In

August 18, 2009

My dissertation is deposited. Up next: turning 30.

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Distractions

February 23, 2009

I’ve been watching a lot of House lately – episode after episode after episode.  This is one of the ways I deal with funks, to immerse myself in a fictional world even less pleasant than my own.  Melrose Place works quite well for this, incidentally.  Part of House’s appeal for this particular kind of oblivion-viewing is its schadenfreude: sure, I’m miserable, but not as miserable as House; sure, my knee hurts like hell, but I’m not being repeatedly stuck in the spine with giant needles that test for horrible diseases with long, compound names.  Part of it is the mystery – I love a good mystery – but more than that, I think, is the formula.  Lupus is always ruled out at the start, there’s always a seizure, a series of stabs at diagnosis that are thwarted again and again until House strikes upon that last clue.  Always.  This comforts me.  Things get worse and worse and worse, and then better.  Next episode, things get worse and worse and worse, and then better.  Over and over as I slouch bra-less on the couch.  At some point the formula will get comforting enough that I’ll take it seriously: I’m not a locus of mysterious symptoms, I should shower and sit down with my notes and write. Because things get better.

Unmoored

February 17, 2009

The inevitable mid-winter sketchbaggery of grad student life has hit me.  No teaching, just the diss.  No money, no office, just the same four rooms.  Wind chills, cold rain, and now an inexplicably swollen and unbendable knee mean no running. Chapter four is hitting close to home – I’m simultaneously invested in and distancing myself from the material, which makes the act of writing frustrating and upsetting just as the process is becoming more isolating and alienating from that wide world I’m told is out there.  And during the past two weeks my landlords have been renovating the empty apartment below mine, prompting power and water outages, headachey fumes and wall-shaking demolitions that drive the dog and I to R’s house for quiet as well as basic amenities. Maintaining momentum, in either an apartment that feels more cloying each day or one that lacks my library and stacks of notes, is hard. Plus the spine of my trusty notebook has come unglued, so that pages of precious ideas disconnect and slide out.  How melodramatically metaphorical.

On confession

January 16, 2009

I have a habit of writing things through, particularly questions I’d rather not answer, or answered with the sensation that I left something dangling.  I’m a ruminator (oh how I wish that sounded ominous).  Ideas percolate while I’m on the metro, idly trolling through grocery store aisles, walking the dog.  This isn’t like that Seinfeld episode in which George only comes up with the perfect comeback days later – those are always at the ready.  But the meaningful responses to genuine questions have to actually be thought out, and usually away from the questioner.

I’ve gone so far as to create a separate file in which all of my ruminated and thought-out and scripted responses are kept.  They can be written, and revised, and edited, and re-written, so long as they get saved under the innocuous filename of “emails” (and thus, according to Speech Act Theory, making them emails). They rarely go anywhere, but I keep them because it’s good to know that at some (past the tipping) point I figured out the perfect thing to say, came up with a searing elucidation on what exactly it is that I mean.

I’m now ruminating upon this rumination – in working through Chapter Four I’m messing around with Foucault’s interpretations and uses of ‘confession.’ He talks about confession as a means of producing ‘truth’ (specifically in relation to sexuality; while central to my chapter, that’s not the part I’m interested in here).

…seeking the fundamental relation to the true, not simply in oneself – in some forgotten knowledge or in a certain primal trace – but in the self-examination that yields, through a multitude of fleeting impressions, the basic certainties of consciousness.  The obligation to confess is now relayed through so many different points is so deeply ingrained in us, that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us; on the contrary, it seems to us that truth, lodged in our most secret nature, ‘demands’ only to surface.

Foucault talks about how this act, this ritual, is bound up in and enacts arrangements of power; even if you are just dragging confessions out of yourself into unsent emails there is a virtual or presumed arbiter and a mechanism of forgiveness – an internalized sense not of social propriety so much as an injunction toward individualization (which is, however, bound up in and judged by external shoulds and oughts).  We cannot pinpoint something as a ‘sin’ worth recounting without a sense of what norms we have transgressed.  Confession is recognized not only by its degree of difficulty but also by its implicit potential for exacting change:

…a ritual in which the truth is corroborated by the obstacles and resistances it has had to surmount in order to be formulated . . . a ritual in which the expression alone, independently of its external consequences, produces intrinsic modification in the person who articulates it: it exonerates, redeems, and purifies him; it unburdens him of his wrongs, liberates him, and promises him salvation.

