Sunday, February 19, 2006

Civility Procedure

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If you want to feel better about your life, check out the "Wanna Get Away?" story on today's AOL News and elsewhere about freshly-minted lawyer Dianna Abdala's "bla bla bla" email to a potential employer turning down his job offer. This email, which he circulated to teach her a lesson about the necessity of civility and small communities, has apparently gone around the world, and has even been featured on Nightline. Reading the exchange, I understood why she was initially pissed off at this guy, though I can't condone her incredibly rude and entitled act of dismissing their email exchange with the "bla bla bla" response.

Apparently the guy offered her a job as a criminal litigator, which she accepted, but then he later reneged on the salary offer, claiming he had decided to hire two attorneys instead of just one. She decided to break up with him, er, quit, by email, and he retaliated by calling her immature and unprofessional. Clearly, neither one of them cares much for mediation and alternative dispute resolution, a conclusion made obvious by her strategy of lecturing him about the necessity of contracts, and his retaliatory threat to forward her email to all his friends to teach her a lesson about collegiality in a small community.

Did these guys sleep together? The nastiness on both sides is downright weird. Tired of the exchange, she writes "bla bla bla" when he threatens to expose her, and he forwards her email everywhere. He shook his dick at her and she called his bluff. So he whacked her with it, as hard as he could. Now the world is laughing at her, not him.

Their story is now a parable about professional conduct and email. But it could just as easily be a story about misunderstood sexual and gender dynamics. First, it is about how careful you need to be if you are a woman not to piss men off. Second, it is about how careful you should be if you are a man to remember that women, especially young women, get talked down to all the time, and that it is a sheer effort of will for most of them, every day, not to kick the next man who disses them in the balls. Would he have have cut her salary and expected her not to quit on him if she was a guy? Would he have called her immature and unprofessional? Would she have been so indirect as to quit by voicemail and email? Blown him off with such withering contempt, like he was a geek at a bar who didn't get that she was too cool to date him?

She was young and angry. He was older and angry. She was pretty. He was the boss. She quit. He lectured her. She didn't take it, so he threatened her. She was too stupid to see how the world works. She can't even tell the difference between "sew" and "sow." Now the world is laughing at her, not him.

And there's the lesson.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Foucault was right

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One of my jobs these days is writing entries for an encyclopedia of sex and gender. This means that on days I'm not grading freshman comp papers rife with spelling and grammar mistakes ("fist love" remains one of my favorites from this quarter so far), I'm trying to sound knowledgeable about gender dysphoria, or polymorphous perversity, or dildos. Which sounds like fun, and is actually kind of interesting, but sexy? No way. Producing serious discourse about fun objects is nerdy fun, but not hot at all. What's hot is the idea of getting money for writing about, say, "the various forms of lubricants and their sexual uses." Money is definitely hot. The older I get, the hotter it seems.

On the other hand, thinking about this stuff is fun. Gender Dysphoria, for example, was amazing to think about. After all, it's a word coined by doctors to pathologize people for being uncomfortable and anxious about gender--something most of us experience to some degree every day--in order to make it possible for those who can't live with a fracked-up sex-gender system anymore to be able to have access to health care, counseling, hormones, surgery, identities, and narratives. If discomfort with sex-gender is dysphoric, what would Gender Euphoria look like? Could one find perfect happiness somewhere being a woman or a man? Or--better yet--neither? Where is this place? How can I find it?

Are there outlet malls there?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Happy Birthday, Amy

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Yesterday was Amy Lowell's birthday. I first discovered her poetry when I was a teenager. I was in that adolescent girl poetry place, and managed to get my hands on the Poetry magazine anthology that contains "Venus Transiens." The first time I read it, I couldn't believe it. At that time in my life I had public boyfriends and secret girlfriends. My secret girlfriends were divided between best friends I had crushes on but would never be able to manage to sleep with, and friends who I had sex with but didn't love. We knew we had to keep things secret, but we got a kick out of our down low bisexual lives, we with our long hair and our boyfriends. We didn't have to make decisions. We made out in the hayloft. And there, with all of life and its choices laid out before me, I found this chivalrous poem from 1915, where one woman looks at another and literally feels the earth move. Sure it's schmaltzy and romantic, with its Botticellisms and pretty details. But it's also so damn lesbian. Impersonal speaker aside and all that, when you read it you KNOW, with the hairs standing up just a little on the back of your neck, that it ain't no man that's supposed to be thinking this on some wave-crashed shore. You know it's a woman. And this poem stays in your head. It's the one you scribble down in a love letter when finally, at college, you let yourself fall in love for the first time.

I'm not saying this poem made me love women, but it sure made me love that I loved women. A lot. And it made it ok because it was poetry, and it was history, and it was heartfelt. So happy 102nd, Amy. Your poetry certainly lives on.


Tell me,
Was Venus more beautiful
Than you are,
When she topped
The crinkled waves,
Drifting shoreward
On her plaited shell?
Was Botticelli's vision
Fairer than mine;
And were the painted rosebuds
He tossed his lady,
Of better worth
Than the words I blow about you
To cover your too great loveliness
As with a gauze
Of misted silver?

For me
You stand poised
In the blue and buoyant air,
Cinctured by bright winds,
Treading the sunlight.
And the waves which precede you
Ripple and stir
The sands at my feet.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The End of the Trail

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There's no better way to cure one's self of nostalgia for academia like adjuncting comp sections. Your students don't want to be there. You don't want to be there. This morning there were two major accidents on the way to work, so I took an alternate route. I might as well have walked. I arrived half an hour late, after calling someone to tell the kids to wait. Wait for what?

I tried to explain what an Evaluation argument was. They looked at me blankly. It wasn't that they didn't understand. They just didn't care. They are tired. Worn out. They don't want to see films. They don't want to read New York Times editorials. They don't want to study logical, ethical, or emotional appeals. They just want it to be over.

This is the composition two class. It is one of only two English classes they have to take on the way to their degree. A Bachelor's degree.

Their faces are drawn. My face feels like a transplant. I talk but it takes effort to make my eyes open, my mouth move. I am talking under water. I am half me, half someone else. I need antirejection drugs.

I answer individual questions. These days, I am best at one-on-one. I rely on the kindness that is my autopilot mode. Can't we get through this together? What do I have to do, besides count down the days?

Last week I went to a friend's class at Prestigious University. As I walked across the gothic quadrangles, I noticed how young everyone looked. How thin. How pretty. They all wore expensive-looking performance clothing. They mountaineered their way from one class to another.

In class, we all settled down for a leisurely afternoon. There was discussion, as we knew there would be. Ideas might come, slide away, reappear again. Faces might flicker and go dark, like an electrical storm. They don't know where they are going, but they know they are climbing somewhere, up, up.

I know what it is like to stay too long on a mountain, to start too late, try to make up time, then get below the treeline just as the sun goes out behind slate hills. You walk down in the dark with your companion if you have one, trying to be cheerful, trying not to quarrel. Someone is at fault for the late start. Someone is disrespectful of something--time, nature, human endurance. You can't talk about it. You can't be afraid of bears or fisher cats. When you hear a twig snap, you say it's a deer, or a chipmunk, or a raccoon. Keep talking to each other. Keep walking in the darkness. You know it will turn out all right if you put one foot in front of the other, carefully, talking calmly, peering ahead, and stopping, every now and then, to marvel at the moon.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wednesday Punctuation Police

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If you really were cheating on your girlfriend, would you bring her--or your other dates--here and allow this lost apostrophe to blow your cover?