Dull if not unclean

I have entered the What if this was all a big mistake? phase of relocation, interspersed with bouts of My life is dull and unclean.  This happens every year, more or less – it happened with Korea, and I’m sure it will happen with whatever new city comes after Laramie.  This year, though, I’m reacting not only to a location and program but to a medical condition and corresponding cure.  

This past month or so, I’ve been feeling much better overall – and apart from everything else I’ve been feeling relieved.  Several personality traits, as it turns out, were just symptoms.  I’m not absent-minded.  I’m not bad with names or numbers.  I’m not moody or careless.  I can run my schedule up to a deadline and complete basic errands each day.  I’ll be fine.  

I have felt much better – not just with the gradual alleviation of these symptoms, but with the knowledge that they were all the fault of my wavering thyroid levels.  I’m not mysteriously weak – as it turns out, I’m not weak at all.  

But that relief means that every slow morning feels like a setback.  I can’t just stagger around my apartment at nightfall, or drag myself to my laptop in the morning to swill coffee and gaze at facebook.  If I was exhausted because I was sick, then exhaustion is sickness.  

And I may have spent so much time flogging myself into action that normal, unavoidable exhaustion is anything but a consequence of a tiring routine.  Sluggish mornings are not only an irrational bodily response but an unreasonable demand for my body to make.  

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I have never….

Last night at a cast party, we played a game of I Have Never with this device that gives you a mild electric shock if it detects a lie.  It was twenty-five dollars from Parker Brothers, and it shocked one woman for saying she had never tried Kwanzaa cake, so who knows how accurate it was, but it was an interesting experience.  

 

The people at the party were asking questions that betrayed a certain mild fascination with alternative sexualities.  Like, “Have you ever done things with a girl,” etc.  And I was like, “I’m from San Francisco, do your worst,” and they would furrow their brows and then come out with, “When did you first realize you wanted to do things with girls?”  

 

It was an interesting experience, like I said.

 

When my queer friends and I get together, we don’t have these conversations this way – for the same reason most of my woman friends aren’t fascinated by periods.  We talk about it casually all the time – both sex and blood – but it’s not a subject you can use to embarrass anyone.  It’s not titillating.  

Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Why don’t you just reference the Bayeaux Tapestry? We are the Knights Who Say Hic Harold Mare Navigavit!

(I don’t know if it’s better or worse to make a joke about this, so I’ll just say: Jack Halberstam’s writing in both of these posts is terrible, and Jack Halberstam’s use of internet memes is terrible.  Jack Halberstam, crying eagle.  Terrible writing!  Terrible!  It makes me angry.)

Jack Halberstam posted a follow-up to his original piece on trigger warnings, and it included a graphic of a sign with WARNING: HUMOR AHEAD under a picture of Groucho glasses and Jack himself complaining, 

The responses to my recent Bully Bloggers piece “You’re Triggering Me: The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma” have pretty much polarized people (at least those who have responded publicly) into camps that break along that kind of division – people who hear humor and irony in the piece and are in favor of “ironic appropriations,” and people who think that the humor is just fancy dressing for odious and hurtful dismissals of real experiences of harm and pain. Obviously the wide range of responses to the post suggests the virality of the topic in the first place and perhaps justifies my attempts to make an intervention. And obviously I wrote a polemic so I cannot claim now to be surprised when the polemic polarizes!

 

But I was surprised by some mis-readings and dismayed by some of the more vicious responses, and I was very sorry, in particular, that some of my characterizations smacked of a dismissal of disability rights claims or discourse.

Exactly, you can’t claim to be surprised.  A professional writer who studies meaning can’t describe their written work as having a will of its own.  You can’t be dismayed by what your writing has somehow managed to say – it’s not something that can shock you.  Of course sarcastic references to being triggered will be read as snarky dismissal of trigger warnings.  That’s what they are.  You weren’t kidding about the dismissal part.  

(“You just didn’t get the joke,” is never very constructive – and usually, as here, it’s dishonest.  But in this case, the jokes weren’t very funny.  Your attempts at humor didn’t fail because they were too subtle or whimsical for your audience.  They failed because they’re not that good.)

I apologized for going off on a friend’s Facebook wall about this same post, because Facebook is not necessarily for spleen.  He responded that he did not think I was ranting – he saw my complaint as engagement, and said that he had been gratified by the wide range of response to the post on his page and elsewhere.  Him I like.  

It is internet tired at this point to say, “Can we not?” or, “Can we just stop with the…?” but it is annoying to be told that provoking you turns out to have been a good thing because it creates dialogue and engagement, i.e. a bunch of angry responses to an insulting approach.  “Well, you took the time to fire up tumblr and tell me I was a bag of dicks with poor research and reading comprehension skills, so clearly this topic deserves more attention!  You’re welcome!”  

You can’t justify baiting people by pointing out that they have been baited successfully.  And you can’t conflate baiting with discussion because your interlocutors will have to defend their own position either way.  It’s deeply unfair to force someone to be the better person and then take credit for their maturity and insight.  You haven’t inspired them.  My friend didn’t help me by effectively putting me on notice about my sincere anger – our discussion wasn’t enhanced by my oblique, diplomatic references to homophobia and abuse.  

And you can’t stage an intervention in an ongoing debate between people you neither know nor claim to respect, especially if you say you can’t trust yourself to express your own opinion, Jack.  

 

I daily have the impulse to post status updates on Facebook like, “Life is grand when your endocrine system isn’t playing Charles Boyer to my Ingrid Bergman!  It is so nice running errands on my lunch hour!  I am so pleased to be functioning well!”  

I’m afraid to talk about this online – in this space, in any space.  Even though I had the equivalent of anemia, I worry.  

