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Collie muse

November 2014

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Nov. 5th, 2014

Collie muse

Reading & voting: Williams' "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family & Place"

As I write this I've just spent the past two or three hours sitting in the tire shop and waiting for a tire change. It was busy there; fortunately I knew it might take a while and planned ahead so I had my drink and one of my textbooks to read. The book's cover is attractive: off in the distance you can dimly make out a rust-colored desert background with scudding dust-red clouds reflected on the red surface below — though it's not clear whether that is a mirage or a lake. Up closer to the viewer, and strikingly precise in comparison to the soft, distance-faded edges of the background, flies an osprey. It is a curious choice of bird for the cover: distinctively marked, ospreys are renowned for being extremely poorly suited to captivity. To put it simply, they pine away. This one flies free on the cover, but I still find myself wondering: what is a fish-eating bird doing in a desert biome?

Osprey in flight over Lake Wylie, SC - from wikipedia

Osprey in flight

The cover suits the book, which is titled Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. The author is Terry Tempest Williams; I generally enjoy her writings for her ability to intriguingly weave together personal experience, a deeply compassionate emotion, and ecofeminist themes. This book is as excellent as I expect: she ties together the natural rising of Utah's Great Salt Lake and the ensuing disastrous loss of viable living and nesting grounds for a huge variety of birds and other wildlife due to the pressures of human encroachment… with her mother's — her entire matriline's — doomed struggles with cancer, due to Utah and Nevada having been used as nuclear testing grounds.

There is a rich sweetness sometimes to Williams' writing, like too much chocolate on the tongue: it is a sensuous ecstasy which you know will lead invariably to a sort of painful regret. When I start the book I already know the most likely outcome of both her mother's battle with cancer, and what happens to any biome — no matter how beautiful or thriving or unique — when it butts up against regular human greed. Still, I read. There is a sort of aching tenderness in respectfully witnessing the gift of another's vulnerability and pain — it hurts, but I find myself hoping that pain shared is somehow lessened, despite my not being able to do anything about it. Williams lays bare her heart as she writes profoundly of emotion — guilt and shame, furious rage, frustration and helplessness — and more than once leaves me feeling the sting of sympathetic tears.

I find myself wondering: why am I reading such a sad book? If it were not a class requirement, would I pick it up? I've not yet finished the book, but I have faith in the author's ability to both help me face the unfaceable, and help me eventually feel emotionally uplifted so I can continue the struggle — whatever battle I may be facing. Right now, however… I sit at my kitchen table and feel emotionally wrung out from the book so far. Scattered in front of me are the three ballots I must fill out to vote — a civic duty I take seriously — and I've not yet taken the time to consider how I can vote most wisely. Is a vote just for the sake of voting better than not? Should I vote randomly and maybe help elect something I consider reprehensible, or by not voting fail to assist in electing something worthwhile?

For a moment I feel bone-tired as I bleakly wonder: is there actually anyone in these ballots who can do what I truly want? Do I really think any of these candidates will actually make a difference or help bring about a world of peace, compassion, and generosity?

Fortunately my housemates come to my rescue… with a hot drink, aspirin, and suggestions based on their previous research. I am well cherished, and that caring kindness gives me the internal reassurance of my convictions: I will vote to the best of my ability in order to help create the better world I want to see come about.

I have discovered, over the years, that I am an ecofeminist: I recognize the historical, symbolic, and political relationship which exists within Western cultures between the denigration of nature — and the denigration of women, people of color, and the underclass. I further believe for our continued health, humanity must turn toward ecocommunity: the creation of vibrant and sustainable human communities, a way of being in this world that reflects a respect and love for all of life and has these sentiments as fundamental ethics: healthy diversity and difference, egalitarian interdependence which models power-with rather than power-over, and at its root a love for all the wondrous life on this planet. In such a situation, like Starhawk suggests, I try to continuously work towards that goal… and I vote.

 

* The definitions of ecofeminism and ecocommunity which I present in the last paragraph are directly inspired by or quoted from the following brilliant authors: Charlene Spretnak's "Critical and Constructive Contributions of Ecofeminism" in Worldviews and Ecology, and Karen J. Warren's "Introduction" and Judith Plant's "Learning to Live with Differences: The Challenge of Ecofeminist Community," both from the wonderful Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Oct. 29th, 2014

Collie muse

Thoughts on V. Shiva's "Staying Alive"

I'm reading Vandana Shiva's Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, & Development for an on-line class on Ecofeminism which I'm TAing. The following are two comments made on the class forum at different times.

While reading both the book and the forum comments, I was reminded of a study I read about many years ago (which means unfortunately I've lost it, darnit!) which reviewed war as a profit source. The current common perspective is that war is good for the economy — especially that of the winning side. So the study's researchers examined several wars over the past century or so, and discovered something fascinating: war is not actually good for the economy, so much as it is good for the "captains of industry" (read: the old white guys that own everything already) — but only of the winning side. So not only are these the men who aren't actually risking themselves or their families when they urge a society to go to war, but they're also those who most stand to gain. It's everyone else – including the environment and the poor, especially women and children, on both sides — who will lose in war, regardless of who supposedly "wins."

I have some friends I have amiable arguments with about things like this, and some time ago I said to one of them that current Third World development by First World companies was almost a war on the people there. He scoffed, pointing out that lots of folks made money on that development, and it was good for the industrialization of the countries involved.

I have to say now, though, thinking about it — I think I didn't go far enough in my description. I think maldevelopment (Shiva's descriptive term of the economic and ecological devastation which occurs when First World corporations start throwing their economic weight around in Third World countries) really is a war on the poor, the women and children, and the environment. I don't think it's done maliciously, per se — I think it's worse: these people are absolutely indifferent to the pain, destruction, suffering, and death they're causing in their incessant quest for more profit. In maldevelopment there may be short-term gain for the rich of the non-industrialized nation, but I suspect it's only the already-rich of the so-called First World countries that benefit in the long term, just like in any war.

