Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Polenta and other local academic disasters

Here is a picture of the polenta. The cigarette pack was put in the picture for scale by a friend of mine. Unfortunately, he took the picture from such an angle that you really don't get a sense of the size of that bowl. Had it been a "head on" picture, you would see that this was a gianormous bowl of nasty polenta. And this is the leftovers.

My friend Sandra (name changed to protect the guilty), one of the co-hosts of the party at which this massive amount of polenta was served, called me the next day to give me the update on the polenta.
"It's still in the woods" she confided to me over the phone. "No animal even went near it."
"How do you know? What, you were expecting to go out and find a saber toothed tiger trapped in it or something?"
Sandra and I laughed. She threw it out. We will never tell the person who made it that it was revolting because how can you do that? You just hide it in the woods until the party is over, then you dispose of it.

I like Sandra. I like most of the people in my program. Unfortunately, at the moment I do not like grad school. I do acknowledge that the general distaste for things around me has some part in this, probably as an amplifier. Any kind of disphoric state is likely to make the bad seem so much worse. But back to what's irking me.

It's that asshole, Dookie. The one from the Walmart day. I never did continue that story. It was too annoying to think about. I wanted to move on. So here's the short introduction to Dookie. He is a new student in my department who is just noxious. I know of no grad student who he has not offended within the first hour of their knowing him, and I know a fair number of grad students. I know many grads who actively dislike Dookie and a few who will go far out of their way to avoid him. One is the woman he tried to pick up by telling her that "women have the best place to store a man's sperm". I know of several faculty and staff members who find him unctuous at best.

The man is just a fucking asshole, plain and simple. Granted, this is an opinion, but it is one that is shared by so many people and so many different kinds of people that it almost seems it could be argued to be an objective quality.

So that asshole, Dookie, has decided that he can use the intro level lab he TAs to teach his pet theory. His pet theory is racist, sexist, and foul. That's another one of those "shared opinions". Even if one didn't see it as an oppressive social philosophy (preferred by people like David Duke and Hitler) masquerading as various forms of scientific inquiry, the point remains the topics in Dookie's lectures are not even remotely close to what the undergrads are doing in their lecture - the lecture the lab is supposed to go with. Nor are they remotely close to the topics undergrads enrolled in other sections of the same class are covering.

Put a different way, this would be a little like me teaching radical feminist theory in a discussion section for a general introductory linguistics class. I could focus it on language, how lexical choices actively threaten women, homosexuals, and members of other historically exploited and abused groups, how men's discourse styles reflect entitlement attitudes which are related to rape and other antisocial behavior, or how the dominant academic paradigms still work to keep women shut out of the higher levels of research. But I wouldn't, not in that context, because (a) I am not an experienced instructor and I really don't feel confident teaching an extremely controversial topic to first year intro students; (b) It would be a massive departure from what the other students were getting in their other discussion sections but all the students' grades would be based on an assumption of some uniformity across sections; (c) It would in no or very little way support or connect to the material and content of the lecture the section grade is ultimately a part of; (d) Such a dramatic change in curriculum is not one I as a TA for a lab/discussion section am allowed to make (in fact, faculty aren't either, not without review by the College).

But Dookie made a choice that was at least as dramatic, because he's Dookie and he's an asshole (sing along!)

And what did Dookie present to his lab? He presented rape as an adaptation. And what seemed like a lengthy section on child abuse as a good (inverse) measure of parental investment. Let me break that latter one down a bit. Presumably, if a parent is invested in the offspring, that is genetically invested, then that investment overrides the apparently otherwise normal, evolutionarily adaptive human desire to kill, beat, or rape a child. The presence of a non-biological parent (step-parent) in a household is highly correlated with child abuse, according to one (methodologically flawed) records analysis. While Dookie downplays any overt causality of the correlation, the only reason the issue is relevant is that in Dookie's pet theory, that correlation is the basis for speculation (which presupposes a causal link) that the non-biological parent will engage in more harm or risk behavior with a child in their household.

Keep in mind that while there are people, real degree carrying scientists even, who publish in this theoretic orientation, the theory and the findings which are said to support it are strongly contested by numerous other scientists (and have been historically, like back when it was called "eugenics"). It is popular in pop culture and major media, e.g., "we found a gene for intelligence/music ability/diaper changing" (see Pinker et al for good examples), but those people are marketing to, well, idiots who mostly want to sound smart at dinner and cocktail parties and who don't really know or care about the validity of conclusions or the soundness of a research program.

So here's Dookie. A first year, first semester TA who decides he is skilled enough to present this material, which can turn the dryest discussions between the most proper of scientists into what is sometimes referred to as a screaming match, to a lab full of mostly first year, first semester undergrads. The emotional stress that an untrained inexperienced teacher could cause by presenting this material in an insensitive and non-comprehensive manner is immense.

This evening, I read Dookie's lecture. It was sent to me by another (horrified) grad student. I nearly broke the monitor it was open on. I read Dookie's lecture and I screamed. I hollered. I stared blankly at it, read more, yelled more, punched my friend A (I asked first), and literally shook with anger at his arrogance, his presumption.

Then I called my division head and said we would meet tomorrow to talk about what his newest student is doing in his lab section. My division head admitted this assgoblin, so I see this as his mistake to deal with.

It took me several hours to stop twitching. I am still angry at the presumption, the possibility of damage to students in his lab who might have been victimized in life and then had to suffer a second possible victimization because of this arrogant puffed up asshole wanted to put some "spice" in his lab lecture. I am angry because that is what these topics are to people like him. It's not about human suffering, real pain, real threat. It's just a device for livening up a lecture.

Monday, November 28, 2005

T & A

I'm on a quest. I want to find my underwear. This is no simple task.

Many many years ago, I used to wear Danskin cotton, but it seems they stopped making them. Then I went for the very similar Jockey, but I am allergic to the elastic they use in the trim. Let me tell you, that is NOT an ok allergy - welts in bad places. A couple of years ago, I switched to Maidenform. They had a couple of cute, cheap, mostly cotton designs that could be ordered online. But now they're getting all fancy. It seems my only choices are nylon ass floss or granny panties, also mostly nylon or some new fabric or another that "reduces jiggles". What? Yeah, that's what it said, I'm not making this up.

I noticed in my undewear search results that they're really pushing the bras. Big padded wired bras. Whatever happened to the bra-free days? When did bras become mandatory? Underwear is understandably more necessary I think, and on yet page after page I open, I am greeted by boobs squashed into the satiny tit-masher du jour. I understand bras are somewhat functionally necessary if you're breasty, but for women like me bras are mostly optional and quite often more ornamental than anything else. One thing I don't need is the usual scaffolding that is now, like the ass floss, standard. Hence, they are not as necessary as underwear, and yet they do dominate the undergarment scene.

I was bitching about my underwear discontent to a friend. He remarked that perhaps the next phase in women's underthings would be just a wad of silk that is worn by wedging it between one's cheeks. After searching hopelessly through the thongs, the tongas, and the string bikinis, I am thinking he might be correct.

Currently, he and I are debating how the boob song goes. As in the one that starts with "Do your boobs hang low?"

Any assistance, whether it's sightings of New England or internet retailers selling non-granny non-flossing cotton underwear or your version of how the song goes, would be welcome.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Pain in the...

Today I did a little shopping. Strange thing for someone who loathes christmastime to do, shopping the weekend after thanksgiving. I know. I realize this. I thought, as I usually do, that I could be in and out, quick and painless. Ah, I was wrong. My horoscope said I should not make decisions that lead me to do things which are against my instincts this week, but I did anyhow. It wasn't too bad, just odd. So while I will acknowledge other truths and paths, I'll consider today a lesson to act based on what I know is true for me.

