Saturday, May 29, 2010

feminism revisited, um, again

I remembered where I was going with yesterday's post before it got hijacked by my little rant.  (Can you hijack your own post?  probably not. but anyway, read yesterday's post first.)  With another day's perspective, I'm thinking maybe I should save this until we've gotten to the part of the semester where we're actually reading feminist and cultural studies stuff, so that I don't end up reacting to what I think they're saying instead of what they actually said.  But here's the gist of it.  I certainly don't disagree with either field (feminism or cultural studies).  But I resent that they've marginalized (*borrows their terminology with a glare*) what I loved about the study of literature.  I'm --of course-- more aware of this than the other students because the last time I was in the classroom, 25 years ago, we were still doing it the old way.  The professor would assign us something to read, and we would read it.  And then he/she would give us the historical, biographical, and critical ideas that he/she felt were relevant to understanding the text.  And then we would talk about our reaction to it and how the historical / bio / critical ideas changed or didn't change what we thought.  It was fascinating and wonderful and I loved it.  There were problems with it, of course.  You could start with what got assigned to read.  It was late enough in the twentieth century that we were no longer just reading "dead white males" as they say, but we were still either reading the traditional canon or reading something different in reaction to it.

But apparently this is no longer allowed.  Or if you do it, you have to be somewhat sheepish about it, acknowledging that you know you aren't doing it right.  It seems that anything that you can come up with to say about how you want to discuss literature is going to get shot down as unacceptable.  You want to talk about the historical contexts?  New Critics say no.  You want to talk about Pope and Dryden?  feminists say that you're accepting patriarchal ideas about what is worth reading.  You want to talk about what Hemingway meant in "Hills Like White Elephants"?  well, there's any number of reasons you can't do that.  So at the end of the day, if you're going to keep all these theorists happy, you're just going to sit and glare at each other and not talk about literature at all.

I do understand that if we don't question our assumptions, we end up supporting classist, racist, sexist, homophobic, commodity-frenzied ideas that we don't really mean to support.  but good grief.  the pendulum swing seems to have gone a little too far the other way.

Friday, May 28, 2010

feminism revisited

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about feminism.  OK, I just went back and checked it was three months ago.  Where the hell does the time go?

Anyway. As I said, I wrote that post, and it was fine, and it said what I wanted to say on that day, but it didn't say nearly enough and it didn't feel right.  A week later, I wrote the comment that is attached to it, which helped, but it still just didn't seem right.  It's such a complicated issue.  But every time I re-read it, it sounded OK-- there isn't anything there that I disagree with.  I just couldn't figure out what was bugging me.  And then I forgot about it.  I've been busy.

But I'm taking this literary criticism class, where feminism is a major theme, and taking the class means driving and driving and driving, and finally a couple of days ago while I was in about my fourteenth hour of being behind the wheel this week, I figured out why that post had been bothering me so much.  Because I really am still a feminist.  The tools that feminism gave me are still a fundamental part of who I am.  But the circular reasoning that goes along with it drives me nuts.  I'm going to try to explain this but apologies in advance, because I'm having a hard time explaining it to myself let alone get it typed out.

I've heard it said that if you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will hop right out, but if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly heat it, the frog will boil to death.  I have no idea whether or not that's true and there's no way I'm going to test it out, but it does illustrate a point.  Growing up as a female in the 60s and 70s was a bit like being a frog in that cold pot of water that gradually heats up as you move from childhood into puberty and adulthood so that you don't realize that the life has gone out of you until it's too late.  There were so many little things that were limiting for girls at the time:  dress codes and stated restrictions on what sports and activities you could be involved in and unstated restrictions on what career you could go into or what kinds of opinions and attitudes you could have.  Ways that men were allowed to intimidate and bully women to get what they wanted; ways that women bullied and intimidated other women to keep each other in line.  But for the most part it was all just background, it wasn't something you thought about as long as the men in your life were fairly nice.  It was just the way things were.  The women's movement of the 70s changed all that.  They made us see all the little things that had just been part of the background before.  It wasn't until feminism gave me the tools to recognize the ways I restricted myself to fit into someone else's mold that I became aware enough of those restrictions to learn to effectively manage my own life-- I figured out how to jump out of the pot.  Or at least became aware that I could jump out of the pot if I needed to.

