Tuesday, December 21, 2010

life plans are open to change

When I was in middle school I wanted to grow up and live in New York City. I wanted to be an actress or a model. I wanted to dance, to sing, to be in front of a camera, or on a stage. I even had the hotmail email address to prove it: nycbaby624@yes,iamthirteenandemailjustgotcool.

But now, after my fourth or fifth visit to the city, I am sitting on the bus going back to middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania and feeling very excited to be out of the crowds, in my own place, with my kitties, feeling settled, cozy, and like I have time to read. What I realized on this trip is that so much time is wasted in the city. What did we do while we were there? We ate a lot of good meals, walked around some, but mostly, we waited for trains in the cold, and then sat on the train for the hour commute from Flushing to anywhere in Manhattan. All of that waiting started to really make me appreciate how nice it is to live in a manageable town or city. I’m a big fan of efficiency, and that was not an efficient way to get around.  I always had it in my mind that anything you could dream of is available in the city. That may be, but it could take all day to get it. And then you have to carry it all the way back on the train.

So, maybe I don’t want to live in New York after all. I’ve thought about going back to the west coast a lot. Seattle. Portland. San Francisco. They are at the top of my list.

But so is Colorado. Over the past couple of months I have been missing Colorado more and remembering how much I love it there. I miss the Colorado clouds, the sky, the ever-present sun, the mountains, the sunsets. I miss the rivers and the trees. I miss Fort Collins. I miss the culture of Old Town, the breweries even though I can’t drink much beer, the small restaurants, the many local coffee shops, the hippies and the hipsters, the locals, and the music. I miss my friends who are still there. I miss the houses on Mountain Ave. I miss the bike lanes. At times, I even miss the fucking freight trains that blow through the center of town.

The not-so-secret plan that I have had ever since graduating from Colorado State was to go back and be a professor in the philosophy department there if they need to bring in a young, feisty feminist. I doubt this is the path that will make me an actress, but I am okay with that. In the four years that I spent in Colorado, but more importantly during my last year there before graduating, I really experienced what it feels like to be at home. I settled into a community.  I identify with Colorado. I love Fort Collins. A piece of my heart is still there.



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I may not be a Doctor, but...

Some people get really pissed at universities that use and abuse their graduate students and force them to teach all the mundane low-level classes to undergrads who, often with a strong sense of entitlement, don't care about class, don't try, and certainly don't appreciate you or the fact that you have your own work to be doing as you go through the motions before they get their easy "A."

As a graduate student in the third year of my program, I have already taught about 150 students of my own in four classes (not to mention the 60 or so others I TAed for in a class that even I struggled to really appreciate). But for me, I view teaching as an opportunity and I am so happy to have had experiences in the classroom that have helped my learning, thinking, and growing more than almost any class I have had as a graduate student. That I get to teach is one of the only reasons why I have made it this far in my program (and by constantly reminding myself that my life was literally changed after taking one philosophy class from one of the best professors, so I know that it is at least possible to make a difference, even if my students don't become "philosophers" themselves).

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to put together my own syllabi for classes that I have been genuinely interested in teaching. In "Basic Problems of Philosophy" I focused the course on four questions: What is philosophy? What is the purpose of philosophy? Who is the philosopher? What is the philosopher's task? I loved the 6-week intensity of teaching "Philosophy, Love, and Sex" this summer. Seeing my students every day was very conducive to the continuity in conversations that I think is essential to deep thinking. And finally, I have just concluded my course "Philosophy, Race, and Diversity." We started with one of my favorite essays by George Yancy on philosophers as "trouble makers" and read some excellent books--Charles Mills' 'The Racial Contract,' Linda Alcoff's 'Visible Identities,' and Ladelle McWhorter's 'Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America" (go here for a recent interview about the book). This class was by far the most challenging of them all. At times, I was fearful that the class would end up a complete failure, worst of all, because my students were so often reflecting RACIST views, not anti-racist views (obviously, the latter are my preferred perspectives).

My goal in teaching is always to help my students cultivate the skills that will allow them to be more critical thinkers, not just about society and problems around them, but to understand themselves better, too. Just like any other kind of interaction, if students put their defenses up or are unwilling to be honest with themselves and others, we don't get very far (sometimes, as I have just learned, it takes a whole semester for people to put their guard down...like life, I suppose, some people don't ever get there in your time with them). Listening to others is crucial, being able to write and speak in ways that express your views is important, and the ability to be self-reflexive is completely necessary. And I don't teach material just so they will know what so-and-so said about "x." My methodology and selected content are intended to provide students with insights, perspectives, and questions that will enable them to be better students, better citizens, and better people (I am hugely influenced by hooks here). Pardon the redundancy, but I don't want to just open them up to philosophical lesson. Ideally, I hope that by being more philosophical, my students will also uncover some life lessons that will help them as they move through the world (it's philifesophy). Clearly, I have high hopes for my students and high expectations of myself!

Given the challenges of teaching, the highs and lows, the adrenaline rushes and great disappointments, the moments of insight and spells of insecurity, and the open-endedness of it all, which can often be devalued as just the cover of ineffectuality, I have to keep some record of the rewards. I don't want to let myself get carried away in worries that this is worthless work or catch a spell of the contagious skepticism that is always circulating among philosophers (and academics) about what we do.

At the end of each semester, it's always a bit scary to wait and see if any of the students "got it" (and not just if they adequately comprehended the arguments. I mean the point of this whole learning thing in general). Fortunately, after this go around, my students papers demonstrated that many of them did end up "getting it"--which is HUGE given that we had to bust through some seriously thick commitments to epistemologies of ignorance (Mills, 18). I am re-energized by the notes and emails that my students give me. Because this semester was especially challenging, I write some of the final reflections from students below:

"...I discovered a feeling that I had not had at the conclusion of other books. It's not that I had it all figured out, but I did finally see the big picture. Instead of just trying to fix racial differences overnight, McWhorter stressed that we keep challenging what is normal and abnormal, as my classmate Ray pointed out. She wants us to keep "doing likewise"...While she--and I--knows that it is not a guaranteed that we can get [to a world without racism], for now this is all that we can do. At the beginning of our class, I was one of those people that thought philosophy really was about old white men and their ridiculous ideas. Now, I am one of those "trouble makers" myself, and I am damn proud of it."

In a later email, this student also wrote,

"Cori-

I just wanted to thank you for this semester. I truly enjoyed every class that we had, and always looked forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays because of our discussions. This is a class much different than my others, not only because it was an elective, but also because I will be able to take so much from what we've talked about all semester. I really enjoyed our conversations, which led me to discover a few things about myself. I wish that all of my classes were like this one and hopefully we can meet up again in the future."
____________________________________________________________

"The semester before I had just taken Sociology 119 which had dealt with race, so I thought the course would be easy and that I would already know everything. I was very wrong. One can never know too much about racism, there's always something to talk about and learn about. This is one of the things I have recently learned. I learned many things about racism including what the word actually means, how identities are formed and interpreted, and how many people think of racism itself. Along with what I have learned about the subjects taught to me the past semester, I have learned about myself.

...

I spoke in a way that reflected my confidence of me not being racist, and that I knew everything about racism. Outside of class I talked in a way that I was not racist and in a way that I knew all about the subject matter. Whenever I had a conversation about someone being racist I put them under the bus and defended my actions. This is much like 20th Century American and what they did to Hitler. After reading Mill's (sic) book I had still not realized all the things I did and the way that I am still racist. Ironically I was a perfect example of Mill's main point; I was part of the epistemology of ignorance. It is a term that I had never heard of before reading his book, but it is a term that I will use many times after. It 's a very ingenious term which describes the 'White' person's ignorance to racism. I think the reason why at first I did not realize that I fell into his theory is because I had defined racism in a narrow way. I defined racism in a way that made me not racist.

...

