Wednesday, May 31, 2006
So it's the last day of class, and in the time-honored tradition of last classes, I show a movie. A good one (Live Nude Girls Unite!), but also an admission that I just can't get it up for one more class discussion. The students, too, have used up their intellectual mojo. It is hot--near 90. Life on the Big Lake means three months of March, then suddenly, July!
The students like the movie, and want me to hold office hours after so they can talk about their manifestos. I go to the office, the empty spare room off the lower floor of the house that houses Gender Studies, a home long since converted into a catch-all minority studies center. The administrative staff are spraying table tops with windex downstairs. They invite me to the farewell for the Big Gay History Professor who is leaving Elite University for Yale (yes, him). I nod politely with no intention of going. One of the few benefits of adjuncting is that you don't have to show up and make kissy face if you don't want to.
The students come to the office in groups. They want me to look at their final projects, their manifestos, because they want to see my reaction. They are proud of them. I notice that their shyness is gone. The high point of my day is when they tell me that they some of them had been advised to take Gender Studies to boost their GPA. "But it's hard!" they say, in a complaining voice, not complaining. They love that it was hard. I love them for liking the difficulty. We are not sure how to close things, but I know that saying goodbye is really why they have come. It's a nice thank you. I thank them too. They were lovely.
The growing hum outside my door tells me the farewell party is picking up. Students come in, close the door to keep the noise down, and finally, leave. The last one marches off, and I peek out after them, realizing with a sinking heart that I have failed to make my exit in a timely manner.
The entire room is full of people chatting with their reception faces on. Earnest, leaning into their cake and napkins. I see to my horror that someone I used to know is in the room, talking away but facing the other direction, away from my door. An ex friend, the one who dropped me a while ago and who decided not to say hello to me in the hotel lobby at MLA (ok--to be fair, I decided then not to say hi either). Trapped! What can I do? Slink by in my damp and unflattering t-shirt, heavy, defeated? Me, the adjunct; her, next year's director of Gender Studies at Elite University, both of us the same age. Once we were young hopefuls. We double-dated with our respective spouses. I fed her cat when she went away, a lifetime ago.
I can't do it. I just can't go into that room.
Fortunately, my little borrowed office has, oddly, two doors, opposite each other on two facing walls. The door less traveled by leads to a little hallway and bathroom. From that hallway, which opens further down one side of the crowded main room, I might be able to reenter the big room and go out the rear of the building without being noticed. It is worth a try. The alternative is sitting in an office with bad wireless reception for an hour, hiding.
I quietly close and lock the door opening to the main room. I turn out the light and unlock the other, opposite door, making sure that the knob locks behind me. First stop, bathroom. Then stride purposively into the empty end of the big room, turn without looking away from the crowd, and proceed to the back entrance. I have never used this door, but I know it is there.
All goes well until I try the back door. The lock won't turn. A sign tells me not to use it, that it won't lock behind me if I go out. I recall that security locks up the building every evening, checking all the doors before setting the alarm. It will be ok. Have.To.Get.Out.Now. I fumble with the lock, feeling like any minute someone will see me, stop me, and lead me back to the Room of Shame. Can't people see me? Isn't anyone wondering what I am doing here at the end of the hall? At last I slide the bolt across and fall out into the open air, choking with panic.
Outside, the air is heavy, and it is raining softly, sizzling and evaporating even before it hits the pavement. No one has followed me. I turn, puzzling the best route to my car. The sun is trying to break through the rain, making the air look pink. I move south, the only way out of the alley, towards a huge puddle directly across the path I have to take. When I reach it, however, I see immediately that it isn't that deep at all, only so clear that it looks like a lake. I step over it and into it, the water barely reaching the tops of the thick soles of my sandals. I tiptoe and hop, holding my pantlegs up like a ball gown, feeling the warm drops splash my toes. With each step the rooftop spires reflected in the puddle waver, dissolve, and reappear, dark spikes moving in the water under my feet, like the shadows of migrating birds.
Friday, May 26, 2006
It's been hard to blog lately because of the end of the season, the end of the quarter, and the end, for me, of who I've been. While there will be a lot of continuity in the next several years, there will also be, well, not. So I decided to get back on the bloggin train with an entry about nothing in particular that reminded me how intensely thinking can happen in everyday life without any institutional assistance at all. After all, we think hard every day, even at the zoo.
Today we went to the zoo. My dad is visiting, and we thought we should ramble through the park a bit. I don't know why it made me feel better to go to the zoo, but it did. Maybe it's because I live in a great city with a free zoo. Maybe it's because being outside on the first warm day of early summer connects a person to everything and everyone again after a long winter. Maybe it's good to remember the rest of the planet, and the creatures on it, as a way of keeping perspective. All I know is that zoos are places where you can't help thinking--about captivity and freedom, about preservation and ecology, about ethics and species, about unconscious and conscious ways of living, about habits, about mental darkness, about selflessness, relaxation, justice, civic duty, community, communication, separation, clumsiness, and meaning well. It's not that zoos are nice or horrible. They're just very, very complicated places.
