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.


Week’s end

June 7, 2008

I have decided to grow my hair out again, partly as an aesthetic experiment, partly out of economic necessity – perhaps ‘decided’ isn’t the most accurate term. And as the humidex pushed the temperature close to 40° today I remembered the particular kind of pleasure in being able to pull my hair off my neck and pile it on the top of my head instead. While I’m never happy about this sort of oppressive heat, I’m at least thankful it waited until my parents’ visit was over. We walked around the city for three days, and I finally made it to the Botanical Garden (pictures forthcoming on flickr). They brought homemade, dog-safe cookies for Alice, and my gift is breathing beside me – a bottle of my favourite baco noir. So the string of summer visitors is officially underway, as another pair arrives in a week.
Rather surprisingly, I turned down a dinner invitation this evening, opting instead to unfold my largest lawn-chair (those metallic clacks bringing back dozens of similarly sticky summer nights at my brother’s softball games, my friends’ cottages, small-town Canada Day fireworks), and work on my dissertation, a chapter of which The Supervisor insists is due on Monday. Now, with only one meaty part unwritten, I’m mulling over the week’s events, and, admittedly, keeping an eye on my portly neighbours’ ardent window-front make-out session; others are drunkenly belting out “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” Ambience.
My parents and I got along well. More than that, I genuinely enjoyed spending time with them. At times my relationship with my mother is rocky, and my father can get self-righteous and grandiloquent when he’s drinking (you can keep your quips about heredity to yourself). But the familiar – familial – tensions and triggers never appeared, and we went through a lot of wine. While the parent/child dynamic didn’t fully fade, this was one of a handful of instances in which I actually felt like an adult (mooching meals notwithstanding).
This is not the only relationship on my mind. People like to make lists of reasons why a romance has ended. With a mental catalogue of such lists – about me, as they have been recounted to me – I’m noticing themes. In the bold light of day I write them off as the result of consistently gravitating toward the wrong kind of guys. In the dark, when no one can see me being self-indulgent, I wonder if they sketch out an innate undateability. Neither easy explanation is the entire truth. It’s frustrating, though, to think that you carried through with lessons learned, to believe that you did better this time around, to feel that your performance showed improvement, just to get the same report card at the end. It’s like failing a test for which you had a cheat sheet. In there, somewhere, a variable is unaccounted for. I should start working in pencil.


March 21, 2008

One of those nights when you feel like a parody of yourself, of the selves you’ve been over time.  Moving from one room to another with the wineglass between your right fingers and the bottle between your left, Ani on the stereo and an HBO series on the television, a cigarette trailing off on its own as you get distracted.  Ignoring the dog’s obvious “You woke me up” tolerance for snuggling, googling yourself to see what you may have been up to, pacing.  Not physically per se, but pacing nonetheless.  Counting down to bedtime by how empty the bottle is.  Blogging.

2007 (abridged)

January 4, 2008

Big deaths and little deaths. False starts; strides. Early mornings, for months on end. Blackouts. Blame. Butterflies. Leave-takings, hang-ups. Blank pages filled, and filled pages edited. A grant. A move. A washer and a dryer. Stir-craziness, long solitary runs, the neighbours’ welcome and overly familiar cats.
Learned: How to grin and say ‘hangover’ in French. That there are idealized versions of ‘woman’ I do not embody, and I do not need to apologize for that. Shin splints are painful. I want another dog.
Resolutions: Nah.

Night sky

November 19, 2007

I kept catching glimpses of the moon, a bright half-circle lurking in the top corner of my back door. So I tried, as I occasionally do when I’m feeling inspired (or bored) and it’s a cloudless night, to take a picture. I’ve got a swanky camera, and now I’ve even got a cute portable tripod, and damnit I’ve got the will. Out on my balcony futzing with the tripod’s legs, with the camera’s seemingly endless settings, a bit of motion caught my eye – the tail end of a shooting star.
It’s like that, sometimes, you’re so intently focused on one thing just out of range, and nearly miss the other. Of course, in the end I didn’t get either. The point’s not really that literal, but rather:

The interesting thing about your solar chart right now is how pronounced is the theme of confronting your fears. The picture is one of going from the general to the specific — you take those monolithic issues like ‘fear of life’ and ‘fear of intimacy’ and feel your way through them until they are more specific. We might add to this list ‘fear of change’, which often silently haunts any experience of love. Give it a voice, so that the haunting ends.

Of course, it’s not only us Leos throwing down commonplace issues like ‘fear of intimacy’ only to balk at peeling back a corner to see what the blanket phrase actually covers. I’ve been trying to disengage some of mine from their history – which isn’t the same as absolving past actors, but rather the notion that confining fears as conditioned responses isn’t enough of an explanation for why they still get to play such a role in the present. We all have people and places and moments that are formative; I’m not decrying the lingering and necessary influence of, say, the hypercritical and passive-aggressive mother. But there’s a difference between formative and definitive. Perhaps it’s just my ornery ego, but hawking all that’s gone before doesn’t credit my ability to change, to be a dialogue rather than a result. A month ago tonight I said something that surprised even myself. In realizing that I believed in the impulse, if not in the words themselves, the past-as-excuse fell a little further away.
So maybe it is like the moon that’s always there in varying degrees of visibility, and the shooting star that can only be seen by luck and timing, or, if you’re the masochistic type, by staring steadily and determinedly at the sky until something reveals itself. And we all know I’m the masochistic type.


