The Time-Shampoo Continuum

Posted in Small Epiphanies on January 2, 2013 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: January 1

I have been using the same shampoo since 2008.

I know this because last night, I was trying to remember if I own a particular book, and so instead of going through the bookshelves, or the closets, I looked it up on Amazon, and ended up browsing through my purchase history for the past twelve years.

(Yes, I buy shampoo on Amazon. Free shipping. Cheaper giant size. No, not the same bottle since 2008.)

The point is, I have been using the same shampoo since 2008. At least.

How lame is that? Same brand. Same scent.

Time goes really fast as you get old. It’s crazy. It goes so fast that you don’t even notice that you are using the SAME SHAMPOO for four years. Four. Years.

Holy crap. I spent New Years Eve browsing my Amazon purchase history.

Resolved

Posted in Small Epiphanies on January 1, 2013 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 31

This is the first year in a long time that my New Years Resolution isn’t “Finish my dissertation.”

And frankly, that feels kind of weird. I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

Usually, about this time of year, I’m trying to remember what my dissertation is about, and where I left off, and whether or not I can actually do what I set out to do when I started writing. Or whether I even want to.

This year, I am absent that sort of panic.

I am, however, having my usual New Year Fit of Organization. I just placed an order at the Container Store. All sorts of boxes and bins to organize my life and my desk.

I have, for years, thought this was a dissertation procrastination tool, but maybe not, because it’s lingering. The biggest post-dissertation indulgence I’ve been looking forward to is reorganizing my bookshelves, and purging. All the books I used for my dissertation that I don’t LOVE, or that didn’t change my life, or that I thought I was going to use, but didn’t–gone.

Imagine, on the shelves of your local Good Will, such choice items as Uncommon Sense: Theoretical Practice in Language Education,  or Writing the Qualitative Dissertation, or Composing Ethnography: Alternative Forms of Qualitative Writing or even  Autobiography and Postmodernism (although I think I might want to keep that one). Oh, but definitely The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Someone might actually pick that one up.

Just let me know and I can hold any one of these for you.

And then, post-purge, I will create a new, fright-inducing, section of “Books I Have Bought But Not Yet Read,” aka “Books I Think I Should Read,” to inspire me both to read, and to stop buying.

Post-dissertation, I like to use “post-” as a prefix for EVERYTHING.

Post-creation of the new “Books I Think I Should Read” section, I will stop saying “should.”

And think about what I could do next.

Be it resolved.

Sound Check

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 28

I’m not a music person.

Maybe that’s too strong.

I don’t seek out new bands and new music and I don’t really fall in love with certain artists for the long haul. I do consistently like certain musicians, like Beck, or like . . . right now I can’t think of anyone else.

I am still listening to the playlist I titled, “Liz’s Favs” on my first iPod in 2005–this is the same playlist that accompanied me all across Europe that same year, and certain songs put me back in certain places, and not always for reasons that make sense.  “Closer,” by Nine Inch Nails–I am on the train to Nuremburg. I had a terrible sinus infection, but I was determined to visit the Nazi Museum and the Christmas Market. Quite the combination for one very full day of traveling. “Mr. Brightside”?–The Alps. No idea why. “The Real Slim Shady”–the park I used to walk through every day in Prague, singing tonelessly at the top of my lungs, as though not speaking Czech made me invisible, or whatever the sound version of invisible is.

The Kinks “Destroyer”–not Europe but the Henry Hudson Parkway as it goes through Riverdale. Not good. Makes me drive crazy.

And yet, a twist of fate puts me in the car while Sound Check on WNYC is on, all the time. Sound  Check is my least favorite WNYC/NPR radio show, and yet, it’s the one I listen to the most. And it’s become where I get whatever limited new music I add to my list.

Tonight Ann Powers was taking the NPR 2012 Music Survey, which you can also take. Powers is an NPR music critic, and her favorite newcomer of the year is Alynda Lee Segarra from Hurray for the Riff Raff. I love, love, love her voice. Listen to her here. And thank you, Ann Powers. (Only one of their singles is available on iTunes, but the rest are on their website.)

