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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Tattoos have become the ubiquitous cliché of subversive cool. Like kooky eyeglasses and statement haircuts, they are props for people who would like to announce to the world that they are interesting. But in the vocabulary of personal style, there is something jarringly inarticulate about a tattoo.

I feel all of a jangle these days trying to craft my new self while emerging out of 29-almost-30 years of experience of being half me and half someone else masquerading as all the stuff I thought I should be.

I want to be outre and cool and a hipster and have kooky eyeglasses and a statement haircut and a tattoo. I’ve tried to get the statement haircut twice now and failed–once because the Mandarin speaking hairdresser did not believe me, despite the fact that I brought in pictures. The second time I didn’t bring in pictures, relying upon going to an English speaking hairstylist. I told her I wanted an asymetrical cut, but instead she just straightened out the bob the previous guy had given me.

I want cool clothes, but nothing feels cool on this chunky, muscular body of mine. I got all these shirts with wild patterns and interesting cuts, so why do I still feel so dowdy?

I wouldn’t mind being a hipster, but I’ve never seen a large hipster. It seems they all are straight up and down, like modern day flappers.

I want to look gay and I’m terrified to look gay. I don’t know what fits me better–skirts and heels or more masculine clothes. Part of me would also love to be a crunchy granola type (I am, after all, relying entirely on bike, foot, and bus transportation!). But again, there are few XLs in that style and even fewer that look decent. Unfortunately, XL just needs a lot more structure to the top than organic cotton usually comes in.

And then I want to do and do and do, but I’m also pretty darn exhausted these days. From not eating well enough? From biking everywhere? From working longer hours and at a faster pace than usual? Is my body slowly beginning to release tensions that I have carried around for years?

And I’ve only been here a couple of weeks–why does it bother me that I haven’t plunked on down in a community yet? I mean, last weekend I went to three things (a gallery opening/cocktail hour, an outdoor play, and a minor league baseball game). Yesterday I went to a dance club (which was a big downer–probably at least part of the reason for my mood. The same group of gals I met online is going to a movie tonight and I just don’t think I have the energy to bike downtown again. I just got home from some afternoon errands/ finding a better web connection to watch my first hour of tv in almost 3 weeks).

And what do I want? Do I want to spend my off hours reading harmless lesbian fiction that makes me feel more connected to the lesbian identity that sometimes feels rock solid and sometimes feels very shaky? Is fluff harmless? Or reading something more in-depth, like the history books I don’t have time for in my job right now? Do I want to spend the off hours working on polishing chunks of the dissertation into publishable articles? Do I have any brain left after working all day? Or do I want to do art? All of these things are lonely activities. What about finding a tennis club, or a dance club, or something else to do with folks? Or go to movies by myself? Or get my library card and new license and sign up for the gym and find the rest of the furniture I “need” and all that house-setting up I need to do? What about spending time with my cat, who is lonely without someone home with him all day (either me, or E, or Grandma, as has been the case for the past 2 years) and who doesn’t yet have a good scratching post because I can’t find one. I went in search of a petstore supposedly downtown, but couldn’t find it. Should have called first before riding my bike all the way over there!

Why do I feel like I have to do all these things at once? Oh, and I also want to write–write for this blog, and for my professional blog, and in my journal, and maybe on the couple of pieces of non-history fiction and non-fiction in my brain, as well as polishing diss stuff. And I’d love to work on some kind of a comedy show or something to get me back on stage. The only thing I’ve watched this summer is Last Comic Standing and I’m starting to think a minor career as a comedian wouldn’t be so bad. Actually it’d be very fun. I love to make folks laugh and sometimes i can be the life of the party. But I need to start writing down my observations in a humorous way.

And then there’s stuff like just figuring out where to put all the clothes currently in some state of dissaray between my closet and the floor and my suitcases. For awhile I ran out of hangers and I don’t have a dresser, so suitcases it is.

All this anxiety about who I am is driving me back to images of self-harm. I thought I was done with those. I’ve also been feeling my heart in my throat–because I’m back on caffeine or am I having panic attacks? They don’t normally happen when I am any more or less anxious, but then I am riding on anxiety these days. I saw a psychiatrist here (took 9 miles of riding–which doesn’t seem a lot compared to the 42 miles in 2 hours my friend rode the other day, but I do have a comfort bike and she has a road bike!) But therapy doesn’t really start helping until you’ve established a relationship with someone–and the psychiatrist wants to know all about me, but he only prescribes medicine. I have to wait almost a month to see my new therapist (would have been even longer–almost 2 months, but I requested someone comfortable with LGBT folk and that person had an earlier opening). I was great, I thought, when I left CA. Why am I falling to bits now?