September 28, 2007

The neighbourhood kids play road hockey instead of basketball. I need a sweater on my balcony around 7pm. Leaves start to crunch underfoot when I cut across the park. The squirrels are out en masse, foraging and frantically hiding their finds. Some of my windows get closed at night. Entire sidewalks crane their necks at the sound of geese, and watch their wobbly formations cut across the sky.
Fall, not spring, has always smacked of beginnings to me. School is in session, winter is within reach (go ahead, roll your eyes. I love winter), and I prefer the imagery of shedding to that of blooming – laying bare, bracing, curling in, relishing warmth in ways that can only be borne of sharp contrast. It’s less a discovery than it is a reminder of what lies underneath. Fall is creeping up more slowly this year – summer has been lingering and I have to forcibly shake off the sun-induced sloth. More nights on terrasses and back balconies, more warm breezes to rouse me mid-afternoon, more languid walks home from school. There’s something to be said for this unhurried approach; winter comes regardless, and when you think of nothing but an inevitable outcome you can race right past the season’s charm.
I now have the time, the means, and a foxy new leather jacket. And, yes, a childlike tendency to shuffle my feet through the growing piles of fallen leaves, grinning all the while and not caring who notices.


August 6, 2007

It would have been another anniversary. The residue is sloughing off. Sometimes I still catch myself in the vision of a future that’s no longer coming – my eyes linger on for-sale signs on tree-lined park-adjacent streets. Sometimes I still turn to what’s no longer there – with news of my grandfather’s rapidly failing health my fingers instinctively tried to dial the unforgotten number. It was a mess and I was in love and that didn’t feel like quite so much of a paradox at the time.
But hey, crisitunity. I’ve already re-vamped the future: a post-doc at USC, maybe even Goldsmiths (!). And, importantly, there is no shortage of other phone numbers: those who always stick around, who have cracked the requisite caustic jokes and have cried in sympathy and have paid the entire tab at the end of the night.
I’m off to meet such a handful shortly. Not because it’s the 6th (no, really, this rendezvous has been rescheduled three times), and not as that maudlin matter of life goes on. Life does that regardless, it’s just better now. It’s not as linear as it sounds, but when I stare at myself brushing my teeth at the end of the day I can tell that it’s true. And it’s such a relief. I prefer After.

The term of the ends.

May 24, 2007

Things keep ending. Or, rather, I keep ending things (to make it clear that I’m for once not talking about Veronica Mars). “Good reasons” rings hollow to me right now. Determining the difference between loss and turning points is a matter of time and perspective, but in both of the situations to which I’m alluding it feels like loss. I’d began an earlier version of this post with some ballyhoo about feminism, being a feminist, needing a “Living Feminism for Dummies” handbook, etcetera, by couching things in such terms I was distancing and hiding myself behind theory – pretending these to be merely theoretical conundrums rather than felt (and felt keenly, painfully, confusingly) experiences. If it’s theory, then there are rules and logic and principles, leading to inevitable and inarguably right answers. But when it’s felt, it’s not that simple – it’s a confluence of emotions that tug at me in different, equally powerful ways. What I want versus what I want; what I need versus what I need. No inevitable and inarguably right answers exist here, just a scale that’s constantly shifting. I am at the same time both convinced and profoundly unsure of these endings. And it hurts.

The body

May 22, 2007

I’ve lost a lot of weight in the past few years. I’ve done it the right way – I’ve modified my eating habits and I’ve set and am sticking to a viable exercise routine (funny how it no longer feels like a routine but a lifestyle; lacing up runners now signals ‘morning’ to me). I’m pleased and proud, not of my appearance per se, but of how my body feels – strong and fit and capable. The extent of this change has never been that apparent to me, yet I know it must be visible when I run into people I haven’t seen in awhile and they comment on how I look. I know it must be real when I grab an old favourite out of the closet only to have it slide off as it tries to rest on hips that aren’t there anymore.
But the inner changes are taking more time. In my mind’s eye I’m still the fat chick that reassured herself about her personality. There are times when I don’t recognize what I see in the mirror. Shopping the other day, I realized my brain hasn’t caught up with my body – I reached for my usual size of pants, then optimistically grabbed for the next size down. I walked to the changeroom, preparing myself for the inevitable suck-in-the-gut and resolve-to-lay-off-the-chocolate moment of struggling with the top button. And pair after pair of pants balanced precariously at the bottom of my hips, inches of material pooled unflatteringly around my bum. Back at the racks, I stared at the pants in a size I haven’t worn since highschool and started to shake. I realized I don’t know my body anymore – this body that wears single-digit pants, smaller cup sizes, mediums instead of larges. It was unnerving.
So I went and bought a pair of shoes instead. That size hasn’t changed.

The breaking point

May 9, 2007

So it seems that after a year of biting off more than I could chew but chewing nonetheless, my inner ballast has finally decided to speak up and make it perfectly clear that I’m not ready for a dog just yet. Between the mild panic attacks (ever had one? Think the trash compactor scene in Star Wars, but without the Wookie), an unscheduled visit from my period, and constant anxious fidgeting, my body was hollering that this was too much too soon. Colour me surprised. I really believed I was ready for another dog. What happened?
I’ve spent the past year trying to be the dedicated and attentive teacher, the compassionate and attentive friend, the desirable and attentive girlfriend, the considerate and attentive roommate. Through all of this, a friend wisely pointed out (and my mother, but when do I ever listen to her?), I’d stopped attending to me. Taking on the role of loving and attentive dog owner without an intermission wasn’t going to work – I wouldn’t be able to give her what she needs without hesitation. I had to learn this the hard way, and I had to look into her big brown uncomprehending eyes to apologize and say goodbye.
I feel awful. Shaky. Near tears, again.
I force myself to take comfort in knowing that she’s returning to people who are determined to find her a good home, and I wonder what my home is going to be like. For ten years there’s always been another heartbeat – a roommate, a dog, a boyfriend, a cat – and now there’s only one. I look around my apartment and think it’s just me for the next little while, and am bravely uncertain.