So we went to the zoo. And I'm putting up a giraffe because there is something inspirational about such an improbable creature being able to reach so high.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Happy Birthday May 6th to the man who made postmodernism possible. I discovered Freud for real in graduate school, in the wake of Juliet Mitchell's reclamation of Freud for feminism, and feminism's reclamation of Freud for Lacan. I've been trying to teach him to skeptical undergraduates ever since. The really amazing thing about Freud is that he tried to listen to women and he took women on as students in an era in which such things were marvelous. He laid the groundwork for the critique of so-called "normal" heterosexuality, showing that almost nobody isn't sexually queer in some way, and outlining in painstaking detail the difficult road children must take as they try to assume the burdens of gendered subjects. He found reluctance, nostalgia, sadness, deflection, self-sacrifice, loyalty, loathing, and courage in every form of human attachment. His writing is often fair and kind, and the mind revealed in his work is one genuinely moved by all kinds of people.
One of my favorite Freud moments occurs is his essay about Leonardo da Vinci and sublimation, Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood. Positing that Leonardo's attraction to his own mother was the source of his homosexuality, Freud attempts to account for Leonardo's artistic output and scientific curiousity by theorizing that Leonardo literally transformed his homosexual impulses into art and research. Noting the playfulness of Leonardo's mind, Freud writes:
"Indeed, the great Leonardo remained like a child for the whole of his life in more than one way; it is said that all great men are bound to retain some infantile part. Even as an adult he continued to play, and this was another reason why he often appeared uncanny and incomprehensible to his contemporaries. It is only we who are unsatisfied that he should have constructed the most elaborate mechanical toys for court festivities and ceremonial receptions, for we are reluctant to see the artist turning his power to such trifles.
. . .It is probable that Leonardo's play-instinct vanished in his maturer years, and that it too found its way into the activity of research which represented the latest and highest expansion of his personality. But its long duration can teach us how slowly anyone tears himself from his childhood if in his childhood days he has enjoyed the highest erotic bliss, which is never again attained."
The wistfulness of this passage always gets me--the appreciation of the innate playfulness and creativity in everyone, the ominous sense of the world ready to crush that creativity and replace it with the gravitas of respectability, the longing of the Freud who comes through in this brief moment as a man trapped by adulthood, a prisoner gazing back at the bright patch of sunshine receding from him, as childhood recedes from us all.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
It's very strange to live your life without getting attached to any of it. Most people like to think of themselves as hard-headed, rational, practical. It comforts us to imagine we control how permeable we are. What goes out and comes in needs monitoring, as if love and satisfaction are scarce emotions, and precious. If you are an adjunct, you need to not have an investment in your students, the curriculum, or the university where you teach. It helps if you try not to notice how beautiful the trees are, all in bloom, or the pockets of hot perfume they create as you walk to class. Even better if you block out the feel of the sun warming your skin and hair as you cross from your car, and stop yourself from admiring the steps down, across, then up that negotiate a dip in the landscape next to the hockey fields,stop yourself, too, from lingering on the vast parklike places gleaming with new greens and yellows as far as you can see.
Every spring the blossoming trees amaze me. I always forget about them in the summer, fall, and winter. Especially winter. I think it's because you forget how to smell in the winter, since the air is so cold and there's nothing there, except maybe exhaust, or mud, or maybe a little ozone. When the blossoms come, the rows of ugly buildings are bathed in creams and pinks and delicate gold braid, and the dirtiest sidewalks and roads become sweet pathways littered with delicate crushed petals. Their appearance tears at your heart because you know you can only love them today, maybe tomorrow at most. They are supremely undependable. In a matter of days the wind will rip down all their lacy finery, and the hot green shoots of summer will uncurl their naked little fists in every tree,all up and down the block.
When you get to class, and you have a particularly fun discussion that day about sexism in the workplace, or beauty culture, or docile bodies and working out, you have to remember you will never see these students again. You have to enjoy the conversation just for now, and then let it go. There are four more weeks, and then the quarter is over, and it all ends for good.
So you enjoy them. They say funny things that make everyone laugh. You bond with them about the difficulties of gendered self-presentation in the workplace. You like it that they like the assignment they are working on. You grow fond of them, because they are learning, thinking hard, strategizing how to use what they have learned in the world. You notice that they are more comfortable, more open, and that those awkward pauses in class have disappeared. This intimacy is so beautiful, and so fleeting.
Then class is over, and you move into the hall, out the doors, onto the sundrenched grass once more. The air smells like blossoms, heated with an undercurrent of cool wind, as if somewhere out there on those green fields the ice is still melting. Keep walking past the blossoms, past the flowers, past the muddy fields. Find your car and drive away, across the city. Say goodbye every day, a small goodbye for now, the first goodbye of larger ones that will come later, inevitably, no matter how much or how little you try to feel about them.
Monday, May 01, 2006
I am sorry to find that Anonymous Professor has taken his blog down. I personally thought his habit of calling people "bitches" and "morons" was horrible, but he should be able to have a blog if he wants one. My biggest beef was with Inside Higher Ed linking to one of his particularly hateful posts, but I also took issue with The Chronicle's snotty "Thomas Benton" as well. I do feel as if everybody has the right to free speech, but every time I found myself feeling the least bit sorry, I reread Anonymous Professor and felt too disgusted to even think about retracting a word.
Internet blogging is not the same as private journaling, anymore than giving a speech in a town square is the same as talking to one's self. Anyone can happen by and read it. So why are people so bent out of shape when their rants get read?
R. I. P., Dr Mandrake. I'm sure we haven't heard the last of you.