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I've been thinking a lot about gender in the past month (ok, I think about it constantly, but even more so lately). It started playing Second Life a month ago specifically to play a female character, because I wanted some sense of what it was like to socially interact from a female perspective. I had intended to play an adult, but ended up spending most of my time as a 10-year-old tomboy for some reason, which is actually pretty good cover because people think that my 35-year-old avatar is the real me. (At least I think they do.)

I'm probably not getting any sort of authentic experience, but it is interesting, and when I thought about it, I decided that I had zero interest in role-playing a male character, even if I wanted to start fresh. I spent a couple of weeks wondering if I was a deeply-closeted transsexual, but I've mostly dismissed that idea: I don't feel like I'm trapped in the wrong body, and I basically like who I am. What I don't like is other men. That's not to say I don't have male friends, because obviously I do (some of whom are reading this). But in general I have a negative attitude towards men I meet, and the men I do like, I usually like in spite of their maleness, and I become uncomfortable in situations where masculinity comes to the fore (e.g. bridge games at Bethans reunions). I have always had more female friends, and the people I admire the most tend to be female as well.

Clearly, to me, this started when I was a child. Boys tend to haze each other pretty badly, with a lot of put-downs and insults and mock combat or whatever. It's how they bond, but when I was a kid I hated it, because I wasn't very good at it and I tended to bear the brunt of it. Some boys in that situation try to tough it out, try to earn the respect of their peers. But I didn't. I decided I didn't want anything to do with them, with their disrespect for authority and each other and me, as I saw it, and I refused to play along (for the most part). When I was 8, I imagined that gender wasn't a binary but a spectrum, and I lay somewhere in the middle, at least partly a girl because (in my view) girls were quieter and better people. All through primary and secondary school, in general, other boys were not to be trusted. They were the ones who would ambush me on the school bus, or play pranks on me, or try to embarrass me in front of the class.

Somewhat ironically, I did develop a certain masculinist streak in school: I had an English teacher in 11th grade who loved to taunt the boys in the class with claims of female superiority, mostly in fun. I was always quick with a rebuttal, but mostly because I was embarrassed when my male classmates fell into the little logical traps she set up for them (or maybe they were just playing along, and I was too humorless to see it?) My real goal, I see now, was to say: hey, don't group me in with *them*.

And so it went. As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate male culture a little more, and I see how the mercilessness of boyhood evolves into the playful banter of men who have been through the same initiation. I even long to be a part of it, somehow, but feel that the ship has sailed; and I still have a lot of pent-up misandry that I have to deal with somehow. I mentioned this to Jen last night and she said of course I did; she says it's been part of my personality for a long time.

A lot of books and websites have been written about misandry, but unfortunately many of them want to blame it on feminism and "political correctness". It's true that feminism has made it a little harder for me to feel good about my sex, but it's only one stone in the wall, and anyway I have no desire in reimagining myself as a traditional head-of-the-household male. Googling "misandry" brings up a lot of anti-feminism screeds. (And did you know that the phrases "recovering misandrist" and "recovering from misandry", as phrases, don't appear in Google at all? :) so it's difficult to find other men in the same position as I am, who are dealing with the same issues. I'd think maybe geeks, but I don't see a lot of geeks talking about gender issues, and a lot of them seem pretty comfortable with their masculinity (in their own way).

So I don't know, and I gotta go. :)
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I had a chat yesterday with a visiting speaker at UT, who has recently written a textbook and has done work in Physics Education Research. As we talked, it became obvious just how different our teaching styles were. For one thing, he's written a giant physics textbook, presumably retailing in the usual $200 range, while if I were to write a textbook it would go online and be print-on-demand or some such; the cost of textbooks is pathetic. Besides that, though, he uses online homework systems, apparently with multiple-choice answers, and multiple-choice Scantron exams (generated randomly by a computer) with no partial credit. I appreciate the difficulty of grading homework for large classes, which is why I just don't grade homework (although I do give multiple-choice no partial-credit quizzes every week, perhaps a partial approchement.) On exams, I give partial credit for everything, even multiple-choice questions (if students want to explain their answer, and they make sense, I'll give them credit for it). He uses Powerpoint slides, I hate using Powerpoint in class; I prefer to create my "slides" in class as we go. He uses "clickers" in class so that students can vote on answers anonymously; I prefer letter cards so I can ask students to "defend" (or just explain) their answers.

