The People v. The Setting Sun

August 23, 2011 § 10 Comments

Two weekends ago, Robert and I visited my parents in order to really dig in to the whole baby-preparation thing. (Now that I’m nearly four months pregnant, it seems appropriate that the Queen of Planning and Princess of Planning make the most out of their limited time together to, well, plan!) While we were visiting with them, my paternal grandparents came over for dinner. It was a really nice time to see them; we hadn’t visited them since I had announced my pregnancy over the phone to them on Father’s Day.

While we were having dinner, my grandfather regaled us with an interesting…and…slightly disturbing…tale of a friend of theirs (a neighbor) who had a rather unfortunate accident with a bicyclist, which resulted in the cyclist’s untimely death. Allow me to share the story with you, free of judgment, before I share my opinion.

Setting: 5:30 p.m., EST, late October. Her SUV crests the top of a hill to approach a stop light. This particular spot has always been a neighborhood bugaboo, particularly in the Fall. Neighbors have complained of feeling blinded as they traverse the intersection at this time of day, on this particular hill.

Situation: As she pulls up to the top of the hill, she notices that there is another car behind her. Unfortunately, she cannot see to her right, blinded by the sun. As she begins to pull through the intersection, she hears a gruesome thump and knows that she has hit something. Just a moment later, the car behind her likewise hits the something. She’s a nurse, on her way to pick up her child from an extracurricular activity, so she immediately pulls over to investigate. When she sees the man off his bicycle, dying, she begins emergency care. The police arrive and physically restrain the panicked off-duty nurse. The man is dead on the scene.

What happened: Driver A was blinded by the sun and therefore unable to see the bicyclist riding in the shoulder to her right. There is no bike lane. Her right side-view mirror clipped the cyclist, causing him to fall off his bike. Driver B killed the cyclist by driving over him. (I have limited information on Driver B because Driver A is my grandparents’ neighbor and friend, so the story is primarily from her perspective.)

The question: who is at fault and to what degree?

Think on that, ruminate a minute, and then, when you’re ready, return to this post for my take on it.

But first, my grandparents’ opinion:

Driver A, their friend, has been in and out of court for several months (nearly a year has gone by), but the official trial has not started. She has suffered a great deal of mental and physical anguish, leaving her depressed and incapable to do her job as a nurse. Her family has suffered, as well. They have taken to avoiding the scene of the accident in hopes of not reliving the horror of that fateful afternoon. (They may have even moved, but I’m a little spotty on that detail.) To my grandparents’ unified minds, this woman has served her due time through her suffering. They believe that the bicyclist is responsible for his death for two reasons: 1. he was traveling in a shoulder, not in an approved bike lane, and 2. everyone in the area knew that the sun was blinding at that time of the day in that particular spot. They could not comprehend why this man would choose to ride his bike amid afternoon traffic when visibility is so obviously compromised. I asked if they had heard about Driver B and what she was being held responsible for, but they hadn’t heard. They are disgusted by the surviving family of the cyclist for pursuing the case and for erecting a memorial to their family member. They are sure that the memorial is an attempt to further punish the drivers involved, specifically Driver A, through psychological torture.

My opinion:

It is always, beyond any reasonable doubt, the driver’s responsibility to drive in a manner that ensures the safety of all passengers as well as all other bodies on the road. I have been blinded by a setting sun before. I have had trouble seeing the lines painted on the road because of the sun. I have driven dangerously close to a bicyclist before because of traffic on my left or an inability to see the cyclist.

However.

Should anything have happened to me, my passengers, other drivers, pedestrians, or cyclists on the road because I found myself temporarily impaired, then it is solely my responsibility. When I am impaired by the sun, then it is my responsibility to drive slower and more cautiously. I can’t assume that others around me are aware that I’m blinded and that they’ll accommodate my impairment. I believe that Driver A should take some responsibility for assisting an accidental vehicular homicide. Driver B should be charged with accidental vehicular homicide. The bicyclist should not have been traveling in a shoulder, true. But neither he nor the setting sun should be found culpable for the unfortunate accidental crime.

I was also surprised by my grandparents’ vehemence. I am positive that if I were the cyclist in this scenario, my parents would fight to the end to see the drivers responsible brought to justice.