And who the fuck am I? And why can’t I meditate? Is it because I feel like I “should?”

And again I forgot to go to the store (stopped at the farm stand for fresh peaches and blueberries and ivy for my porch), so i can’t make more coffee b/c I have no filters. Tomorrow it is a must, because I’m out of two meds and will need to get refills. I hope the Kroger down the street has $4 generics! Maybe I should call ahead of time? Yathink?

I’m sorry I only seem to write here when I’m anxious or frustrated or angry.

By the way, I started this article off with the tattoo reference because it is another place where I feel jangly. I want a tatto0, but I’m too nervous to even go into a tattoo parlor. All these different places I think I’ll be laughed out of–bike stores for being too chubby, hiking stores for being too urban and chubby, boutique clothing stores for being too chubby, gay places for only having just come out and being too chubby and also kinda boring.

But I’m not boring! And I’m cute in my own way! But it is a sign of a depressive funk for me to have lost all my self-esteem. Gone. Out the window.

Which brings up another pet peeve and then I’m done. Folks my age and older complain about this generation of undergrads for having too strong a self esteem. Ummm, isn’t that we wanted out of the 80s? Isn’t it better to have self-esteem than this tearing apart of myself, ice-pick and butcher knife at the ready, that seems to happen to me? Is it because academics are usually on that precipice of insecurity/arrogance so they dislike someone who is just stably self-assured? let’s try to figure out a way to work with these kids as they are instead of change them into insecure manic producers like ourselves? ‘K?

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Remember those essays

I was bitching and moaning about a couple of weeks ago? That I had to write right after finishing the diss? And I was in no mood to think?

Well, I got the reviewers comments back today. And for the most part, it’s ok. There’s some problems with the Black Power one (cause I didn’t really know enough to write it, but also because I stuck so close to the primary docs that there wasn’t enough distance). But I am very happy to report that I did not get chided for using too many quotes or for being a dumbass for my argument about black nationalism (actually got chided for the things I said about race–where I was attempting to acknowledge difference while arguing that a separate black nation does not in fact exist. So I wasn’t as careful with my language about race b/c I was so freaked out that they’d hate my language on nation). Gotta smooth out the rough edges, submit, and get paid. Phew!

It is interesting how difficult I find it to write directly about race, given how many years I have now devoted to studying … well, not race exactly, but people with a race that is frequently observed and remarked upon.

I liked the comment from Hampton Stevens on Ta Nahesis Coates’ blog  about the slipperiness of racial terms as more and more intermarriage happens:

My friend in San Francisco emailed a little story. He was watching World Cup with his daughter—Spain vs. Switzerland. The girl, a 9-year-old, asked her daddy a question.

“How come there are African-Americans on the Swiss team?”

Yikes.

How does a parent answer something like that? Does she think that only the United States has black people? Is she innocently asking why Americans are playing for the Swiss national squad? Is she using “African-American” reflexively, simply because she has never been taught another term for darker-skinned people?

For the record, judging from the Swiss roster, the kid was probably looking at Blasé Nkufo, born in the Congo, and Gökhan Inler, of Turkish descent.

The right answer then, might have been something like, “They aren’t Americans, dearheart. That fellow is from the Congo. That chap over here comes from Turkey.”

My friend didn’t know that at the time, however. Nor did I, in fact, until looking it up online just a few moments ago.

While the little girl can be excused, grown-ups can’t be. When British racer Lewis Hamilton won his first Formula 1 race, a bunch of news outlets had to issue corrections after calling him the “first African-American” to win an F1 race. Boxer Lennox Lewis and Naomi Campbell, also British, often are similarly mislabeled. So is Iman, born in Somalia, for goodness sake.

How best to answer his daughter’s question started a debate in our little email group still raging. The funniest line though, came when yours truly was making the point that globalization—and good ol’ American Melting Pot-ness—was making simple racial classifications harder and harder with each new generation.

For instance, what about NBA star Tony Parker? He was born in France, the child of a black man from the U.S. and a Dutch model. What do we call him? “Dutch-African-American” seems a little too long. And what about his wife, Eva Longoria? She was born in Texas, to a very old family of Latin-American descent.