Hopefully we're both successful in what we do. But I can't help seeing his approach as being rather impersonal. His style presumably works very well in those online classes which are "designed" by some expert and then proctored over and over again by glorified TAs. And if I wanted to be paranoid, I might suggest that he imagines a world where universities don't have to hire professors anymore, but sit 250 students into a lecture hall in front of a video screen showing his presentations (available at a reduced rate if you act now!)

He was a nice-enough guy, but still.

Pride

Aug. 20th, 2010 09:42 pm
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I was reading a conservative editorial about Gay Pride events-- he thought it was illogical to be proud about something like homosexuality which is inborn (give him credit for acknowledging that bit): you can be proud of something you've written or something you've done or something you've said, but it seemed silly to him to express pride for something you had nothing to do with. And I have to admit that I had similar reactions myself to such events at Williams. But because the argument was coming from someone I wanted to disagree with, I finally figured it out: it's the wrong definition of pride. The "pride" in Gay Pride, I think, is not the pride of accomplishment so much as just the opposite of shame. When a group of people is told that they should feel ashamed for who they are or what they need, it is good to counter that shame with its opposite, and shout to the world that what I am is good. This puts an entirely new spin on this for me: for example, if I express pride in my skill as a teacher, I am suggesting that being a good teacher is better than being a bad teacher. But a Gay Pride event does not imply that being gay is better than not; simply that it is a good thing to be.

So for any past disparaging remarks I've made, particularly about Women's Pride events which particularly got to me: I apologize. I get it now. :)

Now, this author went on to wonder why we don't have Heterosexual Pride days as well (tongue-in-cheek on his part, because he thinks the whole thing is absurd). From my reasoning above, I'd say that being straight is a good thing and one should certainly not be ashamed of it. But I'd say that Pride events are only really appropriate when there has been some public shaming going on. Straight people, as far as I know, are never made to feel ashamed of their heterosexuality, and so no event is needed to counter such shame.

But how about men? I would argue that men have to face a lot of shame for being men: we are often seen as potential rapists, potentially violent, potential child abusers. Men's gender roles are, I would say, more proscribed than women's these days, which means lots of room for shame. Boys, who tend to be more rambunctious in class, are told they should behave more like the girls who are listening nicely. (I'm assuming that stereotype still holds true.) So being male is not quite like being straight: yes, both are privileged positions, but at the same time there is some stigma attached to being male, and so I'd say that one can and should talk about Men's Pride in the same spirit as Women's Pride: not that being male or female is better, but that being male or female* is good. (Or if you're in between, that's good too.)
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Jen and Miriam are up at a Baha'i retreat center this weekend, so I am on my own. Rather than mope about like I did last time they were out of town, I decided I'd look for a concert or something to go to (something I very very rarely do), and I was surprised to discover that New York Voices was going to be performing in Bowling Green tonight. (I was also surprised that the tickets were only $15, having paid almost that much just for lawn tickets at Ravinia last weekend.) New York Voices is a four-person vocal jazz group which I've been fond of since high school; I have several of their albums and they vie with Manhattan Transfer for my favorite vocal jazz ensemble. And so, hoping our old beat-up Taurus could handle the half-hour trip (it did), I headed down to Bowling Green.