While I was walking through TJMaxx with an armload of possible purchases (winter coat and a heavy skirt in two sizes since god only knows which one I am today), my chest started hurting, again. This sort of freaked me out. I considered whether I was having some kind of anxiety/panic episode. I have had some mild ones over the last few years, but there was no telltale "Eeeeeeeeeek!" heebeejeebee feelings going on, no swirling head, none of that "I gotta get out of here!" feeling. Not that this would pass for a good self assessment in an ER, I mean, I am female afterall. I must be prone to unconscious bouts of somatic hysteria, right? Sure.

When the unpleasant sensation of bubbling and flip flopping in my chest began happening with some regularity not long ago, I was a little concerned but not too bad. I know there are relatively non-serious cardiac symptoms too much caffeine or dehydrating medications can cause. I reasoned that I can't stop my stomach meds unless I want to starve, but I could cut down the coffee. So I did. Over the last few weeks, I got down to two cups of coffee in the morning. The flip flopping continued, although I was quite sure I still didn't drink enough water. This is an easy solution and I tried to get more fluids in me over the last few days. But what's this shit? Now my chest has started to hurt when I'm doing anything remotely strenuous. Playing with the cat. Going up stairs. This sort of puts a wrench in my self diagnosis and treatment plan. I vacillate between feeling like I am being a hypochondriac and an irresponsible idiot, but the one constant is that I am really not feeling like dealing with another round of Diagnose This! with the docs.

Today I told myself that it was probably muscle strain induced by walking around with the heavy load in my arms. This meant it was time to get out of the store. I put the coat away and bought the larger skirt since I hope to grow into it.

Then I went into the MALL. (insert "Ewww" here)

While browsing the fiction section at the book store, I stepped back ever so slightly and tripped a salesperson who was ducking behind me in a big pre-christmas rush. "Excuse me, I'm so sorry" I said to him. He had managed to recover without falling over, gave me a bitchy look, and then scrambled away. Um...ok, I guess I should have said Fuck you!

This sort of shopping slapstick is standard for me. My brother and I can destroy entire displays practically just by looking at them. We are not allowed to go shopping together. One of our last last shopping trips involved taking down a huge display table at Urban Outfitters in Ann Arbor. Sometimes for fun, I walk very slowly through the glassware section at places like Filene's home store. It's a thrill, kind of like looking over the railing on top of a high building. I might catch the edge of that handblown swan on my jacket, dragging it into the display of cut crystal sherry glasses, and before I even notice I'm snagged - CRASH BANG SMASH! That would SUCK! I only do this with a friend to "spot" me and I walk carefully past the displays, holding my breath while I go through, releasing it in a fit of laughter when I get to the end of the isle.

Today I was not in the cheap thrill mood. When I am shopping alone, I try for very targeted and very efficient. On top of my usual shopping displeasure, ignoring the chest pain was taking up too much resource. So no loafing around or strolling through the breakables. I didn't find what I was looking for at the bookstore, but bought Four Souls by Louise Erdrich. At the register, I waited uncomfortably while the woman ran my card. Behind me, I heard I a young woman's voice saying "That's a journal. You don't want that."
Then a boy said "Why?"
The young woman said "Because it's a journal," as if this were all the explanation he needed. I swear if I had been feeling better, I would have bought it for him. It troubles me to witness what I see as damaging gender socialization in action. But it was time to go. If I stayed, god only knows what I might break or knock over. So I said "Thank you" to the saleswoman and drifted out of the store thinking about how wrong it is that boys are actively discouraged from self expression. I wondered if I had bought it for him, what would his family's reaction be? If he came by a journal somehow, would they think it was weird? Would they read it because they couldn't even imagine what he might be writing in it? Why does it sometimes feel like we are moving backwards socially?

I passed the guy playing Santa on my way to the mall exit. All the children were busy riding the various machines in the coin operated corral and Santa was all alone in his Santa house. He waved at me through the fake glassless window and said "Merry Christmas!" Right. I muttered "Thanks". What else do you do? It seemed polite.

And then I was in my car. Waiting for it to stop making the noise it makes when it is cold. Waiting. Waiting. Playing with my new cordless headset. This ear? No. That one. No...wait, better over here...oops, ow...there! "Call home!" I told it and marvelled when it dialed my apartment. While I was punching in the code to play my answering machine messages, somewhat chagrined since this defeated the whole "hands free" purpose of this new toy, someone knocked on my car. I turned and saw a short man standing a respectable distance away. He was speaking with an accent and it sounded like he said "Was there a death in the family?"
I rolled down my window a couple of inches. "Excuse me?" I said, my foot on the brake and hand ready to put the car in gear if he said anything crazier.
"Your black flag. Was there a death in the family?" he said, gesturing towards the back of my car.
Oh. That.
"It's an, um, I put it on when President Bush was re-elected. I'll take it off when he's out of office," I explained.
The man looked amused and said "It has been on for a very long time then."
I said "No, just over a year now actually. I put it on when he was RE-elected. When he's out of office, I'll remove it." I smiled and started to roll up the window.
The man asked "When he dies?" eyeing me as if I were the crazy one.
"No, no." I said hastily. "When he leaves office, whether he's impeached, indicted, or just voted out."
He smiled and said "I am very glad you have this. Not because I agree with you though. I am from that part of the world and I am very happy (something unintelligible). You do not know the things that happened over there..."
I interrupted him. "It's really not just that. I don't like what he's done domestically either. His administration has set policies and pushed through laws that cut taxes on corporations without making any provisions to ensure those companies kept jobs in this country..."
He interrupted me. "Ah, everyone blames the president for the economy. But it is not the president. When Clinton was president, he takes all the credit for the good economy. But he is not the one responsible. The ones who make the economy good or bad are the ones with the money in their hands!" he held out a fist to emphasize this point.
I said "Right. Exactly. And the Bush administration's policies take that money out of the hands of the people and the workers and put it in the hands of corporations who send jobs out of this country and destroy the economy. As a matter of fact, I blame congress as much or more for most of this, but the Bush administration pushed through those tax cuts last year...and since then we've lost so many jobs...Ford, GM..."
He interrupted me again. "I think that what we need is for everyone to be sincere," I nodded. He continued, "To act as they should, to think about what is good and what is right. And I think also we need for more people to be on their knees, to pray to god to help them know what is the right thing to do."

I'm not a religious person, and religious people kind of freak me out. But I do think if more people spent time reflecting seriously on what, as my parking lot philosopher said "is good and right" and less time listening to what other people say their god thinks is good and right, then most of the crazy fuck fundamentalist movements would lose quite a bit of steam. I am not sure this is how my new friend meant it, but I decided this was the interpretation that I could live with. More importantly, this was one I could leave with.
"I agree. People should be more sincere. And I have to go home now," I said smiling again.
He said "You are so beautiful! Go. Be well."

That was just too fucked up.

So what have I learned? No mall for me for a while. As for the pain in my ass of the pain in my chest, I think I'll wait it out a day more but I will talk about it with my doctor. She's pretty understanding and I think we can have a decent chat about this without me feeling like I'm over or under reacting. Just trusting my instincts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Thanks giving

I need to remind myself that there are things in my life that I am genuinely grateful for. I've been in and out of a rather shitty mood the past week. So here's my reminder to myself that there are things that are good and which I should celebrate.