I wonder if this "war model" can be taken further. Within a society at peace, like the US today, would it be accurate to use Shiva's conceptualization of maldevelopment in regards to, say, gentrification of inner cities that drives out the poor that live there already? Or perhaps to the persistent erosion of reservations, where the land is taken from Native Americans through one or another excuse in order to be sold to developers? Thoughts?

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Well, that was embarrassing! Right after I'm so pleased with myself for discerning the metaphor of war as an interesting new angle on how women, people of color, and nature are treated by the dominant patriarchal/industrialist cultural paradigm… I discover Shiva's done that already! That's what I deserve, I suppose, for thinking the 2010 Introduction would be so much fluff added on afterwards. ;)

True, there's a rather poignant reference to war by Gustavo Esteva but I initially considered the statement more poetic/symbolic than literal. Then again, going back and re-reading his assertion: "development [is] a permanent war waged by its promoters and suffered by its victims" (14), I find myself wondering if perhaps I should be trying to think more literally than metaphorically in situations like this — where peoples' lives are at stake.

Now that I've had a bit of time to mentally review, I have a few other thoughts regarding Shiva's perspective on ecofeminism — although considering my record so far, I'm amusedly sure someone else has already had these thoughts as well. ;)  Regardless, I'll put them forward for consideration, since for me, writing my thoughts down helps me to organize and render them more coherent.

Firstly, I was fascinated by Shiva's clear (to me) spiritualization of her ecofeminist perspective. It appears there is no doubt whatsoever in her mind that the feminine and nature are sacred, conceptually embodied as Prakriti. I happen to agree with her regarding the sacrality of life in general and women and nature in particular, but I find myself wondering how she is seen by the secular environmental movement, both ecofeminist and other. I would consider it a great shame if the publicly adamant secularism of US society caused a damaging rift between spiritual and secular environmentalists. On the other hand, I also find myself wondering if patriarchal arrogance does the same: rendering "regular" environmentalists unable to work effectively with either ecofeminism or Green party members who follow all ten of the party's precepts — including the one about feminism as an inherent goal of Greenness.

Secondly, I had previously read an article or two of Shiva's regarding "maldevelopment," and was familiar with the conceptualization of both women and nature as sacred and deserving of respect. I was also peripherally aware of the growing industrialization of farming, and had a vague internal sense that commoditizing things such as seeds was most likely a bad idea. However, until reading this book I had not really registered the shocking (to me) realization that industrialized farming was actually creating rather than solving hunger (xxii). Shiva's tracing of the direct links between the starvation and poverty rampant amongst displaced indigenous peoples, and the destruction of their land for supposed development by global corporations, was quite eye-opening. I'd never seen this laid out so clearly before.

I was also surprised and delighted to read Shiva's assertion that indigenous farmers working with the land can produce more and a wider variety of healthy crops, with less harmful chemicals, than can the giant agribusinesses. I'd suspected the potential efficacy of long tail distribution in sales for a while now; to see it verified in this realm also is personally quite satisfying. I want to read her research data so I can point others at it, but… wow, this is so nice to learn! Not only is it relevant for indigenous populations, but it's becoming increasingly so for the rest of the world as well. As a personal example, in the upcoming elections Prop 1 is supposed to invest in the state's water infrastructure… at least partly by building more dams. While I've not read up on it yet, I'm leery of any ballot measure which is heavily supported by the almond farmers — since that's the most destructive local monoculture agribusiness* I know of.

Finally, I love learning new things, especially when they're accompanied by that enlightening shock of recognition that this is something you already know, but didn't realize until now that you knew. I felt that wonderful and exciting sensation when reading about the preferableness of the slave's standpoint — because "he represents a higher-order cognition which perforce includes the master as a human, whereas the master's cognition has to exclude the slave except as a 'thing'" (53). I was also impressed by Shiva's care in ensuring she is not emulating what she critiques. While she refers to Prakriti as the feminine principle from which all life arises, she also notes it is not unique to Indian women — that both women and men, indigenous and industrialized, can benefit from the non-gender based philosophy of embodied feminist values as activity and creativity (52). To date her clearly ecofeminist solution to the issues we face — including cultural, spiritual and environmental damage — is one of the best and most comprehensive solutions I've read so far — and also, I suspect, one of the hardest to implement in the US.

* I had to laugh when I ran my spellchecker over this before posting… and realized I'd typed "agrObusiness" rather than "agrIbusiness." Considering "aggro" is slang for aggressive hating, threatening, or pre-emptive attack in computer gaming jargon… I guess my non-conscious mind was trying to tell me something? ;)

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Oct. 23rd, 2014

Collie muse

Literarily denuded! :)

So I'm thinking about books and research, as I'm driving back home from turning in yet another handful of library books, several of which were brought to me via the courtesy of Interlibrary Loan -- a true lifesaver for me, in regards to getting some of the less well-known works which I'm reading for either class texts or dissertation proposal research. Consider this a shout-out of gratitude to the San Jose Public Library system, which is linked with the San Jose University library as well, thereby marvelously expanding their collection!

My housemates have been real troopers too, in that they have allowed me to borrow library books using their cards as well as mine. This was enormously helpful during my two comps classes, when I had to check out, read, and review -- and manage, since if I accidentally got an overdue book fine it was my responsibility, not theirs -- about 35 books per three-month semester. I get my brain candy from the library too, which is a financial blessing in that I don't have to pay for a book which I'll tear through in about an hour or three to relax, then likely be done with forever -- since I tend to only read those once.