Powers also gets a vote from me for calling “Glad You Came” by The Wanted, “the roofie anthem of the year.” I’ve had a problem with that song for a while.

And finally, the reason for this post: my vote for “Song that Makes Me Feel the Oldest,” which was unfortunately not a category on NPR’s survey: “We Are Young,” by Fun.

But let me back up a bit.

I didn’t mind turning 30. It felt liberating. So did turning 40. The older I get, the more I feel as though I can be exactly who I am, no apologies. I don’t hide from anyone how old I am, and I don’t thing age matters all that much as long as you’re doing something you love. I celebrate wrinkles. I think they mean you’ve lived.

(And I am absolutely not my father’s daughter when it comes to music. I don’t think everything after 1990 sucks. (To be clear, my father thinks everything after WWII sucks.) I don’t often update my list of favorites more because I’m lazy when it comes to music than because I don’t like anything new.)

But sometimes I am reminded–or maybe “forced to notice” is better–that I have, indeed, changed since I was twenty.

And Fun’s lyrics do that to me in a strange kind of way. They go like this:

Tonight
We are young
So let’s set the world on fire
We can burn brighter than the sun

I like to sing along with a song that’s fun to sing, no matter how cliched the lyrics. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by what I find myself singing. I know nothing about music. I am in fact still smarting from the time that pretentious guy in the Rainy Night House in the basement of Stony Brook’s student union said that REM’s “I am Superman” was for the fake fans, the ones just following the trends.

I like to sing along to the verse above of “We Are Young.” But singing it does make me feel like a bit of a fraud. I’m not young. At the very least, I am not the “young” these lyrics are about. And that struck me all of a sudden the first time I sang them really loud in the car.  I used to be that kind of young. I used to be in Fun’s audience.

But mostly, I realized that the idea of “setting the world on fire” has completely changed for me. “Setting the world on fire” used to mean knowing the guys in the band playing at Neptune’s on Dune Road and drinking and dancing on the stage as they sang. Going out in the middle of the night and stealing lawn signs that supported Republican candidates. Doing pretty much anything that would make a good story the next day. It meant, almost literally, burning “brighter than the sun,” and usually crashing spectacularly at the end of a night or a semester or a political campaign; but it also meant, in whatever misguided way, changing things, making noise, believing in something.

The thought of doing most of those things now just makes me tired. Or cold. Or dizzy.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing–the immaturity of my early 20s aside. Because I think that I get that same feeling from writing something spectacular, from challenging ideas and customs that haven’t been challenged before–that have been naturalized, mythologized (Barthes again)–from pushing, instead of behavior boundaries, genre boundaries.

Listen to me. I’m comparing pushing genre boundaries to trespassing and the theft of lawn signs. My twenty-year-old self would rail at the use of language like “genre boundaries” at all. F’ing theory head.

And that leaves me I do not know where. Conflicted. Not where I meant to be at the bottom of this post.

My Parents’ First Children

Posted in Small Epiphanies on December 28, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 27

My parents had four kids before Mike and I were adopted. Joni, Jaci, Dave and Steve fill our photo albums, and star in all of our home movies, as though they are, indeed, my parents’ children. Their own parents make the occasional appearance in a home movie, but it’s clear my parents all but kidnapped my cousins for a few years there.

I think, sometimes, that if my parents had had children the usual way, instead of adopting Mike and me, my cousins are what those kids would look like–who Mike and I would be–since their parents are my mother’s brother and my father’s sister. Almost an alternate, parallel universe. A what if? come to life.

We almost don’t have to ask, “If we weren’t adopted, who would we be?” But of course it’s not that simple.

Here are my parents and my cousins, running around on the sidewalks of E. 2nd, along with a brief glimpse of my cousins’ parents, and even Grandma Cone.

Adopted: A State of Being

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , on December 27, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 26

I got a phone call from the adoption agency today and I foolishly thought I was going to be given information of some sort.