I am thankful for my health, which hasn't been stellar but which is much better than when I had acute Lyme disease. I remind myself at least once a week to rejoice in this.
I am thankful for the people I love in my life, my sister and brother, my dear friends.
I am thankful for my friends who let me rant at them or send ill tempered e-mails to them instead of to the people who provoked the ill temper. This has saved me quite a bit of grief.
I am thankful for my cat.
I am thankful that I have my own apartment near a wonderful friend and 4 miles away from campus. Hole in the ceiling, yes, but there is still alot about this place that I love.
I am thankful that I do not take shit from people.
I am thankful that the clerk at the video store I was at Sunday night noticed my driver's license had been expired for two months. Really. I am so unbelievably thankful for that because I had NO IDEA and while it was a little embarassing to be denied a video store account because of it, I can imagine it would have been much worse to have been stopped by a cop while driving with an invalid license.
I am thankful that I can still laugh hard about something at least once a day, like my new driver's license picture.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Etiquette Shock Therapy

I looked up RSVP and etiquette today after sending ANOTHER message to the stragglers from the Thanksgiving invite. I wanted to know was someone out there telling people "RSVP? Fuck it!" I saw with the exception of a twit from Elle magazine on Oprah that there was near unanimous opinion in my google sample that you must RSVP or you're an asshole. Ok, Emily Post didn't use that word. But the sentiment's the same. You will be seen as unreliable and if you make a habit of it, you will be left off guest lists.

Contrary to the apparent opinions of most people my age and under, RSVP does not mean "reply if you feel like it". Nor does it mean "reply only if you are coming", "reply if you want to try to negotiate the event for a time that better fits your schedule", "reply if you are planning to bring an univited guest who you think might offend everyone", "reply if you are not coming", "reply to request accomodations if you are allergic to nuts, milk, fish, berries, wheat products, or the chicken polka", or whatever it is people seem to think it means these days. There is no "only" and there is no "if" unless the host specifies that.

It means reply, say whether you are or aren't coming, at the very least. It might also mean reply and say whether you're bringing that guy no one can stand and if you wouldn't mind brining some chips to go with the dip. It's very simple - it means reply by phone, mail, or message to your host. Replying is not the polite thing to do. It is the not unspeakably rude thing to do. Replying as soon as possible is polite. Replying by the date given for RSVP should be considered mandatory. And if the host has gone out of his or her way to contact you because you haven't replied, you should feel kind of like an idiot and reply immediately, even if your response is "I want to come but my schedule's chaotic and I can't commit to anything right now. Is this something that's flexible, and if so, does it become unflexible at any point?", reply. As a matter of fact, that is my frequent response when I am invited to out of state engagements or academic dinners which happen after academic talks, which means talk + dinner = about 5 hours of what is usually my most productive time of day. My point is you have options. If you're worried about violating a social norm or point of etiquette, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out that violating it by giving your hosts too much information with an on time reply is the lesser of two possibly poor behaviors. By not RSVPing in time for your hosts to plan food and other items that add up means you may have just wasted not only their time but their money as well. And unless the invite was to a Kwakiutl potlatch where your hosts' whole reason for throwing the party was to give them a chance to show how much they have by giving and even throwing it away, you're an asshole.

If you happen to hear in pop culture that these days people don't expect an RSVP (like the twit from Elle), realize that the source of it is assuming or wants to project the idea that their audiences have large disposable incomes. People with lots of moola are at worst imposed and put upon when more guests show up than RSVPed (because they have the money to make a last minute expansion) and they are not quite so literally heart broken when only half the number of people they shopped for show up. I know, I've been rich and I've been poor. It makes a difference. An expense that seems reasonably ok in light of the idea of a nice party seems exorbitant when it ends up being for food you probably end up throwing out at the end of the week because there's so much of it it's going bad before you can eat it.

So here's my etiquette. Didn't anyone wonder what would happen when the kids who grew up saturated in an environment of punk and protest started hosting Thanksgiving dinner? Here's my version of it. If you are someone who makes a habit of not replying to invitations, you will be repaid with public ridicule and humiliation. And I am the kind of person who really wants to give you that. It's like etiquette shock therapy. So be on notice non RSVPers. Either shape up or PRAY that your host isn't as fed up as me.

For Thanksgiving, for each person who took their sweet time RSVPing, or who made jokes about "oh I guess I'm the last one...as usual!", I'm thinking of various annoying things to do to them.

- I am considering asking the other guests to hide when the late RSVPer arrives, then acting surprised and embarassed to see a guest at my door. "Um....I guess you didn't get the message I sent saying dinner's off. I have a nail fungus and I'm not allowed to prepare food."

- I am also thinking of pretending not to have enough food or something. I could make note of all the stuff no one signed up for and announce we ran out about half way through dinner. Alternatively, I could make a note of what my non and late RSVPers signed up for and pretend I bought some too since I didn't know if anyone was bringing it. "Shit. You brought cranberry sauce? We already have a dozen cans. Oh well. You can never have...enough...whole berry cranberry sauce, I guess"

That last one requires a qualification because if this hadn't been planned and discussed (with the guests) as a potluck type dinner in advance, I would NOT do this. For the people I invited who are not American (nearly all) and/or have not hosted or been a guest at a home Thanksgiving dinner before (most), I was careful to send an e-mail with info about how thanksgiving dinners usually work. I know I did a decent job because one of my non-native english speaking peers, the Chinese grad student whose English is good but not spectacular, completely got it.

I have to admit, I do feel a bit evil plotting how to humiliate my guests. Mostly because I wonder how to prevent the "good" guests from not feeling threatened? I like my idea but there is always the larger social context which includes (if not only then at least in a great part) the other people's beliefs and expectations.

Odds are I'll say pointed things to a few people and do Thanksgiving for just two or three next year. We'll see. I did just call one of my friends to bitch him out about not RSVPing until he was literally harassed into it, and even then he paid so little attention to the invite that he didn't see the list to sign up for stuff, instead saying "just tell me what to bring". Right. Be my mommie. I don't really feel much better for having bitched at him. Lest you think I am feeling guilty, allow me to correct that gross misconception. I'm actually still mad and would really like to call him back and bitch at him more. He was driving and couldn't give me his full attention while I was telling him how rude it was and that he should call the one last non-responder to explain to her why it would be bad for her to continue to not reply.

Days like today I wonder if I could make a living as a professional dom. I think I might enjoy punishing someone who truly deserves and wants it. Providing I don't have to fuck them. Without delving too deeply into this, I think it might not be an over generalization to say that people who carry around the particular kind of baggage that makes them need to be humiliated to get off are not people I want to fuck.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Be glad and young

It was a long week. At least I was dressed appropriately. My dear friend A___ ordered this t-shirt for me a little while ago. It arrived just in time for me to wear it proudly Friday. (image is gone now - I'll put a new one up if I find it again)

To my great surprise, I went to a party last night. To my even greater surprise, I had a reasonably good time. It started with a last minute invite to dinner from another grad on Thursday. During the day Friday, I watched via e-mail with increasing trepidation as the hostess wrote "you might want to bring your own chair", then "and your own dishes", and finally issued an entire change of venue from her itty bitty apartment to a large faculty house which was being house sat by a friend of mine.

Initially, I had thought the change of venue was a swell idea since the hostess's apartment was about a half a "block" (I use this term with thick sarcasm) away from where I had lived for the last three years with my now ex-S.O. I wasn't looking forward to a literal drive down memory lane to top off my week. Little did I know the change of venue meant it had become the fucking party at Twelve Oaks. The smallish dinner I had accepted an invitation to had exploded into a party with too many people, after too much week, and on top of too little hormone for me.

Just before leaving for the party, I started getting cramps. I stopped and got some food so I could take a space shuttle sized Motrin. As I drove to the big party, I was desperately trying to cram as much of a chocolate croissant into my mouth so I could take said pill before the cramps got ahold of me. I nearly wrecked because some asshole was tailgating me the last couple of miles to the party (yes, it was all his fault. It had nothing to do with my dropping flakey croissant bits everywhere and pawing about for my water bottle while trying to watch for suicidal deer in the road). Finally, I pulled over and managed to choke down the pill. While I sat at the roadside spluttering water and croissant everywhere, I watched the tailgater pull into the driveway of the house I was also going to. "Perfect" I thought. Upon arriving at the party, I tried to figure out whose car it had been riding up my ass. An acquaintance from school greeted me, booming "Hey! Was that you I was tailgating?" as if this were just about the funniest thing in the world. This provoked me to a Courtney Love like moment of screaming Zen. At least it was Zen for me, not so much for the acquaintance. I felt sheepish, but much better afterwards.

