Quick Note

I finally just finished my grading that I was supposedly doing earlier in the week.  One of my students wrote a fascinating essay on friendship.  She argued that if people took her for granted as a friend, that was fine, because her goal was to be the best friend possible (this was after years of treating friends as disposables, or as she says “like fashion trends”), and that she especially felt this way because people have intensely different perceptions of the world.  She felt that she had no way of knowing what they were actually thinking or feeling, so as long as she was doing her part, so be it. This was half astounding revelation to me, and half “wait, aren’t you on the verge of doormat-ism.” Perhaps, nine foot tall doormat-ism.  Is she brilliant, setting herself up for heartbreak, or a buddha?




Dear Millicent,

I just woke up feeling rattled from having a dream where I was at a party and suffered the same minute embarrassments I do at real parties.  In the dream I talked too much about my work, flirted poorly with an esteemed professor of my youth, and then my mom got mad at me for not making her guests comfortable.  There was not even an incisive meaning of the dream.  It was mundane, obvious, and pretty much already lived, why did my mind go through the motions of making it up?

I once heard a This American Life where a psychiatrist who was schizophrenic had made a training tape for New York City cops so they could understand a bit more about schizophrenics when they approached them. They had to wear headphones and listen to the tape for an entire day, if I remember correctly.  She said that “hearing voices” was not like have strange thoughts float around in your mind. It was like somebody behind you startling you by yelling or whispering things to you.  The cassette was of these possible assaults/conversations and it illustrated to the cops how hard it is to focus one’s attention beyond the external voice that has most of your ear.

I was surprised by this definition.  Schizophrenia has that fuzzy meaning when said casually–usually suggesting something out of nowhere, contradictory, or strangely juxtaposed.  Schizophrenic critics must be an unsynchronized chorus, and a schizophrenic work must be a patchwork (with seams either clumsily or masterfully exposed).  Schizophrenic love must be hot and cold, out of balance, or a case of a PMS.  But, like you mention with your sister, none of this cutesy summing up actually holds sway with the real effect of the condition.

The one thing that irks me when the word is used as an adjective, even with the “being cut in half in the shower” phrase (I think I have to mention, what does the shower have to do with it? The drain, for cleanliness?) is that it relies heavily on a sense of absolute freedom from responsibility.  This is where it makes me think of the training cassette.  We are attracted to the odd contrast, the juxtaposition, that just arrives.  Perhaps this is why we embrace the word and the idea of the word, and don’t really want to know about the real stuff of the schizophrenic experience.

The Happy Puppet terrifies me, as do all genetic prophecies that suggest procreation is a lottery or grab-bag, or worse, the highest stakes and most depressing version ever of the game show “Let’s Make a Deal.”  Is it Doris Lessing that wrote about the family that has hit the genetic jackpot until their last child, which ultimately destroys, well, everything?



Mad Men

Dearest Millicent,

I envy your belly-dancing.  I have tried the art twice, both times lapsing into a gawky “isn’t this hilarious” stance in order to avert all eyes from my lack of rhythm or failed attempts at sensuality.  Once was at a belly dance class at the YMCA where the teacher didn’t seem to understand that the snakiness that was so natural to her took a little thinking (she had that worst sin of teaching–the inability to imagine life without the knowledge that is being transferred.  She knew her dance, but didn’t know that some of us had never used those muscles).  The second time was in Tunisia, where my boss was less than pleased that I had been invited to actually participate as a real person on our trip.   But I agree–it is beautiful and powerful.  I heard somewhere that women learn to belly dance in order to train their muscles for childbirth–which I find fascinating.  And there are sequins! And, there is that really cool breath noise that comes from your esophagus sliding on your diaphragm when the upper half of the torso moves. I can see how the class would bring up memories of the baths–especially because of its insistence that the body itself is the beauty, and that it should be appreciated for its form instead mashed into hiding under shame, jeans, or Spanx.  I bet Belly dancing hates Spanx.  They would fight if they met at a party.

I came to this post today ready to rant about the poor behavior of two of my peers (I guess they are peers, I’m unsure).  They remind me of Madmen.  These two gents (I work on a mutual side project with them), most times I interact with them, leave me frustrated and outraged.  They are masters at exasperating me and making me feel powerless (thus, the exasperation).  They insist they respect me and my intelligence, and would never ever agree to the fact that they are sexist.  Yet, with every interaction, they assume I have no ability, and in no way an intelligence equal to theirs.  I was ready to call the whole thing off, and then they painted me into a new corner, where if I quit it looks like I am pouting because they disagreed with me.  It would be too revealing (and boring) to go into the whole event.  But it has brought about a couple of questions.

How do you defend yourself when the person you are talking to leaves no space for words or logical response? Do you simply not engage? Do you wait your patience until the perfect “so there!” arrives, and then deliver it? Do you write an articulate emailing saying that the shenanigans are over, and then give a flying fuckwad to what their interpretation of your response may be?  Or do you just make a note of overall assholeness and remember not to trust them with anything that actually matters to you?

This also brings up the question of keeping people in your life because they bring a little more daring into the world than you can get on your own, or because they have some strange connections that might behoove you one day to know about.   I was chatting about this with a beloved mutual acquaintance of ours, and she mentioned that the firecracker friends (the ones that you don’t want to see often, but you do want to know–the ones that when you are with them, strange elements appear (vast amounts of porn and candy, champagne and ho-hos, 36 hours of actual fun party, offense, nudity, arrests, thrills)–are overrated.  My fear is that without them, I am a bit of a bore.  We realized that it boiled down to the fact that we are grown-ass women who still want to be with the cool kids in the cafeteria.

And, then, because it made me feel better, I read Orwell’s thoughts on Dali.  He has a whole part about people who want to be geniuses, but they don’t know in what.  Their skills are fine, but how can they become majestic mysteries….the answer is wickedness.  He offers that wickedness is the one way where, in our culture, you get an instant pass to be officially “interesting.” I like this because it suggest that the firecracker friends (at least some) are using the mania as a cloak for an average or above average set of talents.

I know I am making my ego happier writing all this.  But, I doubt that is a good thing.

How do we get men who are sexist (and blind to it) to listen to the complaint without transforming (they do the transforming, it would be cool if I could) our words into nonsense, whining, or I don’t know, snowflakes, before it reaches their ears?



PS: I actually like Spanx.