So I'm still driving, and considering all this as I drive: via the miracle of the internet, when I call for them, these marvelous books come from all over the country to me! It is thanks to the internet also that I can so easily find the varied, unusual, and sometimes eclectic works I need; I can likely count on one hand the number of times the vast and wondrous US interlibrary loan system has failed me. Further, I've had these books, magazines, and articles being placed on hold for me, checked out to me, reviewed by me, and returned by me for... goodness, it's been well over five years now! That means for the past five years I've had anywhere from one to 15 books stacked on my desk in the library book spot, so I don't misplace them -- though that is not a perfect system, since they do tend to wander with me while I'm reading them. Nevertheless, there is no dust or random other-stuff in that always-filled spot of my often-messy desk.

Except, it just occurs to me... for today. For the first time in all these years I picked up all the books to return. There are no library books sitting at home waiting for me. I am... library-bookless!

Can you DO that?!

Uh-oh. Should I turn right around and drive back to the library and hastily check out a book, so my academic-street-cred remains untarnished? Or... wait, wait! I have four books on hold! It's hardly my fault the system lagged a bit in book transport to me, right? Okay, good -- I should still be in good with the academia-nut crowd. If anyone gives me a hassle before at least one of those books arrives, I can always loftily inform them that my sadly library-bookless condition is merely symptomatic of the epistemological ramifications of oligarchic violence produced and maintained by and within the consumerist industrial-war system -- then make my escape behind that shield of impenetrable verbal nonsense.

Whew, that was close! :)

Sep. 24th, 2014

Collie muse

"Toward A Queer Ecofeminism" by Greta Gaard

The following is a quick review of an article read for the Ecofeminism class in which I am a TA — yay! I'd like to figure out how to TA more… though apparently you cannot TA for a class you haven't actually taken. Considering the changeover in classes occurring in my program in the past few semesters, that appears to leave all the older students out in the cold. I'm going to have to ask for clarification on that policy.

Re the article reviewed here, it's quite fascinating and I recommend it strongly. It can be found on-line: Toward a Queer Ecofeminism by Greta Gaard. If you end up reading it, I'd love to hear your thoughts in comments below. Enjoy!

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

In "Toward A Queer Ecofeminism," Greta Gaard argues that application of queer theory to ecofeminism will strengthen both. I was fascinated to read her usage of the same statement I saw early on in some religious studies, when feminists were just beginning to address androcentrism in both the organized religions and the academy. In both cases these scholars note it is not enough to simply: "add [women/queers] and stir."

Continuing reading, I was delighted by Gaard's use of some of Plumwood's theorising from her brilliant Feminism & the Mastery of Nature, which we'll be reading soon. For example, while reading Gaard's suggested dualisms — to be added to the specifically incomplete list provided by Plumwood — I felt almost a sort of relief at the addition of categorizations which my non-conscious mind knew were missing but didn't yet know to recognize. Indeed, after re-reading the list of "white/nonwhite, financially empowered/impoverished, heterosexual/queer, and reason/the erotic" (p. 2) there was a part of me so aware of the rightness of their inclusion that I found myself perplexed at how we could ever have missed them in the first place. I felt a similar sense of recognition of rightness when I read: "The oppression of queers may be described more precisely, then, as the product of two mutually reinforcing dualisms: heterosexual/queer, and reason/the erotic" (p. 4). I wonder if there were men who felt a similar sense of intellectual relief upon first having the religiously based dualisms pointed out to them by feminists? I would like to hope so.

Regarding Gaard's analysis of Plumwood's "linking postulates that connect such dualisms" (p. 3), I was curious to see Gaard apparently did not consider queers to experience #5: Homogenization. On the other hand, perhaps what I've seen which I considered homogenizing was applied only to gays, and not to lesbians or transgender? I do not know enough about it — especially since I tend to ask a particular relative to stop, or get up and leave the room, when he starts speaking disparagingly of "the homosexuals."

After establishing the conceptualization of the "master identity," Gaard goes on to note the specifically cultural construction of sexuality, and the attendant cultural association of "natural" with "procreative." She then explores the "crimes against nature" argument against queers, noting the historical construction of the linkage between any form of non-procreative, non-heteronormative eroticism as being "contrary to the order of nature" and "bestial" (p. 11), and thereby requiring the civilizing imposition of order by the master identity, via the justification of both Christian and nationalizing/colonizing ideologies.

I found Gaard's examination of nationalism quite illuminating, as up until that point I'd not really considered its colonizing ramifications. However, as she quotes from Parker et al, "'national identity is determined not on the basis of its own intrinsic properties but as a function of what it (presumably) is not.' Inevitably 'shaped by what it opposes,' a national identity that depends on such differences is 'forever haunted by [its] various definitional others'" (p. 11-12). Indeed, I find the close ideological ties between nationalism and masculinity quite fascinating: they are both defined by what they are not — feminine, of nature, and/or erotic — which says to me, tragically enough, that they cannot exist without a feminine/naturalistic erotics to subjugate.

Gaard closes with a call for a queer ecofeminism, which she asserts will both challenge and ultimately reject the endemically violent colonialist mentality. She suggests liberating the marvelous diversity of erotics so as to create a Western conception of it which fundamentally links it with reason, culture, humanity, and masculinity as well as emotion, nature, and femininity. In that way she believes we may finally create a society which is truly eco-egalitarian.

I close with some of my favorite excellent comments made by Gaard which I found particularly (and sometimes also creepily) perceptive:

"Attempts to naturalize one form of sexuality function as attempts to foreclose investigation of sexual diversity and sexual practices and to gain control of the discourse on sexuality… the eroticization of nature emphasizes its subordination" (p. 6).

 

"The native feminized other of nature is not simply eroticized but also queered and animalized, in that any sexual behavior outside the rigid confines of compulsory heterosexuality becomes queer and subhuman. Colonization becomes an act of the nationalist self asserting identity and definition over and against the other…. The metaphoric "thrust" of colonialism has been described as the rape of indigenous people and of nature because there is a structural – not experiential — similarity between the two operations, though colonization regularly includes rape" (p. 12).