Overall, I had a good time. This was acheived mostly by allowing myself to have no filter whatsoever on my mouth. I don't like acting this way a lot, but I had to blow off some steam or I'll lose my mind by Christmas. I don't drink and I figure I get some inappropriate behavior credits I can cash in now and then. There was a lot of strange sexual and romantic tension at the party and I was thankfully not a part of of it. (My own sexual/romantic tension is not at all strange. Indeed, it is familiar to the point where it is barely even tension.) The food wasn't great, but it was ok and it was a meal I didn't have to cook or prepare or be responsible for. Homemade macaroni and cheese, salad, and an extremely unappetizing and frighteningly large pot of polenta.

The motrin started fading around 10:30. I caught up with my house-sitting friend in the driveway as I was leaving. With some guilt, I listened as she repeated dismally "Ayava howsh-fulluv peeep-pulll...whaddamI gonna do witha fukkin howsh full uv peeep-pull?" During my pre-drive cigarette, my friend and I shivered in the driveway not far from the ten pounds of left over cement-like polenta she had snuck out to abandon in the woods. We watched through the window while the original hostess flirted badly with nearly everyone in the room in a desperate attempt to console herself that the man she was interested in, the man she had invited (several weeks ago) to her apartment for dinner that night, the man she had gotten carried away wanting to impress with her graceful hostessing skills, the man it seems she threw this whole party for, had left without saying goodbye. While this was not exactly a pleasant moment, I felt some kind of kinship with these women who were burning so close to the ends of their social fuses.

I sit at home now on a Saturday afternoon. Dearest A___ just left for an overnight road trip. My house sitter friend called to cancel our laundry/movie/dinner plans because she needs to get laid and, towards that end, has invited her ambiguously ex-boyfriend down. Good to see she's working through that tension. Ah...this is not bad in fact. I'm getting to like spending the first day of my period alone. I'm bleeding but feeding myself left-over halloween candy and motrin shuttles. I got an unexpected e-mail from one of the first year grad students at the party. Fall out from the sexual tension shit, which is not my problem. Trying to keep myself sane and free of shit I don't need right now, I replied to him with an ee cummings poem. I'll post a couple here. One for me and one for the party people. It seems like it should be clear which is which, although on second thought it could well be that both are both.

you shall above all things be glad and young

you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you're young,whatever life you wear

it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever's living will yourself become.
Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
i can entirely her only love

whose any mystery makes every man's
flesh put space on;and his mind take off time

that you should ever think,may god forbid
and (in his mercy) your true lover spare:
for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
called progress,and negation's dead undoom.

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

all which isn't singing is mere talking

all which isn't singing is mere talking
and all talking's talking to oneself
(whether that oneself be sought or seeking
master or disciple sheep or wolf)

gush to it as diety or devil
-toss in sobs and reasons threats and smiles
name it cruel fair or blessed evil-
it is you (ne i)nobody else

drive dumb mankind dizzy with haranguing
-you are deafened every mother's son-
all is merely talk which isn't singing
and all talking's to oneself alone

but the very song of(as mountains
feel and lovers)singing is silence

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Small world, afterall

I was running a little late today, which turned into a lot late when I realized I wouldn't have time to go to campus then leave for my 1:30 flu shot appointment, then run back to campus without setting myself up for a pointlessly disrupted day. I decided to take my time at home, leave at 1:00, then go to campus by way of the doctor's office.

Since I now had all this "free time" at home, I decided to charge a bracelet I had recently bought. Huh? Charge? It's sort of like this, although I'm pretty casual and believe in personal ritual as a means of self awareness. I'm rather agnostic about the whole external power spirituality thing. So if I'm not all super wicca, what am I doing charging bracelets? Over the summer, I had gotten myself a bracelet that was quite similar to this new one. It was the middle of the miserable chaos of moving and realizing that my long term live in boyfriend T and I couldn't continue as we had been. The bracelet was sort of an impulse buy....I was looking at them and decided I needed a good luck charm, a talisman to remind me to be hopeful. So I picked what I thought was the deepest, prettiest lapis bracelet, brought it home, cleansed it, and charged it. I wore it for a while on days when I was feeling kind of low. Then I gave it to T. I regretted it.

The day T and I both acknowledged that we couldn't be as intimate as we had been was the day I gave him that bracelet. It was in the summer. He'd just re-established contact with me after being silent for weeks right after our moves. He was working on a draft of his dissertation. At least that was the declared reason he had been less than (emotionally or physically) available for me. We had "a talk". I knew at the time that it was unlikely we would ever be restored to partners. I was acting on my last hope that if he had space to be who he needed to be right now, to fight his own battles away from the shadow of his warrior-spirited girlfriend, to work through some of the discomfort of establishing an adult relationship with his parents without having to deal with my reactions to his frustrations with them, that maybe we could stay connected just distant. I hoped that if we stayed connected, we could reassess things later and see if we wanted to be with who we had become in the meantime. T wouldn't even say "breaking up" that day. He cried and I held him a lot. He said "separated" and he said love and he said a lot of sweet things for the last time. On a not very far down level, I was pretty sure it was the last time, but I truly wanted to be hopeful.

I was so sad and confused that day. I thought as soon as he took the bracelet that maybe it was a mistake to give it to him. I know why I did it. I was feeling protective of him when I offered it, despite feeling deeply frustrated by his chronic indecisions, hurt, somewhat betrayed, and very overlooked. I had spent the last two years watching as T seemed to erode.

Whenever I saw him until we were completely done in early Fall, he was wearing the bracelet. After things fell apart completely for us, when he came over to take the things he'd left behind, he was wearing it. It made me extremely upset to see it on him. A reminder of all my good intentions (and all the good they didn't do). I said I wanted it back. But I didn't really, I didn't want it for me. When I had it, it felt less special, less mine. I was horrified, thinking that I had been so petty. I realized later that I hadn't wanted him to have it anymore because it being on his wrist was a symbolic way my strength and resources continued to be at his disposal while he continued to recede from me. He had withdrawn from me long before "the talk", so all that was left to do was for me to withdraw from him. Asking for my bracelet back was a way of doing that.

I tried cleansing it again, but I left it in salt water for too long and it got kind of cruddy. I decided it had served its purpose, possibly more than that, so I destroyed it and burried what was left. Around Halloween, I bought a new one. That is the one I was charging today.

I decided I'd focus on restoration of hope. If you read the blog, you'll know this time of year tends to leave me in quite a state. I realized recently that when I get really down in December, what I feel can best be described as a loss of faith in the people around me, as well as in myself. I get into more arguments because I see negative or less than positive motivations and intentions even from the people who love me. I have to remind myself I am loved, that I love, and that I can trust the people near me. This year, that will be hard. So much of what reassured me and bouyed me last year feels like betrayal now...nothing feels good enough to shine through that. Mind you, I don't spend every single day in this state. My point is this is a state I am much more prone to slipping into this time of year and this year the path to it is a bit shorter. Christmas, as previously discussed, is a murky and dark time of year for me. It pretty much always has been.

So I thought about love and hope. I considered that this is life. Without the blissful joy and the pain when it fades, the human condition is little more than colliding bags of water each navigating a path of least resistance from the cradle to the grave. The point, or a point, is to have something richer and deeper as you go. I thought about why I have been thinking of T lately, trust, betrayal, and whether or not I did do the right thing. I tried to focus on the idea that I can still hope even in this darkeness.