As it turns out, a guy that works there was calling to tell me that a letter I’d sent–ages ago, I couldn’t even remember exactly when–needs to be notarized before the agency can answer my questions. For my own protection, of course. Ha.

One wonders why someone could not have called when they first received the letter to say it has to be notarized, instead of waiting for month, nearly a year, to respond at all. Feels like more “for my protection” nonsense.

After a lot of virtual (and fruitless) digging around on my hard drive, I found a copy of the letter that I emailed to myself, from my office computer, on March 27, 2011. Here is what it says:

Thank you for speaking with me on the telephone this morning. As we discussed, I am sending you this letter asking for some additional information regarding my adoption, which took place on 6/29/69.  

In 1994, I wrote to Angel Guardian asking for non-identifying information. The letter I received, a copy of which I have attached, said that my birthfather’s ethnic background was Indian-German. I am wondering whether the terminology, “Indian,” as used in 1967, would have referred to American Indian or Native American, or perhaps Indian, of Middle Eastern descent. Is there any additional information in my file that might clarify this part of my background?

Thank you for any information you can provide.

The question is now, after the DNA wrinkle, probably moo (a cow’s opinion) but I still want to know what Angel Guardian thought it was telling me, if that makes any sense. I am not assuming anything they tell me will be the truth.

And that brings me to today’s question: Why do I say, “I am adopted,” and not “I was adopted”? Being adopted is not like being Italian, or being British, or being of Middle Eastern descent, as the case may be. It is, presumably, a completed act. Right? I don’t know. Am I implying that it’s part of my very being, my DNA, somehow? A permanent condition?

During my dissertation defense, one of my readers asked, “What if we just said you’re not adopted?” He was asking, I think,  what if that category just didn’t exist? What if it’s just a discourse, language that was made up to differentiate something that really doesn’t need to be different? He said, “You were born. You have parents. They raised you. Who cares how you got them?”

At the time I was adopted, in the late 1960s, it was all about matching–about creating “natural” families out of the two social problems of unwed mothers and infertile married couples. If the child matched the adoptive parent, the adoption could be invisible.

I’ve argued in my dissertation and elsewhere that our adoption story was so good as to make my adoption seem like a fairy tale, like an incidental part of the story of how we became a family. It so naturalized our family that it removed, for me, the need for questions at all. We were meant to be a family. And we are.

This is one way, perhaps, of thinking about my reader’s question. But other families, I think, took that in another direction and actually hid the fact of the adoption, and the hiding makes it seem somehow wrong and sinister.

Both, though, silence the fact of the adoption, regardless of the intention.

What if we abolished, somehow, the distinction? Or, can we abolish the . . . I don’t know. . . the difference the distinction implies? And do we want to?

I guess it would be a beautiful thing if how you became a family was invisible–if the how didn’t matter. Kind of like if skin color became invisible, and we stopped identifying as one thing or another, and just were.

But wouldn’t it be just as beautiful a thing if how  you became a family was totally visible, and always celebrated, in all its myriad facets? And I think today that’s the more likely scenario. Or else I’m very naive. And that just might well be the case.

I think I’ve gotten away from the discourse part of this discussion, though. What does it say about our ideologies of family and blood and genetics and unwed mothers that we make this distinction? Is it separate but equal? Can it be?

What does how we write and talk about adoption tell us about just how this social practice fits into our values and beliefs about families? Can the very fact of the distinction between “adopted” and  “born to” be innocuous and benign?

Works of Art

Posted in Small Epiphanies on December 26, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 25

Twelve minutes left of Christmas as I begin to write this. But it was a good Christmas. A little subdued and sad without my aunt–I just keep looking for her whenever I’m with the whole family–but having the little kids around always makes things better.

Speaking of little kids–I got my very favorite Christmas gift this year from my little cousin Areyes. Areyes has been taking art classes and producing masterpieces, and I say this not just because she’s my cousin, but because she really is amazingly talented. And she’s five years old.