I have enjoyed this class and am happy that it has allowed me to look in a mirror. It has allowed me to think in a different way, in a way that will make me a better person. Earlier I used the phrase that I was wrong with my thoughts, but I think that was a little inaccurate. (The sensitivity he demonstrates here blows me away!!-CW)I did not use those phrases to say that I am right now. That would allow me to quickly slip back into the epistemology of ignorance. I will never be right, there will always be something to learn or to adjust in my thought process. From this course forward, I will continue to learn, and I will do my best to make myself a better person especially when it comes to my ideas on racism."
____________________________________________________________________

"After learning the genealogical account of our history along with ideas fostered by you, Cori, I feel today compared to the first day of class, that there is now something that I can do to help get rid of racism and racism against the abnormal.

Overall, this class really did broaden my horizons on things that actually happened in history to what the common beliefs are about such events...I did not realize it until the end, but I thought McWhorter's book did a great joby to get us see that some of our values are flawed and that being more critical is necessary. Well, there you have it, these were many of the things I learned and that changed how I think and view society now. I was glad to have participated in a class that generated this much thinking, and really do feel my horizons have expanded from taking this class. Thanks, Cori, and hope to still see you around campus."
____________________________________________________________________

Though shout-outs of appreciation warm my heart, the truly rewarding moments are when I see my students becoming better writers and better thinkers, and especially when they start making connections on their own!

I am immensely grateful for the work of those thinkers who write amazing books who give my students and me lots to chew on. I am also grateful for what I learn from my students and what I learn from undergoing the process of thinking through big questions and important issues with them. They help me grow, and they also motivate me to keep doing what I am doing because they prove to me that teachers DO important work, regardless of whether or not this happens in a classroom.

Teaching is a skill and an art form that I hope to continue cultivating in myself. It's been my dream, my goal, and what I have wanted to do for a very long time. And I must admit, that I am quite pleased that at the ripe old age of 24, I have already had been able to do what I want to do, how I want to do it. Whatever happens after I actually get my degrees, I will be satisfied with what I have been able to accomplish as a graduate student. And I will, like some of my students, always try to keep in mind the lessons that I have learned and use them to help me be a better teacher, a better student, a better philosopher, and a better person.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What I Learned and Why It Was Worth It.

I have three days to write a term paper on Plato. For some reason, as I sit in my room trying to write, I find myself hitting a pretty firm wall. I can't bring myself to write it. I have a good idea of what I WANT to write, but getting the words out and stringing together sentences just doesn't seem appropriate. Isn't that just writing!? This is only a hunch, but I think the strange kind of hesitation that I feel is related to what I want to write. Since the paper itself isn't happening, but I know that I need to be writing to process the ideas, I have decided to write here about my process of writing this paper.

This paper is a big one for me and not just because it's worth the entirety of my grade. Actually, I have come to care much less about my grades. Probably because this is also the last paper that I will ever have to write for a course. That's right! I am three days away from no longer being a student who has to sit in classes for requirements, do readings according to a set schedule, etc. etc. And I get why people are so excited for this moment. I am nearing the stage when I get to read and write all of my own stuff. This will be a true transition in my career, a new phase, a new experience, and a new way to do philosophy. I am starting to feel very grown up (or something) in this field.

It's also a big paper for me because it will represent the end of a very difficult semester. I've struggled through each semester of graduate school for various reasons, and this semester was ripe with stress. Taking three classes, two extra seminars, teaching one class of my own, doing an internship, taking on an assistant ship, and becoming a mentor was quite the load. Not to mention that I spent the past four months working harder then ever before to stay in my relationship, to challenge myself to approach my latent fears differently, and to grow. I always grow. So, even though I have work and meetings already planned for Tuesday and beyond, turning this paper in on Monday will feel like the end point of a big, semester-long journey.

Despite all of that "stuff," this has been a very rich semester for me. I learned a lot from teaching my class this semester on race and diversity. I learned a lot about my girlfriend and what she can help me learn about myself. And there are MANY, MANY other things that I learned that I can't quite place. In all of that learning, there were as many upsetting, disturbing, unsettling, and troublesome moments as there were inspirational, impassioned, encouraging, and "right" ones. I can't say it enough. This was quite the semester!

I know that I have grown and changed dramatically since the summer. The way I feel is different. The way I think is different. The way I speak is different. The way I listen is different. I read, I engage, I teach, and I write differently. Even my signature has changed. Over and over again. Each week it's new (isn't that significant for something?!? Dad? Don't you know something about this?).

One thing that I felt changing for me this semester was my presence in the classroom as a peer and student. I wasn't especially excited about any of my classes this semester. One in particular I absolutely abhorred. But in each class that I went to, I spoke up. I asked questions. Most of the sessions were so boring and dry anyway that I figured there was nothing to lose, only something to be gained, if I could muster the attention span to formulate a question that I was actually interested in posing to the group. And I asked a lot of questions. A LOT. And when the question that I asked started a lively conversation, I was always pretty pleased with my effort. I was also really pleased to learn something from what came out of it. I wasn't asking from a place of already knowing the answer or having my own opinion (and I decided to abandon awhile ago any idea that I know better than anyone else)-I found myself asking genuine questions because I really wanted to think about them. And I found that I really gained from hearing other people's views. Sometimes their comments were illuminating, other times confusing, and most of the time, they helped me think again. Sometimes it wasn't even what they said, but how they said it, or how they approached my question, that was the most interesting part of it.

My experience of asking real questions in all of my classes was rewarding. I was proud of myself for starting conversations. For initiating a group reflection and sustaining my own. I started to realize that I might actually have a knack for asking questions and getting others to think with me. I felt something that, in this dimension of my life, used to only happen on very rare occasions. I felt a sense of confidence.

Once I identified that this was what I was doing in my classes, I realized that my ability to ask questions has also been one of my greatest strengths in teaching. Like many people I suffer from the "imposter complex": "I'm only a grad student! I don't know enough to be influencing young minds! What if mess it up? Or get it wrong? What if they see right through my facade?!?!" So to counter this, I dropped the facade. And I started to "teach" by asking questions.

I know that I don't know what I am teaching- I am not an expert, I don't have the answers, and I don't want for my students to think that I am expecting them to regurgitate what I say. But I do know that I can present a problem to the class as it is raised in a text or lived in the "real world" and I can ask them questions that get them to think about them. My favorite days in the classroom are those when we have group presentations because I don't come with a prepared lecture or even knowing what the students will present, and I know that it is my task to identify themes, isolate problems, highlight key ideas, pause to create space for discussion, and facilitate a process that develops organically. The whole process is very unexpected and spontaneous. On those days, when connections are made through responding to what others bring to the table, I sometimes feel magical. Seriously. It's what others call "flow." I'm in it, things are moving, and stuff is happening. And I am the one directing it while my students are the ones propelling it.

This has all started to generate some new thoughts about how to proceed. New strategies are in order. Those that are different from the old ways of saying, "I'm right, now just listen to me." As I prepare myself for my first major conference presentation and talk to experts about things that I don't know anything about (law and Irigaray, for example), and as I hold on to my desire to keep making videos on youtube, I am trying to pay attention to the great value of keeping things open. Instead of reading from papers to make sure that I get all of the points right to show what a strong argument I am making, I think I will do better (whatever that means) to present the issues, offer my thoughts and the connections I have made, and raise more questions.

And what does this have to do with Plato again?

Despite my general disinterest (to put it lightly) in the things that are most frequently associated with Plato- especially all of his talk about the Forms and our souls--I have had a hunch over the years that I would need to go back to the Greeks. I mean, all of my homeboys have. Nietzsche did it. Foucault did it. Husserl said that we must do it. And at the beginning of the semester I was not thrilled to be reading Plato. I just don't get it. I don't like talking about souls as if they really exist.

As it turns out though, I really didn't get HIM.

Plato, the philosopher, the writer, the author (maybe) of so many famous dialogues between Socrates and his interlocutors, is amazing for what he did, not just for what he said (and Socrates--but their true identities are complicated). Plato/Socrates wanted to compel people to make the philosophical turn, to turn toward philosophy, to live the examined life, to critically reflect on their lives and themselves. The dialogues are often contradictory, they leave questions unresolved, and the arguments within are often quite poor in terms of logic and viability. But to focus on those things is to miss the point. Plato/Socrates engage people to think. They engage us to think. They don't leave us with answers, but rather move us in the direction of a philosophical way of life. Plato/Socrates were after the same thing that I am after.

