Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jiggety Jig

As in home again home again, except for I'm not really home but at my mother's which means that I'm not even at my mother's but at the Panera with free wifi nearby because I cannot abide by my mother's dial-up connection.

At any rate. The point here is this. I have been to Lebanon, and now I have returned. I will do real posting about my travels in the coming days, but first, some reflections on traveling in general.
  • JFK is a despicable airport and I will stay home rather than ever fly through that particular place again.
  • Delta is a despicable airline and I will stay home rather than ever fly Delta again.
  • Yes, I plan on writing lengthy letters of disapproval to the FAA, JFK, and Delta, expressing my displeasure.
  • In other complaining news, might I just say that while I sympathize with people who travel with small children because it's not easy and dude, sometimes kids cry and stuff and I do not judge parents for that happening, I do totally judge parents when their children (a), climb on top of me when I'm trapped in the middle seat of a plane, (b) pinch me, (c) bang on an airport bench repeatedly during a flight delay knocking into it with all of their force while adults who've been traveling for approximately 20 hours bite their tongues, or (d) kick the back of an airplane seat that is occupied by a person. The point here is that parents in that situation need to tell their children to knock it off and to make sure that it happens. Sure, kids will be kids, but this is allowing your children to be disrespectful (and in some cases violent) to strangers. This is, in a word, bullshit. And fuck my ethical duty to children who are the future and to being supportive of parents. This sort of behavior is unacceptable, and if your kids are doing it and you do nothing, then you are a shitty parent. Period.
  • I actually don't have jetlag. Perhaps I should thank the idiotic operations of Delta and JFK for keeping me up until a reasonable bedtime, even though I gained 7 hours coming here? No, I do not think they deserve my thanks.
  • You'd think that I wouldn't be so complainy, but it is my way, given the fact that On July 30 I left the house at about 5:30 Beirut time, and I only arrived at my parents' at 1:30 AM Eastern time on July 31. You'd be bitchy, too.
However, let me give you a little taste of the wonders of my trip. Here's a picture of the view from the back balcony of the house of one of my relatives. Un-be-freakin'-lievable. Totally. The trees in the foreground all bear fruit, incidentally, and though it's tough to tell in this picture, the blue immediately past the buildings in the distance is the Mediterranean.

I'm a very, very lucky girl to have gone on this trip. Even though I was annoyed at times, but I'll talk about that later, too.

At any rate, regular blogging shall likely resume Sunday.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hello! Guess Where I am?

That's right, my friends. I'm in an internet cafe in Batroun, Lebanon with a bunch of teenagers who are IMing and who marvel at my typing skillz. So far on this trip I have:

  • Eaten many fish served with the heads on.
  • Eaten raw things, livers of things, octopus, etc.
  • Discovered that my favorite flavor of ice cream is Ashta, which does not exist in America, as far as I know.
  • Discovered that no matter how awesome the circumstances and beautiful vistas, I can be counted upon to fall asleep during drives through the mountains. Any mountains. It's like driving + mountains = cryptonite of Dr. Crazy putting her into a narcotic-induced slumber.
  • Been to: Jeita, Baalbeck, the Khalil Gibran museum, Harissa, St. Charbel's place, the Cedars, Byblos, Moussa Castle (quite probably the weirdest museum in the whole world, which I will discuss at length upon my return), swimming in the Mediterranean.
  • Have made strong progress on becoming the Tannest Crazy in the World, without getting a sunburn except for an unfortunate incident at the Cedars involving no sunscreen and a purse strapped agross my chest. Not pretty, though it didn't really hurt and wasn't horrible - just the weird purse-strap sunburn of stupidity is always annoying.

I also have had a good time with G., although I am ever more certain that my mother cannot come here with him without me. It takes a LOT of patience to deal with him (esp. when one doesn't know arabic and he conveniently ignores the fact that the person he's brought with him might need a translation every now and again.)

Ok, enough for now. More when I'm back stateside. (And yes, I'm now feeling all patriotic and like I love the U.S.A., as I do every time I travel. I kind of suck, I think, but dude, America really is pretty great.)

I hope all is well in blogworld! I don't dare open my bloglines for fear of being entirely overwhelmed!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hello. And Yet, Goodbye for the Present.

Man-Kitty: Good day, readers. Dr. Crazy is far to busy to post, for she procrastinates in spite of my admonitions and so there is a flurry of pre-leaving-town activity swirling around good Mr. Stripey and myself.