 

"In patriarchal Western culture… masculinity is defined not only as independence but as 'not-dependent.' The process of socializing boys into men involves denying dependence on the mother; that dependence is then transferred to the wife. Male superiority is preserved by the social construction of a 'wife' as 'submissive… economically impotent, and in many other ways… inferior and nonthreatening to her man. In short, a wife is to be below her man, not above.' Men have… by their technologies worked steadily and for generations to transform a psychologically intolerable dependence upon a seemingly powerful and capricious 'Mother Nature' into a soothing and acceptable dependence upon a subservient and non-threatening 'wife.' This 'need to be above' and to dominate permeates male attitudes toward nature…. Colonization can therefore be seen as a relationship of compulsory heterosexuality whereby the queer erotic of non-westernized peoples, their culture, and their land, is subdued into the missionary position — with the conqueror 'on top'" (p. 12-13, quoting Elizabeth Dodson Gray).

 

"[I]n a patriarchal system that conceives of nature as female, there is a clear and necessary connection between the development of science as the rational control of a chaotic natural world and the persecution of women as inherently irrational, erotic, and therefore evil creatures" (p. 13).

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Sep. 19th, 2014

Collie muse

Clearing the decks to write

Finally had a bit of a breakthrough on my dissertation proposal — hallelujah! Working now on getting a dissertation committee Chair, and figuring out all the astonishing amounts of paperwork that must be filed as well. Gah! The Chair is harder than it sounds — this person must be a professor at my school and should be familiar with the niche subject I'm interested in researching, in the niche field which is my corner of the Philosophy & Religion department. Another gah.

So this means I'm frequently kind of out of brain juice, so I'm taking this moment to try and help out a sister scholar who is doing some research for a personal project on menstruation. If you're willing to answer a few interesting questions regarding menstruation, would you head on over to her site and check it out, please? :)

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

A friend asked how I center myself and clear my thoughts prior to writing. Like her, I truly enjoy writing, but I too have had difficulty clearing my mind and getting my butt into the chair and then getting my ideas out there. I've found that scheduling regular writing times is an imperative for me — otherwise there is always something I can come up with to distract myself… and you can only floss the cat so many times before she runs at sight of you! :)

However, I think my friend and I differ in how we see the first 10 to 15 minutes after we've sat down to begin writing. She feels hers are wasted simply trying to figure out how to begin… whereas I tend to use them to just blather on however I want — and at some point I start sliding into the requisite mind-set to write good academic prose. That's what this is, in fact: me calming my head down enough to get into a good writing fugue. I start by tossing out the random thoughts that would distract me — like, have you ever had a song that you heard as a kid that you've always tried to find since then, but haven't been able to… and then all of a sudden one day, there it is on the radio?

That happened to me recently — much to my pleasure at rediscovering the song. I had heard it a few times on the radio when I was a kid living in Florida with my family — maybe it had been just released? I don't know… but I hadn't been able to hear the whole thing without interruption. When I finally had a chance to do so, my mom was taking me to buy a long dress for… I think it was a cousin's wedding? I vaguely recall a tiny boutique dress shop in the deep shade of huge old, Spanish moss-draped oaks. I was not wild about dresses — I felt I looked awful in them — but I was hoping this time a long dress would make the difference.

And somebody grabbed me
Threw me out of my chair
Said, "Before you can eat
You gotta dance like Fred Astaire!"

I truly craved the ability to look elegant and graceful; to float effortlessly across the floor as I danced with my admiring partner, the way everyone else seemed to be able to do. I was young; I didn't realize everyone else was as panicked about looking stupid and clumsy as I was. So the song really spoke to me when it came on, while I was in the changing room. The man's voice was a bit nasal, nervous and uncertain sounding — the way I usually felt inside — as he repeated himself several times in the chorus:

You know I can't dance,
You know I can't dance,
You know I can't dance —
I can't dance!

But the singer decides to give it a try because he's desperate. There's a spoken, "Hmm… now wait a minute…" — and then, like The Little Engine that Could (another childhood favorite), the singer encourages himself as he gives it his best shot:

Of course I can dance;
I'm sure I can dance;
I can dance!
I really hit the floor!
Ah, it feels good!
Look at me dancing!

…and that's when he discovers not only that he can indeed dance — but that he loves it!

You should have seen me moving
Right across the floor-
Hand me down my tuxedo!
Next week I'm coming back for more.

Needless to say, my teenaged angst took a bit more than that to be defeated, but I still had this on-going, incredible urge to dance — just no real understanding of how to do it. Oh, I took the occasional square dance or clogging class… but I lacked the confidence or the knowledge to go out on a weekly basis to some place with music, that wasn't a singles meat market, which would allow me to simply dance for the joy of it.

Curiously enough, it was a somewhat desperate situation for me (like in the song) which finally taught me how to relax enough to just dance. I was at a party some friends were throwing, and they'd turned the backyard into a dance floor by the addition of a stereo system turned to face out of a bedroom window, and a good DJ. Two nice young men I rather liked realized I really really wanted to dance, but had no idea how — so they each took an arm, lifted me up off my feet, walked me out into the middle of the dance floor (dance grass? :) — and refused to let me leave until I danced with them!

They were good enough friends that they knew I would find this sort of exasperatingly funny rather than frightening or annoying, and I knew them both well enough that I was aware if I insisted on leaving they would not stop me. However… I still wanted to dance! They were right there with me, encouraging me to: "just move! It doesn't have to be perfect — just let your body sway!" — and so, in a sudden fit of nervous courage I gave it a try — and it worked!

I can dance,
Oh yes, I can dance!
Look at me dance on the floor movin'!
I feel good!
I can dance!