And it was really a lot of fun. It turns out that this was the last night of a week-long vocal jazz camp for high school students: it's apparently an annual event, and while I don't know the details it seemed like NYV participated in it every year, and maybe it's at Bowling Green every year too, but I don't know. Lots of high school kids in the audience, and it was fun to stand there and drink in the excitement that only high schoolers at the end of a week-long intense activity have. The auditorium was wide but only 8 rows deep, with a stage flush against the floor (like Shawnee but maybe smaller, for those who get that reference), so even sitting in the back row I felt like I was right there with them. It's hard to convey the actual concert for you, but they were very very good: the close harmonies, the improvisation, the timing, and the ease with which they did it all was wonderful. As the final piece, the campers all went up front and sang this ethereal wordless piece of music written just for the occasion, with NYV providing solos; I might try to get a copy of the concert recording just for that piece.

So I'm very glad that Jen's retreat was this weekend, and I'm wondering if (a) this camp goes on every year, and (b) if they let old fogeys come too. :) Seeing them perform made me miss performing dreadfully, and I wish I knew how to get back into it again, while finding the strength to get through the boring parts of rehearsal without bursting. What I need are a group of people who are (a) just at my talent level, so that I'm not bored; and (b) are not terribly ambitious, so they don't take over my life. Where is this group? :)

Panic?

Jun. 30th, 2010 11:48 am
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I thought I'd left panic attacks behind in Boston, but I've been having them the past few days. It starts as a feeling of discomfort in my chest and back, and even though I *know* that's where I feel anxiety, I still can't help thinking "heart trouble?", which is what escalates everything. It's possible that there is some underlying physical condition-- maybe I've pulled a muscle in my back or my chest or something. For the most part, I've been able to think of it as a physical ailment like heartburn-- an annoying discomfort but not a sign of impending doom. I'd go see my latest doctor but he's a moron; I've made an appointment with a new doctor for July 15th, and I'll bring it up then. I guess I should get an EKG or something just to be sure. I know I'm obese and out of shape (see how I'm distinguishing between the two, [livejournal.com profile] sanj and [livejournal.com profile] wavyarms! Aren't you proud of me? :) My blood pressure is probably a bit high too, although the little automatic blood pressure cuff we have at home has been giving me readings all over the map. I'm also a hypochondriac, so there's that. Is there some sort of "hypochondriac's hotline" or clinic where people like me can go in and ask stupid questions like "my little toe hurts, do I have cancer?"

Anyway.
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I had my first panic attacks one summer in Williamstown, when Jen went out of town for a couple of weeks and I felt very isolated and alone. My second bout of panic attacks was as a post-doc, when I took a trip to North Carolina to meet with my advisor's collaborator: again I was on my own, and I had the added pressure of needing to get something done that week, as up to that point I was having a hard time understanding what my job was all about. I wrestled with them, saw a therapist in Boston, and learned how to deal with panic. I thought I could say I was panic-free.

But I've started to see a reoccurrence in the past month: first, a month ago when Jen and Miriam went away for the weekend, and then tonight when I am again on my own. It's not quite the same: my original panic attacks tended to be accompanied by a mortal fear, that I would pass out or die or something. My therapy taught me that this wasn't possible, and so while I feel the tightness, I know that it's "just" a panic attack. Still, the anxiety is distracting and disabling, making it hard to enjoy my time off or to do things I want to do. The fact that I haven't had panic attacks up to this point can be attributed to the fact that my freedom has been curtailed by a) Miriam, and b) a full-time teaching job. I can't deal with total freedom. I had wondered why I was so non-productive in the period before Miriam was born, when I was unemployed or only employed part-time: why wasn't I able to write multiple research papers? Now I remember: no structure. I remember something from my music theory classes: limiting oneself to a certain mode or scale or lyric can make it a lot easier to be creative.

The solution would be to impose my own structure: set a daily schedule and stick to it. But that has to come from within me, and I have great difficulty creating my own structure. I have an "external locus of control", depending on others to provide structure and affirmation. Any self-created structure seems fake and hollow, and I can't "lean" on it; I know how easy it would be for me to change.