Mr. Stripey: Hi! How are you! Aren't I darling with the celebrity-like over-the-shoulder pose I just did! Hurrah!

Man-Kitty: As you see, however, we are bastions of calm in this otherwise chaotic world. And so Dr. Crazy left it to us to leave you with a post, for she shall be incommunicado for the most part during her travels. Apparently she does not believe in blogging while traveling. Something about feeling like the whole point of traveling is to be where you are and not to be connected to your daily life. I don't know. She explained it, but I became distracted by my own thoughts and wasn't really paying attention.

Mr. Stripey: Aren't I darling? And isn't my brother handsome and stately? And aren't you going to miss us? I shall miss you all! Even though I don't know you!

Man-Kitty: I do believe that is all for now. Godspeed, dear blog readers. You shall be in our thoughts, as we go off into the wide world.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


I had high hopes for this evening. And yet, I spent the evening post-proofs making flashcards. Awesome flashcards that I find totally hilarious. I mean, what does a Fake Boyfriend who lives approximately 1300 miles away and who one hasn't seen since June 2007 need if not some flashcards? That's what I'm saying people.

I mean, dude, this is like a homemade present and shit, right?

(I so suck at being thoughtful.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Proof Is in the Pudding (Or Something Like That)

Ok, so I've been making my way through the proofs. There really isn't much, and I'm going along at a steady pace. There are a few things I need to double-check, which will have to wait until either later or tomorrow morning. I still haven't decided whether I can reasonably get out of here tomorrow, but I have high hopes. I can, whatever the case, get the proofs mailed back tomorrow. This gives me a greater sense of calm. I still need to do laundry (why I didn't do it today as I've been sitting here I'm not sure), to empty the fridge, to pack and to load the car. Yeah, I kind of think that I might not be going to Hometown until Thursday. Yes, I think this is the most reasonable course of action, and I shall just decide that this is true right now. That way I can get everything packed up and ready to go tomorrow, and then just head out first thing Thursday morning. Yes, this is the plan.

Ok, this means that I've got to call my mom now and inform her of this turn of events.


Ah. The Mother of Crazy is actually pleased with the delay, as she would like more time to ready herself for me and the kitties and because apparently the weather shall be nicer on Thursday. See? Procrastination ultimately makes everything work out much more nicely :)

Edited to Add: So, I think I'm through with the proofs for this evening. I've got a solid 5 or 6 hours of work on them ahead of me tomorrow (double-checking some quotations and citations, dotting i's and crossing t's and whatnot), but I've been through the editors' marks carefully, and the bulk of the work is done, and all in all I'm happy with the edits that were suggested, 99% of them being totally cosmetic things like typos, punctuation of citations, etc. See, I need an editor for these things because I do not have the patience to be meticulous about them on my own. This is where it's nice publishing one's work, as you get minions to look at those things for you. (This is not to say that I intentionally turn in sloppy manuscripts, but rather to note that this is a weakness of mine that really requires professional assistance at the late stages.) But so yes. I do believe I shall let the proofs lie until the morning, and this evening I shall relax and commence with some of my packing. Indeed.