Holy cow did I dance! I had a wonderful time! I wore both of my friends out, but kept dancing with others as they cycled on and off the dance floor. I danced all that night with the astonished, delighted shock of someone who had no idea how easy it was, and had a lot of wasted time to make up for — and I didn't stop until they turned the music off at 2 am and laughingly said, "Collie! Go home!"

With the advent of the internet I tried occasionally to track down that song I'd heard so long ago, but the lyrics "I can't dance" never brought up the song I remembered. It was one of those wistfully pleasant memories where I wondered sometimes if it had really happened the way my memory said it had — because I couldn't find any trace of the song anywhere.

All this came rushing back to me as I was driving to my American Tribal Style belly dance class on a recent Saturday morning — when the song came onto the radio! I was shocked and utterly delighted, turning up the music loudly to hear all the words, and singing along with the bits I remembered — correctly even, woo! When it ended I listened carefully for the singer and song title — and that's when I realized why I'd never been able to track the song down on the internet. The title was "Long Tall Glasses" — but it was also known as: "I Can Dance"! All these years, my insistence on the "can't" in the lyric had kept me from finding the song.

So to Andrew and John, who carried a nervously protesting (and probably heavy) me out onto the dance floor and stuck with me until I started moving: thank you so much, guys! In retrospect, I'm really glad you did that. And many, many thanks also to Leo Sayer, whose song was one of the first steps in my  nervous determination to someday do something I deeply wanted to do: dance.

After all, it may have taken me a while, but now I know I can dance! Can I write a great dissertation? I think I can — I think I can! ;)

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Sep. 7th, 2014

Collie muse

Grumpy mutterings

I hate being sick. Hatehatehate it with the fiery passion of coughing exhaustion coupled with the urge to rasp out: "just kill me now!" I really despise having no energy to even get out of bed… and I loathe having that groggy-foggy-headed case of the stupids. Memory check says: yes, I am smarter than this, dammit!

I had my tonsils removed when I was 5 or so – no biggie, as far as I remember. So why do the stupid things have to partially grow back, and then get infected now?! Swallowing should not feel like ground glass on the back of your throat!

To be fair – a mental state I consider highly overrated when I'm in pain – I should mention this is partly my own fault. A few nights of way too little sleep, coupled with enthusiastically overdoing it physically, coupled with not taking my vitamins for almost a week… and I'm not really surprised I'm ill. I'm not wild about my Trader Joes's Women's multivitamins, though – especially having to take five of them a day. Admittedly, they noticeably perk me up when I take them religiously, but I don't enjoy having to take them scattered throughout the day – I want to take them all at once and have it over with, you know? But if I do that, they make me nauseous. I'm totally open for suggestions on better vitamins to take, audience!

What I'd really like is some useful little tool that I can use to tell me what I need more of in my diet. Think how convenient it would be, with its chirpily cheerful little voice:

"Good morning, Collie! I see you're up nice and early. Please place your finger upon the sensor pad." I do so. "Thank you! One moment please… there we go. Are you ready for your nutritional review?"

Me: "Yes, please."

"Okay! I detect you are currently low on vitamins C and E, and on iron. You can augment your diet for those missing elements by eating some leafy greens. Examples are: asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cucumber, kiwi, and spinach. Would you like more examples…?"

-and so on, blah blah blah. That would make planning out what to eat for the day significantly easier, I think. Of course, knowing how my life can occasionally get, I suspect it would go much more like this:

I shuffle blearily into the bathroom in my shortie robe, squinting at the bright light – then wince at the piercingly chirpy machine's greeting: "Good morning, Collie! I see you slept in today. Remember, a regular sleep schedule is an integral part of a balanced diet and exercise regimen! Please place your finger upon the sensor pad." Muttering about intrusive mechanical nannies, I do so with a minimum of fumbling. "I am not detecting your finger upon the sensor- that is not a finge- there we go! Thank you! One moment please… please hold your finger still upon the sensor pad…"

Having gotten tired of just standing there and waiting while my apparently excessive nutritional failings are being analyzed and silently clucked over by an overly chatty machine, I've started brushing my teeth. Finally I hear:

"There we go. Are you ready for your nutritional review?"

Me: ""Eff, bh'weave."

"I'm so sorry, but I'm having trouble understanding you. Are you ready for your nutritional review?"

Me: "Yeff! I faid 'eff!"

"I'm so sorry, Collie, but I still could not understand you. Are you ready for your nutritional review?"

Me, getting irritated, "Fp'oopid mafine! I faid yeff!" Small splatters of toothpaste foam are now decorating the mirror from the emphasis of my trying to be more articulate with a mouthful of electric toothbrush and toothpaste.

"Oh, dear! I'm detecting significant auditory distress, Collie, which when combined with your worrying nutritional analysis indicates a dangerously high possibility of potential health issues such as dizziness, fainting, or even possibly epileptic seizure. I have notified the closest hospital to send out an emergency vehicle…"

-and so on!

Weirdly, when I mentioned this to a friend, I found out there is indeed a machine being worked on that will be able to detect one's current health status. I was rather intrigued until I heard what it was: the toilet! I shudder to think of the psychological turmoil which could ensue due to being critiqued for one's, er, "technique" by one's toilet… :)

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

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Jun. 2nd, 2014

Collie muse

The unexamined dissertation: not worth writing?

As some who read my blog may know already, I'm currently struggling with the process of writing my dissertation proposal. Despite writing being one of the things I do best and most easily, and for various reasons that aren't important right now, I've had some nervous procrastination issues with writing this proposal. Thus my adviser suggested I take a moment and consider carefully: why do I want to write about the subject I've chosen for my dissertation? So I've been engaging in some self-reflection.