So, readers, what says’t thou? In the case of the People v. the Setting Sun, who should win?

Somebody pull the plug, STAT!

May 31, 2011 § 12 Comments

Well, folks, I’ve long suspected it, but today I received confirmation: Pat Robertson has officially lost his fucking mind.

Before I label myself as a watcher of The 700 Club, please allow me to explain. I watch The Today Show most mornings, and especially on the mornings when I have to pay bills (oh, end-of-the-month payday, you fickle, fickle bitch). Sometimes I’ll be busy doing something else and will not change the channel in time to miss The 700 Club‘s ominous opening theme. Today was such a morning. I was caught up in the process of creating a new online account for one of my creditors when I heard the gravelly voice of top hatemonger Pat Robertson. I decided to tune him out, trying like hell to remember the new password I had just created. And then…I heard it. The most-fucking-ridiculous thing I have EVER heard anyone say in my entire life. Ever.

Segueing from a piece on the tragedy that is human sex trafficking in order to introduce a one-on-one interview with The Second Coming of Christ Tim Tebow, Pat Robertson makes the following statement:

“And, you know, people call it a ‘victimless’ crime because the girls want to do it. But, those children don’t want to be sex slaves. It’s disgraceful.”

Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-whaaaaaaaaaa????

Friends, I would like for you to tell me precisely who calls the crime of human sex trafficking “victimless.”

Who believes that these kidnap victims would rather be whores, bought and sold on the whims of pimps, than, say, happy-go-lucky teenage girls or college students or professionals?

Who believes that these girls willingly go along with it because it’s their preferred choice?

Who believes that these girls haven’t been brainwashed or threatened or beaten into submission?

Who believes that, given the option between returning to their families or spreading their legs for a dollar, these girls prefer the latter?

Come on, Pat Robertson! The only rational adult who would call human sex trafficking “victimless” isn’t really all that rational. What you have described, Pat, is a sociopath.

Fuck you, Pat Robertson. Fuck you and your fucking stupid generalizations and divisive commentary.

So, let me kick this out to you guys, my readers. Is Pat Robertson a fucking liar who just likes to make others outside of his little realm appear to be barbarians? Or has ol’ A.Hab. just completely reamed a defenseless old man who was trying to make a nice point? Have you ever heard anyone call human sex trafficking a victimless crime?

Protected: The cost of poor advising, update: Time-Turner Required, STAT!

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Please don’t compliment me; I don’t think I can take it.

April 8, 2011 § 12 Comments

“I love this, A.Hab.!” V exclaims. She’s reading something I wrote. A draft of something. I can’t remember what now. I must not look convinced by her adoration of my writing. “Don’t you think this sounds good?” She reads me the section that has her so impressed. A smile cracks on my lips…I don’t really know why.

“I…guess…?” It’s not really a question, but my tone inflects up. “I mean…yeah?” I do it again.

Poor V sits across from me, paper in hand, trying so hard to get me to read what she’s reading, the way she’s reading it. She tries again and reads a different section. Afterward, she looks up at me, waiting. “It’s good!” There’s no room for arguing against her–she speaks so emphatically, already convinced that she’s not only right but that I’ll think so, too.

“Well…thank you,” I finally manage. It’s feeble. I’m pretty sure she notices it’s feeble.

“A.Hab., don’t you see that this is good?” she asks again. “I mean, it sounds intelligent. You really know what you’re talking about.”

Yeah, I want to say to her. But we’re talking about my writing here. My writing is never that good. I’m just average. Your writing on the other hand–it’s the real deal!

I don’t say that. I know it won’t go over well. V is trying to help me learn to take a compliment. I’m trying, V, I really am.

Like so many graduate and professional students out there, I suffer from what’s commonly called “Impostor Syndrome.” The imposture here is that, despite my ability to please two admissions committees enough for entrance into two graduate programs (one at the Master’s level and another at the Doctoral level), I’m really not as good as they all think I am. In fact, I know I’m not that good, and one day they’ll find out and boot me from the program. Literally. They will kick me on my rear-end with a boot. Out the door.

I’ve been in my graduate program since 2004. I graduated in 2006 with my M.A., and the same year I entered the PhD program. Maybe I just sort of snuck in under the radar? Maybe they didn’t notice how bad my seminar papers were? How horrible my thesis was? How contrived my theoretical lines of inquiry?