RBOC: Travel TCB Edition

  • Traveling is so freaking stressful. My God.
  • I've been sitting here for the past 30 mins. making lists. The benefits of traveling from Hometown are that it's good to make long journeys from a place where you will return to a house filled with food and that's up and running, as opposed to traveling from your pathetic single-person place where you'd die upon returning home because you'd have no food in the house and no people to keep things going while you get over your jet lag. The thing negatives pretty much having to do freaking out on the front end that you'll forget some essential thing at your home 4 hours from your parents'.
  • I've yet to come to terms with the fact that I've not done shit to prepare for teaching in the fall. I will be so screwed in the month of August.
  • I also have yet to work in earnest on the book proofs, which I must complete before I go to Lebanon. I've looked through them, and there's not a whole lot that's wrong with the manuscript, actually, but the idea that this is fucking it and that something could slip through the cracks makes me very tense indeed. Which of course means that I'm procrastinating about dealing with what I need to deal with.
  • I love seeing new places and experiencing other cultures, but I don't like the idea of being gone for so long. Related to this, I have an irrational fear that Mr. Stripey will not love me upon my return. He is young, and he is fickle. Will he understand that I'm just on holiday? I've tried to discuss it with him, but he just looks at me quizzically and bites my face. (See, he thinks I'm a cat, I think. He doesn't bite hard, but it certainly was shocking the first time it happened. So then once he does that I have to give him a stern talking to about how it's wrong to be a face-biter. Just as it is wrong to try to touch my eyeballs with his wee little paws when I'm reading. To this, he says, "Meep!" - for apparently he does not really meow unless it's dinner time, and then it's more like "Mew! Meee!" I wonder whether he'll ever meow properly (as does Mr. Man-Kitty) or whether he will just squeak for the rest of his life, which does certainly take away from any authority he might have.
  • Upon my return, apparently FB will be coming to see me. Because apparently this is the summer of no down-time, in spite of my best efforts.
  • Although, happily, it will be the academic year of no conference travel - no conferences at all until (I hope) June.
  • I really need to begin with accomplishing things. I lack motivation.
  • But what I'm doing now is really just stressing me out further.
  • In theory I'm driving to Hometown tomorrow, but I'd not be surprised if I'm really going to go on Thursday. We'll see.
  • And tonight I'm going to a Bon Voyage dinner with BFF, for she will move during my travels. This makes me a wee bit sad, that I'll not be here when she moves.
  • Ok, I need to do things. More later, I'm sure.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Thoughts on My Step-Dad

Ok, clearly, if I'm going to write this post, I need to give the Step-Dad a pseudonym. So let's call him G. I know, terribly original. But I tried to call him something else, unrelated to what I actually call him, and it just doesn't work.

So my mom and G. met when I was 12 or 13, when my mom was just about done with her divorce from my actual dad. He worked in the parking lot where she parked. That's right: G. was a parking lot attendant. He'd been in the U.S. (having emigrated from Lebanon) for about 8 or 9 years at that point, and at that point only he, his younger brother, his one sister, and his mom were in the country. His dad had been here, but he died. They all lived in a house in the suburb to which my mom and I would ultimately move after I finished eighth grade (upon my mom deciding, fuck it, let the house get foreclosed because we can't live in this neighborhood anymore, for my dad was a real dick during that period, thinking he'd get a million dollars for his half of a house that was in a slum - a slum that he'd bailed on without looking back - whatever).

Anyway. So my mom and G. meet. Some questions she asked him on their first date:
  • Are you a citizen?
  • Are you a Christian? (Not in a devout sort of way, but she was afraid that she and I would be sold into white slavery or something if he was Muslim. And yes, this is fucked up and prejudiced, but I recount this to give you a sense that my mom was in no way on board from the get-go, for she has a suspicious nature.)
Turns out he was both a citizen and a Christian (and he's quite handsome, to boot). In other words, she went on more than one date with him. My mom was 32 at the time, and probably looked all of 25. She told G. she had a kid - and he assumed I was like 5 years old. In an attempt to get in her good graces, and to bribe me, he'd brought girl scout cookies to their first or second date - Samoas - for her to give to me. Needless to say, he was quite surprised when it was revealed that I was a surly pre-teen with an ax to grind. And, indeed, I had an ax to grind.

Remember: this was the Divorce Time of Crazy. This was when I was in the full throes of the divorce angst, which ultimately entailed some shoplifting (about which my mom and G. still don't know), as well as watching pornos that my friend Jennifer and I scavenged in her parents' bedroom after we'd stolen some of her parents' beer (also which my mom and G. know nothing about). So my mom brings this foreigner home, who wants to bribe me. Let's just say for about the first year, I didn't really speak to him unless absolutely necessary. I was all about "hiding in my room" (my mom's description).

G. never pushed me. He never tried to act like he was my dad. He had no interest in being my dad. He did, however, want to get to know me, and he let me go at my own pace. And somehow, we did end up getting to like one another prior to the move to Suburb. (I have to admit, I don't remember a lot of this time - lots of the Divorce Time of Crazy are a blank - the trauma of it, etc.)

So the one time when my mom and G. were in danger of splitting was when we moved from the house I grew up in to Suburb, when I was 14. My mom wigged out at G. (stress of moving, etc.) and it almost was o-v-e-r. But - G. approached me (drove past the house when I was outside), and managed to use the Young Crazy to get back in her mother's good graces. G.'s story now is that if it weren't for me, he would have told my mom to fuck right off (my language not his, as he would never say the word "fuck" in front of me). I actually believe this, as G. and I are weird kindred spirits. 20 years later, I'd argue that G. is the parent whom I most resemble and with whom I have the best relationship. I mean, I'm close to my mom, but G.? I love him with a love that's pure and true. And we're a lot alike. Which is not true with me and my mom. Anyway.