Another aspect of the panic is just that I get lonely easily. That's probably why I like working in restaurants: there are all these people around, but with the added bonus that I can be free to ignore them. :) I like to think I'm an introvert, but in reality I'm somewhere in between: I like having people around, but I'm not so good at socializing, or setting up situations where people are around. Jen is a pure introvert so she has it easier, I think (in some ways): she's home by herself this week and I think she's probably enjoying the freedom: the ability to stay late at work, or to do stuff around the house, or whatever. She isn't so good at seeking out company, but she doesn't really need it either, so she can be a happy hermit. (That's an exaggeration of course; I know she misses the two of us.)

OK, well just wanted to get that down. I'm in a nice loud restaurant with no one within arm's length, and so I'm feeling better: time to do a little work in preparation for tomorrow.

DS9

Apr. 25th, 2010 04:53 pm
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I was going through my iTunes library and ran into the DS9 (we all know that stands for Deep Space 9, right?) theme, which I hadn't listened to in a while; putting it on gave me a nice little nostalgic thrill. When I was in high school I knew about TNG and I had friends who were into it, but I didn't watch it regularly and wasn't into it from the beginning, so I felt like I had missed the boat. (In hindsight, that's kind of silly given the episodic nature of TNG, but what did I know?) When DS9 came out, I think it was in my junior or senior year of high school, I decided that this would be *my* Star Trek series, the one I could get in on the ground floor. I loved the theme with its french horns, and I even tried to mimic it when writing an orchestral piece for my Composition class. (And I remember listening to the revamped theme song before the fourth season, leaked online and available via some random website or maybe mentioned on Usenet-- no Youtube or Google yet). Once I got to college, it became a weekly ritual for Jen and I to hunt down a free television somewhere to watch it, a hunt which occasionally led us to desperate straits. It was a definite part of our courtship. Sometimes I have to remind myself just how important our occasions of television were to us back then, and I wonder if we are missing something now that we have our own laptops and our own Hulu feeds. I know some of you still belong to communities based on or supported in part by television shows, and I envy that and miss that.

Salut, DS9.
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I felt like writing this, but now that I'm done I'm not sure it's worth putting online-- oh, but what the hell. I'll throw it behind a cut so that it doesn't clutter up anyone's Friends page.

Read more... )
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I'm sitting in Barry Bagels, Miriam asleep in the stroller, and while I suppose I could do work (I have oh so much grading to catch up on), I feel like talking about myself instead. :)

Long, possibly boastful ramble about church choir and singing and me )

Well, the girl's awake, and will be wanting her bagel. Au revoir.
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Perhaps this is obvious, but I was listening to Wil Wheaton's podcast "Radio-Free Burrito" and he said something interesting. He said that he enjoys reading/watching/listening to things which require a certain level of effort to appreciate, partly because when he meets someone else who also enjoys that thing, it's "like a secret handshake". My take on this is that when you meet someone who also enjoys this challenging work (e.g. medieval poetry) then their appreciation tells you something about that person, about their tastes and their intellectual capacities as well, which is a hint that you and they might get along well. This might not be such a big deal for extroverts, for people who enjoy meeting new people and experiencing a wide variety of personalities. But I'm not such a "people person", and so figuring out which of the 50 people in the room I will enjoy spending time with is challenging, particularly when a wrong choice might snag you in a conversation or even a relationship which is more tedious than enjoyable.

It also occurred to me that this partially explains why popular music and television shows are so annoying to me (and maybe other people, too): if something is too popular, then it doesn't tell you anything about the other person: it's not a "secret handshake" which helps you size up the other person. For example, if you meet someone who enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies, that doesn't say a lot about that person because a lot of people watched those movies and obviously enjoyed them. It might be enjoyable to talk about the movies with the other person, but it doesn't serve the sizing-up process which is an important part of casual conversations among people who have just met. It's rarer to meet someone who has read the books, and so that means something; one is thus tempted to mention how the movies are different from the books, to see if the other person has read the books too. (And if they know who Feanor or Ungoliant are: boom! That's a real indicator!) But once the movies came out, the names "Gandalf" and "Frodo" were no longer useful "secret handshakes" because everyone had heard them, and you have to dig a little deeper; thus the popularity of the movies made socializing a little harder, and a little more annoying.
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I've set up a creative-project blog on LJ under the name [livejournal.com profile] doogadgit; it might go nowhere, but maybe having a potential audience will motivate me to write (or compose). I loved writing fiction when I was in junior high and high school, but fell out of it in college, probably because my taste outstripped my ability.