And that still is the way that feminism is useful to me.  I use it all the time.  It's a major part of the lens through which I view life. (how many metaphors can I get going here? wait, maybe I can work in a mirror and an egg)(I've been reading Northrop Frye.)

But here are the things that still bug me about it.  Back in the day, you could really get off on seeing women as victims.  Here were poor, innocent, pure women, who were all about love and kindness, who had been held back and oppressed by evil power-hungry militaristic men.  But that isn't the way it was where I grew up--and maybe this is more obvious if you're from the South-- it was often women who were the ones enforcing all the restrictions and even making them stricter than the men in our lives cared about.  way stricter, for that matter.  I know that's a complicated topic, but because of that, I don't see the point of blaming men.  Both genders were there.  I think it took all of us to build the society we had/have, even if in many of the ways that feminists like to harp on, it was a society that benefited men.

Again, complicated topic.  I can think of twenty things I could say here on both sides of the argument, but it's a blog post, not a dissertation.  I can remember having this argument in college with the professor, who was a traditional 70s/80s feminist, vs. almost everyone in the class.  The professor wanted us to believe that women are practically always the innocent victims of a powerful patriarchy that is run by and benefits men, forced to go along with it because of their concern for the safety and welfare of their children.  And I, and most of the young women in that class, just didn't agree. If you're going to see women as purely victims in the creation of culture, it somehow makes them subhuman.  Women are HALF of the population.  either we're half-responsible for what we've created, or we're relegated to some sort of childlike status that excuses us from responsibility.  Not buying it.

Wow, that wasn't really what I was going to say, but there it is.  And now I can't remember what I was originally going to say.  so maybe this will get edited some more.  In fact, knowing the way I usually do this, it will probably get edited a lot.  work in progress.  Let me know if you have input.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

As I said a couple of posts back, I've always avoided giving personal details in this blog.  I go on and on and on about what I'm thinking and what the antecedents for that are in my bleary past, but I don't tell you about selling our house or the fight I had with my husband.  I like it that way.  If you know me, you can read between the lines and pick up what you want, and of course you can always e-mail me or call me if you want more sordid details.  but for the most part, I like this blog the way it is.  Private in a neurotically public sort of way.

But the other night I was feeling a little blue (I guess in light of the previous post I should specify this was a VERY little blue, not depression), and I was sitting and drinking a Sierra Nevada and reading the comments in one of the blogs I follow.  And I got all teared up over some of the things other posters had said about life and love, and GO FIGURE, I typed out a pretty long, pretty personal comment and HIT THE SUBMIT BUTTON. I was OK with this for about ten minutes, and then I sank my head into my hands and practically moaned.  I mean, in the grand scheme of things, this is so pathetically small a crisis that I can't believe I'm even typing about it.  No one cares.  I didn't attach my full name or e-mail address.  It's a blog with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of followers, with several dozen who post long, detailed comments about their lives on a regular basis,

But I don't.  I don't do that kind of thing.  I almost sent the webmaster a frantic e-mail asking if my comment could be deleted, but then I decided that would just draw more attention to it.  I think most people who follow that blog read it at work, so it is mainly busy during the day, and my comment was late at night.  By the next day, they were on to other topics, and I'm pretty sure for the most part my little moment sank like a rock in a pond.  phew.