And then it was 1:00. Hustling my way out the door (Candles out? Cell phone on? Jump drive in backpack?) I managed to get to my doctor's office by just a bit after 1:30. As I approached the parking lot, I saw a green subaru wagon, like the one T bought this time last year. I reasoned "Not a big deal. There are a TON of those cars around. It's not like T was the only person who drove a -"
After I saw T's yellow backpack in the front seat, the license plate was just redundant.

As I wrestled my seatbelt out of the driver's side door where I had just crushed it during my unglamorous exit from the car, I wondered "What is the opposite of serendipity?"

Inside the doctor's office, T was standing at the receptionist's window, his back to the door. He was wearing a grey fleece I had bought him last year at Christmas. From where I stood pretty much frozen in the doorway, I could see the side of his face. Soft skin I couldn't touch often enough just three years ago, but which had held far less allure since our love became ambiguous. While I stood there, mostly I felt pounding waves of resigned regret, not for what I did in breaking up with him but for the fact that breaking up had become necessary. Recognition of the necessity didn't stop the sorrow though. I stood there feeling regret over his cheek, his neck, his long beautiful hands which he rested lightly on the counter in front of him. He turned a little, offering a view that allowed me to regret his profile, his lips, and his eyes.

I stepped into the room and let the door close. "I can't just stand here behind him waiting for..what? For him to turn around and walk into me?" I thought. I felt like I was stalking him. So I said "What a coincidence". He didn't hear me. I came further into the room and sat down in a chair, thinking the noise and peripheral motion would draw his attention. Nothing.
Finally, I said "Hey Tom..." twice. The second time, he literally spun around to face me. I watched a deep pink flush spread up from his neck.

I said "Hi. Strange coincidence, huh?"
He said "Yeah, I was getting my flu shot..."
I said "Me too! Funny thing, right?"
T stepped away from the counter and said "How are you?" without any trace of sarcasm but also without much warmth.
I said "I'm..."
And the doctor appeared, saying "Why don't you come on back now..." to me.
I said "Oh..." and stood up. T took a few steps towards the door.
T said "We uh, we can talk later..." with a hesitant rise while he took another step towards the door.
I looked pointedly at the direction where the doctor had walked down the hall and said "Um..."
T said "...I'll be on campus" in response to my unasked "When?"
Seeing this as his usual duck out and feeling sad and somewhat disgusted for both of us, I said "You'll be on campus? Well, ah, that doesn't necessarily guarantee that we'll talk, does it?"
T made a noise, nearly at the door, but it was vague and could have been either affirming or denying. Because it is nearly December, I took it as affirming that he had no desire to talk to me on campus, here, or anywhere else.

I walked down the hall to the exam room, partly wondering if T would wait, mostly expecting he'd be gone when I got done, and knowing it wouldn't be anything personal, not really, becacuse it never was.

Before the doctor came back in the room with the shot, I looked out the window and saw T's car was already gone.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Veteran's Day

If you live in the US, you are familiar with how around holidays, there are special seasonal items that show up in the stores. The big obvious ones include Halloween, Thanksgiving/Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, and the 4th of July. Slightly less obvious are days like Superbowl Sunday (repackaging of nearly all snack food with NFL logos, deli platters, beer), Labor Day (BBQ blitz), Mother's Day (potted plants, boxes of candy, toiletry/bath gift boxes), Father's Day (somewhat neglected but the occasional shaving kit/electric shaver, tool boxes, various gadgetry with "For Dad!" on or near the package) , Memorial Day (BBQ, miniflags, cemetary boxes), and Veteran's Day.

What do we have for Veteran's Day?
I noticed something disturbing this past week when I was grocery shopping. Apparently we have cemetary boxes for Veteran's Day. Seeing this on my way into the supermarket struck a chilly tone for me. I started thinking about it. What is our consumer culture equivalent of the mother's day box o'chocolates or the 4th of July fire crackers for Veteran's Day? I couldn't think of much. I vaguely remembered old men with VFW gear handing out artificial poppies for donations outside stores when I was a kid. Parades in some towns. Wreaths and other decorations for graves.

I realized it is all about death and rememberance for fallen soldiers. "Isn't that what Memorial Day is for?", I thought. So what is Veteran's Day supposed to be for? I looked up the history, and it seems the two holidays arose out of a desire to mark remembrance for service in two different wars. Both were expanded to include all military, not just those who served in either the US Civil War or WWII. The distinction in modern celebration seems to be that the former (Memorial Day) is specifically meant to recall and honor the dead, while the latter is meant to include honor for the living as well. At least that is what it's supposed to be for. And yet on Veteran's Day, what do I see? Cemetary decorations and poppies. Given how Veteran's Day is currently marked, I can't shake the feeling that our society feels the only good veteran a dead one.

I think we need some new stuff. I want to see evidence that our society, in all it's commercial glory, is embracing the living as well as the dead. Toward that goal, I propose the following:

  • No matter where you work, if you are veteran, you should get the day off. If you served in the military at all (war or peace time) you should get the day off or should get paid time and a half for the day. If you saw combat, you get the fucking week off, paid. And no one else does (maybe immediate families do but that's all). That way, you can really enjoy your day/week off by watching the other slobs go to work.
  • Buy one get one sales only for people who display a military ID or discharge papers.
  • A tradition of veteran's dinners. Communal dinners would be held at local VFW halls, churches, and schools. Restaurants would be encouraged to offer free meals to veterans and their families or to host a veteran's only dinner.

I don't support the current war, and in general I agree with the sentiment that "All war represents a failure of diplomacy". But while we find it necessary to employ a "standing army", and while we as a society do not take measures to ensure equal economic and social status for all of our citizens and residents thereby narrowing the choices for many people so as to make the notion of military service a more "enticing" option (e.g., military or no college), I believe we have an obligation to at least show respect for the service of military personnel, living and dead. I am not what you'd call a super patriot, hell by today's standards I'm not even patriotic. But I find it disturbing that the masses of super patriots out there will collectively protest speaking engagements by Professor Churchill, will gather to demostrate against and denigrate peace activist Cindy Sheehan, but on Veteran's Day where are they? They are not rallying outside statehouses nationwide for increased veterans' benefits or camped out on the lawns of bosses who fire employees who take time off to say goodbye to a spouse leaving for Iraq. Maybe they are buying cemetary boxes for all the good, dead soldiers.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Scientific merit

Just this week, a Johnson and Johnson subsidiary, Ortho McNeil, put a warning label on their estrogen patch, Ortho Evra. It seems the Ortho Evra patch delivers a whole lot of hormone - use it and you get way more than you would on the pill. So? Well that means the nasty side effects associated with the estrogen compounds in the pill may be more likely to occur when you use the patch.

Today's news item says the AP announced 4 months ago that the rates of death and disability in women who used the patch were suspiciously high. Further, an internal memo at the drug company, Ortho McNeil, shows that in 2003 the company "refused...to fund a study comparing its Ortho Evra patch to its Ortho-Cyclen pill because of concerns there was 'too high a chance that study may not produce a positive result for Evra' and there was a 'risk that Ortho Evra may be the same or worse than Ortho-Cyclen'".