So mom and G. didn't split, and all was well. There was never any official notice that he was moving in. See, the thing with G. is he doesn't actually have possessions other than clothes - esp. since prior to living with us he lived with his family. So I noticed sometime in my 14th year that his shoes were around in the morning, and that was pretty much the moving in evidence. (Needless to say, I interrogated my mom about this development, in ways that were not kind.) But no, there was no discussion of moving in, nor was there any "moving in" day. Just one day I noticed that G. lived with us. According to my mom, that was pretty much her experience as well. She and he didn't "decide" to live together. It just happened. Dude, his mail didn't come to our house until his sister was married and moved out of the house and his brother was married and moved with his family and his mom to another suburb nearby.

So, in high school (and into college a bit) G. and I did have some conflict. It wasn't real conflict, but rather that he would bait me with political conversations, and I was filled with hormones and feelings. Imagine many tears and doors slamming. Slammed by the Young Crazy, obviously - not by G., who's totally awesome if a teensy bit of an instigator. And I worked for/with him when he left the parking lot and bought a stand at Cleveland's West Side Market (and then I quit in a huff because of his nephew working with us one summer and being a tool - needless to say, I think he's great now - and I went and temped instead) and he helped to put me through college and grad school and, well, he is really probably the reason that I went to grad school because there's no way my mom would have supported me without his encouragement in that endeavor. And my parents only just got married a few years ago, for the health insurance - natch. But as I said to my mom when she told me they were finally going to make it official, G. has been my stepdad for a long, long time now, and dude, he's the one I'll take care of in his old age - not her :)

And so now, G. and I are going to Lebanon together. He's not been there since I've known him - indeed, it's been 26 years since he's been. It's just me and him - my mom's not coming, for a variety of reasons, but probably the biggest of which is that she'd stress him the fuck out and he and I will be chill and, well, I'm the one who he really wants to see Lebanon. See, he has this fantasy that I'm going to write a book about "the family" and "Lebanon" and that I'll make a million dollars.

But you know what I realized a few days ago?

I think I actually do want to write a book - a non-academic book, which could actually make money if anybody ever published it - about, well, about going to Lebanon with G. and his coming to America, and his family, and me ending up in fucking Lebanon as a working-class blond girl of primarily Hungarian and Polish descent from Cleveland-fucking-Ohio for Christ's sake. Yeah, I think, in spite of myself, that this trip is about more than just a vacation. Though, indeed, it is quite a vacation sort of trip. But I've got 24 hours both ways to make G. answer questions for me, without my mom interrupting, and I've got all of my experiences that I will have and memories that I do have, and well, why the fuck not? The "academic" book proofs are here and in glancing at them there's not much with which to deal. My university doesn't really care about the research I do, and yet I suspect they'd support (at least minimally) any kind of a book even if it's not related to my research. Why not have this be my next book instead of some bullshit about women writers and orgasms and such? It's not like I'm mobile as it is, so why not do the book that my G. wants me to write anyway? Or at least to try to do that book?

And yes, I know I'm a crazy person, because I could just be thinking about slacking at this point. But you know what? I'm a person who needs a project. And maybe this is my next one?

A. Has Left the Building

Hello, everyone. Well, the weekend with A was excellent good fun, but now she has begun her journey home and it's just me and the kitties by our lonesome once again. As you might have gathered from our posts on the 4th, we were a wee bit tipsy. Things accomplished over the weekend:

  • shopping
  • 3 yummy meals out
  • an attempt to hang poolside, in spite of massive cloudiness and very cold water
  • divination
  • discussion of reality television, various friends/family, relationships, etc.
  • some truly annoying phone-calling/emailing to others (and I do apologize for this, as clearly A and I are annoying to all who are not ourselves or BFF)
  • play with the kitties
All in all, a very relaxing and fun weekend of female bonding.

Now, I really need to open up my proofs, but I don't wanna. Perhaps I shall call my mom first to catch up before she goes to my cousin's graduation party. Also, I have to deal with the reality that Lebanon is just one week away! I'm both excited and a little stressed about that. Must begin making packing lists and checking them twice.

So I hope everybody had an excellent holiday weekend!

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Writes: We Can't Remember How To Make Her Log In As Herself :)

Hello Loves!