“When Tony Parker and Eva Longoria have a kid,” I wrote triumphantly to the group, “What will it be?”

“Rich,” my friend wrote back. “And very, very good-looking.”

True dat.

How about it readers, how would you have answered the little girl?

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Would have finished more but for a raging headache today. My essay is probably completely flamingly liberal, though baked up with evidence. I guess that doesn’t bother me as much as the rant about my point of view below because it seems like the liberal view for this topic is such a minority view that undergrads will need to hear….and other folks will write other kinds of essays with other views. Hopefully that works. Headache may finally be gone, though now I’ve grown a third leg (the cat) and find it a bit harder to type. (butt on a sofa, legs on a chair, cat in the lap, laptop on the side, torso bent sideways, neck starting to ache).

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Sorry for the title…it’s from a David Sedaris essay that I thought was hilarious and still wanders around my brain. The character asking that in the essay was speaking about the actual anatomical possibilities inherent in the word; I use it as my title to curse my poor excuse of a brain.

Over at the Stranger, Charles Mudede, a black father and blogger, wrote a very strong article about the treatment his 8 yo daughter received at her Seattle school. She was the only black child in the advanced class, the teacher came over to her and told her her hair smelled bad and she needed to leave the room. She was then placed in a lower level class where there were more black children. Mudede entitled the piece “Black Hair and White Racism” and now there is a libel suit in the offing. Evidently there were enough details in the piece to identify the teacher. Meanwhile the daughter wants to read War and Peace while she is suspended because it is long and difficult. Mudede suggests Middlemarch instead, a book I read in middle school and have many warm memories of (because it is a good book, but also because I conquered it and no one else in my grade would have even thought of reading it). Links for the first article, the second (in case you were wondering what the hair product was), and the third.

The comment threads are…well…sometimes shocking and sometimes disheartening and sometimes interesting. A lot of folks (I would guess white) complained after the first article that there was nothing in the story that proved race was at its heart–rather that it might have simply been a case of a chemical sensitivity and a child with strong smelling hair. A child who could have been white or brown or black. I knew a teacher who had to go to the hospital at least once a year before her students took the “no-perfume” rule seriously. So chemical sensitivity is possible, but the child was wearing a natural, olive oil based product. And her treatment of the child was so insensitive and caustic–she said something like “your hair stinks.”

[add 5-28] Just noticed this clarification in the comment thread on article 3 from Mudede: “I want to make something clear. the problem does not rest in my posting about it. i did not mention the school or the teacher by name. the problem has to do with what i learned today about the situation–and it’s even worse than i thought. i honestly wish none of this had happened. i wish my daughter could finish her last month of school with this teacher in peace.”

So why did I start off the post with a curse? Because I just feel so overwhelmed in my potential profession. Which is a load of crap, because African Americans go through so much more on a day to day basis than I do. But that’s part of the problem. I cannot help but wonder whether my understanding of things is fatally flawed because of who I am. Every time I decide it is not something happens to rock my foundations–like my recent defense.

Why can’t I write these very easy little undergrad essays? I finally started just free-writing tonight. The question is “Do African Americans constitute a ‘nation within a nation.'” I’m basically trying to go through and explain where the idea of the nation came from, what constitutes a nation historically, why some black leaders have argued that African Americans are a distinct nationality. My writing is crappy interlocked circles instead of a clear line of argument (one of the goals for this assignment), but maybe that’s just free writing. Then there is the way I’m writing the damn thing. Instead of doing my dissertation route, where I mostly tried to just push black opinion to the forefront, rather than have my own opinions, with this piece I’m trying to actually write what my opinion is. But it’s coming out so aggressive–like, what kind of an idiot do you think you were, Marcus Garvey, for planning to take over a piece of Africa from the “backwards” Africans and then resettle black Americans there? I’m basically trying to argue that as an identity, African Americans have a nationality–but they don’t have a separate nation. The United States is their nation. There are ways in which they have had self-determination–local areas with all black governments (who still have to interact with multi-racial states and national government). I think self-determination is a fundamental piece of being a political nation (less so with being a cultural nation–but even there the Poles and others had self-determination as a goal. If it is not there, then ethnicity is a better descriptor).