According to today's story, when questioned about the 2003 memo and the reasons for not conducting studies comparing the safety of the patch to the pill, Ortho McNeil released a written statement saying that decisions to fund studies, such as a comparison of adverse events between patch and pill using patients, "...are based upon scientific merit." (quote from a written statement by Ortho McNeil spokesperson)

Because they didn't conduct those studies, the company can get away with a watered down warning on their possibly deadly patch. Here's what it says on the website for the potentially lethal Ortho Evra patch:
"You will be exposed to about 60% more estrogen if you use ORTHO EVRA than if you use a typical birth control pill containing 35 micrograms of estrogen. In general, increased estrogen exposure may increase the risk of side effects. However, it is not known if there are differences in the risk of serious side effects based on the differences between ORTHO EVRA and a birth control pill containing 35 micrograms of estrogen."
(red text mine)

Isn't that great? They can legitimately say "we don't know" here because they never did the study. My god I am just horrified. Why? It's not like I should be surprised to see a drug company acting in a highly unethical way. If it were that this sort of devil may care approach to R&D hardly ever occurred outside the tobacco companies, I might have an easy excuse to claim shock. Still, despite the corporate precedent, the level of carelessness for women's lives Ortho McNeil is displaying here is just staggering.

Some cynnical part of me is saying "well of course the makers of OrthoEvra patch don't care if women get sick and/or die from using the patch. The risk to women's health is less severe than the risk to company profits should a safety comparison between the new product (patch) and the old (bcps) turn out against the new".

But what is genuinely shocking and perhaps even more disappointing is the lack of any visible, public response by women's groups whose missions include advocacy for women's reproductive health and freedom. The absence of response (or the presence of positively skewed "neutrality") makes it seem as if women's health comes second to advocating for various forms of birth control. This pisses me off.

Understand that I consider myself a full on feminist. Relative to the topic of reproductive health and rights, I believe in a woman's right to make individual decisions about her body, her right to make decisions about when and whether to reproduce, and her right to privacy in those decisions. I believe that women's choices about any aspect of their health, including birth control/contraception/reproductive health falls under the universal issue of patient privacy, i.e., no one but a woman and her medical provider should be involved in ANY of that woman's health decisions - before, during, or after. I believe it is government's job to protect these individual rights and freedoms, not to limit or criminalize personal responsibility and liberty for half the population because some people with mommie issues can't stand to think of women not wanting tons and tons of babies (this is how I see most anti-choice folks, and I've seen them up close, outside women's health clinics, screaming in my face when I did clinic escorting and clinic defense).

However, I think abortion sucks as an option. I'd never want to have one. I don't wish them on my friends. I want other options. I want to have access to the means to lock the barn door before the horse gets out, so to speak. I think surgical or drug induced termination sucks just like I think it sucks that in order to "treat" my endometriosis I have the miserable options of surgery or drug therapy that will essentially make me an insane, fat, angry, hairy man. We can fucking clone kittens. We can transplant kidneys, livers, hearts, retinas, bone marrow. We can make little devices that slice plaques out of arteries. We can repair vessels in someone's brainstem. We can get 50 year old women pregnant with quintuplets. So why can't we have safe, good contraception that women can and will use without having to choose between fun satisfying sex or cerebral blood flow? If we could have more genuinely GOOD options, it would make the whole abortion thing a null issue. It has been frustrating to see NOW and NARAL (et al) seemingly not focusing the greater part of their members' time, energy, and money on lobbying to fund contraceptive research that would result in options that don't involve big health risks to women (e.g., how about some male contraceptives?!)

I would think that the women's groups would be pissed. Allowing corporations to ignore women's health to profit off birth control products only enhances some of the arguments of the anti-choice contingent who say birth control (abortion or other forms) are anti-woman. Yet of the big women's reproductive health advocacy groups, NOW, NARAL, and the Feminist Majority Foundation only one, NARAL, has a link on their site to this story
(it's linked from the main page by clicking "contraception" under "issues" on the side bar. On the page that opens from that link, under "latest headlines" there's a link titled "FDA issues warning against J&J's OrthoEvra birth control patch". That takes you to another page where there is a link to the story. Talk about a scavenger hunt!)

Then there is Planned Parenthood, who are supposed to be all about women making informed decisions in reproductive health. What do they have to say about Ortho Evra?
On the front page of the website is a feature called Ask Dr. something or another. Here's the text:
"I've been hearing lately that the birth control patch is dangerous. Is that true?"
No. More than four million American women have safely used Ortho Evra — the patch — since it was introduced... more »

If you click for "MORE" you get something annoyingly like an advertisement for the Ortho Evra patch:
"While all medications are associated with adverse events, medical authorities and health officials have yet to find evidence proving a causal relationship between recently reported adverse events and use of the patch."

Planned Parenthood actually italicized "causal". This rhetoric is just way too much like the line we used to get from tobacco corporations. "There is an association but no evidence of a causal link". Coincidentally, tobacco companies target women as consumers without regard for the health consequences of their product also ("You've come a long way baby").

I guess Planned Parenthood doesn't want women to stop using their birth control in a panic and end up preggers. I understand this concern, but I personally consider pregnancy a more curable condition than fucking death by pulmonary embolism.

As some defense, the Planned Parenthood "Ask Dr. whatshername" thing is old, it looks like it was last updated in 2004. There isn't an update based on the newest information, the recently disclosed 2003 Ortho McNeil memos which say they didn't want to run a study comparing patch to pill because they were afraid there was "too high a chance that study may not produce a positive result for Evra". I sure hope I see a response from the women's groups that takes the drug company to task.

All that said, I do quite strongly believe safe (relatively speaking), legal, affordable pregnancy termination options need to be ensured and protected as a form of birth control* for all women until we have guaranteed access to truly safe, legal, 100% reliable, affordable (free!), convenient, and fucking ubiquitous forms of contraception. But we are techonologically advanced enough now that this shouldn't be the focus anymore. The drug companies know this. They know there is a market for contraceptives that will allow women access to the same kinds of sexual freedom that men take for granted. They know the women who want these products want to be healthy, otherwise we'd still have the same old shitty pill we had in 1970, which was effective but had the precision of a hormonal bomb. Women need to insist on something better though, especially when it comes out that the makers of a contraceptive that was marketted on, among other things, its relative safety effectively hid information about the risks of their product. We need to demand better. When will the leaders of the women's groups stop living in the 60s and realize that if modern science can give us pills that allow 70 year old men to obtain rock hard erections, it can find a form of contraception that does not risk women's lives?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Turkey Season

Aaah-nold...definintely the turkey of the day. Dig my highlighter turkey. Grad student art.

Voters Reject Schwarzenegger Initiatives
By Michael R. Blood, AP
November 9, 2005

LOS ANGELES - In a stinging rebuke from voters who elected him two years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's efforts to reshape state government were rejected during a special election that darkened his prospects for a second term.

The Republican governor and former Hollywood actor...on Tuesday saw all four of his signature ballot proposals rejected.

Poll after poll showed it was an election that Californians didn't want, with a total lineup of eight initiatives that didn't connect with every day issues such as gas prices, housing costs and the war in Iraq.

Schwarzenegger's proposals to curb spending and weaken unions inflamed passions on both sides, partly because of the election's roughly $50 million cost in a state that repeatedly faces budget shortfalls.

Appearing before supporters at a Beverly Hills hotel after learning that at least two of his initiatives had failed, a smiling governor did not concede defeat.

What do you suppose would have to happen for him to in fact concede defeat? I guess as the Governator, an "overwhelming" majority of voters turning down all of your propositions and saying they resented allocation of the expense for the election in the first place means very little. And well it should. He is the Governator after all. You can't expect him to admit defeat unless there have been several explosions, tank mounted lasers, hand held rocket launchers, and a veritable monsoon of uranium coated armor piercing friggin huge bullets. The Governator doesn't give in just because a large majority of the moron...er...people who elected him issue a ballot box spanking.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ropes and ladders

I am not sure if I mentioned that last week my landlord came out to "fix" my roof (again). I'm using quotes because while we call what he did fixing, nothing ended up fixed. His motions and machinations did not actually result in a repair of the biggest leak, the one that took down the chunk of my ceililng. The one that continues largely unabated and therefore makes repairing the hole in the ceiling inadvisable. Thus I am still displaced.