It is I A!

Dr. Crazy & I are in the throes of VPW so we thought we we'd leave a wee bit of a message... And so we come to you from the land of the taro cards are delighted with our bellies full of food & wine.

So I feel in all of the of the info. you may want to know about A.'s OTL - one true love (who I am now naming M.) Granted I realize this is lame but, all I can say that with me being A. that M. is indeed a delightful match.

And for all of you out there in the land of Dr. C. currently it is cloudy but we have high hopes of extreme sun on the morrow AND in A's case extreme tan.

So Mr. Stripey is currently demanding our attention so we must leave you all but, we will see you tomorrow!

Kisses - A.

Vagina P:ower - 1.0

Hellooo! A. and I are having a fabulous Vagina Power. Part of tonight's festivities have included BFF reading our tarot cards, for she is a master of the art of this.

For A., she gave an excellent reading related to engagement prognostications and love and happiness. A. is pleased,

For Crazy, all of the readings (and there had to be a good few, first because we wondered whether my questions sucked and then because we wondered whether there was more understanding possible) were... indeterminate... but the main point is that the readings, in some regard, related to The Fake Boyfriend, who is apparently The Emperor, according to my readings (according to BFF and according to her this is a very patriarchal card), well, the deal is this: who the hell knows what is happening with Crazy. The deal with Crazy is that she totally is without a clue, except she really adores a fake boyfriend. Except who the hell knows what that means. The point here? What the fuck?

And apparently? I have no fucking clue. At least the Tarot Cards know this :)

Happy Fourth, One and All!

Well. The Inimitable A. shall be arriving in about 2 hours, so I'd better get myself in gear to clean the bathroom, change the sheets, vacuum the floors, and sweep and mop. Or maybe just vacuum, clean the toilet, change sheets, and sweep. Or maybe just clean the toilet. This is why old friends are the greatest - you know they won't judge you for your filth, and yet they do provide inspiration for cleaning the filth.

The weather here today is lame, lame, lame, so this afternoon A. and I may attempt some shopping. I feel like the mall will be open even though it's the 4th.... at least until dinner time.... I seem to recall that this is true from my days as a frozen yogurt slinger in the early 90s....

But happy happy everyone!

Edited to add:

So I managed to...

  • sweep the kitchen floor
  • clean kitchen countertops
  • vacuum the entire apartment
  • clean off the coffee table
  • clean the toilet and sink in the bathroom (though not the shower, alas)
And then A. arrived! And now it is the official beginning of Vagina Power Weekend 2008! Huzzah! More later, I'm sure.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

RBOC: Procrastination, Yet Again

  • It's ridiculous when your normal operating procedure is one of procrastination, so that even when you're doing stuff that you've been wanting to do, you can't help but procrastinate as you do it.
  • See, A.'s coming tomorrow for our belated Vagina Power Weekend, and so I'm finally motivated to do all of the straightening and cleaning that I didn't do when the regular semester ended because summer teaching had its way with me. So far, I've reorganized crap in the study and vacuumed in there, and the DRToA is now just the DRTwith-a-few-items-on-it-but-really-not-anxiety-inducing-at-all. Next, I need to finish straightening in the living room, straighten in the bedroom, and put dishes away. I've decided I'll do all heavy cleaning (sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, and the bathroom) tomorrow morning before her arrival. Oh, and probably a load of laundry or two, too. No need to get all crazy in one day.
  • In other news, my proofs are sitting in their box, unopened. I know I have to open them at some point, but, well, I'm thinking that will be Sunday.
  • What else? I had a hard time sleeping last night, which was weird. I very rarely can't sleep. And I'm not actually super-stressed about anything I don't think - or maybe I'm so stressed out that I don't even know I am? Hard to know.
  • Tonight I'm supposed to go to this New Hobby Group where I shall learn New Hobby. If I can drag my ass there, it should be fun.
  • Oh, and I got my hair trimmed yesterday! I love my hair lady. She just got back from having her baby (a boy, Camden Charles - they're calling him Cam), and we didn't do anything crazy with the hair, for apparently I'm still growing it. Who knew this could last these many moons? Though, I've got to say, the fact that I'm rocking out a version of this style does make me wonder whether I'm due for a change soon. When one's hair is the source of parody, well, perhaps one needs to change one's hair. That said, very few people in my part of the country have found their way to this style yet, so perhaps I've got 2-3 years before I become a cliche here :)
  • Why does my mother buy me tablecloths? With designs (sometimes seasonal)? Does she not realize that I live alone and that my dining room table really serves as a desk?
  • And on a similar note, why does my mom buy me 99% of what she buys me, so much stuff that always ends up staying in boxes? I'm not naturally a pack-rat (except for with paper) and yet she turns me into one by loading me down with items that I don't need and don't have anyplace to put. Hmmm.
  • After reading Profgrrrl's recent post (mazel tov! hurrah!) it got me thinking about how my goals for 2008 are going. As you know, it's the Year of the F - Finances, Fitness, and Fun. Thus far, the one I'm doing most excellently with is the finances, and fun is not far behind. Fitness? Well, let's just say that I'm really going to have to make a big push from August to December. Rome wasn't built in a day and all that, but really, I need to get on it.
  • Ok, time to go and do some other sort of task. But really I don't want to. Not at all.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Negotiating Class Identity in the Academy