At about the same time I was thinking about this, a family member emailed me, talking about something she'd heard recently: that there is a need for all peoples — not just the indigenous — to de-colonize themselves. As I was dashing off a quick reply to her I was first distracted and slowed, then thoughtfully intrigued by a number of associated questions which occurred to me, which were all wound up with these issues. I realized my relative had indirectly asked me some very interesting and critical questions which (also indirectly but importantly) affect my attitudes about the work I'm engaged in currently — questions such as: how do I define feminism? Why am I a feminist — and a spiritual one, at that? What is Women's Spirituality? Why Women's Spirituality instead of mainstream religion, or even "mainstream" paganism?

Perhaps the easiest question for me to answer is what I think feminism is. I no longer believe feminism is the old "equality with men" argument — although I used to. Currently I agree with bell hooks' marvelously clear definition of feminism: "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression" (Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, p viii). The reason I agree with hooks, rather than still believing that feminism is the struggle of women to be equal to men, is because I understand that this old definition misses a trick. Consider what it means if feminism is indeed no more than a movement wherein women aspire to equality with men: doesn't that imply that being female or feminine is somehow… lacking?

Further, once I'm being treated as equal to men in my field, why should I care if other women are not being treated equally? I've succeeded, after all. If those women were really feminists, they'd all be trying to be a man too, right? I can just ignore the question of why it is that anything associated with the female is still denigrated; I can just hire some "non-feminist" or "lesser" woman or feminine-behaving man to clean my house and raise my kids. I'm making as much money as a man, after all — I've won the feminism game, right? I'm entitled to the same rat race and running the same increased health risks and having the same occasional confused feelings about how empty my life feels as I bust my chops for a family I rarely get to spend time with. Yay, equality with men!

Yeah, that's a big steaming pile of no. Let me try again.

So why am I really a feminist? Because to me, relative financial equity between white males and females — at the expense of people of color — is still not good enough. It's racism and it's unhealthy for the species; we certainly need more and better social change than just that. There needs to be an ending of oppressions — and like the eloquent bell hooks, I want that lack of oppression, and the ensuing egalitarianism, for everyone. If we end sexist oppression then we are not valuing any gender or skin color at the expense of all others.

Let's take this a step further: if we considered the feminine to be as respected and cherished and valued as the masculine currently is, then we would shatter our currently deeply limiting gender roles. Biology is not destiny! Women may be able to give birth, but what if they don't want to? What if they want to earn money hand over fist or fight on professional sports fields or lead as politicians and judges and priests? Why shouldn't they? Men may occasionally have heavier muscle mass than women — but again, so what? What if they'd rather cook creative dinners for their families or raise and teach children or nurture those in need? Again: why shouldn't they? If we end sexist oppression, then all these possibilities for a wonderful, productive life are equally valued rather than sometimes denigrated, and all of us will have more fascinating options to live well open up to us.

This is also why I study Women's Spirituality. My definition of this field is cribbed somewhat from all my foremothers in Women's Spirituality, of course, as well as more recent friends I've meet in person and on-line through my studies. To me, Women's Spirituality is the uniquely feminist intersection of spiritual/religious and political action. It embodies a sociocultural critique which uses Goddess iconography, cultural mythologies, and individual spiritual experiences as an expression of the Divine, primarily presenting nature, women, and women's bodies as being of immense spiritual value, sacred and worthy of devotion, and deserving of defense against damagingly regressive androcentric perceptions of both Nature and Woman.

Consider this: modern organized religions purport to be for all people — and yet at least half the population of the world is pretty much excluded from at least one form of significant membership in them: the clergy. It is as clergy that the most meaningful participation, interpretation, and explanation of these religions emerges — and yet, in all of the so-called Big Five (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism), women are most commonly regarded as inferior to men — if not outright denigrated. For those few religions whose dogma (sometimes grudgingly) allows women as clergy, there is still a struggle for female clergy to become ecclesiastical peers with the male clergy. Further, in this struggle, what do these ecclesiastical women face? More worship of Man — because the deities of all these big, dogmatic organized religions are overwhelmingly male! In fact, only Hinduism permits goddesses — and even there, modern perceptions of the religion most commonly promote the male at the expense of the female.

So we have God the Father, Lord, He — but while man is culturally believed to be of the mind and intellect and heaven and yearning upwards towards enlightenment… how do we culturally and religiously epitomize women? She is most often cast as being of the flesh: earthy and dark and dirty (as in: our cultural horror at menstruation and the messiness of childbirth), and of the emotions (hysterical, over-emotional, illogical), and animalistic (pussy, bitch, chick, etc.). In the US (my natal culture) it would appear the male has been sanctified at the expense of the female: we are actually raised to denigrate what is female and what is considered feminine. This is a trap I fell into just as much as many other women and men have: even as women struggle for financial equity with men, they're taught to believe the feminine is somehow less worthy than the masculine. Think about what that teaches us: Man is Holy, Sacred! -but women are… well… Man's servants? Come on, ladies — isn't that good enough? Sheesh, so demanding!

The five biggest religions in the world today are created by men and for men, with completely and sometimes only male deities. There is no religion today which is created specifically by women and for women, which promotes the sacred nature of Woman. In the presence of such a gaping abyss in women's lives; when there is such a crying spiritual emptiness for women… how can I not study Women's Spirituality? Until we value the female and the Earth just as greatly and reverently — Goddess the Mother, Great Lady, Queen of Heaven and Earth, She — I will continue to be a spiritual feminist, and seek to encourage and highlight the healthy cultural necessity of balance with and connection to the Divine Feminine.

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 2nd, 2014

Collie muse

Sweet & sour emotions

Being a student on a very tight budget, I am particularly fond of restaurants with cards that give you a free meal after a certain amount of purchases. My local Armadillo Willy's is very good about this, and I treated myself to a free lunch there today. As I finished ordering, a song I knew was playing on the speakers. I like singing, so I was singing quietly along with it while heading to a table; while doing so I passed a somewhat surprised-looking older woman. I smiled politely at her and got a startled smile in return, and continued singing as I seated myself.