To a certain degree this is a matter of pattern recognition, that one of these things is not like the other.  What I confess, the truths of self I produce, are through the act of confession marked as different, through this process identified as somehow noteworthy, having bearing on how the ‘me’ they narrate fits – or doesn’t, or could, or needs to – into larger structures or forms of social control.  And along the way they’re ideally to tweak this ‘me,’ so that I become fitter, happier, more productive, not drinking too much…

Which isn’t to say I’m going to stop writing faux emails.  Or that I don’t believe something personally valuable can be gained through such reflection (which would invalidate this whole blogging thing).  Just another instance of life imitating theory, that’s all.

Boys

September 20, 2008

So Chapter Three isn’t as done as I thought.  In keeping with the spirit of the chapter (on masculinities), some anecdotes:
-Multiple cars full of guys passed as I sat in the backseat of a cab heading home last night.  Most of them were eating – things they could hold in one hand and tear at with decisive, teeth-baring head-shakes.
-R. sometimes falls asleep with his head tucked into that intimate crook between my ear and my shoulder.  I love that.
-I overheard a guy telling his friend about the other night when his drunken girlfriend changed her mind partway through sex, and that he continued anyway because ‘no’ doesn’t count or matter when she’s drunk.  And that she cried after… “bitches, eh?”  I turned around and told him he was a rapist, and got a “Fuck you, you fat cow” in return.
-An ex-boyfriend once told me he could empathize with the ending of Nobody Waved Goodbye. Watching it again with my students last week, I can too.

Some reflections

April 14, 2008

1. A new dog is a process. Maybe not for everyone, but for me. I loved Isis so much – she came with me through so many big changes: three cities, two degrees; the start and end of my first big relationship; always curled up beside me on the kitchen floor when I was crying about the one that got away. She stared solemnly at me when I got my BA, danced with me when I got my MA, and always climbed into the car first. And now there’s Alice. She’s not Isis, she never will be. There are times when I resent that, because I wish, childishly, that it could have been Isis forever. But that’s not the way pets work.
I’m no longer ambivalent about Alice’s role here – that was hammered home a few weeks ago when the protective grizzly reared its head, that surge of “Nobody fucks with my dog.” We’re having buildy moments – when she walks into the room, plops down on her ample rump and yawns something inside of me aches and smiles at the same time. Like when she stretches beside me on the couch, accidentally kicking me without apology. Or when I ask her to “heel” and she does (these moments are fewer and farther between). I look at her and know that I’m moving toward the ownership mixture of taking her presence for granted and looking at her grinning because that’s my dog.

2. The past few weeks have been spent bouncing from one important thing to another. I’ve been doing lots of talking, but along the way the kinds of conversations that matter, that have become part of the daily routine (not to be equated with the daily grind, but ‘routine’ in the way that the afternoon coffee is routine – necessary, needed, anticipated, cherished) have fallen by the wayside. So has my dissertation, and, reassuringly, I miss it too. These important things hit their expiry dates soon and the routine will return, just in time for terraces and slathering on sunscreen and late-night bouts of inspiration with nowhere to be in the morning. But still…

Lately

November 12, 2007

Days, entire weeks, are passing in half-remembered nights and hangovers, lingering coffees and long meetings, drafts tossed off the table in frustration or fury, frantic scrawling on the back of any scrap of paper at hand, sneakers slapping kilometre after kilometre along the canal, late nights and vigorous moaning mornings. I looked at the calendar and noticed that the garbage needs to go out, that it’s November.