It's what I call, philifesophy.

Who knew that Plato and Socrates would also become my homeboy(s)? And how the hell am I supposed to write a paper with an argument about Plato now without somehow attempting to ENGENDER a contradiction in action?!

Now more than ever I have an openness to not-knowing my position (and I have a deeper appreciation for what that means). I have a great sense of humility because there are so many things that I know I do not know. And I have more respect for those who help me learn how to put myself into question. My peers, my students, my philosopher-friends.

So, it seems to me, that the real reason why this semester has been so big and significant and incredible and challenging is because it has been a semester of integration. My philosophy has been informed by my life. My life has been shaped and influenced by my philosophy. It feels good. I feel open. I feel content with the groundlessness of it all and excited about the possibilities that this brings.

Now, as I turn back to my books and attempt to write this Plato paper and turn it in a for a grade in just a few days, I realize that there is a sense of gravity around bringing this semester to a close. With it's submission I will officially be moving into a new phase of my program, a new phase of my career, and I will have time to appreciate that I am in a new place in my relationship.

I am deeply grateful for this semester--It has changed me. I feel like I am a different person now. And, more than that, I think I am a better person.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Existential Themes and the Meaning of Life

I've now recorded the fifth video for my "Think for a Change" channel on Youtube. I think some of the earlier videos went more smoothly, but I appreciate my cat's presence in this one, even if he is distracting to me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

15 minutes to flow

11:59 .start.

there's only so many minutes in the day and I find myself struggling to fill them equally with business, projects, tasks, and breaths. in fact, the breaths come only in the last seconds before i fall into sleep, and i think to myself, "this is no way to be living," mimicking the false appearance of peace while drowning. it's true-this semester i am in too deep.

the strange part about existing in the way that i do, with books on my back, words in my mind, questions always weaving around my entire being, is that a crisis teeters right alongside the thrill of not-knowing. the task of uncovering, or rather, establishing one's own meaning is dangerous. it entails a risk of falling into the turbulent seas with no land in sight. as a friend wrote so beautifully tonight, the philosophy that we hold dear flirts with nihilism, and it might be that for the rest of my life i balance on a thin line between truth, reality, and error. but passion gives the tension to stay above the crowd that laughs below, dumbfounded, and transformation grants the slack to sway around stagnation. buffoons can jump up and down, and eventually, we all fall off of the line. the amazing thing is that as i continually catch myself, i sense my heart beating.

i know that i am alive. or at least, i think so, because sometimes it feels to be the case. and really, what more can i ask for then the chance to think through the hours so that while horizons swallow and give birth to suns, i follow along their path and watch possibilities open up? it could seem as though the same roads get traveled, the same obscurities become obstacles, and the same steps are taken such that one travels in circles. thoughtlessly. but i think from experience and believe that each day brings patterns that await to be revealed as freedoms for possibility, growth, and change. a robustness hides behind sunrises and sunsets that might be met differently when one volunteers to release the assumption that it is always only the same thing, all over again.

cycles are tricky. so are tautologies. and apparent end points, like life. and death.

so, while i inch my way to nowhere, carefully, methodically, and without knowing precisely why or when i will get somewhere, i think it is appropriate to remind myself that the practice is in the process. the value is in the clearing. the truth is in the questions. and the meaning is in the making.


12:12 .end.

Monday, November 8, 2010

big thoughts, big feelings

I just returned from the annual SPEP conference. This year it was held in Montreal, Canada.




I decided months ago that I was going to attend even though it's late in the year and stress levels are building as the semester edges toward the end. It was my third time going now, and I was honestly quite nervous about making the trip. Not just because it involved driving in the car for 10 hours there and back, and not just because there are lots of philosophers around (and often it is encouraged that you meet them, seem impressive, and get on their good side). I think I was nervous because every year so far the SPEP trip has involved some very big feelings: for the first two SPEPs I was in the midst of two long, difficult breakups. And last year, loneliness, sadness, and pain were coupled with some of the most excited, giddy feelings that I've ever felt (to the point of acting stupid and silly). Feeling all of this while also being displaced in new cities and trying to find good food is quite the mix. Oh, and then there is the philosophy part of it all.

I explain to people that my favorite part of SPEP is going to sessions to hear about the sort of work that I find most interesting and to see philosophy be done in the way that I think it should be--in collaboration with others who share and discuss their ideas in productive, supportive, and rigorous ways. To that end, I am selective about my session choices. I've come to learn that the kind of people involved in these sorts of things are often more important than the ideas. Similar to how a class description can sound awesome, but the overall experience completely hinges on the person teaching it, SPEP features a decent amount of talks on feminism, sexuality, gender, race, etc., but that doesn't mean it's all good. All of these philosophers, who for such a long time were just names to me, are really just people. Some names I have looked up to as a student in philosophy. Some names were those that inspired me and made me want to do philosophy. But out of these philosopher-people, some are nice, some are awkward, and some are not worth making a trip to Canada to be around. Fortunately, I know some really nice people, and I was able to spend some time with them.

I had dinner with Ladelle McWhorter on my first night there. We spoke for nearly two hours about everything and nothing that I had really anticipated. Philosophy, projects, life, ideas, how things were going. We were supposed to talk about my reading lists for my comp exams and my idea for a dissertation project, but we only managed to sneak that in before I had to run off and make sure that I didn't have a parking ticket in my windshield.

 I told her about my youtube channel and her place in the first video on role models. She didn't think it was creepy. Instead, she thought it was a cool project. I'm glad she approves.

We talked about affect, and the transmission of affect, and the sort of people who transmit a lot of affect. She said I am an affective person, and I told her that I now know that means I can affect people positively and negatively. Then we talked about the size of people's bubbles, the size of towns, and the ontological experience of affecting and being affected by others.(She also assured me that graduate school and small towns make people crazy, so I should expect to be kind of crazy for the next few years.)

The panel on Del's book, "Racism and Sexual Oppression"
 We also managed to talk quite a bit about ways to deal with feelings, especially negative feelings that people don't want to have (like homophobia or racism) and what sort of practices people can undertake in order to be and feel differently than they do. With reference to her most recent genealogy, she mentioned that it wasn't just the research and the writing that changed her, but that there seemed to be new opportunities opening up to her. She recognized them as opportunities, perhaps because she was more attuned to them now, and then she got to know new people. There is a very important hermeneutic connection between how we prime ourselves to see and think and be and feel new things. It's not a metaphysical secret or special power or anything, just something very simple about how we orient ourselves in the world and to what we remain open. It was lovely to talk with her. And it was definitely a highlight of the trip.

I went to a paper by my advisor, Shannon Sullivan. I wanted to see how she handled the responses to her work since I expected it to be rowdy. Just as I hoped, she responded with clarity, coolness, and with a very obviously genuine air of wanting to learn and hear from the audience members' comments, despite the fact that some people in the audience responded with overt sarcasm, an inability to listen, and immature hyperbole.  I have good role models.

And I had a meeting with another new mentor, Sharon Meagher, about Public Philosophy. I am currently working with her to set up the Public Philosophy Network. She's committed, dedicated, passionate, and competent. I appreciate seeing her influence and witnessing the involvement from other philosophers who are interested in transforming the discipline of philosophy.

Another highlight of the trip was seeing my friend, Ami. She is one of the loveliest individuals I have ever met. I only wish that we could see each other for more than one dinner, one night, once a year.