When I receive compliments (especially in regards to my intellect or writing ability), my first thought is an emphatic But!

Would I like to curb this tendency? Absolutely. Of course.

Do I want to value myself and the work I do? Absolutely.

But, honestly, the majority of my motivation to learn how to take a compliment is externally-driven. I would like to be able to believe what others say about me for their sake. I am keenly aware at how disappointing it is for the people who compliment me to be met with a mere shrug or shake of the head or protest. It infuriates me when others do that to the compliments I offer them. I feel embarrassed when others offer me a compliment because I know better than they do. (How arrogant!) And I want to set them straight; I want them to know just how ill-bestowed their kind words are. (Ever the teacher….)

So how do we break out of this habit? What do we do with the Impostor Within? How do we learn to embrace and love and see the Person That Other People See?

Blogs and Writing Pedagogy: what I should have said

April 7, 2011 § 22 Comments

“I just don’t see the blogs accomplishing your pedagogy like you think they do.”

I sit there, blinking. Crap. My jaw clenches. Don’t you cry, Amanda. Not now. Not in your annual review. I am so miserable in my job, and I’m positive he can tell. Despite my best efforts to prepare a portfolio that might suggest otherwise, I’m sure he can tell that I have been miserable for quite some time. But I’m afraid. If I tell him the truth, what consequences could I stand to risk? Might I be strung up? Would this follow me my entire life? If a potential employer asks him about my teaching experience, will I be ruined? Buck up. Seriously. Stop. Just don’t say anything. If you talk, you’ll definitely cry. Just don’t say anything.

“According to your students, they had trouble remembering to do the blogs. And it looks like they’re not worth much, only 10% of the overall grade, so doing them doesn’t really affect their overall grade.”

“Actually,” I cut in, my voice breaking. “They’re part of the 10% daily grade, which also includes quizzes.”

“Right, I saw that on your policy statement. That’s redundant. Daily quizzes and three blogs a week.”

“They’re not daily quizzes,” I try to explain. The tears are starting to rise up. Can he tell? “I give the quizzes randomly, but on average there are ten quizzes in a semester.”

“Okay, so my point is that the blogs don’t count for much, and if they’re sharing that 10% of the daily grade with a few quizzes, then they count for even less. Do you see how that gives the students little incentive to want to even do them in the first place?”

It takes a conscious effort to nod. Don’t say anything or else you’ll start crying. Shit, why are you such a baby? You’ve never been like this before in an annual review! Can’t you take criticism at all??

“Why did you come up with the blog assignment at all?”

The question surprises me. Catches me off-guard. It shouldn’t because I’ve been asked it before. Except…this is different. I think when I’ve been asked this question, it’s usually been phrased with the word how. This feels immediately judgmental. He has already made up his mind. He’s looking for a reason to change his mind. I won’t give it to him. I can’t give it to him. Not without crying.

“I-I guess I just…” I swallow. “To me, they’re like critical reading responses except the students have the opportunity to read each other’s responses and then respond to them as well. I wanted to keep the conversation going, I guess. I just….”

“Okay, but I’m not sure that it does that for you. The students remarked about how they often forgot to even do the blogs in the first place. I would recommend either eliminating the blogs entirely, reducing the number of blogs they should do in a week, or eliminate quizzes. Actually, I think I would recommend reducing the number of blogs in a week and eliminate the quizzes.”

I’m back to blinking. I really like the blogs. My students had seemed to really like the blogs. My mind is reeling. They forgot to do the blogs? But…according to my grade book, most of my students did most, if not all, of the blogs…. I have more students with perfect blog grades than students with failing blog grades. I don’t understand why they would claim that they didn’t remember to do them…. That’s not true….

The rest of the review continues in a similar vein. He pulls out the already-written assessment report, crosses out the word “eliminate” and replaces it with “reconsider” so that the final sentence now reads, “reconsider the blog assignments.” I sign the form, representing my agreement to his report. He was going to tell me to eliminate the blogs entirely…. My first out-of-the-box assignment failed. I walk out of his office and quickly get into mine, closing the door, and collecting myself. Don’t cry, not now. One more meeting. Don’t cry. I pull it together after ten minutes, and I am late to my next meeting. But I’m not in tears.