The last few bits of the last long weekend are ebbing. Tomorrow the fall semester officially starts, which actually means very little – this is the first September in six years that I won’t be teaching. Both of my parents (teachers as well) retired in June; we’re trying to revel but there’s an undertone of trepidation. How do we fill time now? My answer seems so simple – write the diss (it’s not my diss now, but the diss; a crucial distinction, as lately it’s been writing me). But first, snippets of how I spent my summer vacation:
Socializing: Added up, more than a month was spent entertaining visitors. The last (not counting one arriving this week) left yesterday. Having my space back is both appreciated and a little lonely (I might even miss the cat). Such serial visits make one observation unavoidable: my friends are fabulous.
Travelling: Retirement parties, a shower, a wedding, a funeral. Flurries of activity and stockpiley trips to the LCBO.
Biking: Useful and economical – 12:30 is too early to call anything quits, and cabs are financially unfeasible for someone of my proclivities, (un)employment status, and geographical location. I tried so hard to enjoy biking everywhere. But I just don’t. I’m a pedestrian.
Writing: I wrote a decent draft of about a third of the diss. Not as much as I’d have liked, but summers here are notoriously unproductive. I blame Montreal.
Fucking: I slept around a bit. It was fun. And easy (which isn’t the same as uncomplicated, but what’s summer without a little light drama?). I like how thank-you emails are becoming de rigueur.
Running: I hit the 10k mark mid-June, and have been doing that three times a week ever since. I’m toying with the idea of training for a half-marathon, but could just be looking for an opportunity to toss around the word ‘fartlek.’
Preening: I officially if grudgingly accepted that I look good in hot pink.
Listening: Boxer by The National. Writer’s Block by Peter, Bjorn and John. The Reminder by Feist.
My parents will be gleefully sleeping in tomorrow morning. I’ll be up, futzing with the coffeemaker and wondering how to organize my non-semester. I’m not comfortable with unstructured time. Summer is always a needed reprieve, but after four months I’m antsy again. Sans students until January, I’m compiling a list of fall distractions, er, plans. My tentative triangulation: the St. Henri pool, a diner with free refills, and Allez-Up.

On my mind:

August 14, 2007

‘I’ could not be who I am if I were to love in the way that I apparently did, which I must, to persist as myself, continue to deny and yet unconsciously reenact in contemporary life with the most terrible suffering as its consequence.
-Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power.

I know it must be hard to fathom that a girl doesn’t care what a smart man thinks about the thing that she cares most about in the world, or that there’s a movement that exists that doesn’t much take into consideration what men have to say on the topic. I know I’m supposed to 1) nod thoughtfully as I process your wisdom, asking clarifying questions about your points just in case I don’t immediately understand something you say, and then 2) offer up some powerful and intelligent argument on why feminism is important, and then 3) try to prove my point with examples from women in politics and a few stories about my grandmother, but of course, in the end, 4) concede that yes, you have some very good points that I will certainly think about, and thank you for educating me about feminism and correcting me on those things I didn’t fully understand about women and the world.

Well, that conversation has been had before and is a bullshit boring ass waste of time that does absolutely nothing for anyone. Pretending to be open to the possibility that I’m a fool for believing what I do is wrong, dishonest, and disrespectful to everyone involved. Being polite and feigning interest, when I’m really thinking “Holy crap, what an indoctrinated, privileged prick he is. Where’s my beer?” is simply no good.

Ornamenting Away

Harold InnisThe Bias of Communication begins with this epigraph:

“Why do we attend to the things to which we attend?” (James Broeke)

Good question. When asked why I write about chicks and crime, my response is either flippant (good for cocktail parties) or theory-laden (good for getting someone to stop talking to you at a cocktail party). But those are not the only reasons, and certainly not the most personally compelling.
There’s something about chick detectives. Not female detectives, though I enjoy them. I’ve shuddered in empathy with the willful and unapologetic V.I. for years, I remember my first encounter with Miss Marple when I was no more than nine, and was livid when Remington Steele was released on DVD and Stephanie Zimbalist received second billing, or, more accurately, a sticker slapped on to the cardboard sleeve that said “Also starring Stephanie Zimbalist!” as Pierce Brosnan’s (much younger) frame dominated front and back.
No, there’s something about this particular character. It’s the same slightly shamefaced draw of chick lit.
It’s postfeminism.
I’m changing chapters. I’ve been plugging away at chapter two for about six weeks now and as far as content and structure, it’s nearly solid. But it’s missing a critical edge (a.k.a., pace my supervisor, what’s at stake?) So I’m heading back to chapter one, which I’d abandoned in the winter as teaching two classes took over. And my brain is ramping up again… I love this stuff. I’m fascinated by this nebulous thing called postfeminism, and particularly by its politics – or, more precisely, just how political its seemingly apolitical stance really is.
So I attend to chicks because, well, because I like identity politics. I’m intrigued by how quickly ‘chick’ has become the cultural shorthand or image of an ideal and idealized new female subject, and the elisions within that of the forces that weigh upon women: the economic, racial, and sexual politics of being a ‘chick’. And I attend to chick’s intersection with crime because it’s there that we get a sense of what worries us most – depictions of deviancy are a telling index of cultural anxieties, and one of the central ways in which North American culture tries to reaffirm the rightness of patriarchy.
Okay. Time to spin this out into 40 pages.

*Meaning the Innis reference. Despite (or deliberately to spite?) my years of schooling as such, I’m not a political economist or a hardcore Canadian communications scholar, so I rarely have the chance to cite Innis.