Look at us two years ago with Del; PIKSI 2009
But I ended up with some very weird anxieties, too. The philosophy world is so small! The same people go to these conferences year after year, and they are the ones who write the books, edit the journals, teach the classes...so if you are great, everyone knows you. If you do something stupid, everyone can know what you did. And if people love you or hate you, they often have the capacity to devolve to high school mentalities. I hope this is only my perception as a grad student who has only been three times now, but I am fearful that there are the popular kids, the weird kids, the loner kids who circle the perimeter of the receptions, and the bullies. I am worried that this is going to be my (very small) world and I will be a part of it. Given my talk with Del and our discussion on being crazy, bubbles are bumping up against bubbles here in a serious way.

And another thing: SPEP is one of the only things that I have really experienced that I can safely bet will be a part of my life for the rest of my time in philosophy. Every year I will go and I will see the same people; slowly I will become one of the old philosophers and new graduate students will be attending. They, like me now, will be poor, sleeping on the hallway floor in someone's apartment in town after driving across the border because they can't afford plane tickets or rooms in the conference hotel. Even though I love philosophy and there are good people, the thought of growing old at SPEP year after year weirded me out. I can't imagine having  kids or even having a house with as much surety about how its going to be since I haven't yet had a kid or owned a house. But now I have been to three SPEP conferences. And it will probably be much like that, year after year. Until I quit or I die. And that is strange.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

NATIONAL TV!!!!

Who would have thought that my first ever appearance on national television would be on ESPN of all channels, and during a football game nonetheless!?! I haven't even been to a PSU game, and I don't intend to.

But one thing does make sense: I love food and I love to eat. So, Yun and I went to lunch at one of our favorite date places, Herwigs, where they just happened to be filming a feature for the "Taste of the Town" segment and asked if we would participate.

You can find it here.

By the way, this also means that two big lesbians (on a lunch date) were on ESPN last night.

And here's the proof that I finished my plate!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Figuring Out the Mainstream

I have been slowly putting more and more attention into developing my own youtube channel. I actually started one over a year ago, I just never did anything with it. But now I am feeling slightly more motivated, a little bit more brave, and increasingly more impatient with my lack of public participation in important issues. So, I launched a new one. I only have a test video up and the audio is out of sync, but I am now trying to figure out some of the ins and outs of how to utilize the public domain of youtube.

You can find the channel here.

As of 10.28, I have added a video for the "It Gets Better" Project.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The problem of not-knowing, or knot-knowing

Life and experience are rich with opacities. Nietzsche and Dewey are some of my favorite guys who stated that simple explanations which claim to report on the reality of the world will always be falsifications. Nothing is ever clear, easy, and evident. There will always be mysteries, gaps, disconnects...Donna Haraway also referred to the idea of the world as a trickster-coyote, a subject-world with which we must converse in order to understand, but that has its own ability to deceive, to mislead, to play tricks. The world is not an object-thing that we can study thoroughly and know everything, or increasingly more about. The world and our experiences in it are elusive, partial, and decidedly unclear. Furthermore, following Nietzsche, why would we want to know truths? Why not errors? Why not deception? Why not falsity? Well, he's quick to say that we may not be able to handle it if we realized that the "truths" we hold on to so dearly are precisely that- errors.

As of late, I've been in a position of not-knowing. Not just failing to know everything, but really not knowing much at all. Not just partially understanding things, but seriously considering the possibility that I have completely misunderstood some very important things, that my perceptions have been delusional, that whatever I do "know" is misshapen, misinformed, and very, very confused. When it comes to knowing oneself, a standard reason for engaging in philosophy, an awareness to one's not-knowing is a bit treacherous. And when it comes to knowing others, not-knowing presents a very precarious place to find oneself. Especially if we are to trust others, depend on others, befriend others, and become their lovers.

What is one to do? Trust in what you thought you knew? Trust in what others tell you? Trust your "instincts," whatever says your gut?

The problem with all of this trusting and feeling, is that they are not pure and untainted either. I have a conflicted relationship with what the feelings deep down in our gut can tell us. (This is a project that I will be pursuing for many years of dissertation writing. Stay tuned.) Sometimes you get a "vibe" about a person and you are right, but other times, your "intuition" is completely off, even hurtful to others. So, I can't trust my gut. But my gut isn't clear anyway. The only thing my gut gives me is even more of a sense of tight, queasy, yucky, icky, nauseating not-knowing. It feels like a knot in my tummy that can't tell me anything but simply that I don't know. Hence, it's a knot-knowing. And it's not very helpful when I am trying to figure what to make of all this "life" and the experiences that I am having.

So then what?

We crave to know the truth about things, and once we feel like we have a handle on it, we *feel* better. One of my heroes, Ladelle McWhorter, wrote that the need to know, the urgency with which we want to know, is a bodily thing. We feel the need to know deep in our quivering bones, our shallow lungs, and our tense stomachs.  And for me, if I can't get a handle on what is going on with me, others, or me with others, I feel it in my body as a bad consequence. I get inflammation in my wrist, an infection in my lungs, scars on my skin, and acid in my stomach.

From what I can tell right now, I have two options:

1) I can tell myself a simple, easy, coherent story about the truth of what is going on. I may feel better, but it comes from a simplification, and hence, a falsification of reality.

2) I can sit with the knot-knowing and try to transform it from nausea (and illness) to a patient bodily presence. This means that I may not (ever) settle on the truth, but it frustrates the bodily need to know "everything" (or anything, for that matter).

Regarding 1), I could side with Nietzsche and ask, "Well,whoever decided that truth was better than error anyway? Maybe there is something more to be said about error." And as for 2), I've been sitting with this tense knot in my gut for months now trying to make it a calm, attentive bodily presence. If health isn't at risk, maybe I can continue on with it for a bit longer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fall Down, Fall Apart, Fall Into It

It's another October which means the leaves around central Pennsylvania are aflame, rich in yellows, oranges, and becoming bold reds, even purples. The autumn colors are vibrant, but all of this is preparation for the coming winter. Winters here are long, bitter cold, and very wet. The sun is scarce, and it's hard to avoid a bit of seasonal depression. For the past two winters I think I have mustered the cold just fine, but the transition into December with finals, and then January with the start of a new semester, has also brought immeasurable weight in emotional upheavals, personal challenges, and hard times that require personal growth in order to avoid a breaking. It's a counter-intuitive reaction to the natural seasons for the sake of survival. Grow and be strongest through the winter, for they seem to bring the threat of snapping limbs and branches.

So, this October, I fear another uneasy transition from fall into winter. Faced with few other options than to simply roll with the rotation of the earth and the pace of a natural transition, I am trying to suspend my fears and trust that winters are easier if you have another source of heat in addition to one's own. Friends, family, lovers bring a bit of warmth.

I've always known that I could learn from the trees. They have patterns. They have strength. They give lots of things--shade, colors, sway, and silhouettes. They also have roots.

Here's to the hope that I can take another fall with grace.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Knowing the Negative Side of Things

From today:

Q: What is something that people need to know about you in order to really know you?

A: The negative.

Not in the sense that I am dark, depressed, or pessimistic, but in the sense that there is always another side, another way to see something. I know that I can come off in bright, clear colors. I have strong angles, hard edges at times, and a bluntness most of the time. But the directness, the clarity of my form, and the passions that provide bold outlines are only the most readily apparent parts of who I am. If one cannot see the negative space that occurs around the lines, between, and behind those clear lines, they will not know the whole picture of me.

But I think this goes for knowing anything.

We look for clear lines when we should be more sensitive to the spaces.

We hear words when we should be listening to the silences.

We demand the obvious when we should be open to the ambiguities.

We want the facts when we might benefit from acknowledging mysteries. 




And I seem to be reminded of this daily.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Food, Being, and Time

A birthday cheesecake for me made by my friend, Laura.

I had a lovely get-to-know-you conversation with a new friend last night, and not surprisingly, two of my favorite passions organically arose in the conversation. I spoke with a fervor and enthusiasm about philosophy in the way that always reminds me of the fact that I truly do love what I am doing. To be able to practice philosophy as a lifestyle, and perhaps even someday as a potential career, strikes me as a luxury. But then, the conversation turned to food.

One of the best potluck meals of my life. Special thanks to Elise and Rollie.