After several days of consideration, I realize now what I should have said. And now that I am beginning to apply for jobs, I realize what I did by not defending myself–if he serves as a reference, then he will deliver the same report he gave during my annual review. If I mention the blog assignment in my application materials (in spite of everything, I am still proud of it), then I now face the risk of the hiring manager asking him, “She mentioned something about blogs. What do you know about that assignment?” And what will he say? I surely can’t know, but I have a good guess.

I should have defended myself. I should have given him something else to say.

The blogs work.

1. Overall quiz grades from semesters without blogs to semesters with blogs have marked improvement. The reason? Students are reading. They have to do the readings in order to write the blogs. And if they did the readings, then they will do well on quizzes. Although I do change questions from time to time on my quizzes, the type of information I’m searching for is pretty consistent from semester to semester. My students’ daily grade average has improved.

2. They are a low-stakes assignment purposefully designed to be low-stakes. If a student forgets to write a blog once or twice, his or her daily average is not ruined. But, completing all blog assignments on time and receiving a perfect score on the blogging assignment by the end of the semester is equal to receiving perfect scores on four quizzes. It is a “gimme” assignment, but it’s supposed to be. Students are not graded on quality or content of the blog, except according to some basic standards (it should be about a specific text assigned that day and it should be analytical). They are not graded on how well they analyze (unlike their papers), but instead they are given an opportunity to practice analysis in a way that will not hurt their overall grade.

3. Class discussions are much more focused on critically analyzing the texts rather than “walking through” the plots. Students will chime in and say, “Yeah! I wrote about that on my blog!” And others will respond to that student in class. The classroom rapport is typically supportive, congenial, and encouraging. Because a student was able to sort of “try out” his or her idea on a personal blog, the idea was given space to develop so that it would be fully-formed by the time s/he brings it up in class. Even when students disagree with one another’s points, the comments are polite, respectful, and explanatory. They learn not only how to make their own points but also how to properly counter-argue against someone else’s points respectfully.

4. Papers and essay questions on exams are generally more analytical than summative. My students have physical evidence that their peers have previous knowledge of the text, so there is little reason to summarize major plot points. Because they’ve had the chance to practice analysis without fear of failure, they are often more confident in the presentation of their arguments. Because of this, I’ve been able to ask more from my students. And, for the most part, they deliver.

5. The blogs reinforce to my students the idea that one cannot be a good reader without writing, and one cannot be a good writer without reading. Although my students may have more writing assignments in a literature course than others may have, my students not only get the point but have it demonstrated to them that reading and writing are inextricable.

6. I use the blogs myself as a guide for class discussions. I usually try to peruse the blogs the day of class (since blogs are due by midnight the day before), and through that perusal I’ll see what they are confused about, what was interesting to them, what they really gravitated toward. And I will tailor class discussion based on their needs–do we need to unpack that theme more? explore that concept? Judging by exams, my students do get more out of these discussions from the blog posts.

I realize now that I should have defended myself and my blogs.

They work.

If I were to teach again, I would absolutely keep the blogs with no changes whatsoever. They would still be worth very little on the overall grade because low-stakes grades work. There would still be three blogs due every week. They would still have the same number of required words due per post.

My writing pedagogy is that through practice (constant, consistent practice), students develop basic communication skills as well as sophisticated analytical skills. Ideas develop best through writing. Texts are explored best through writing. Learning to write properly will inevitably lead to the ability to articulate an intelligent thought eloquently (either in speech or the written word). If my students are to believe that the literature was not composed within a vacuum, then I should demonstrate to them precisely how one composes devoid of a vacuum. And, thanks to the power of the Internet and new social media, blogs are a perfect method to free writing from a vacuum-like experience.

That’s what I should have said.

On hesitation: a meditation

April 5, 2011 § 10 Comments

Savasana. Corpse pose. My favorite. I lie on my mat, palms turned upward in reception, eyes gently closed, facial muscles newly relaxed, feet slightly spread apart. This pose mimics my favorite time of the day. My favorite position of the day. Sleep tastes like a rare delicacy. I luxuriate in it. I treasure it. I protect it.

But I’m not asleep, I have to remind myself. Savasana is separate from sleep because, although it is a resting pose, it is a meditative pose. Not a sleeping one. I shift gears. Meditate. Meditate. C’mon, Amanda. You can do this.

