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.