 With the exclamations of "Oh! So good!" while reminiscing some of my favorite mealtime memories, I was quickly put back into that invigorating space where I fully appreciate food and all that it means to me. I love the experience of eating, the creativity of cooking, and the connections that can be made while sharing food with loved ones and friends. I have realized over the years that my most immediate and lasting friendships have started off and mostly persisted in light of our shared love of food. Among the list of my foodie friends I can include my besties Jim and Hannah, Laura, and Elise and Rollie. My current relationship is very food-centric. And there are numerous casual friendships that started because the conversation turned to food, and often times, it later resulted in a meal.


Hannah and me making a layered crepe cake.

My passion for food has certainly heightened over the years, but it is not a recent development. While in high school, I remember being excited for those weekends when my parents would leave town. I wouldn't use the time to throw an awesome party. Instead, I would go grocery shopping, turn on some music, get the lighting just right, and I would make myself an amazing meal. And I know that I made quite the impression on my current advisors in the philosophy department when I went on and on about the meals we had in the summer of 2007, the year before I was accepted to Penn State. One in particular said she finally decided to make her blueberry cheesecake in the summer of 2009 because I made such a big deal about it. She said something like, "If it was good enough to convince you to come to PSU, I decided I should make it again in the hopes of recruiting another student like yourself." Her compliment was a mighty high one, but really, that cheesecake was something else.

Some of the most priceless memories of growing up with my family members center on the little things that they would do--like Sunday nights spent cooking with grandma, where I learned all my magic tricks in the kitchen (I'll get to that soon), the treats that my mom would get for me when they were really too expensive for her budget, like TCBY and Little Caesar's in the park, my dad and fish sticks (when he would cook dinner for us it seemed like it was often fish sticks with white rice and broccoli, or I remember him taking my brother and me to Skippers for dinner. I truly hated the red jello cup, but I think I secretly loved that I got jello at all), and my step-mom was always the one who had the goodies on hand, like M&Ms, cheese and crackers, and brownies. And ever since I was very, very little, the only gifts I could think to give my step-dad were salsa, chocolate-covered cherries, or beer. (Now I add wine to the list.) Don't be fooled by the over-representation of unhealthy foods that stick out in my memory, because really, the most important thing is that I learned to truly value and appreciate good home-cooking and the love that sharing food can express. The "treats" are one thing, but the love of (and in) food and eating is another.


My "food subjectivity" (if I can throw in some philosophically jargony words now) has been shaped by the relationships around me. My very being has been supported by food. I have eaten, absorbed, metabolized, and digested food that has nourished me, helped me grow, supported my health and vitality (It's no wonder why I love Nietzsche. Seriously.).  Even my perceptions and experiences of food reflect the people who have been around me.  My cultural upbringing has shaped my food selection. You have to be some kind of Asian in the middle of Idaho and a few generations removed from China to eat Top Ramen for breakfast, but I also know that my American upbringing has not prepared me for fully appreciating all of the food of the cultures around the world. (Maybe one day my dream of being Anthony Bourdain's sidekick will come true.) But more simply, I have the appetite of my father, the taste for spices of my mother, the sweet-tooth of my step-mom, the pure love of eating of my step-dad, and the creative, inventive, and light-hearted attitude toward cooking of my grandma. It's the cooking that I want to discuss now.

Jam and me at Plank in Fort Collins, CO.

Conversations with people about food seem to inevitably lead to the question, "What is your specialty to cook? Do you have a particular dish that you are really good at?" And I always have trouble answering it directly. For me, cooking is not about precision, and good food does not have to be judged according to its perfect re-creation of a particular dish. Neither does one need to follow strict rules or procedures to make a good dish. You don't need to know the science of how ingredients chemically respond to one another, and you don't even need to know what you are making when you start slicing an onion. Cooking good food can involve much more freedom, much more creativity, much more spontaneity, and much more heart than that.


The way that I cook reflects the uniqueness of a singular, temporally particular event. In short, I use what I have available right then and there. If I am missing a few things, I know it's okay. I'll add something else on hand that strikes me.  And the fun part is that usually, my most creative meals are inspired by that unexpected and unusual item that just made its way into my kitchen.  Like the time I had too many cucumbers to know what to do. I made up an apple, ginger, cucumber crisp. It was sooo good. And when I had half of a cooked butternut squash sitting in the fridge, I decided to cube it, almond-flour coat it, and brown it for a salad with toasted nuts and coconut. One of my favorite cooking phases started when Hannah visited and bought some grapefruits. The zest, juice, and fruit of grapefruits inspired many a simple syrup to accent some incredible goodies for a couple of weeks. And yesterday, I made some mean black beans with tumeric, coriander, rosemary and jalapeno pepper flakes for an easy "nacho" salad. I know for a fact that I will never have that same cucumber or that same squash ever again, so in that way my cooking is obviously only a momentary experience, but on a deeper level, the cooking happens as a singular event where multiple factors come together to result in a once-in-a-lifetime dish. I will never be able to recreate what I cook. I don't use recipes and I don't write them down. And I may not even remember everything that I create. I know that I have had many good dishes, great dishes, and quite experimental dishes, and I am sure that I have forgotten some of them, but that doesn't mean that any of them have been less valuable or any less enjoyable. How's that for some mindful awareness of the now? I guess my attitude is something like this: appreciate the moment as it is, the food as it is, and the experience for what it is--unique, transient, and yummy.

This was some white fish seasoned with a homemade chili spice from a friend. The salsa is all farm-fresh veggies from my CSA and the green things, those are an imaginative attempt at zucchini pancakes.


When I cook, I don't have a plan though I may have an idea, but that idea includes open methods, undetermined ingredients, and a radical generosity towards the end product. I see what I have, which often times doesn't look like much, but then I see what I can make. I've noticed that I feel very secure, safe, and at home when I have a fully-stocked kitchen probably because it easily lends itself to lots of meals. But there is a similar sense of security for me that comes from not knowing for sure what I can make. I guess it is a way of trusting that I can and will create something good to eat. Maybe this is where my religious bone has been hiding all these years--maybe the story of Jesus feeding the masses with a few fish, a couple loaves of bread, and that little jug of wine was meant to be understood by me in a slightly different way that says, "You can produce, create, and share some amazing foodiness with others, if you only keep your faith!"  So maybe I am professing a bit of faith. It's a faith in the sense that it is possible to do something, to create something, to undertake a project without knowing what it is that you are doing, without knowing if you have everything that you need to pull it off, or even if it will work out in the end. My experience has shown me that it usually does work out. I eat it and it is delicious.


And then I begin to I wonder.... Might the uniqueness, the openness, the not-fully-knownness, the creativity, the connectedness, and the temporal specificity that I experience while cooking and eating also be reflecting something more about life in general? Maybe cooking, eating, and my passion for food has helped me understand and appreciate a bit about how to approach the world, my experiences, and my relationships.


 How does one create a really good dish? Maybe it takes intuition, a bit of magic, divine intervention, or a stroke of genius. Or, maybe it just takes an impassioned appetite.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thinking Contingently

During my first semester as a grad student I was plagued with thoughts of not doing enough. Not reading enough. Not writing enough. And certainly not knowing enough. Since the doubts, insecurities, and general feelings of "not yet enough" have persisted, I figure it is a worthy experience to address. In fact, it was only recently that I fully embraced the reality that, with respect to philosophy (and perhaps many other things...), the "not yet" will be one of the only constants. As long as I continue to be a subject who undergoes changes, discoveries, transformations, I will never reach an end. As long as I am breathing, there will always be more-- more to learn, more to read, and more to know. What I am realizing is that the "enough" often does not have to follow the "not yet." Freeing myself from this connection has been important for my own sanity as a graduate student because, as far as knowing stuff goes, I have now opened myself up to the likelihood of fallibility and incompleteness. I don't have to know everything right now. But in terms of philosophy and the nature of thinking, it also just seems to make sense to reconsider what "not yet enough" even means since one cannot really know everything. Ever.