But typing it and posting it, and knowing that at least a few people read it (because there were two replies), and thinking about how it would sound to someone who didn't know my situation, has made me think quite a bit about what's going on around here.  And that's a good thing.  Although I hate hate hate it, the thing that has kept me sane the last couple of years is stepping out of my comfort zone, sometimes way out of my comfort zone, and letting myself fall flat on my face.  There seems to be something enormously reviving about that for me.  Damn it.  I wish I could learn and grow in some sort of smooth, elegant, unembarrassing way.  But that doesn't seem to work for me.

prat falls welcome here, I guess

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Cymbalta Digression

I try not to whine in this blog.  And there are lots of days when that's all I'm capable of doing, which is one of the reasons a couple of weeks will go by with no posts.  (Of course, there's also the issue of not having one dang intelligent thing to say, but that's beside the point at the moment.)  This past winter was especially whine-worthy.  For a couple of years now, I've been dealing with a bad case of boredom.  My kids are old enough that they don't need constant vigilance (shout out to mad-eye). I don't have a job at the moment, and with 13% unemployment in our area, it's unlikely I'll find one soon.  And for some reason, housework just doesn't do it for me.  Oh, wait.  Maybe that's because I don't do housework.

And anyway, it's the kind of boredom that's specific to someone with a neurotically busy brain.  Just having a full to-do list isn't enough to solve the problem. I spent four years being the administrative assistant in a busy office in a busy school district, but once I mastered the details of the job, I was bored silly even though I was plenty busy.  (It would probably be more accurate to say I was bored bitchy than bored silly, as my kids and my poor husband will verify.)  And even unemployed, I have plenty of things to do.  It's just that my brain is bored.

So it was with a great deal of relief that I discovered when I went back to school last semester the specific kind of busy-ness that keeps me happy-- it seems to have something to do with intellectual challenge.  I was stressed and hyper-anxious about being back at school after 25 years, but I was happy.  Almost everyone I knew remarked on the change in me.

There were a variety of reasons I didn't take classes this spring (except for the writing class at our local community college).  It took about two months for the glow from last semester to wear off, and by the end of February, I was back in the dumps again.  And it was February.  Not a good combination.  The difference this time was that I knew what would solve the problem.  And once I got my acceptance into graduate school in April, I knew help was on the way.  I just needed to make it from April until September.

So I decided to try going on anti-depressants.  This definitely was not full-blown depression.  I was up and about and getting things done.  It was just a low-level cloud of gloom.  I've done anti-depressants before.  About ten years ago, when I was suffering from near-chronic migraines, the first thing the neurologist tried was Prozac.  It made me so dopey and sleepy that I couldn't stay on it-- not to mention that it didn't seem to help with the headaches.  But I know several people now who are very happy with Cymbalta, which is a newer drug that is used to treat depression, fibromyalgia, and diabetic neuropathy.  Reading about it on the internet, I discovered that although it isn't approved for migraines (which I still have several days a month), there are a lot of people who are using it (successfully) for that.  So I was intrigued.  It sounded like a good idea at the time.

But it wasn't.  I managed to stay on it for two weeks.  I had every side effect on the list:  nausea (although that was only the first three days), drowsiness during the day and insomnia at night, cottonmouth, constipation, loss of libido.  And in the second week, the headaches started--not the worst ones I've ever had, but bad enough, and completely unresponsive to the migraine meds that usually take care of my headaches.  So after two weeks, I quit taking it.  I was still on the lowest dose, and it comes in capsules, so I couldn't really wean off it, I just stopped taking it on a Monday after having spent the entire weekend with a headache that just wouldn't go away.

And of course the headaches got worse.  I knew they would--withdrawal from a drug with neurologic consequences is a no-brainer as a trigger for migraines if you are migraine prone.  If you are the Headache Queen, you know that the price you pay for any number of activities is more headaches.  By Thursday, I was up at 4:15 a.m. "casting up my accounts," as they say in regency romance novels.  I love that phrase.  It makes something icky sound just a teeny bit elegant.

So now it is another two weeks later and I seem to finally have the cymbalta all the way out of my system. But you know, here is the good part:  in spite of all the side effects, it worked.  I was sleepy and in constant need of a drink of water, but my mood was considerably improved.  Not enough to make it worth the side effects in the end, but enough that I remembered what it was like to have energy, to be interested in what was going on around me again.   And oddly, although the side effects have gone away, the improvement in my mood is hanging on.  Or maybe that is just because it is finally truly spring and the weather has been great.  Even spectacular.