I've been thinking a lot about these two recent posts by Oso Raro, in which he discusses his experiences as an academic with a working-class background in the context of his experiences this year participating in
"a teaching seminar on working class students in the academy that focused both on theoretical applications of socio-economic class in the academy as well as practical retention tools directed towards working class students."
I thoroughly recommend that you hightail it over to Slaves of Academe and check out both posts (and the brilliant blog as a whole, if you're not familiar with it), for my response here won't be in any way exhaustive.

In his first post, Oso Raro meditates on two things that struck him most powerfully during his participation in the seminar, and the relationship between the two:
"firstly my own passionate investment in what all these questions mean, and secondly the institutional contrasts between Lil’ Prestigious College and Cold City U. that are sustained by class difference."
In the second post, he talks more personally about how class inflects his own identity as an academic, ultimately concluding and asking the following:
"But where does the working class academic fit into the schema above? Do we bridge the gulf between analytical standpoints, or do we leave one for the other? Many academics either play at classlessness, or offer apologetic mea culpas to their classed condition, both of which are rather annoying. I, for one, am not classless. I am a middle-class person from a working class background, who mastered the art of mimesis in pursuit of what I thought was important, driven out of the natal home by gayness. And for as much as I could appreciate the elegance of the graphing, the humanistic and communal values associated with working class people, I know, at least from my patch, that there was also a lot of human misery, which of course is why working class people pursue university degrees in the first place, chasing an escape, drinking the Kool-aid their middle- and upper class peers imbibed long ago, like mother’s milk.

Where we get stuck is in thinking that class, like other social conditions, is inescapable, that accomplishment means nothing, that we are always raced, gendered, sexualized, or classed in ways that are biological or natal rather than social, and therefore malleable. Or alternatively, that our accomplishment taints us, and we seek to recover the original house of love and familial warmth. For working class academics, the struggle is in keeping it real, and by that I don’t mean being street, I mean recognizing that we are compromised agents of hegemony, we have drunk the Kool-aid, but still might have something to offer our working class students besides punition and antagonism. The question becomes: is the very task of teaching someone to think, not the beautiful gilded lilies of places like PLC but the working mothers and foremen and the eager new Americans in classrooms at places like Cold City U., therefore an act of class betrayal in and of itself, if the thinking is grounded in class inequality? What are we teaching and how?"
I have a hard time knowing exactly where to begin in responding to these two posts, but I knew from the moment when I read the first one that I really wanted to do so on the blog. I've written about class at various points on this blog, but I've done so nowhere near as elegantly as Oso Raro does in the two posts to which I link. When I talk about these things, I tend to come at them personally - either talking about my own background or talking about my relationship with my students. Sure, one can extrapolate to bigger picture claims from those posts, I hope, but I don't typically do the work of connecting those broader dots in a systematic way, and I think Oso Raro's posts affected me so powerfully precisely because both posts do that work that I'm typically too lazy to do.

For me, I suppose the conflict that I experience in connecting my personal experience to a more general discourse on working-classness in higher education is in part a feeling that I don't want to "academize" (yes, I just made up that word) this part of who I am, or this part of who my students are. There is something about the language of "valuing" working-class culture or approaches to education/learning that always strikes me as posing the danger of keeping the unwashed masses in their place and of painting all people who would fall under the broader heading of "working class" with the same brush - there is one working class culture, one set of working-class values, and if your experience doesn't match that unified ideal, then somehow you're not "really" working class. Or, conversely, if your experience does match that, you're then obligated to promote those values and embrace that identity for once and for all and forever, and if you don't, then you are a "traitor" to your class of origin.