What a funny phrase.

“You can do this.”

Both forceful and encouraging. At once a command and a reassurance.

If I truly can do this, why should I need a reminder? Shouldn’t strength of will outweigh simple potential to act? Then why, with all the capacity necessary to accomplish, why do I just not?

Don’t forget. I always struggle to focus on the meditation during savasana. I’m in pain and allow the distraction to wash me ashore. Don’t forget the cover letter and resume. I acknowledge the distraction. Don’t forget that you have no practice. But you can do this.

The cover letter and resume. The job. Posted on March 29th; applications to be reviewed on April 15th. Tax day. Don’t forget. I won’t. The cover letter and resume. My stomach twists, and I sink into the sand. You can do this.

The reminder is insistent. Persistent.

I’m unsure.

Meditation rises and crashes over me, dragging me under; slowly, I float again.

I’m unsure.

Why hesitate? Meditation wonders, gently rocking me.
Because. I respond, a defiant teenager.
You have some experience. You have credentials. Meditation brings me closer. She’s warm, but I feel cool.
But. My feeble retort.
It doesn’t hurt to try. She returns me ashore. You can do this. I feel the ground beneath me.

I’m awake, alert, aware.

And unsure.

Eyes still closed, I know what to do. I know how to do it. But I’m unsure.

Embracing the unknown unknowns

March 15, 2011 § 17 Comments

Sometimes, when I am at my most panicky, Robert will take my hand and soothe me saying, “Baby, we can’t panic about the unknown unknowns. We don’t even know what they are!” He is the incredibly faithful optimist–and not naively so. No, my husband is an optimist in the very best way. He is logical and practical enough to know that plans fall through, hopes often give way to disappointment, and nothing is ever perfectly executed. But he still believes that the outcome will be worth the attempt.

This is where we differ.

I constantly tell him that I wish I could just see into the future, or better, have my future self a la Marty McFly zip over to me on a hoverboard and tell me what I need to do to ensure utter lifelong joy. What’s the fun in that? You might wonder. That’s a fair thing to wonder. My answer: I like knowing! (I think this comes as no surprise to anyone else who has ever met me even for a moment….)

I have racked up several blog entries at this point on just how very confused I am–indeed, there’s an entire category of them, which you are welcome to peruse. And if there’s anything that the entries in this category will show you, it is that I do not like the unknowns.

What am I going to do with myself after graduation? I dunno.

Will we have enough money for our big, grown-up expenses (like a new car, a house, a family)? I dunno.

How will I contribute to the so-called “combined income” of this household? I dunno.

How much will I contribute to the so-called “combined income” of this household? I dunno.

How long will be my full-time unpaid job be to search for salaried full-time jobs? I dunno.

How long will we go in this state of uncertainty? I dunno.

What state will we be in when we come out of the uncertainty? I dunno.

See, folks, these are the unknowns. These are the actual questions I can ask myself because I am aware that there will be answers for them at some point in the unknown future. But then, there are the unknown unknowns, the things that I don’t even know I don’t know. I can’t ask questions for these unknown unknowns because I don’t know enough about the unknowns in order to develop those questions in the first place (and then they wouldn’t be unknown unknowns, would they?).

This is what I struggle with: not knowing what I don’t know. I guess I can handle it if I know the question and not the answer. But to know that there is some mysterious other question I will be or should be asking myself and not to know the answer to that unknown question is terrifying.

And it’s in the midst of these anxiety-provoking thoughts that I remind myself: A.Hab., your life did not come with a roadmap…neither did anyone else’s!

All you other people who I admire and look to as examples of got-it-together-ness, I envy your ability to hold things together (or at least to hold together the appearance of holding it together) in the face of possessing absolutely no roadmap. How do you do it?

I’ll tell you how I attempted to do it this past weekend. When extended family members came up to me to ask me how my dissertation and degree were going, when I planned to graduate, and what I intended to do with my life, I tried very hard to smile (with my mouth and my eyes, thankyouverymuch Tyra Banks!), and say with pretended confidence, “I’m halfway through my dissertation, I will graduate on August 6th, and I think I’d like to give teaching a break for a while, go into editing or working with theaters in an educational function.” I must have convinced them because frequently, conversations would turn to, “Oh! How interesting!” And then we’d move on from there. I found no resistance, no judgment, no admonitions about what I waste I had made of my life. It was oddly…rewarding.