Last week, I was outwardly pessimistic that a repair would result from my landlord's actions with ropes and ladders. People asked "So did they fix the leak? Did they fix the hole?" and I would say "My landlord was up there this week. He had ropes and ladders. But I'm not sure this means anything is truly fixed." I added "I guess we'll see when it rains".

The relevance of "ropes and ladders" is grounded in discussions with the apartment manager, Herb. Herb's habit is to insist they've been out to fix the leaks repeatedly. Herb tells me that the landlord, Roger, "got up there with ropes and ladders!" Herb sounds irate when he is forced to say this. He sounds as if no reasonable person could argue with the struture restoring powers of ropes and ladders.

I guess sometime last week, Herb was feeling quite sure that this last round of ropes and ladders must have done the trick since I discovered he had ordered the repair guy (Dick) to come out and fix the hole in the ceiling today. But Sunday night it rained. I realized it was a thunderstorm and darted over to my place to check on the hole. I brought A. (my friend, colleague, neighbor, co-conspirator, etc.) with me. The bucket under the 5"x9" hole in my ceiling was silent. A. shined the flashlight up into the hole. We stood there watching, listening, waiting. I got out "It's..." and then I saw the tiny sparkle and heard the tap of one drip of water in the bucket. Then two drips, then back to the usual pattern of "tap...tap...tap...taptap....tap...tap...tap...taptap"

And so I called Herb. I was in the middle of leaving my message when my call waiting clicked in. I finished, switching over to - my little brother T. T. began with the drawn out rise-fall intoned "Heeyyyyy" he uses as a salutation usually when he intends to sling some bs my way. He started by asking me to send him a Buffy DVD. Then began the bs. The bs du soir was that his psychiatrist, our parents, and his asshole boyfriend all think he should be on Depakote because they think he has bipolar disorder (manic depression). I do think he is a bit manic at times. But I question a couple of those opinions, e.g., my parents'. They would be happy if everyone around them were sedated into complacency. And T's boyfriend - a well off psychologist with serious sex issues who's done nothing more than tax T's mental and phyiscal health since they've been together. T started out saying he's got some reservations about taking the Depakote because it is liver toxic but that his shrink said it was Depakote, Lithium, or Tegretol and the other two are worse. He only started there. He didn't stay there.

This news concerns me that T won't get the treatment he needs. Yes, he has behaviors that are clearly manic, on a low level at least. But commonly those occur around the crystal meth use, so it's hard to know which came first. I worry considerably that T might be using "manic" and "bipolar" as labels, organic and inevitable problems that will allow him to avoid acknowledging and addressing his past, factors in his life now, and all the many complicated patterns the two make. As far as I know, at no point has T sat down and committed himself to a serious round of cognitive behavior therapy. In light of this, I can't help feeling like the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the treatment for which involves drugs which risk his health, shouldn't be made in the utter absence of non-drug therapy, prior or concurrent.

T sites "panic and anxiety" behaviors as evidence that he is bipolar. I say "What about post traumatic stress disorder? Can't the panic and anxiety be part of the manifestation of that?" I don't add "Dad used to lock you in confined spaces until you stopped screaming when you were little...if anyone has PTSD you do kiddo" because it seems like this might be a bad time to bring it up. T says "PTSD is in the running" (great) "But with that, the episodes are triggered by stress. With bipolar, you just cycle. There doesn't need to be a stressor".

I am shocked to hear him state that as if his life lately has been relatively stable. There are a long list of stressors which abound in my little brother's life, but his pill popping sex addict shrink-boyfriend and my parents would very much like T to buy the line that he's manic because they (as sources of a lot of that stress) get some indirect absolution from that diagnosis. With all this support plus T's psychiatrist who is really just doing what any psychiatrist does, pushing the pills, it's not much wonder that T has decided that the only thing which needs changing in his life is that he needs more and socially acceptable drugs in it.

Sunday night. I am sitting at the table in my cold apartment listening to the now steady drips of the leak. There is lightning and I think probably I shouldn't be on the phone. I'm tired and I really just want to get off the phone, then feel guilty as hell for not wanting to talk. "But I'm barely talking" I think to myself. I feel pretty futile, like a prop for T to use so he can validate his choice to take the Depakote and the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I make faces at A now and then, who is sitting and smoking on my couch. I hold the phone several inches away from my ear and can still hear my brother clear as a bell as he argues with increasing amplitude that he might be hypomanic, might be a fast cycling manic, might be fully manic, might be bipolar, definitely gets OCD when he's stressed, but he's not so stressed right now, and he still feels like he has to always land on the right foot when he comes down the stairs when he's stressed out and that's really manic, he has concerns about the depakote, he doesn't think the depakote is good for his liver, but boyfriend really thinks he should take it and so does the psychiatrist but the psychologist he just started seeing thinks he's not fully manic but the psychologist is new (3 weeks vs. the pill pusher, who my brother's been seeing for 4 weeks), really he's had this pointed out to him before by employers and mom and dad that he has this like 4 day cycle, so if he is manic he's cycling fast, and the Depakote might help stabilize his moods if he's manic, and he probably is manic (and at this point with him practically yelling this crazed circular and largely one sided conversation into the phone I am kind of believing it myself), so he probably will take the depakote.


He starts to sound like he's wrapping the conversation up and then issues a much delayed "Sooooo, how are you doing?" He makes sympathetic noises and condolences about my continued leak. I don't mention I just found out it wasn't fixed; that I'm taking the cat to the vet because he's been acting weird and bit me; or that I got shit from a senior faculty member on my advisory committee on Friday about how I've been here too long. I promise to send my little brother the Buffy disk he called to ask about. I ask about making plans to come up to see him this month. He tells me he won't have any free weekends in November because he and asshole boyfriend are going away each and every single weekend. No thanksgiving, no birthday. "I might be around the first weekend in December..." he says hesitatingly.
"Ok, well, keep me posted" is what I think I said.
And then I get off the phone.

tap. tap. tap. taptap.

tap. tap. tap. taptap.

Last week, I was pessimistic that the ropes and ladders would help. I realize now that I must have been hopeful inside, in a way I probably wouldn't have been able to acknowledge if you'd asked. In fact, I only realized I had been harboring such high hopes after they were proven to be false Sunday night during the November thunderstorm.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I wanna be sedated

I freaked the fuck out today. I am a little happy that I at least figured out what triggered this, but ooof. What a freak out, and how alarming that it can even happen.

So what happened? On my way to campus, I had some errands to run. First was a stop at the drug store (CVS) to get vitamin C lozenges. Hard to find. I wound my way up and down the likely isles, one of which was stocked full of christmas stuff. I hurried through that and down to the cold remedy isle. No vitamin Cs. Back and forth through the store which was filled with annoying soccer moms and their annoying children. After a couple more circuits through the christmas stuff and the cold sections, I finally got what I needed, then stood in line waiting for far too long behind a woman who was having a nice chat with the cashier while her 8 year old looking daughter took off to play in traffic in the parking lot and her filthy toddler howled and squealed in the shopping cart - you know, not in the seat or anything. Just standing in the cart like he was a giant, horrific christmas lawn decoration.

I felt myself getting really really annoyed.

Finally got waited on, left, got my coffee, and headed to the video store to drop off the halloween movies. The list of things that continued to annoy me between the video store and campus is far too long and pathological to warrant inclusion here. Suffice it to say by the time I got to campus, I was swearing at drivers and pedestrians alike and driving like a complete asshole. I am not proud of this. I capped the big freak out off by flipping out completely on my poor dear friend A, who committed the henious crime of not picking up his cell phone right away when I called him.

Ok. I'm thinking "This can't be PMS. What the fuck!"