Perhaps I respond this way at least in part because such attitudes about class remind me of George Orwell's treatment of class in The Road to Wigan Pier or D.H. Lawrence's treatment of class in his portrayal of a character like Walter Morell in Sons and Lovers. Even in a book like Limbo, which talks about class mobility or straddling in contemporary American culture, I often feel as if what it means to be "working class" is defined through a kind of nostalgia for "real" identity that is not compromised by bourgeois values, and that this nostalgia has a whole heck of a lot to do with "real" identity as defined through what it means to be a "real" man. So part of my resistance has to do with the way that working-class-ness can be gendered masculine, and with the way that it can be evoked as a kind of prelapserian ideal, that which proves there is an outside of consumer culture, bourgeois morality/politics, radical individualism, etc. I'm not interested in claiming my working-class background in that context. That's not to say that I'm not interested in claiming my working-class background, but I often don't like the terms that appear to be most widely available.

And when I talk with academics who come from backgrounds that are very, very similar, if not identical, to mine, I notice quite often that one thing that we agree on is a real ambivalence about how we understand class identity in this profession. Whatever our gender, sexual, or racial identities, we seem to have a similar experience that the terms available for understanding our class experience don't quite fit, or don't quite fit all the time. And I often have the sense that we all feel like we'll never come to terms with our class identity in the way that we might have come to terms with the other aspects of our identities, in part because while we inhabit a class identity, it is not fixed in the way that those other aspects of our identities are. I can't stop being a woman (or, well, I could, but it would require thousands of dollars, hormones and surgery, or at the very least a total reorganization of how I think about my self), but I have stopped being working-class. On the one hand, as Oso Raro notes,
"For the working class academic, or those academicians that emerge from the purported lower orders, our achievements are always under scrutiny, always questioned, constantly re-thought."
On the other, we face the difficult task of
"attempting to honor working class ways of learning while simultaneously trying not to undermine my own (and others) success in the system through assimilation of those middle- and upper class mores."
In other words, we have left our working-class identities behind for all material and social intents and purposes. We are solidly middle class, in terms of the profession in which we work, in terms of the money we make, in terms of the food we eat, the social activities we enjoy, and the politics that we espouse. We are solidly middle-class in that, for the most part, we have left our hometowns and live far-ish from our families of origin - not at all a working class thing to do. On the other hand, however, our newly acquired middle-class-ness implicates us in a system that continues to marginalize us. We've "made it," and we can never go home again (just as Lawrence's upwardly mobile Oliver Mellors and Paul Morell can't), but at the same time we still identify ourselves through that past identity and the experiences that shaped us in that past form.

This is what I think Oso Raro was talking about when he talks about "class-based assumptions" that drive "how we learn to become who we are in the university" and how the "drive toward holistic educational models [. . .] belies our own class-based assumptions about success and working class potential, as well as leaves largely unexamined and uninterrogated the presumptions of class and intellectual promise that speak more to our own self-conceptions of worth and experience than anything our students may actually be capable of." A commenter asked him to explain this more fully, because when he posted about these "class-based assumptions" he did so as a kind of short-hand that went without saying. How I read this, before I'd read the comment, was that as academics who come from working-class backgrounds, we have a set of class-based assumptions (that come from both the class affiliation of our upbringing as well as the class affiliation that we have acquired) that influence our ideas about how to educate our students, particularly if we're educating students with backgrounds similar to our own. In other words, we come to the party with a set of assumptions based upon where we come from and where we've gotten to that on the one hand seeks to validate experiences that in our own quest for success were not necessarily validated, while at the same time we also believe in the system and we have acculturated ourselves into that system (even as we realize the constructedness of it), which means that a competing set of middle-class values are ultimately working in concert with our working-class values of origin. We stand in between the two value systems, and so our ideas about how to change education reflect that ambivalence.

I think it's important, for those of us who've traveled from one class into another, to acknowledge that we, too, have assumptions based on that subject position that are traceable back to issues of class. We're no "purer" in our relationship to class just because we don't come from middle- or upper-class backgrounds. Moreover, our students don't stand in some "pure" relation to class, and, whatever strategies we invent and deploy to increase retention and improve the education of these "non-student students" (as Oso Raro termed them), (I believe that) they are going to need skills to navigate a middle-class world, to which they will ideally gain access by virtue of education, that won't necessarily validate their working-class experiences or values.