Look, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I just don’t. Some days I think I could probably not hate teaching. Then other days I remember that it’s not the classroom-time I don’t like. Then other days I think about all the options that are out there (maybe I should work in a library, or maybe I should tell people what’s wrong with their documents so they don’t embarrass themselves, or maybe I should find another way to tickle my educational urges). And there are so many more options than the ones I’ve rattled off here…I don’t know what the options are (unknown!), but I’m determined to find out. And any assistance to that end would be greatly appreciated, seriously.

Here’s what I’m getting at, though: maybe if I can just take a deep breath, stop fixating on the unknown unknowns (the poor residents of Japan on Thursday the 10th, for instance, did not know that they did not know that their lives would be in ruins on Friday the 11th), then maybe I can at least prepare myself for the eminent unknowns as best as is humanly possible while maintaining sanity. (And my deepest and sincerest condolences go out to those in Japan who were affected by Friday’s horror-storms that were the earthquake, aftershocks, resultant tsunamis and potential radiation exposure. You couldn’t have done anything to prepare, and I hope that you’ll forgive me the absolutely disproportionate example.)

So, I pose my question again to my readers: how do we break free from the cycle of fear-based living and instead embrace the unknown unknowns?

Confusing Sexualities: a confession of presumption from someone who claims to be open-minded

March 8, 2011 § 5 Comments

I have committed sins against my alternative genders/sexualities brothers and sisters. You see, while on one side of my mouth I have preached open-mindedness and equality for all, on the other side of my mouth, I have expressed shock at discovering that someone who dresses a certain way or speaks a certain way or moves a certain way is married to someone of the opposite sex.

Please forgive me, those I have wronged. I am deeply sorry and have finally now seen the errors of my ways.

What led me to my self-revelation, you may ask?

Naturally, it was my dissertation.

I felt this idea bubbling up on Friday afternoon as I talked my way through Chapter Two with my diss-buddy V. I told her what I would say to some of the more conservative (in my opinion, backwards-thinking) antagonists to sexuality, and that was along the lines of, “one’s expression of gender does not automatically indicate sexual preference.” What I meant by this at the time was that just because someone cross-dressed, that person was not automatically gay. This line of logic was first presented to me in 1999 when I saw Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill on HBO…or one of those channels. Izzard gleefully struts across the stage in late 90s fashionable strappy platform heels and carefully clarifies a common misconception of the sexual preference of transvestites:

Oh, Eddie. I adore you.

Anyway…so, Izzard helped shape my developing mind as I prepared to go to college. I was always inquisitive about other people’s sexual orientations, and I never agreed with anyone who thought that those who did not identify as heterosexual were destined for an afterlife with flames and torture; I never believed that sexuality was a decision either consciously or subconsciously made; I never gave any credit to programs that claimed to “heal” individuals of their sexualities. Izzard’s point encouraged me to see gender constructions (gender identities–such as effeminacy and masculinity, and all the myriad gray area in between) in terms that did not dictate sexualities. A male transvestite does not always fancy dudes. So there you go. That makes sense.

So, A.Hab., you may be wondering, what atrocities did you commit against those who express their gender and sexual identities in alternative ways? (Alternative to what? The hegemonic ways to express heterosexuality, I figure.)

Well…I have ashamedly been known to participate in terribly presumptive conversations with other friends. “I can’t believe he’s married with kids! I wonder when he’s going to come out?” “So, that guy got a sex change, huh? Wonder if his faithful wife is a lesbian?” “She’s too butch to be straight. Surely her husband is effeminate.”

I’m embarrassed and truly disgusted to share these with you, my reader. But I feel it’s important to confess these sins…I can’t possibly have you all thinking that I’m awesome and cool with my progressive mind, can I?

So, what’s so wrong with the things I’ve said before? I assumed that just because someone identified as masculine or feminine (in spite of what society would assume their biology might suggest), then that person must obviously be gay. How can an effeminate man want to sleep with women?, I wondered. The tried and true rule is that there’s always a butch and a lipstick in lesbian relationships…but I wonder who is who in this coupling? Oh yes, folks, I’ve had these perfectly horrible thoughts. They’re horrible in their presumption. They’re disgraceful in their need for clear-cut delineation.