There have been certain scholars who think of truth as an event. To say that truth is an event is to suggest that it is not a given, and it is not absolute, eternal, or unchanging. What counts as truth is subject to various shifting factors such as new insights, inventions, and technological advancements, not to mention cultural, political, social, religious, or personal interests. One may not really "discover" a truth, but rather create or construct one. Truth occurs at the intersection of various forces and influences.

People can argue for ages on the nature of truth, and they have, but here I want to explore what it means for knowledge to be an event. What one knows is more obviously influenced by particular factors such as timing and location. Knowledge cannot be absolute, and so long as one is learning, knowledge is certainly not unchanging. We are accustomed to thinking of one's knowledge as growing, but knowledge can also fade. You can increase your knowledge of something by studying it extensively, but if you don't use what you know, you can lose it. Plato noted this much in the Symposium when Diotima explains that "not only does one branch of knowledge come to be in us while another passes away and that we are never the same even in respect of our knowledge, but that each single piece of knowledge has the same fate. For what we call studying exists because knowledge is leaving us, because forgetting is the departure of knowledge, while studying puts back a fresh memory in place of what went away, thereby preserving a piece of knowledge, so that it seems to be the same" (208a-b). Sure our knowledge comes and goes and is subject to change, but from the angsty perspective of a grad student who sometimes succumbs to the feeling of needing to know everything, or at least way more, in order to amount to anything, I am going to need more reasons for my faulty knowledge than just time and old age. Especially since I'm still a long way off from old age.

Let me tell you some of the reasons why I can't know everything, and I will restrict my comments to the discipline of philosophy. I speak, read, and write in English, which limits what I can read and which thinkers will be able to directly affect me. Thankfully, there are translations of texts, so I can read most of Nietzsche's work, but there are still untranslated texts of Foucault, for example, who is crucial to my thought. I have worked on learning French and that helps, but I do not have easy access, especially if it is unaided by another's translation, to the work of my roommate's favorite Turkish philosopher, or to work done in Chinese, or any African philosophy. In fact, I think many people fail to fully appreciate that people outside of the Western European frame have been doing philosophy for a long time, that people outside of it are currently doing philosophy, and that many of the same questions are being asked, or already have been asked, and there might be other incredible ideas being born. The parameters of the field of philosophy are often thought to be global in scope, but they are often extremely provincial in resources and content. Hence, language and translation are major limits to what one can know.

Time also limits my capacity to know as does the sheer physical impossibility of reading everything. Even if I was literate in all the languages in the world, I simply wouldn't be able to read all of the thoughts that have been recorded by people. There just wouldn't be enough time in one's life to do so. But even if I could read it all while still managing to eat, sleep, and do all the other necessary things to sustain my bookworm lifestyle, I probably wouldn't retain all of what I read. These are obvious points, but they are important in that they highlight a couple of issues. For one, if all one ever did was read in order to "know" more, this wouldn't leave any time for writing anything of one's own. Since writing is a significant piece of philosophy, an arbitrary but necessary line has to be drawn somewhere. There are times when the books have to be put down.

However, this may create some anxiety for those who wish to write and spawn a bit of an existential crisis. Because the other side of this coin shows that there will be some texts that *won't* be read. They may be historical texts written long ago that no one knows about anymore, or they could be texts written last year that are just bypassed because they are the superfluous layers that one just can't get in to, for whatever reason. Not because they are bad or not worth reading, but because there are limitations to the volume that we can literally read. If one, like me, wishes to write and contribute to the recorded history of ideas, this points to the possibility that your own work won't be read. At some point, then, one might be led to cynicism and say, "Why bother reading if I'm just going to forget it, and why bother writing if it's not going to be read?"

Fortunately, the pitiful image of the potential meaninglessness of reading and writing does not provide the whole story. Even though at times it can seem easier to throw my hands up and exclaim, "It's not worth it!" I have to first check in and see what I am really trying to accomplish in reading and writing philosophy.

There is a clear connection between reading philosophical works that have been written by others (despite the limitations on what actually can be read) and writing one's own philosophical material. Of course, one can read and only read without touching a keyboard, or one can write down isolated ruminations without reading anything else. But for me, I have to read in order to write well. I have to know what has been said by others in order to spur my own thoughts. The two are related to one another. Remember, the question that leads to spells of anxiety asks, "How can I ever writing anything meaningful or worth reading if I don't know enough about anything yet?!"

Here's the good news: I don't want to know everything. Not only is it impossible, but as I have been saying, I don't need to know everything. It is probably better off to think something before you write, but you don't need to know everything in order to think. And instead of aiming to know anything for sure, I am seeing more and more that there is real value in dedicating oneself to the practice of thinking itself.

Descartes asserted his existence in light of his thinking ("I think, therefore, I am!"), but something that we don't often acknowledge is who, or what, is the "I" that thinks. I am a changing, temporal subject. I have a past filled with experiences, books, lectures, memories, and singular events. I have a present that is filled with much of the same, which in turn, will become part of my past. And I have an open future that will present me with more experiences, books, lectures, conversations, relationships, etc. As I change and grow so, too, do the influences on my thinking.

With that said, there is another crucial point to make: Reading books is not the only way to acquire knowledge. It would be a sad day for me if rich philosophical material boiled down to what has been written in books. What about life? What about relationships? What about all the little things that make up our existence? Aren't those rich resources for philosophical thought, too?

Our thinking is influenced by our experiences and what we are exposed to--books and otherwise. I recently read a very good article by Rosalyn Diprose called, "What is (Feminist) Philosophy?" where she argues that thinking, rather than being an individual's exercise of autonomous reason is actually, and primarily, grounded in an affective response to an other. Something--an idea, a statement, a person--gives us reason to pause. They effect us, and our affect of disturbance, inspiration, disgust, outrage, or concordance is a response to what the other provides.

In one way, this is as simple as saying that different things will catch my attention at different times. Or put another way, my own state of being or state of mind will affect what I think about. To shamelessly use myself as an example, it was during one particularly lonely semester when I was reading Nietzsche and saw that Nietzsche's work can be read as a call for friendship. As I read, it was one of the only ways for me to approach the text so I wrote my semester paper on how he and I were friends...or, lovers... But you get my point. Now when I read Nietzsche, I am especially attuned to what he says about physiology, bodies, and health. Perhaps it is because I have been sick for 13 weeks now, but the idea is that what I think about changes because I as a subject am changing, and that is partially because what occurs around me is changing.

This means that what we think is a purely contingent matter. Nothing is necessary in the sense that there is a logical, purely rational, or required development of one's thought that one has to undergo. One does not need to read Plato, then Descartes, then Kant, then Hegel, then Derrida. One certainly does not need to read them with a particular interpretation of the text either. How one reads a text can change from day to day, year to year. And that is wonderful, because new ideas can be generated by contact with the same source.

If one does follow a particular pattern, for instance, a historical canon of certain thinkers, this will often affect the way that one thinks. At one point, appreciating this provided me with a bit of relief. If I said, "I want to be the next Judith Butler!" I would be setting myself up for failure. I can't be the next Judy B. because, obviously, if anything I am saying is insightful at all, I would not have the same experiences that she has had that would cause her to read Levinas in the way that she did. Furthermore, she was trained as a Hegelian and I am so far from a Hegel scholar that some might wonder how I could even consider myself a philosopher . But, instead of running for a copy of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, I have to remember that I don't need to be Judy B. to be a philosopher. I can be ME, a unique subject, particular in her experiences and influences, who can think something original out of this uniqueness.

So what about contingency?

What one thinks, or as others more often say, what one knows is a completely contingent thing. It is contingent on what one has read, what has been said by others, what one picks up, what one wants to respond to, what one finds important or interesting, what one wishes to accomplish. To think, to know, is to be affected by the intersection, interplay, and influence of various different factors. Some influential factors are personal--psychological, individual, relational--some are philosophical--I have read way more feminist philosophy than German idealism--and some are historical, geographical, and social--I am not arguing for God's existence, but instead addressing the political stakes of gender identification.

