by ideas? Would an 18th or 19th century version of me be recognizable to me, or would I have gotten married and had kids and been more like my contemporaries than is the 20-21st century version?

Or what if I hadn’t fallen off a cliff in my early teens? I had been a happy, hopeful, outgoing, and optimistic child; those traits shriveled in darkness of my depression. I broke, and broke with who I had been.

What emerged was not unknown to me—I think those characteristics had been running through me, submerged, before—but did they cause that break? Did they only emerge afterward?

Could it all—could I—have been different?

Of course—so much is dependent upon circumstances.

And of course not, because I can recognize in the memory of that sunny child traits which I see today: the dichotomies, the conflicts and contradictions, the poles to which I was always drawn.

I’m an adult now, past the sunshine and no longer living so obstinately in the dim, living in that middle space which was never my natural home.

I am unmoored; I need new poles.

Oh yes they call him the streak

17 06 2010

I tend to pile up my passions.

This tendency has moderated—somewhat—with age, but when I was younger, if I liked a band, I bought all of their albums; an author, all of her books; an actor, all of his shows. I was never particularly this way with food (which probably spared me an eating disorder), but I often could never figure out what was too far until I was too far gone.

There are problems with this approach, of course, which is why I try to keep tabs on myself. But that doesn’t always work.

See: Netflix.

It’s not the DVDs which are sucking me in, but the reason I thought that a  Netflix subscription made a kind of fiscal sense: the streaming.

That fucking streaming. I had been more-or-less content to watch Buffy as it became available on Hulu, but when all episodes were unleashed on Netflix. . . just call it the Lost Weekend. Or two. Or three.

I liked Angel well enough, too, and hey, there it is! Firefly! And then someone suggested MI-5 and another weekend gone. (I did end up burning out on MI-5, but I’ll probably dip—ha!—plunge back in later.)

Now it’s Bones. I had watched the first season back when I had a t.v., and I happened to have caught a couple of episodes from season 5 on Hulu. But, yes, seasons 1-4 are on Netflix.

Which means my ass has been in front of my external monitor watching Brennan and Booth bicker over bodies.

And I got shit to do!


All hail Sorn!

16 06 2010

In the midst of praising Sorn for supplying me with a boatload o’ book recommendations on my Medieval-Modern Musings page, I was going to gripe, ‘That man needs to get a blog.’

Only he already has one: Nonsensical Reality.

I ‘met’ Sorn on TNC’s blog, where he is a regular and thoughtful presence. I put in a request for reading recommendations and, well, look at his comment on the MMM page, and you’ll see what I got.

Until I happen to buy him the line of drinks I owe him for his suggestions, I can at the very least plug the blog of this restless and reflective man.

The thrill is gone

11 06 2010

I’d have been a helluva blogger at twenty.

I tried to take in everything at that age—every last news thing, that is—and I had an opinion about everything, which I was (surprise!) not shy about expressing.

It helped that I had a weekly column with The Daily Cardinal, so I could share my views about, oh, everything, with the world.

Hot schnocolate. Platoon and ‘being there’. Sex ed. Feminism. Class.

I once started started a column with ‘Enough fucking around.’ (It was about the hostages held in Iran. I was wrong.)

Then there was the column I published about [the lack of] tolerance on the Madison campus—the day of an interview with campus officials for a scholarship. (I was asked about the column; I got the scholarship.)

I loved being in the newsroom, that sense of something always going on; I remember standing over the AP machine watching news unspool on the long roll of paper, and thinking, ‘Man, how many other people know this right now?’ And we got to tell them.

Opinions to burn, baby, I had ’em.

Still do; never lost ’em. In fact, at one lunch with a guest to a bioethics center, I introduced myself by stating ‘I have lunch and opinions.’

But I am tired. The news felt new, back then; now, it’s more of the same. There’s a kind of wisdom in that, I guess, or at least knowledge, of the sort that can only be gained with time and experience, but the frisson is missing.

That’s okay. Just as I no longer need to get roaring drunk to have a good time, and rather enjoy pulling the ‘old, old lady’ card on my students, I don’t need bubbles in my brain at the mere sight of updated headlines.

But, oh, what I could have, would have, written, back in the day, how I would have been energized rather than enervated by the constant flow of information, and how I would not have even thought to have paused before adding my own bits to that flow.

It would have been fun. I like this gig, now, this greater reflection and slow pace, but, still.

It would have been fun.

(h/t EmilyLHauser)

Breathe deep fill up with relief

6 06 2010

It’s 88 and sticky in New York. Good thing I have an air conditioner (Thanks T & P!), right?

Yeah, hm, so why isn’t it on?

I used it yesterday, when it was also 88 and sticky, tho’ I turned it off when I left for a night out, and kept it off overnight, using a fan in the window instead. This morning, I didn’t even consider turning it on.

So why a/c on Saturday and not on Sunday?

Because it’s supposed to rain, you see, and not just rain, but thunder and lightning and wind and general mayhem. Whoo hoo!