Later in my meal, just before she was about to leave, she leaned over and politely informed me that she'd really enjoyed my little bit of singing. She found it so nice that someone still knew the words to "Sweet Emotion" by the Stones! I laughed and thanked her, and she smiled and departed.

I didn't have the heart to tell her that the version of Sweet Emotion we'd been listening to was sung by Aerosmith… ;)

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

I also did some reading at lunch. As many who read my blog may know by now, I'm working on my dissertation proposal this semester. My proposed subject has at least partly to do with a possible way to change society for the better. One of my private joys in this process is searching for new and interesting books that are applicable to my topic, to see if I can include them in my research and use them to construct a more subtle and effective proposal for improving society.

While I know the categorizations are ideologically problematic, I've wondered for a long time why men as a broad category appear to feel such a desperate, pervasive need to dominate – to unfortunately frequently violently oppress — the broad category of women. This has formed a sort of background perplexity in my educational travels, as I tried to figure out what was going on – and how it might be socially resolved. In this process, I've recently stumbled across something rather fascinating — at least so far — and I'll likely review it here later. The book is Michael Kimmel's Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of An Era.

I find the vitriol of many of the very far right to be outright creepy and alarming. Their almost lockstep rage is mostly incomprehensible to me, especially when what they're purporting is clearly factually incorrect – and easily demonstrably so. A simple example of this is recent voting patterns: many of the country's central states both vote powerfully conservative, and are also those which stand to lose the most economically should the Republicans come into power. Why do these men who are most suffering from the current economic slump continuously vote for a political party which has no plan nor intention of assisting them out of their financial woes?

This has puzzled me for a while, and I don't know the answer. However, a passing few lines in the above-mentioned Angry White Men gave me a sudden possible epiphany. Initially the author notes: "Many of the men I interviewed for this book are not bad men; they're true believers in the American Dream, the same dream that I inherited, and in which I believe" (11). He explains one interpretation of that dream later as: "The promise of economic freedom, of boundless opportunity, of unlimited upward mobility, … what they [American men] believed was the terra firma of American masculinity, the ground on which American men have stood for generations" (13).

So… my interpretation of this is that what he's saying is these angry white men absolutely believe in upward social mobility: you get a job, you work hard, you make money, you're a success. They're feeling betrayed because they either are working their asses off but just barely making ends meet – or they can't find any job at all that suits their emotional and financial needs. Now, here's the kicker – the sentence that made me sit up and take startled notice:

Unlike many of her subjects [for her 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man], who cast their eyes down for enemies but their allegiances upward at fictive allies, [Susan] Faludi is clear that the betrayal has not been the result of an indifferent government doing the bidding of hordes of undeserving "others" – whether women, gays, immigrants or whomever; rather, it has been perpetrated by the rich, the powerful, the corporate magnates, the corporate lobbyists and their plutocratic sycophants in legislatures and state houses. Like Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?, Faludi observes a paradox of these white men voting for, and identifying with, the very people who are doing them in. (13-14; bolding mine)

Could these men devoted to the upward mobility promised by the American Dream… be consistently voting conservatively simply because the majority of Republican candidates are rich white men — men who appear to have risen to the top of the America social hierarchy? -because to these financially hurting and angry white men, the Republican political party apparently most epitomizes the culmination of the American Dream that they offer?

Could it really be that simple? And if so: how do we help these men help themselves?

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 25th, 2014

Collie muse

A Paean to the Librarian

My dissertation proposal research continues apace – sometimes stutteringly slowly, other times with a swiftness and surety which reassures me that I'm on the right path and doing the right thing. I need those moments, believe me!

This is one of those moments. I've just gotten off the phone with the CIIS librarian who's also gone through the same program I have: Women's Spirituality. She is such a marvelously helpful librarian! I had a class with her in my very first semester at CIIS, and she was tall, spare, short-haired, with a very direct way of meeting your eyes. Her voice over the phone is the same: firm and steady as she makes sure she's clearly and slowly explained something to you step by step, then checks for understanding. I feel rather as if I'm working with some Platonic ideal of the Librarian as perfectly conceptually suited to my needs! Best of all, when I had the nerdy squeal of glee at finally learning how to access tempting but previously inaccessible on-line research databases (I'm looking at you, JSTOR — you intellectual tease, you! ;-) ), she laughed and completely understood.

So, to record the wonderful information shared with me! I don't know if this is directly applicable if you're not attending CIIS also, but I suspect the basics will hold true – research librarian strikes me as one of those jobs you just don't get unless you love it, you know? So: always always always, the first step is to connect with your research librarian. Don't be shy, or embarrassed about what you want to research, or chagrined at not having reached out at the beginning of the semester, or believe you know it all already. There's always at least one new little trick that makes my life easier, every time I chat with a librarian. In fact, this time around my librarian's name, email, and phone numbers are in my cell phone database. I certainly hope I won't ever need to call for research assistance quite that precipitously, but that's not the point for me – the point is that I've spoken to her and know her now, she knows me and my subject, and I know how to reach her for any necessary follow-up – on her emphatic urging! — and that is very reassuring!

Next: when trying to find a particular book, article, or whatever, always try first to check it out from the CIIS library's on-line database. They have a simply enormous amount of access to on-line journals and databases! Articles can be received as PDFs or JPGs via email, or as physical scanned printouts via regular mail — though the latter sometimes have a cost attached. Also, from what I've seen, they are only B&W, and are sometimes extremely blurry. If I can, I shall always hold out for PDFs. I should also be sure to have the full citation information as well, since even if they don't have the article in question, the CIIS library has interlibrary loan available from its website. As a useful side-note, San Jose Public — my local library — also has an excellent website, including interlibrary loan. For books I shall go through them, since there's no shipping costs associated.