The reason why the event of my thinking is contingent, then, is because it could have gone in so many other ways. But all of the factors that came together at this moment, or this month, or in little ol' me in this lifetime, are those that resulted in the cognitive, affective, creative response that that is thinking.

In short, I don't need to know everything in order to be a worthy grad-student-wanna-be-pro-philosopher. I might even be able to give up on the idea that my philosophical knowledge is "not yet enough" because there might not be the requirement that one has to "know" anything at all. The important thing, at least it seems to me, is to be able to think. And if I can think, then I can write. And even if what I write isn't read by all people for all time, that is just fine, so long as what I write can encourage myself and others to think again.

If there is one thing that I can agree on with Descartes, it is that I am a thinking thing. And as it stands now, that is enough for me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Creation, Intensification, and Multiplication of Pleasures

Resistance. Rather than being a repressive struggle against some other person or institution, one can think of resistance in terms of pleasure.

The brief Foucauldian sketch of power in the History of Sexuality Vol. 1 explains that power is not only restrictive but also productive. Power produces things in our material world--classrooms, hospitals, and even people. The environments and subjects within are shaped and structured in particular ways to bring about particular ends. For instance, based on certain structural designs, people can be watched more closely, or students can be more authoritatively monitored in the classroom. The result is social control, or in other words, mechanisms are put in place to influence the conduct and behavior of the subjects in question.

Discipline takes on the form of punishment to shape people's behavior. A child is reprimanded, a criminal is incarcerated, others are deterred from misbehaving in light of the known consequences--pain! But more than just physical pain like a spanking or capital punishment, one can be punished in other ways because we, as developmental subjects who are open to change, have also developed the capacity for other kinds of pain. For example, shame. In addition to feeling physical pain, we can also feel guilt, humiliation, and we can feel like we are miserable pieces of crap. That is, only once we have learned the particular expectations of us and what it means to disappoint them. In other words, we have to learn new pains in order for them to be effective. So, we have learned shame, and since everyone can watch everyone now, we are deterred from acting in a particularly shameful way.....

Such is the story for how punishment, pain, and the creation of new capacities for pain have been used to control the behavior of subjects like us.

Since so much behavior control is directed toward deviants who may not be all that bad, like for example, sexual deviants who participate in same sex relationships, there is reason to want to resist such mechanisms of power. We call for: Resistance!

But how?

In the same way that disciplining individuals and their bodies has the ability to cause pain, there are other forms of discipline that create pleasure. It takes great amounts of discipline to learn to throw a spiral. You have to train your arm to have the right timing and follow through. And it takes great amounts of discipline to learn a new language or make sure that you are not late for all of your various appointments. You have to train yourself to practice everyday, to multitask, and to organize your days in a particular way. Discipline, then, is not just the practice of a negative repression or restriction; discipline can mean something more like an intentional, concerted effort do something. And in the same way that our bodies feel pain and there can be the creation of new pain, we are also subject to feeling pleasure and can develop new capacities for feeling pleasure. We can derive pleasure from lots of things--food, sex, talking with friends, riding a roller coaster. But we can also learn to find new things pleasurable--new music, new foods, new cities, new styles, new hobbies. It may take awhile for some to "learn to like" something new, but it may even be that the process of doing so becomes pleasurable in its own right. For instance, learning to play the guitar can be enjoyable, one can find pleasure in the challenge of getting into shape, and it may be a pleasurable process of discovery that one enjoys while traveling. As Ladelle McWhorter explained in Bodies and Pleasures, she learned to line dance. And in learning that her body could move in new ways in space, she found it immensely pleasurable.

Pursuing pleasure for the sake of pleasure is key. Not to become the next great guitar player, but simply for the sake of playing the guitar because it is pleasurable to do so. Disciplining oneself to do yoga stretches everyday, not to be the next yogi to take down the Bikram franchise, but simple for the sake of stretching one's body because it is pleasurable to do so (even if it is also sometimes painful!). The idea is that we are subjects who can undergo disciplines to develop new pleasures. We can learn to find new things pleasurable, and we can pursue those projects for the pleasure that they bring, and nothing more.

The "nothing more" is crucial because it defends against the normalizing of some end goal. If you are not trying to be the best guitar player, than no one can criticize you for not being so. If you are not working towards becoming the next big yogi, then there is nothing wrong with not being so. And if you reject the idea that one should live up to the standard of straightness, then you would have no need to punish yourself for not being straight. Neither would others. And if you reject the idea that there is some requirement for "gayness" then you can live and play as you like without regulating your own identity as such. The point: If there is no teleological end point, if there is no goal, then there is no risk of normalizing those who are good and those who are bad or deviant.

Instead, the "goal" should be the creation, intensification, and multiplication of pleasures.

I have been motivated to write this summary of McWhorter's reading of Foucault because I have been thinking for a while about my own practices. What am I doing for the sake of pleasure? What am I even doing that is "pleasurable?" As a grad student earning a PhD in a pretty well-known philosophy program, I often succumb to the attitudes of others that surround me, those who say, "This is so miserable." Well, lots of people say that grad school sucks. And lots of people say that the small little town in which I live leaves lots to be desired. And both of those can be true. BUT! even as a grad student in this little town, I can cultivate and develop pleasurable practices. Some avenues for pursuing pleasure are obvious enough, but there are less obvious ones that I want to keep in mind, too.

Every week, I try to go dancing on Sunday nights. It has always been the case for me that I experience great amounts of pleasure from dancing! I love the movement, the demands for stamina, the rhythms. I love feeling my body move. I have thought about classes and learning new ways to dance...And I love food. Food has been a saving grace for me and it is oh so pleasurable! I cook, I eat, I try new foods. Learning new ways to do both has been wonderful. In the meantime, I am hoping to think of other ways to discipline myself to undergo new pleasurable practices. For now, though, I am trying to focus on two (which are closely related) in particular.

Philosophy has always been a practice to me. I can only understand it as a practice and I know of its transformative effects. I've been changed by philosophy as a student, as a teacher, and as one who reads philosophy all the time, even for fun! In light of my many months of thinking, "What is this for? Is it worth it? Why should I do philosophy as a profession?" I am trying to refocus my attention to the inherent value of philosophy. It may ask questions that even I find boring and irrelevant, but philosophy also provides the platform for new and interesting ways of thinking that are life-changing. Writing, too, has been an obvious practice for me to take on and discipline myself to continuously attempt. This blog, and this entry, are evidence of that. But the main point is that there is a pleasure in writing. In thinking through ideas, working them out word for word so that their connections are forced to be made explicit, and expressing myself, I am learning to enjoy the practice of writing. I am trying to stay in touch with the fact that I find writing and philosophy to be pleasurable practices that are worthy of my energy and dedication. Doing so is worth it for me. And it may even be worth it when couched in terms of resistance.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Learning Moments of the Teacher

The best teachers I have known often say that one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is that you can continually learn from your students. I have been wanting to record some important moments that I have experienced with my students in the classroom over the past spring and summer semesters, and since I just attended a workshop that emphasized "cooperative" dynamics for education, this is a timely post.

This past summer, when I taught the class on love and sex, I had a number of unexpected challenges. It may have been the nature of the class content, or perhaps it is that I am that new young instructor whom students feel more entitled to challenge, but one issue that I encountered from a number of students was an unwillingness to think. I noticed a tendency for students to walk in, sit down, and express their opinions. The problem, however, was that their opinions where their prior opinions, not pieces of their current thought processes. In other words, they could walk in, say what they wanted to say, and think they would get participation credit, without doing the reading, without listening to other people's comments, and all without spending even a minute of actually engaging in any critical thought. I would reiterate that anyone could come into a class room with prior opinions, and I expected that many people could and did do this, but I was interested in using those opinions as a place to begin a thought process, and not accepting them as a satisfactory end.

