Also, via Burningbird via making contact: a post from Alas, a blog on "What to do with those "I'm not a feminist, but..." women. (See also this Guardian article that inspired some of these posts.) There always seems to be at least one of those women in every first-year writing class I teach, and there's always a moment when she says, "Well, I was thinking of writing about [insert topic relating to women in some way or other] -- not in a feminist way, of course, I'm not a feminist..." And invariably I have to repress the urge to say "You're not a feminist? Bully for you. And yet here you are, getting a bachelor's degree, planning to go to law school, taking it completely for granted that you can vote and own property and pursue the same career options that your male counterparts do (although you're in for a bit of a shock when you discover you don't earn as much as them). Tell me, do you have any idea at all what you're talking about when you bandy around the word 'feminist' as if it were some kind of synonym for 'ogre'?" But to say that in the classroom would probably lead to course-evaluation comments like "She tried to force her political views on us." So I don't say anything. But maybe I'll order an "I'm not a feminist, but..." poster and tack it on my office wall.
(I'm feeling less aimless today. Probably because the sun has come out for a few minutes.)
What I need is a project. Today I accompanied my friend T. (who's a year behind me in the Ph.D. program) to the campus radio station where she hosts a free-form radio show on Friday afternoons. I watched her find a bunch of really odd spoken-word albums by Lynda Barry, Crosley Bendix (we played this very story, in fact), Ken Nordine, and others; a bunch of electronic and techno music to play in the background; some old jazz and country-western LPs; and a few other unclassifiable things. Then I watched her pick out which tracks to play and turn them into a surreally funny hour-long show, practically on the spur of the moment. She looked completely in her element, spinning records and blending tracks together and fielding phone calls from listeners, and I thought, "I should find something non-academic that I can do that well, and enjoy that much."
In the meantime, I think I'll go see Swimming Pool this evening, if the rain ever lets up. And maybe I'll try Rana's suggestions on yoga for depression while I'm at it.
The moon in the bureau mirror
looks out a million miles
(and perhaps with pride, at herself,
but she never, never smiles)
far and away beyond sleep, or
perhaps she's a daytime sleeper.
By the Universe deserted,
she'd tell it to go to hell,
and she'd find a body of water,
or a mirror, on which to dwell.
So wrap up care in a cobweb
and drop it down the well
into that world inverted
where left is always right,
where the shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,
where the heavens are shallow as the sea
is now deep, and you love me.
-- Elizabeth Bishop
From: [name removed to protect the guilty -- ed.]
Subject: don't throw away your living at a dead end profession!
Get A Degree In Any Experienced Field [what exactly constitutes an "experienced" field, we're not entirely sure.]
Call Now For More Information!
It is a well known fact that people who posses a degree are looked upon as the elite. If you have a degree, you are almost assured to gain leverage in the work place.
[Does that mean I'll have "leverage in the work place" when I get my Ph.D? Hahahahahaha! That's brilliant! Oh, wait, I think they're serious. Oh well. It's still funnier than the usual Viagra spam...]
Speaking of social software, I still want to put comments up on this blog, but I don't want to use enetation after Rana's and Cindy's recent woes with it, and I couldn't get to any of Blogger's suggested alternatives last I checked, except the one site that's in Portuguese. Which I could probably muddle through based on Latin, Italian, and Spanish (listed in increasing order of rustiness), but there has to be an easier way. If anyone has found a reliable commenting service, drop me an e-mail and tell me about it. (Sigh. I want TypePad to be available already.)
I said something to the effect that I didn't think her shallow at all, and that I thought it was kind of depressing the way graduate study seems to make people worry about admitting to any sources of non-bookish pleasure in their lives. This isn't the case for everyone I know, for sure. Nor is it really the case for me anymore, but there was more than a twinge of familiarity when I imagined myself in her shoes, disclaiming non-academic interests as frivolous or distracting or whatever.
That reminded me of what I was blogging about several weeks ago, the kind of professionalization that constricts the person to form the scholar. It's not just a matter of the ascendancy of postmodernism; the fear of seeming shallow or not serious enough is a wider phenomenon. I'm inclined to point to the state of the job market: if you know you'll be competing for a position with 500 other people, all as smart as you, many with more publications and more teaching experience and more famous recommenders, you'll probably start pruning away any aspects of your persona that suggest you are not completely dedicated to your work. (And yes, it would look frivolous to talk about celebrity sightings during a job interview -- but when you start worrying about censoring that out of your everyday conversations...?) But I think it also has to do with the standard graduate school insecurity about not being smart enough or committed enough. And also, perhaps, it has to do with how much time faculty members have at their disposal. I keep hearing in my head something my mother, herself an academic with more than her share of stressful job searches behind her, once said to me: I'd been describing a dinner I'd made for some friends, and how much we'd all enjoyed the evening, and she said "You know, you won't have time for all this cooking when you're a junior faculty member somewhere."
At the same time, I don't want the refrain of this blog to be "academia sucks the joy out of everything," or "the life of the mind is a pain in the ass" (in the words of a graffito in a library stairwell at my undergrad institution) or "blame academe" (to be sung, of course, to the tune of the "Blame Canada" song from the South Park movie -- how's that for frivolity?). And I absolutely don't want to dismiss bookish pleasures in defense of non-bookish ones. A while back I ran across this post at making contact about the things that can be said in defense of academic life in general, and of graduate school. Cindy's point (also Mike's point, only I can't find the exact post), that not everyone feels downtrodden by the Ph.D. experience and that we should try not to "end up replicating here [in the blogosphere] what we accuse the academy of" (i.e. disheartening others), is well taken.
I go back and forth on this all the time. I'm a Gemini, after all, which also explains my tendency to wordiness. Anyway, there's some larger point here about pleasure and desire and the channels they get directed into in academia, but it'll have to wait until it clarifies itself in my head.