Okay, that covers a lot of the articles I'll want. However, there's still dissertations and theses, or perhaps more niche or more expensive journals, or those which CIIS doesn't have access to due to copyright issues. In such situations I'll likely be able to find them through researching either ProQuest or JSTOR.

First ProQuest: to access their research database, go to the library's main page at http://library.ciis.edu and on the left-hand side, under Research, click Find Articles+. Scroll down through the Suggested Starting Points until I get to the Multidisciplinary subheader. Under that category are a list of ProQuest links, but the one I'll want is titled ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. Clicking that link will lead to the CIIS Off-Campus User Authentication page where I am asked to log in with my CIIS information — have your Student ID # handy if you're following along with me. That takes me immediately to the ProQuest website – specifically to the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text search page. Enter appropriate keywords and/or search phrases, and have a ball! ;-)

Now JSTOR: though there is a link to their database right next to the ones for ProQuest, that's only for pre-1923 "early journal content" – not really helpful for contemporary research. Instead, from the main page again (http://library.ciis.edu), on the left-hand side under Research click the link titled CIIS Journals and E-Books. Then scroll down the page for the link titled JSTOR Complete Current Scholarship Collection, and woohoo! I'm on JSTOR's site! Pause to chortle delightedly… then remember I'm really a sober, staid, extremely serious scholarly researcher and click the Search dropdown menu in the upper left, then click Advanced Search – while still grinning goofily at getting to use this awesome database, woo! That's the database search page — so enter keywords and phrases, and have at it!

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Mar. 25th, 2014

Collie muse

Poisoning history

There's an odd and disturbing trend I've noticed recently in my preferred form of brain candy; e.g.: smart female protagonists within the genre of urban fantasy. From what I can tell, when the author wishes to demonstrate via emotional shorthand just how repugnant a villainous group is, or needs to hastily add a bit of tension in the background for the protagonist... a generalized and sneering misogyny is added.

Invariably this is not a genteelly over-protective patronization, either – no, this is misogyny so pointlessly widespread, so two-dimensionally vile, as to be worthy of a group of mustachio-twirling Snidely Whiplashs. I find this disturbing because I do not like my social group becoming not only the accepted victim du jour in modern fiction of this type, but also the preferred group – rather like the Russians were in all the early James Bond movies.

I first noticed this "effect" in a movie, oddly enough: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Set in an alternate world in about 1900, where characters from our literary classics are real people, we see Mina Harker treated repeatedly like crap because she's a woman… but despite the world ostensibly being in the Victorian age, men of color are treated as peers of white men. What a great message: all men should have the right to treat women like dirty laundry!



To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself. Beware of the story-tellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help along the psychic destruction of their people.
-- Ben Okri, The Joys of Story-Telling


I'm not sure if it's fair of me to do so, but I have mentally tagged this effect as "cultural woman-in-the-refrigerator." To me it says the author is -- often through simple lack of imagination -- (ab)using a (sub)culture's women for either oppositional or motivational tragedy for the (usually female) protagonist. How do we know these guys is de bad guys? They beats up women! Oh, well then -- that's all settled! No two-dimensionality here, nopenope!

Let me state up front that I would not be satisfied with some other social group becoming fiction's chosen scapegoat, either. What I want is fictional backgrounds with some thought put into them: yes, women may be an oppressed class, but so are other classes of people as well. Oppression does not exist in a cultural vacuum, after all – it is never so neat and tidy as to declare only the aged, or the disabled, or red-haired women, or albinos, or whatever, as socially anathema.

Further, if we're reading fiction, shouldn't there be at least a little bit of imagination included? Instead of it always being women who are relegated to the social and legal status of children and furniture – except, of course, for our plucky heroine! – couldn't the authors try for something a bit more complex and thought-provoking?

What sort of culture might result if, say, there was a form of birth control for men that was easily visible? Maybe it turns their eyes a brilliant pink, or they glow in the dark, or something similarly obvious. I'd be intrigued by an exploration within the story of how the still fertile males were discriminated against -- both subtly and overtly – as, say, the socially recognized perpetrators of violence against women – even if the individual men in question haven't actually done any such thing. Everyone knows, after all, it's those sick individuals who have a "thing" about their personal sperm, who are the ones who try to violently impregnate bunches of innocent women. If those men were emotionally healthy and normal, like the rest of us, they'd have donated a bunch of their sperm to the banks, so the women they loved could deliberately choose when a pregnancy should occur, right?

In such a world I imagine families of more than one to three children might be ostracized due to wondering if the male of the family is perhaps sneaking off the pill on occasion. Maybe naturally sterile males might be shunned too, due to their eyes not changing color on the birth control drug. If the drug was expensive, it'd be yet one more excuse to discriminate against the poor as well. After all, everyone knows only the sick and guilty men don't take their pills!



A proper fairy tale is anything but an untruth; it goes to the very heart of truth. It goes to the hearts of men and women and speaks of the things it finds there: fear, courage, greed, compassion, loyalty, betrayal, despair, and wonder. It speaks of these things in a symbolic language that slips into our dreams, our unconscious, steeped in rich archetypal images.
-- Terri Windling, Snow White, Blood Red


So tell me: why is the "punching bag du jour" always women? Can't authors come up with anything new and interesting? I've been told this effect is due to historical accuracy. Really? As a single example, one book I read had dragons in it -- and yet misogyny apologists are still trying for that tattered old "historical accuracy" joke-of-an-excuse?! For that matter, do authors realize how insulting it is to simply erase all the historical abuse suffered by other groups?!

Casting women as the perennial and only cultural punching bag is emphatically not historical accuracy -- which even the simplest of research would reveal. If anything, this bit of plot shorthand is a blatant attempt to rewrite a new and false history. False histories are not truth -- they are a virulent disempowerment of the group which is constantly hammered on! Please, let's try for and encourage more interesting complexity in our fiction -- not less.

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