The problem with such "opinions" is that they would manifest in some students' attitude where they think "philosophy is all about debate and arguing with other people." Thus, they would come into the room and just state something. They say, "I think this is why it happens....." and that ellipses could go on for minutes...and minutes...and minutes.....all without much evidence of critical thought, without specific reference to the text, and without leaving much space for other students to respond. On one particular day, a student did just that and ended by saying, "What? After all of that no one has anything to say? I thought that would have provoked some reaction out of people. I guess I am right then."

Of course he wasn't right. And it wasn't that no one had anything to say. It was perhaps that there was just too much one could say. His "speech" of sorts actually had so many holes in it that I, and maybe others, didn't know where to begin. But I resisted the impulse to interrupt him in the middle of it and correct his missteps in reasoning, and when he was done I still resisted the temptation to start on my laundry list of rebuttals and attempt to "school him." I resisted simply because it was obvious that it wouldn't have even mattered. He wasn't the sort who would listen anyway.

So, instead, I chose to let him talk and talk and talk. And when he was done, I responded by saying, "I don't think the fact that no one has anything to say to you right now shows that you "won" the debate." And then I pointed out that he had not left room for people to respond, and how this showed a certain degree of non-openness to genuine dialogue, thoughtful discussion, and real interest in hearing what other people thought about the issue at hand. It showed that he wanted to show others what he thought, obviously because he thought he was already in the right, without being interested in hearing what others had to say. And I did this in front of the whole class.

Maybe I indulged a little too much in making his "rant" a public display of what not to do. And maybe my reaction pointed too much of a finger at him. But given that I had already had a private conversation with him where I encouraged him to listen more, try to understand a different perspective before responding, and mostly, to just pause.....I felt he was the one who made a demonstration out of himself. And I thought to myself, it maybe good to highlight what had just happened for all of the other students, too. They were there. They heard his rant. And they didn't have anything to say. And I wanted to offer at least one idea about why and how that had all happened.

What I didn't expect was that this would become a theme for the summer. In my private conversation with him, and then in other conversation with other "difficult" students, and even in my relationship, the theme of communication, openness to listening, and a willingness to not assert one's "opinion" continually presented itself. And in these conversations I would point out that here was a moment where learning philosophy is not all that separate from other life lessons. Reading a text charitably, participating in group discussions openly, and finding ways to actually approach an issue and others without the antagonistic attitude that everything is a debate where one's task is to be "right" requires a set of skills that I find helpful for being a good-hearted, kind, open-minded, and *likeable* person. But it also seems like such a disposition seems necessary to be a good philosopher, as well as a responsible citizen, and a good friend, partner, family member, etc.

And, oh the irony of life! Of course, I ended up needing to revisit my own advice. And perhaps that is a really good thing because it might mean I am on the right track. I, as a student, find myself needing to wait a bit before I raise my hand because I think I have something really important to say that would make the discussion more interesting. And I catch myself feeling defensive in relationships too, and then I remind myself to pause, listen, and try to understand before I react. I know I can have the attitude that I "know better" in the classroom and in real life.

So, I learn from myself. And I learn from my "problem students." and I learn about myself. And the philosophy is relevant to life, just as I tried to explain to my students who wonder why girls don't like dating them, or why they don't have many friends, or why people don't respond to them. And life is relevant to philosophy. And I realize that I have a lot more to learn in a lot of ways about a lot of things.

There is more to say, but this theme will continue for a while, so I'll let this rest for now and return to it later.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pondering Purposes and Philifesophy

It's been months since I've posted anything on this blog, and nearly as long since I have done any significant writing in my notebooks, but as I enter another fall, after another summer, after another year, I am feeling like I should be doing more of both. And to do so, I may need to reconsider my purposes for doing either.

This blog started out as a place for me to post my personal writing--poems, free-writes, and other older findings. Given it's purpose, then, there was a built-in process of selection. I chose only certain pieces of my notebooks to publish for others to read which made this blog, as well as my notes on facebook, tiny little glimpses into the written records of my thoughts. What it has not been is a place for me to actually express myself with freedom, spontaneous richness, or lightness. In short, I haven't written on this blog as I am doing now, that is, without copying some early writing in a very careful and deliberate manner.

In part, I haven't been posting on this blog because I haven't even had writings in my notebooks that would be suitable for sharing. The bits of writing that I would post were typically those somewhat poetic journal entries that expressed more emotion through images, metaphors, and rhythms. Lately, my notebooks have been filled with boring and direct statements about what has been going on in my life. My process of processing has become quite straight forward. Maybe I haven't had much time to just sit and let it "flow," or maybe I've been too lazy to even think about it. I think it is a combination of a lack of motivation to write, and a lack of time that has been dedicated to it as an important practice.

For the past week, however, I have been thinking quite a lot about writing. (Actually, I have been thinking about writing for years now...) I spend time considering my connection to philosophy, writing, the role of writing, and writing/philosophy as a practice of self-development. Philosophically, then, writing is central to the work that I do, read, and write about. I also have been thinking about writing as something that I want to do more of. I would like to dedicate "writing time" at least once a week. Yes this is professional recommendation from some of my mentors, but I can also feel the need to be doing more of it for my own sake. I would love to be able to exercise the muscles and reflexes in my fingertips, to train my mind to think at a pace at which I can also type, and to develop the synapses and connections that are engaged in the whole process of writing. My good friend, Jim, asked me to co-author his paper/book with him. Some of my students and friends have been asking if/when I might actually writing a book. And now it is time for me to do "public philosophy" for an fellowship that I have with the Rock Ethics Institute. I also need to start writing in ways that will be intended for sharing with others--conference papers, articles, etc. And very soon down the road, I will have to take on another big writing project: my dissertation. I have also been thinking of blogging for the sake of saying the things that are on my mind that I actually want to share with people in a less formal way than publishing a book. Only those who are very close to me know my most sneaky schemes, but they involve getting heard in some way. :) blog. vlog. takeover.

Most of this sounds very professional and externally motivated, but again, writing has always been very important to me. But since the days of being deep in spoken word and slam poetry and my more recent philosophical investigations into the nature of writing, writing has become even more of a central focus for me.

Thus, I have been thinking that I need to write more. And not just in my notebooks. And not just for myself. And I am seeing that "writing" and "copying what I have written" are two different things. They are different for good reasons, and they serve different purposes. In light of these considerations, I hope to relinquish my initial intent behind this blog, which was to select and share my philosophical and poetic writings that related to my life. Ironically, and more precisely rather, I wish to more fully embrace the core motivation for this blog, which was to highlight and share how philosophy is intimately enmeshed with my life, and how philosophy and life can both be lived, experienced, and pursued as a practice, as poetry, as a work of art.

8.29.10

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The ol' bait and switch

is a lie. Or if I am very forgiving, I'll call it a misunderstanding. But either way, the important thing to realize is that misperceptions are often conducive for creating more comfortable feelings. I know of epistemologies of ignorance and I know their effectiveness. They can create whole worlds, inverted by delusion-a purposeful misinterpretation of reality.

And me.

And unfortunately, they only create distance, bitter rifts, losses of friendships, and a lack of connection. They foreclose the possibility of understanding.

That is why I am grateful for you, one who sees clearly and accurately. Who knows full well the details and the pain that have led me to this day. You understand the causes of my hurting and that it continues to be present, and especially in what way.

And lucky for me, it means that you know I am not switching off to you. I need not worry about protecting myself. I don't need to run away because I've been learning. And trusting. Both have a great deal to do with loving.

How do I know that I love you? I know because I trust myself. And you. So much that I can feel that it is true, that no matter what more I see of you it will only fill out the picture. Any new situation will not present more criteria by which I will evaluate you, or how much I like you. Instead, I trust that I see you as you are, enough to trust myself. In that I can, first of all, love you.

And yes, so far it has been mutually reinforced by your own actions. I trust that you see me. Thus it is not a taking from one, or giving back to the other. This has been, from the beginning, a slow process of equally meeting one another in our being together.

My "I love you" comes with depth, with roots, with thick ground.

I love you.

And all that you are. Even the parts that are yet to be found.

And that, Love, requires trust--in myself.

5.2.10