Last night, as I was composing the fleshed-out outline for my second chapter, I wrote the following notes:

In what way exactly does effeminacy equal homosexuality in men? In what way exactly does masculinity equal homosexuality in women?

Which naturally led me to the following points:

1. Social fear: seducing the same-sex other–>a woman dressed as a man will seduce other women who will fall for her disguise, thinking they are in love with a man.  A man dressed as a woman will seduce other men who will fall for his disguise, thinking they are in love with a woman.

2. Social representation of wishful thinking (assumption): because I am a woman in love with other women, I will dress as a man because I wish I were a man so that it would be acceptable to love other women.  Because I am a man in love with other men, I will dress as a woman because I wish I were a woman so that it would be acceptable to love other men.

Note: society here is referring specifically to the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries England, although I would argue that it is easy to find people today who have the same fears and assumptions.

The first point, the social fear, explains that people who cross-dress (who may or may not identify as transvestites) are sinister individuals who want to trap other people into sinful same-sex couplings. Obviously, Eddie Izzard has already worked that one out and knocked down this fear.

The second point, the social assumption/wishful thinking, ultimately homogenizes sexuality into heterosexuality. Transvestites are desperate to be “normal” and, just like the rest of us “normal” people, find value in heterosexuality. So, they cross-dress to normalize their homosexuality.

Note: I should point out, in case I haven’t already, that in this time, it was not an uncommon notion (at least for some Puritan pamphleteers, like Philip Stubbes) to assume that cross-dressing actually changes physical sex organs. So, a man who wears a dress becomes a biological woman, while a woman who wears pants becomes a biological man. Obviously, this notion is ridiculous.

What makes the second point “wishful thinking” is that it assumes that heterosexuality is the norm, the bottom-line, the natural, and that all things in nature will seek to return to their natural state. So, if a person is homosexual, the wishful thinking goes, then that person will do what s/he can in order to normalize and become heterosexual again.

It was in rereading those points that I realized with horror just how damaging were my previous thoughts, made entirely in ignorant innocence. No matter! If my words have been damaging, the intent behind them is obsolete. Consider this my public apology.

I will endeavor to curb these future thoughts should they arise; I will maintain Valerie Traub’s stance that human sexuality and gender identification(s) are in continual flux and cannot be easily defined and characterized. I will remember that stereotypes, though certainly made for some reason or other, are not the alpha and omega of reason. Just because Hollywood might tell us that a pair of lesbians must fit this exact equation, I will shake my head and laugh in great pity of that assumption. I’ve known a few lesbians in my time, and I don’t think I would precisely know how to characterize one as “the butch” or the other as “the lipstick.” (And how demeaning to whittle down a person’s entire Self to a single word with all of the assumptions and judgments it carries.)

To those who I may have hurt with my assumptions: please accept my apology. I am only sorrier that it has come so late.

Take it easy, Charlie Sheen: what Montaigne would say

March 3, 2011 § 8 Comments

Writing this dissertation has introduced me to some fairly interesting thinkers, philosophers, and essayists. Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (but all the cool scholars just call him “Montaigne”) is one of those great thinkers, philosophers, and essayists. Triple-threat, baby.

Montaigne composed a great number of essays in his lifetime, several of which I am currently reading, and a few of which I intend to include in my dissertation. Montaigne is controversial for his time (late-Renaissance France) because he understands religious views (Christianity, of course) enough to appeal to a broad enough audience and to speak intelligently about topics at the fore of Christians’ thoughts; however, Montaigne was “half pagan and less than half Christian,” according to David Frame who writes the introduction of an edition of Montaigne’s travel journal. What I like about Montaigne is that he offers a fairly practical approach to some of the most incendiary of Renaissance hot topics; rather than inciting his readers to impose a sort of Fatwa upon one another, he challenges readers to approach controversy and difference with logic. (Consider that!)

As I’ve been reading a few of Montaigne’s essays, I am deeply moved by their utter pragmatism. Yes! I want to shout in the not-so-quiet-but-oh-so-public coffee shop. This is exactly it! (The venue I choose for the shouting instead, of course, is my blog. You’re welcome, general public. My apologies, blog readers.) Montaigne had no idea that, over 430 years after he published his essays, his pragmatism and liberal concepts would still hold such topical import.