When I saw the studies she did of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and “First Steps,” I hinted (rather obviously) that I’d love a copy of one of Areyes’ paintings for Christmas. And her parents and grandmother were awesome enough to give me a framed original!

I am proud to own an Areyes Trimmer original, and when our girl is a famous artist, or whatever else she wants to be, I’ll still keep my painting just where I put it today–in a place of honor on my desk, to inspire me every time I sit down to write.

Love you, Areyes! And thank you!

by Areyes Trimmer

by Areyes Trimmer

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Small Epiphanies on December 25, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 24

Okay, I’m faking the date. I got home last night at 2:30 am, completely exhausted.

But I had a great Christmas Eve and got an amazing gift which will be the subject of my Christmas Day (I know, it is, actually, Christmas Day, but work with me here!) post.

Worth waiting for.

 

Identities Like Bumper Cars

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , , on December 24, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 23

Even as I state, over and over, that I subscribe to poststructural thought, my poststructuralism is partial. It exists in tension with my loyalty, my can’t-let-go-ness to our adoption story, which has become, in our family, one of Barthes’ myths. I do not have a coherent identity as a poststructuralist–those words can’t even be in the same sentence, really, since poststructuralism decries the existence any sort of coherent identity. A poststructuralist with a coherent identity would be sort of like a cyclops with two eyes. Impossible. Defeats its own point.

Anyway. Coherent identity though I do not have, and poststructural ideas though I do, provisional, partial, local, contingent identities abound. And I find it quite easy to move, as Lyotard has said, “nimbly” among them, always and already acknowledging their very contradictoriness–and living with it.

I am both a member of the family created by our adoption story–completely. And the very same person who breaks that narrative, sees its holes, it contradictions, its silences. Acknowledges its fragmentedness, its position as a series of refractions of, and not reflections of, perspectives and interpretations of how we came to be.

(In 7th grade, I had to take a test as part of my Religious Education class. I had to pass the test in order to be Confirmed. I got one question wrong on the test. The question was multiple choice, and it said, “Jesus was: a. completely human; b. completely divine; c. half human and half divine; d. all human and all divine.” I knew the answer the teacher was looking for. I remembered the class discussion about this very thing. But I disagreed. I just couldn’t buy it that Jesus was all human and all divine. I knew I was going to be marked wrong and I didn’t care. But. Now. Now I want to argue that I am a meant-to-be-member of our family even as at the same time I acknowledge that that family–our family–was created not by fate or God or a miracle but by discourse (which I might argue, someday, is miraculous in and of itself, worshipping as I am presently at its altar).

At. The. Same. Time. Good God. The Catholics always get themselves in there, don’t they?)

And those two parts of my identity, those fragments, bump up against each other all the time, and work each other, and silence each other however temporarily. I daily enact, perform, mix, mingle, fuse and separate and play with both of these identities, and others, often at once. Janet Miller and Elizabeth Ellsworth, in “Working Difference in Education,” call this, “engaging with and responding to the fluidity and malleability of identities and difference, of refusing fixed and static categories of sameness or permanent otherness.”

And so let me repeat: Memory, story, identity, subjectivity: molten, fluid, protean, kaleidoscopic.

And like all writing, constantly under revision.

Go ahead. Revise yourself.

The Post(structural) Apocalypse Post: or, God is Dead; But She Doesn’t Have to Be.

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 22

Part The First:

Just as I believe we are often constrained by language and by culturally enabled and reified narratives, I believe that our understanding of any sort of higher power is hopelessly hindered by our small human brains and by limited language we have with which to describe such a thing. I’ve railed before about our substitution of the words we use for royalty and other hierarchies to describe our religious experiences and institutions. We just don’t have the vocabulary to help us along toward any kind of real understanding of any higher power. (Before you say it, yes, this is about the Eskimos and their gazillion words for ice. But it’s also about much much more than that.) And so we endow it, him, her, with these human traits, because that’s all we’re capable of, and then we have stupid arguments over whether God is a man or a woman. And then we cover it all, dress it all up, with Advent purple velvet, jewels and jewel tones, cathedrals and other Monuments to Power. I mean, really.