While sitting in the parking lot of the Thai restaurant (A is addicted to pad thai noodles) in the midst of my rant, something went CLICK!!!

Fucking Christmas decorations.

Oh god how I hate christmas. If a christmas song pops into my head in July, I shudder as if someone walked over my grave. When I stumble across my box of christmas decorations during the other non-christmasy months of the year, the feeling that they provoke is sometimes strong enough to make me cry for a moment before I hurriedly shove them aside to continue rummaging for whatever it was I was looking for which resulted in my uncovering the evil christmas stuff in the first place.

This year promises to be extra special since the break up with T. I blame T's family for so much inappropriate pressure in T's life and in our relationship. Christmas was the one time of year I could not avoid dealing with them. And although our break up was truly final only within this last season, I consider it to have started in earnest last christmas when I was examining why the thought of another christmas with his family filled me with such immense dread.

God I hate christmas.

I hated it before this, and now it seems it has gotten worse. I didn't think that could happen. Perhaps now would be a good time to call my therapist. Indeed.

Graduate Employees Strike in NYC

Graduate Employees at NYU have voted to strike!
In response to the NYU administration's refusal to negotiate on terms of a contract, the graduate employees at NYU have voted to strike. It is important to know that NYU had a graduate employee union with a contract. Then in 2004 when the National Labor Relations Board overturned its 2000 ruling regarding graduate employees at private universities, NYU's administration no longer was legally obligated to recognize the grad union. There was nothing stopping them from continuing to negotiate in good faith with the union, but the did not have to. They chose not to. So much for the liberal universities I hear the neo-cons whining about.

I have a more complete summary of this chapter of academic labor history which I'll post when I'm not so busy. For now, some musings prompted by the recent NYU developments.

The strike was coming for a while. The NYU grad employees have been working without a contract since August 31. In late October, with knowledge that a strike vote was pending, deans at New York University sent a letter to tenured faculty. The letter is typical of the disappointing habit of union busting behavior and rhetoric on the part of universities' adminstrations. What bothers me most about this letter is here:
"Tenured faculty have a special, additional responsibility not to do anything or say anything that could be construed as encouraging untenured colleagues, graduate students, or administrative staff not to fulfill their responsibilities, thus placing inappropriate pressures on them."
WHAT? I'd be mightily pissed if I were tenured faculty at NYU right now.

This is so disappointing. The edifice of academic free speech is showing some serious cracks these days. When a university adminstration can send out a letter like this...I mean, read it again for just a second: "not do or say anything that could be construed as..." How would you feel if you got a letter like this from your employer?

And can you imagine howthis would be enforced?
Provost: Drs. A, B, and C, you understand what actions or words brought you here for disciplinary review today?
Dr. A: Um...I gave a thumbs up sign to a lecturer who I saw on the picket line?
Dr. B: Well, I did emit an extremely derisive snort while our department head was reading your letter at that ridiculous mandatory faculty meeting.
Dr. C: Why I'm here? I really don't know. What did I do? Maybe when I said "the poor ain't so bad" at a colloquium dinner last week...

Ok, enough hypothetic and hyperbolic. How about some concrete?

You'll hear complaints about censorship from the neo-cons so let me clarify that the source of their complaints is (usualy) a bit different from what I consider institutionalized censorship. Typically what gets their boxers all in a twist is that David Horowitzian type views are extremely offensive to some people; that while some might accept creationism is "valid" as a belief system, a belief system is not a fucking scientific theory (the philosophers can help me out here...can something which has as a premise that it cannot be proved true, only accepted on faith, even be evaluated for validity?); that statements like "queerin' don't make the world go round", while certainly memorable, are not the sort of pithy social commentary one would have every right to expect at a university sponsored discussion of public attitudes and policy.

Unpopularity, public criticism by peers/community, protest, peer led boycott, student petition, debate, and I'd say even refusal to accept pay for promotion (newspaper ads, radio spots) - all of those responses are crucially different from what I mean when I say institutional censorship. I propose this term relatively closely describe a situation where we find limits or constraints imposed on perceived execution of individuals' constitutionally granted and completely reasonable personal freedoms, which limits originate at or near the top of the official institutional hierarchy (or a hierarchy in which the institution is embedded, such as state or federal government), and which have direct or implied threat of reprisal to back them up. When I speak of the loss of academic free speech, this institutional censorship is the necessary context.

Some examples:
At my own university a few years back, there were cuts to Grad Assistant (GA) health insurance as part of a truly foul state budget proposed by convicted ex-governor John Rowland. GAs agreed they wanted say in how the health insurance cuts would play out, but found themselves shut out of administrative discussions about GA health care priorities. During this time, a GA was interviewed on a local commercial radio station about the cuts. The GA said he thought that our university had been involved in some kind of deal with the governor which included cutting the state's subsidy to our health benefits.

The very same day of the interview, the GA was called by a top university adminstrator who asked him to come to a meeting to discuss GA health insurance. At the meeting, the administrator and a dean took turns yelling at this student. The administrator swore quite a bit and knocked over a chair in her rage. As if the tone and setting was not hostile enough, the GA was also subject to vague threats from both administrators.

Still not convinced that free speech is a becoming a bit of a sick joke at the academy? Consider the crusade against University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill who was investigated by the university for having written an essay which expressed his opinions, conclusions, believes, analysis, etc. about a sensitive and socially complex matter in that annoying baby boomer style. Was it an annoying obnoxious essay? YES. Did I strongly dislike this essay and do I think Churchill is just another blowhard? Yep. Was what he did something the Colorado state government should hunt him out of office for? No. As a nice point of contrast, consider Harvard University president Larry Summers' statements which suggest he, as someone in charge of faculty recruitment and hiring, might have a belief women have natural, biologically inevitable intellectual deficiencies to men in certain areas. Application of such an attitude in Summers' judgment could damage equal employment opportunity at one of the nation's most prestigious universities. Summers' statement opened him up to criticism from his peers in academia and yet people reacted as he were the subject of a witch hunt. Where were the cries of witch hunt when U Colorado administrators were encouraged by the government to sift through Churchill's personal and academic history for cracks into which they could drive the chisel to pry him loose from his tenured position?

In a much larger scope (and much more creepy) example of the loss of freedom of expression in the academy, we have the immediate post September 11th Lynn Cheney/Joe Lieberman academic blacklist. The document had an "appendix" with a list of names, places, and dates where individuals on college campuses had said anything "unamerican" in the days just after the 9/11 attacks. The criteria for "unamerican", as you can imagine, was rather liberally applied and included things like "Lindsay D. Etudiant, 3rd year undergraduate political science major at peace rally". I read this in the unadulterated version, before the ACLU made them take out the names. I can't tell you how utterly chilling it was*.

So the deans' letter to the NYU faculty is not that surprising in this context. Still, I wonder how these folks think of themselves. Do they see where they fit into this movement of limitation? Do they notice that they are "the man" (and I don't mean that in an even remotely good way)? Most people see themselves as good people. You do. I do. Think of how your life might feel if you didn't. I've felt it. It is intolerable. So what do the deans tell themselves in order to maintain the belief they are inherently good people? When college presidents make salaries in the hundreds of thousands, when top level academic administrative positions are multiplying like wet mogwai, when fully compensated staff and faculty positions are being replaced with temp, part time, and other contingent positions, when graduate employees and other workers in the contingent labor pool are so undercompensated that too many of them must choose between basic needs like health care and shelter - when these people sign their names to a letter saying ignore all of this and do what we say, what do they tell themselves so they don't feel like the monstrously huge assholes they effectively are?

*For a good list of references regarding civil liberties in the post 9/11 era, go here)

Arrgh. I have spent too much time on this now. I'll post now and come back to clean it up later. Don't mind the errors.