All those years without a/c have conditioned me to wait for the thunderstorm, the crack that signals the break in the weather, the wind that blows the swamp air away. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Quebec, Massachusetts, and now, New York, and it’s all the same: the air fills with heat and dew, heavier and heavier and heavier as the days drag on, until, finally, it rips itself apart.

With the a/c on, it’s just a show outside my window; after it’s over, I can open the windows and it’s all the same.

But if I open those windows before and let that heat seep in, when the sundering comes, I get the release and the relief.

I get to feel it all.

Bow to your partner, bow to the corner

3 06 2010

So here’s the other side to my nice, little, ‘enough-with-the-rules-already’ post:

  • Don’t walk out of a building heading right and looking left
  • So you don’t want to lose your primo spot in front of the door on the train. I get it. But can you at least stand sideways when people are trying to get on or off the train?
  • Litter, people, stop littering!
  • Don’t stop on the top of the stairs at Bowling Green station during rush hour to answer your phone—step to the side!
  • Don’t stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk to do. . . whatever—step to the side!
  • And can we talk about those monster golf umbrellas?
  • Gum-cracking? Chewing with your mouth open? Just, no.
  • . . . et cetera

I am a tyrant at heart—at least on Mondays, Wednesdays, and alternating Fridays. These rules make sense, so that if only everyone would follow them, we’d all be muuuuch better off.

See how that starts?

Were I not curious—curiosity is one of the more anarchic sensibilities—I’d be completely out of control trying to wrangle everyone under control.

Some of us are temperamentally balanced, others, well, we gotta work a little harder at it.

I’m lying by the road/because she cut off all my clothes

2 06 2010

Enough, already. Enough.

Enough with the rules, with the regs, with the rights and wrongs and victims and perps and goods and evils and innocent and damned. Enough.

No, I haven’t deliquesced into a moral puddle on the floor—I’ve got a fan in the window—or lobotomized myself with an icepick*. And I’m as cranky and squint-eyed as ever.

But I’m also finally, finally beginning to understand what Caputo and Vattimo are getting at with their radical hermeneutics and weak theology and the utter necessity of resignation.

A resignation of a particular sort, I hasten to add, one which begins rather than ends inquiry.

Part of this understanding began amidst my adjunct teaching, when I gave up punishing students for handing in work late. Just get it done, I now say. The work matters more than the date.

I could do that because the terms of my contract are clearly defined: I’m paid for x-number of hours, full-stop. I’m not trying to get tenure, not trying to impress colleagues with my dedication to departmental norms, not trying to impress students with how ‘hard’ I am. To get paid, I simply need to fulfill the terms of my contract.

But since I don’t get paid that much, I had to ask, So, why am I doing this? I’m doing this because I like it, because I think it matters, because I think the students should know this, because there is something more in the material itself.

I’m a pretty good teacher—not great, but not bad. But because I am finally learning to clear out the bureaucratic hedges which have occluded my pedagogical sight, I’ve given myself the chance to offer those students a glimpse of . . . of. . . of knowledge, of questions, of human being beyond those hedges.

Ahh, crap, this all sounds. . . woo, and I am most definitely not a fan of woo—metaphysics!—nor am I trying for some kind of vagueness as a way to avoid the hard edges of being. I do, after, still follow rules, still bitch when others don’t (is it really so hard to put your trash in the can?), and still impose rules on my students.

But the rules are provisional, practical in the most rooted sense of the term: as means to ends, not ends in themselves. Will this paper help the students learn something? Yes. Will punishing them for handing it in late serve any purpose? No.

And I’m lucky in my ability to dissolve some of these rules: I don’t have 150 students and two TAs who have their own work. Perhaps if I did I could work out something else, but, honestly, had I gone the tenure-track route at a large school, I almost certainly would have not only left those nice hedges alone, but planted a few more. The point, then, would have been to get tenure, and everything else would have been shaped to serve that purpose.

That’s not a rip on tenure-track faculty—some of my best friends have tenure—but a recognition of how one’s necessities get ordered, how my necessities would have been ordered, and without me quite realizing it.

Perhaps I would have come to it, eventually; perhaps, after earning tenure, I would have thought, Okay, so what was all that for?

This is what Vattimo means by nihilism: the shedding of the unnecessary, the recognition that almost nothing is necessary, so that one is confronted with the question, Now what?

I have resisted this, largely because I like the sharpness of edges, because I do hold to my allegiances, and because I not only do not want to let some people off their hooks, I actively want them to remain on the hook. I think there is a distinction between clear thinking and obsfucation, between teaching and manipulation, and between domination and liberation.

But these are, in the end, practical skills and political positions, and, as much as they matter, there is still that question beyond them: What for?

I don’t have the answers, don’t know if I even know what these answers would look like.

But, still, I am giving up: there’s too much to see.

(*Yes, there really was a type of lobotomy performed with an icepick: the transorbital  lobotomy. I’ve got pictures!)

h/t: J., for the 3pm walkabouts. . . .