At the end of the day, I don't think that I'm a class traitor by showing my students (or trying to show them) how to navigate middle-class-ness. I don't think that it's "wrong" to give them a language for that social world, and to highlight that it is a different language. I'd argue that by highlighting the fact that this is a different language (most often from real-life examples, that usually take the form of conversations I recount between me and my mom), I do them a service, and I also do a service to those solidly middle-class students whom I teach - those "student students" - in that I show them that this language isn't "normal" - not for those who come from less privileged backgrounds than theirs.*** The issue is not to make the middle-class students (the straight students, the white males) feel guilty for their subject positions.**** Nor is the issue to make working class students, or gay students, students of color, or women, feel that they are universally marginalized and downtrodden. What is important to me is to show all of my students, regardless of their individual subject positions, the ways in which those individual subject positions are socially and culturally constructed, and, moreover, to indicate that worthwhile ideals can be mined from multiple value systems. The point isn't to create a "new normal" or an "alternate normal" for those students who come from less privilege or for those students who come from more privilege. The point is to show all of them that "normal" is itself a construct. It's also to show them that some things bear "cultural capital" while others don't, and for us to think about why things are valued in the way that they are.

I have a hard time believing that by turning to more holistic methods to respond to working-class students' cultural and social values that this will eliminate the privilege of the middle class. Perhaps I'm unimaginative. But I do have a hard time believing that. I also have a hard time believing that such methods are wholly positive, as I really do believe that the point of education - for all students, regardless of class background - is transformation, and so by tailoring education to one or the other half of the binary, to me, seems shortsighted. I'm much more interested in the interventions that are possible between those binary oppositions. I'm much more interested in facilitating the transformation of all of my students - both working class and non-working class. I want to use my experience, as a person who is, ultimately, in-between, to show them that an in-between is possible. That skepticism and ambivalence are possible, even as one inhabits a particular identity, wherever one originates. That's good (I think) for working class and middle class students alike.

What we are teaching I think is what they need to move forward after college. It's not about preserving some sort of canon or some "what every educated (middle-class) person needs to know" but rather about what will serve them as they move forward in their lives. As for how? Well, whatever we teach, I think the "how" of it is about serving the mission of what they need as they go forward. Teaching students to think in ways that are socially and materially rewarded isn't a betrayal. What is a betrayal is failing to note to them the how and the why for those things being rewarded in mainstream (middle-class) culture. A college degree isn't ultimately (just) about the piece of paper. It's about teaching the students about what that piece of paper means and why it means it.

***The best example of this that I can think of is that for some of my classes I will make them breakfast for the last class. I always ask whether there are any vegetarians, in preparing for what I shall make. When I've got a solidly working-class class, they look at me like I'm insane. When I've got a class that is more socially mixed, they'll either respond as if such a request is "normal" and even sometimes somebody will confess to being veggie. Whatever the case, I always add some commentary about the class implications of the question and their answers. This is a teaching moment, even though it's not in my field.

****Actually, I had a student in the summer session who balked at my use of the word "privilege" in the first or second class, precisely because (I think) he thought I was trying to do this to him. As I explained to him, I don't think that we have to feel guilty for privilege. I do, however, think that we have acknowledge it. Thus, I've got privilege because I'm white and a college professor - he has privilege because he's white and has a good job and is a man, whatever. The point isn't guilt. It's the acknowledgment that "privilege" means that we have opportunities that other people don't have, and that we should have to account for that - not necessarily apologize for it - as we think about our relationship to the world. That's not, to my mind, about being liberal or conservative or guilty, but rather about being a person who is thoughtful and empathetic and ethical.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

In Which I'm a Loser

No, really. I'm a loser. You know that award I was nominated for? Totally not the big winner. I have decided that there is no way anybody is more awesome than me, so the judging must have been rigged. At least I don't need to go to that stupid event in the fall where it will be handed out now. Whatever.

But I'm also just a sort of general kind of loser who managed to do nothing with her day today, even though A. is coming Friday, even though I've got a ton of crap I need to do before she does, etc.

Instead, I spent the day lounging and napping with my wee Mr. Stripey, who has been exceptionally lovey-dovey and whom I will miss dreadfully during my travels. I'm sure he'll be fine, though, as will his big brother. Why? Well, they've got each other.