I dunno. I’m just perpetually mad at myself these days. I won’t be able to give myself space till these stupid essays are done, but I can’t write the essays without enough mental space to write them, but if this is the kind of phlegm that comes out…what do I do?

The last time I just went with my gut instincts was with writing my introduction, in which I made these entirely unnecessary, very aggressive statements which is what got me into all that trouble at the defense. Of course, it didn’t help that my advisor chose not to read said introduction b/c he didn’t think it was actually necessary and hates all historiography. Surely he might have spotted some of those misstatements. All that crap about advisors being there to protect you…crap. They are there to achieve their own goals.

So, I’m trying to do research. But what pops up when you do research on whether or not African Americans constitute a nation? Black nationalism, obviously. I could restate why black nationalists see African Americans as a distinct nation, but I would probably get something wrong because I don’t entirely buy it. I buy it as a rhetorical style to get African Americans to unify around a central motivating idea–like the Universal Negro Improvement Association or community development or solutions to poverty. But as an independence movement, I just don’t see how it is possible. But then, maybe independence is not really the end goal. Is independence the end goal of the Welsh national movement? it is a goal, but maybe the larger goal is preserving the Welsh language and culture. What is the defining difference between race pride and black nationalism?

There would be no way to establish an independent African America without forced relocation like that which occurred during the Bosnian war in the 1990s, when the three different ethnic groups in the region both fled their long-time neighbors and were forced to flee. Unless there was some way to draw circles around urban areas and declare those independent, I don’t know where else African Americans would set up an independent nation.

But maybe I’m getting entirely too transfixed by geography. It does seem like, though, another major conflict within black communities is between those who desire to be a wholly part of the United States and are trying to overcome barriers to enter into full citizenship, and those who want nothing to do with the States and instead focus on their racial identity. I think that there are a lot more of the first (based on my albeit limited reading that I am now unable to footnote) than would seem self-evident in black studies departments. African Americans who are fascinated by race end up in black studies departments–there is a certain amount of self-selection there. African Americans who acknowledge their race, are proud of their race and heritage, and also want to be called “engineer” rather than “black engineer” also exist. Or, as illustrated by two profs I know–“US Historian, specializing in black history” or “African American Historian, has no interest in teaching US History.” It does not seem to me that one is better than the other, yet by saying that, I feel like I am always in opposition to black nationalists. Sort of like saying everybody can have their own religion, I am in opposition to evangelicals, who believe everyone should have Christianity.

So what do I do? This post is already approaching 1300 words. These fucking essays only have to be 2000. Surely I just do them, find some evidence for what I’m saying, some practical numbers and some such, a few “further reading” books and be done!!!!! Cause yelling at myself to finish always makes me move faster (cue dramatic eye roll).

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I have this writing gig–my only employment right now, and I’m letting my total feelings of inadequacy prevent me from writing. Four essays 2000-3000 words each due next Monday and while I have notes, I have no drafts of any of them. *ugh*

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I have an intro to my first essay that sets out my argument and I think I can live with it. Does that mean I should put on my determined hat and stay up two more hours and try to finish the 2000 word essay? Or does that mean I accomplished enough for today and can go to bed? Or do a little research for the other essays?

Granted, while accomplishing something, for every 30 seconds working, I probably spent 2-5 minutes on another website.

Sometimes that flitting means I’m thinking. Sometimes it means I’m procrastinating. Unfortunately, it is hard to tell which is which and whether I should be kind to myself or a taskmaster.

This comic is great:

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gift worth

We tend to focus on the breakout successes of democratized culture-making. But there is also a great deal of creative expression out there of the type Hyde had in mind that nonetheless qualifies as an unwanted gift: the unlinked-to blog post, the unliked Facebook page, the unfavorited Flickr photo, the unwatched YouTube video, the unretweeted link and all the other expressions that are ignored or overlooked or simply not rewarded with positive feedback. In a recent 25th anniversary edition of “The Gift,” Hyde pointed out the emergence of various Web projects with gift-economy structures, notably the open-source-software movement. But at the same time, much about the Web prods the gift giver into a very marketlike mind-set. Hyde warned that the more we gauge creative successes through Nielsen ratings and box-office rankings and the like, “the less gifted we will become.” The newer and more accessible economy of sharing means that practically everything is subject to some kind of rating or ranking, all the time. And that’s exactly what makes it so hard for any given sharer to judge what his or her gift is really, finally, worth.

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