Allow me to turn, as an example, to the most recent cataclysmic debacle that is Charlie Sheen’s descent into drug-induced egotism. As we well know, Charlie Sheen has littered our airwaves with a treasure trove of brilliant gems, such as calling his two live-in girlfriends his “goddesses” and revealing that because he is such a special person he deserves special accompanying privileges to participate in a polyamorous relationship with them. Whatever. Look, what two or three or five consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their bedroom(s) is none of my business and I have absolutely no interest in passing judgment. For me, monogamy is the way to go. But maybe for someone like Charlie Sheen, he’s got to spread the love; and why not? He’s special. (And why not? Human sexuality is a complex, fluctuating, exciting tangled web.)

What does strike my ear funny, then, is the extent to which Sheen indulges his fancies. He constantly appeals to the “logic” of any who will give him a microphone that he is a special dude. But, amid all his self-aggrandizing, has Sheen lost the point of living the life of a bitchin’ Martian rock star with tiger blood and Adonis DNA, fists of fire, and the power to overcome drug addiction simply by choosing not to be addicted anymore?

I say yes, and I believe Montaigne would tend to agree. Of men who over-indulge themselves, Montaigne tells us:

“Nor do ladies titillate the man who enjoys his fill of them. He who does not give himself leisure to be thirsty cannot take pleasure in drinking.”
–Montaigne, “Of the inequality that is between us” (1572-4)

I love the second sentence in particular. “He who does not give himself leisure to be thirsty cannot take pleasure in drinking.” If you would please indulge me, I would like a moment to speak directly to Warlock Sheen.

Your Highness, please note that Montaigne speaks figuratively here. Obviously, as I am sure you understand with your utterly passionate, bi-winning mind, Montaigne does not imply that 1. a man should turn to drinking any substance in particular (except, perhaps, that of “life” in general) and 2. a man should binge once he has made himself thirsty.

Thanks for your consideration,
The utterly unworthy and not special A.Hab.

P.S. I also do not have the genetic code of which you yourself are capable of boasting. Please excuse any indolence in the preceding message.

P.P.S. Yes, I read the AV Club article that reminds us all to laugh a little more at your intended dark humor and sarcasm.  I get the jokes.  They’re just not that funny.

 

What I do believe Montaigne instructs us to do, however, is to live in moderation. Appreciate our unique Selves as far as that appreciation does not intrude upon others’ appreciation of their unique selves. When Sheen makes grandiose claims about his employers and network, he oversteps his own boundaries and ignores the victims of his vitriol their needs and desires. He utterly misinterprets what is an appeal to logic and an encouragement for medical assistance as judgment, condescension, and trauma.

Although I do believe the media is purposefully preying on the public’s fascination with a good, old-fashioned self-destructive implosion, I think what can ultimately be gleaned from all this manic nonsense is that Charlie Sheen and the media both need to back the hell up off each other. We all need a chance to feel thirsty in order to appreciate what progress Sheen makes (whether real or imagined–at this point, it doesn’t much matter to me). The media needs to stop indulging the public’s binge-drinking of Sheen’s downward spiral. And Sheen needs to stop indulging his own ego-binge as well.

I’ll leave this entry on another couple of thoughts by Montaigne:

“There is nothing so hampering, so cloying, as abundance. […] And besides, I believe that this luster of greatness brings no slight drawbacks to the enjoyment of the sweeter pleasures: they are too much in the limelight and exposed to view.”
–Montaigne, “Of the inequality that is between us,” 1572-4

And perhaps not to empathize with Sheen more than is deserved but more to understand our fascination with celebrity:

“And, I know not why, the great are more obliged than we to hide and cover up their faults. For what in us is indiscretion, in them the people judge to be tyranny, contempt, and disdain for the laws; and it is true that besides their normal pleasure from vice, it seems that they take an added pleasure in insulting public observances and trampling them underfoot.”
–Montaigne, “Of the inequality that is between us,” 1572-4

(and both a response to Montaigne and taking it one little step further…which is what I’ve been saying from the very beginning of this nonsense.)

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