The language that we do use to represent God or any kind of spiritual being is so lacking that our experience of such a being is stymied. And so our language reduces abstract concepts like the idea of a higher power to concrete things we can understand, and then we forget the reduction, and think we do, in fact, understand, and that our language does, in fact, represent.

From Edward Arlington Robinson: “The world is not a prison house, but a sort of spiritual kindergarten, where millions of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.”

Part The Second:

If you let them, poststructuralist thought, and postmodernism, will annihilate you. They will x you. You will have never existed. And most certainly, neither will God, nor anything absolute.

From A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle:

She stood beside him, looking at the brilliance of the stars. Then came a sound, a sound which was above sound, beyond sound, a violent, silent, electrical report, which made her press her hands against her ears. Across the sky, where the stars were clustered as thickly as in the Milky Way, a crack shivered, slivered, became a line of nothingness.

“Progo, what is it? What happened?”

“The Echthroi have Xed.”

“What?”

“Annihilated. Negated. Extinguished. Xed.”

Taken to their extremes, nothing exists. Certainly not Truth, and for a long time, I thought not truth, as well. Truth is just a bunch of metanarratives ordering the world for us. There is not one correct metanarrative, one grand narrative. The old dead white man no longer has supremacy. Postmodernism killed him, along with the universal and the general.

But. But, but, but. There is hope.

Gary Aylesworth define Postmodernism in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which you can read here, and tells us this: “The loss of a continuous meta-narrative therefore breaks the subject into heterogeneous moments of subjectivity that do not cohere into an identity. But as Lyotard points out, while the combinations we experience are not necessarily stable or communicable, we learn to move with a certain nimbleness among them.”

We have, instead of Truth, truths. Little t.

Part The Synthesis (We Hope):

So we have this language–failing as it does to accurately and precisely represent anything, signified and signifier separated by an abyss, even, sometimes–and yet it gives us a place to stand. A place to make meaning, however contingent, however partial, however unstable.

There’s a difference, there, between Truth, big T, and truth, little t. With the big T, we’re talking metanarratives; we’re talking ideologies; we’re talking Roland Barthes’ myths–values and beliefs we take for granted as natural and inevitable and universal (does this sound at all familiar? Have I used these words before?) that are in fact neither natural nor inevitable nor universal, that in fact vary from culture to culture, or even community to community.

Gone is a universal Truth, a universal morality, that we can run around the world imposing on everyone else for their own good.

But we do have truths. Local, fragmented, particular. We have truths that mean within communities, within ethnicities, within nations even. But not without. Not across borders. Not always, anyway.

We’re human beings and we need a place to stand. A place to be. A place from which to make meaning, however impermanent. Something to hold on to, maybe just for a little while, even as we challenge it. Just as the postmodern needs the modern to exist, just as they feed off each other, so we need structure and narrative even as we break them.

We are, and thus our God is, created and limited by discourse, by language.

Aylesworth, Gary, “Postmodernism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/postmodernism/>.

Ten (Non)Principles for Teaching (Poststructural) (Auto)Biography: or, How to Avoid Malefic Generosity in the Classroom

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , on December 22, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies (Although this One is Rather Large): December 21

There is the infinity in which you keep going and going and going, adding on and adding on and adding on, like with numbers. And then there is the infinity between whole numbers. (I had to think about that a bit, but it’s there, and it’s rather intriguing, although alas not our subject today.) And then there is the infinity of the possible between breaking a narrative toward creating agency, and breaking a narrative and causing harm. Where could/should you stand? Here are a few spots, shaky ground though they may be on themselves:

  1.  Be aware of whether by breaking a narrative, you are about to help your students achieve agency, to change a story they tell about their lives for the better, or whether you are about to push a student toward an endeavor that might be ultimately harmful. There’s a thin line. You can determine on which side of that line you are standing by magic, perhaps, or even ESP. Either way, just like a physician, the teacher’s oath should begin with “First do no harm.”
  2. Do not begin by telling your students all about Roland Barthes and how he calls all of their basic values and beliefs “myths.” You WILL spend countless hours backtracking, explaining that you don’t, and Barthes didn’t, necessarily or exactly mean “myth” in the Zeus and Apollo, or even, my personal favorite, Poseidon, kind of way.  (Personally, though, I think the Norse Gods have better names: Odin and Njord and Saga. Much cooler.) You WILL cause a returning, adult student to write a letter to the Vice President for Academic Affairs at your school explaining that you are a Communist who is trying to indoctrinate the young, impressionable 18-year-old children in your writing class. It WILL be the semester that you are up for promotion to Full Professor;  when the VP for Academic Affairs passes this letter along to the Dean of Faculty to handle, this WILL be your very first introduction to said Dean of Faculty, who WILL be brand-new to your college. Beware: your Dean of Faculty MAY NOT handle this as well as mine did.
  3. Be aware that some students may not be emotionally/psychologically/intellectually ready to change the stories they are telling about their lives. They may be ready, only, to recognize these narratives. They may be ready, only, to recognize these narratives at work on other people in other situations. Decide early on what will count, for you, as success in this endeavor.
  4. Use this idea, perhaps, of varying stages of readiness/needing to change the stories we tell about our lives, to scaffold, slowly, gently, your introduction to this idea at all, should you choose to take this path. Be prepared for resistance, which may come in the form of name-calling (see #2 above), or in the form of an“I have nothing to write about” (see blog post, “My 18-Year-Old Self Writes Autobiography”) teacher-student conference, or any form that might exist in the infinite spaces between and around these two examples.
  5. Remember that you are the English teacher, and as such neither the parole officer, nor mother, not therapist of these students, and that as much as you might think they need to change the stories they are telling about their lives, from the ways they define themselves as developmental writers, or are defined, institutionally, as developmental students, all the way to their discourses about higher education as a means to make more money, from their Disney Princess narratives to their very real domestic abuse stories–you don’t get to choose who changes and what they change into, and if you think you do, you are right back there with Quintilian awarding grades of A to the “good man writing well.”
  6. Try not to engage in acts malefic generosity here. (Actually, this is true for any classroom activity, assignment sequence, or philosophy.) Who said “There are none so holy as the recently converted?” Just because you recently engaged in a project in which you changed, or broke, some of the narratives that were writing your life, in ways that sometimes opened up new ways of seeing for you, in ways that gave voice where voices were previously silenced, and you’re feeling pretty cool,  take as a lesson that you, ultimately, DID NOT break the metanarrative of Your Own Adoption Story, no matter how flawed, fragmented, gap-toothed, holey, contingent upon the discourses of its time, place, community, ideologically reifying (need I go on?) you realized it is. You are not in the business of creating mini-me’s.
  7. Do not create, of the words, “Breaking the Narrative,” a brand-new metanarrative for teaching/learning/living that simply replaces all the metanarratives and local narratives you are working to help students think about critically. Because then you’ll just have to break THAT narrative. Again.
  8. Walk carefully the tightrope (I know, another thin line) between teaching students to recognize and analyze and critique the ideologies, the narratives, that are writing their lives, that are inscribing their subjectivities, and teaching students the language of power, by which I mean  Lisa  Delpit, “Secret Basketball,” et al. “There are codes or rules for participating in power,” Delpit tells us in “The Silenced Dialogue;” “The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power.” It occurs to me, as I struggle to make my dissertation conform within the narrow confines of the Teachers College Columbia University Office of Doctoral Studies General Instructions for Preparing Doctor of Education Dissertations: A Manual of Style, that I can break all the narratives I want, disrupt all the genres I want, play havoc with the dissertation structure itself, all to show the arbitrariness, the  constructedness, the ideological-ness, the myth of what counts as appropriately created and presented knowledge–
  9. But I still have to graduate.
  10. Damn the gatekeepers.