Then again, I’m headed to school to write about something much worse and less common.  I can see this as practice.  

I met friends tonight for coffee, and I was asked by another soon-to-be-ex-expat whether I feel sorry to be leaving Korea.  And I said, “Nope!  I’ll miss all of you, very much, but I can honestly say that I am so genuinely excited to be headed back home, so very pleased by my prospects, so wholly confident in my skills and interests, that I am not even a tiny bit sorry to be moving on from this place!  Not one bit!”

And this is all true.  I can’t remember the last time I felt this way; I’m not sure I ever felt this way.  

For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel any trepidation.  I have had this sense of nebulous dismay over the whole prospect of adulthood – not even mature ambitions or achievements, but the quotidian stuff: paying utility bills through the mail, painting the exterior of one’s house, owning a house (that is, having in one’s possession a house), taking the cat to the veterinarian, watering plants.  None of these things seemed precisely impossible.  I knew perfectly well they could be done; I was all the time doing them.  But I had this idea that I would never actually manage them.  I couldn’t.  

Paying an electric bill – receiving the bill, opening the bill, reading the bill, writing a check in the amount of the bill, putting that check in an envelope, putting that envelope in the mail: all of this seemed mysteriously daunting.  Every month?  

I also used to call myself absentminded!  Terrible memory for names.  Horrible memory for dates and times.  Disorganized.  Poor sense of direction.  So uncoordinated.  

It turns out Charles Boyer wanted me locked up.   

 

 

Decoupling

I think women – and smart, self-loathing people – might be more prone to seeing emotional response as personality.  Not what we feel, what we are.  Not I am sad but I am weepy.  Not I am distraught but I am helpless.  Not I am exhausted but I am weak and slow.  Not I am distracted but I am vague.  

 

I think it’s a sexism fingertrap.  Emotions are for stupid women.  Being unable to master your emotions makes you a stupid woman.  Having emotions that get in the way of your braining makes you a stupid woman.  Having mysterious brain problems that make you emotional – or exacerbate your stress levels such that your emotions become more oppressive – makes you a stupid woman.  You do not need comfort, you just need to realize once and for all that you are a stupid woman.  Stupid women do not need coddling.  You should probably just content yourself with your stupid-woman lot, but meanwhile stop being so stupidly womanish, can’t you?  Well, why not?  Clearly, you are the most stupid of women.  

 

It’s true that I had a remarkable amount of trouble remembering things like whether the gas range was lit, what my schedule was – but this seems to have been less a trait and more an effect.  Incapable isn’t what I was, it’s what was happening to me.  Absentminded isn’t what I am, it’s what I’m doing.  Right now, for example, I am at stress level: orange, which means that there has been an unused tampon sitting in my entryway for two weeks.  (I live alone.)  

 

There’s a whimsical cartoon of someone’s study – the picture is hemmed in by books and papers, they cluster around an open window showing sky – and the caption goes something like, “Work in progress!” or, “It’s not a MESS, it’s CREATIVITY.”  Life is a chair of bowlies, this house is property of my cat.  These cartoons are horrible to me.  I’m sitting here in my musty, cluttered room, coffee stains round my elbows, paint pots and loose change and defunct post-it notes all over my desk since they haven’t yet drifted onto the floor, and it is still awful to think that I might be one of those people, a creative embarrassment.  

Discourse Markers

Since I officially became an academic, I’ve had a much harder time just stating an opinion, even on an unread page like this one.  You could argue that this is a good thing – blogs have way too much opinion, way too little anxiety about publicly sharing opinions.  Even tenured scholars like Jack Halberstam lose any claim to respect when their blog voice possesses them. 

I think a lot of this worry is just a discourse marker – that would be words like “like,” “you know?” and “I mean,” to laypeople like the one I used to be – a way of indicating that I take academia seriously and therefore do not take myself seriously as an academic. 

The blog isn’t the problem – it’s the idea that I might be something other than a blogger.  And unfortunately, bloggers and real writers both have to make pages, and bloggers and real writers both damage their professional cred when they give in to writer’s block.  They probably also drive away their audience when most of their product is meditations on Why I Am So Very Resistant to Writing. 

And you know, as I finish my second cup of coffee, I’m getting frustrated with the blog-to-newsmag cultivar cycle – even as I see more and more authors trying to package their work for publication on sites like Salon.  I gotta say, some of them authors don’t seem very well-suited to the format, or confident or comfortable in it. 

Just like the five-paragraph book reports you remember from high school, the Salon/Slate thinkpiece is a very strict brief, more so since clickability.  Its constraints become more obvious when they’re applied to everything from confessions of teenage alcoholics to excerpts from the introduction to a survey of eighteenth-century gay socialism.  Not everyone is meant to write for Salon – and not everything on the internet should be available or amenable to Salon’s editors. 

I don’t know whether I want to write short hits or longer work – I honestly cannot say at this point what my talents are.  But I think blogging – or rather blogging as a rough editorial form, in sight and hope of sites that publish real journalists and pundits who really have developed and developed within this particular genre – has given me a particular sense of what those talents are. 

(This is not an opportunity I would ever turn down!  I hope that writing this on my blog does not make it harder for me to get money for packaging work for publication on sites like Salon!  If you’re reading this, anyone at Salon, please let me write for you?!  I can do good!?) 

(I’m also not complaining about more diverse topics on sites like Salon – but you can’t just combine Slate’s Everything is Contrarianism brand to everything.)

And now I think I might be trying to find my way into a new genre – but maybe hampered by this long association of blogging with this particular topic.  I’m apologizing for the awkwardness that betrays a bad fit.