So I decided to solve my problem the old-fashioned way, and I signed up to audit a month-long intensive version of the semester-long Introduction to Literary Criticism.  So starting Monday I will be doing the two-hour commute again, and I don't think I've ever looked forward to anything more.

I'm feeling bad about posting this because it sounds a little bit too much like whining.  but that's what's been going on for me lately.


Thursday, May 13, 2010


My dad is dying. I guess we're all dying, if you want to look at it that way, but this is the real thing. The kind of dying where the doctor walks in to your hospital room and tells you that there's nothing they can do, the cancer (which was only discovered last Thursday) has already metastasized, chemo might make you more comfortable but there is no chance of a cure or even remission. He has a few months at best, a few weeks at worst. A month ago, he was a healthy 77-year-old. Now he could go at any time.

It's a strange feeling for me. My dad and I have never had an easy relationship, but he's always been there. I don't mean "he's always been there for me," I mean that he's always been somewhere on planet Earth, somewhere where I could find him if I wanted to, or call him, or he could call me. I could dread having to see him, or look forward to seeing him, or do my best to ignore him. But he was somewhere. Apparently that won't always be true. Quite soon, that won't be true.

Other than the occasional brief mention, I haven't written about my dad in this blog. I almost never write directly about the people in my life at all, because I don't know if they would choose to be here. It's my blog, told inescapably from my point of view, and it seems unfair to drag the people I love and live with into it. But if you know my dad and you know me, you will have seen that he is written into every post. His influence on me has been enormous, inescapable. The way I think about faith and theology, the way I read and analyze and dissect, the way I can't ever leave it alone-- it's all him. Every good thing I believe about Christianity has its roots in his teaching. And many of the angry, resentful thoughts I have about Christianity have their roots in the ways he couldn't live what he taught. Couldn't accept grace, couldn't forgive old hurts, couldn't allow himself to be vulnerable enough to admit to his own failings. And those flaws sound awfully familiar, because they are my own.

My Dad was and is an amazing man in many ways-- a brilliant teacher, an inspiring leader, a visionary who could be generous, thoughtful and kindhearted to those around him, even to people he barely knew. He spent hours talking to and counseling students, often at the expense of his own free time, his own sleep. He inspired awe and admiration in people because he was so good at what he did. But he wasn't easy to live with. You might say he was easy to worship, but difficult to love. Those of us who tried during his angry years have the scars to prove it. When his unhappiness was at its worst, he took it out on us by either withdrawing into cold, supercilious silence or scathing us with sarcastic, angry outbursts. But then at other times, he could be the best daddy in the world.

It's nothing new. It's the story of millions of parents with their children, and as I raise my own kids, I see firsthand how impossible it is to be the parent you wish you could be. The passage of time (and plenty of counseling) has helped me put my dad into perspective, to see his flaws and his brilliance as part of the whole of the complicated person that he is.

Proof of that complexity: my dad is happy now. For the last half dozen or so years, he's been the happiest I've ever known him to be. Some of it is just the passage of time. I remember after seeing him one time when I was in my early 30s, I told my husband it was like he had been de-clawed. He just wasn't so angry anymore. Maybe the idea of grace was finally sinking in.

But another reason for his happiness is his second wife. When we were growing up, he was doing a not-particularly-good job of surviving in a marriage that wasn't working. But when my mom finally had the courage to call an end to that about ten years ago, he remarried a woman who suited him to a T. She isn't really my stepmother-- she's only eight years older than I am, and I didn't meet her until I was in my late 30s-- but she is an amazing person. Not only in what she does and how she lives, but because she made my dad happy, something none of us who had lived in the same house with him thought was possible. I have come to love her dearly for that. I'm glad he's happy. I think if he had received this news fifteen years ago, it wouldn't really have bothered him much. But now you can hear in his voice how much he regrets the remaining years he might have had with her. And with his grandkids. He's a terrific, doting grandfather.

But unless he confounds medical science, those years are not to be. In spite of everything, because of everything, I'll miss him.