The first story I posted there was a repost of Ripples, which I already posted here.

I just posted the first part of a story I've been working on and thinking about for a while, working title "Klell". It's very much concept-driven sci-fi, but I'm hoping it's enjoyable. I would love critiques and comments.

Here's the direct link: http://doogadgit.livejournal.com/1768.html

Little boys

Feb. 4th, 2010 03:55 pm
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When I go with Miriam to play at the Montessori school, or at her daycare, I find myself paying extra attention to the little boys in the room. Part of the reason is that I've heard people insist that gender differences exist from this age, that boys are more this or girls are more that; as a feminist I'm somewhat doubtful of these claims, attributing most of the differences to the way the children are raised, and so I'm watching these little boys to see if they are fundamentally different from Miriam, thinking, "Miriam gets loud like that too, Miriam runs around, whatever." (Frankly, I haven't noticed any real difference.) A problem with this is that it starts to feel like I'm measuring Miriam up against the boys, which is a rather UNfeminist thing to do.

The other reason I pay attention is due to my theories about little boys, in that they are more constrained than little girls: constrained in what they wear, what they play with, who they can imitate. (As one person put it, a little girl in a Batman costume is cute; a little boy in a Wonder Woman costume is alarming.) That, combined with the fact that boys are supposed to be a little bit behind girls developmentally at this age, makes me see them as more fragile, somehow.

And so I look on these little male children almost as alien creatures, rather ironic given that I used to be one. (Ah, but I don't remember being 2 years old.)

It's a little disturbing to be so obsessed about gender in this case, when I'd much rather see young children raised in as gender-blind a manner as possible. Heck, I'm not even sure Miriam knows the difference between "boy" and "girl" yet (though she does know the words), and I've avoided the terms when it comes to adults; I'm not a "boy" but a man and Jen isn't a "girl" but a woman, and I normally refer to us and other adults as "big people": "there's a big person". I'm not insistent about it, I don't tell other people what to say, and she'll figure it all out in due time, but I'm hoping that I can delay gender awareness a little bit so that it isn't so ingrained in her thought processes. Maybe it's futile, I dunno. I think there are small biological differences which cannot (and should not?) be erased, but that doesn't mean they have to be enhanced via socialization.
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Miriam went to "school" (daycare) on Monday for the first time in two weeks, and she cried from the time we got into the building until the time I left, but I was amused to note that while she's upset about the separation, she's not clingy or avoidant. Instead, she says in a loud crying voice, "Miriam has to take her coat off now! Daddy is going to work! I'm going to sit at the table and have cereal! I'm going to have fun today!" etc. (Those aren't necessarily exact quotes.) She's upset, but she knows what she has to do and she does it. It makes me proud of her. :)

Miriam

Jan. 7th, 2010 03:39 pm
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There must be a word for when parents get carried away in imagining how their child is a prodigy, or a genius, or whatever. Whatever it's called, I've had a bit of that, since her teachers at daycare called her "very bright". I mean, *I* think she's smart because she's my daughter, but they're professionals with a lot of two-year-olds to compare her to, right? :)

Miriam's imagination has really come to bloom in the past few months. She stages imaginary conversations between her toys (or anything; I have a ring and a medal on my necklace, and she had one tell the other, "I'm going to work now", and move along the chain to the back of my neck). She will suddenly launch into a long story about what she did that day or maybe a week ago. (She even introduced me to her daycare class: "That's Miriam's Daddy. With a green coat.") She knows a large number of songs, and has taken to making up words to them, sometimes nonsense syllables (which can be hard to tell), sometimes talking about herself in song. And she is incredibly cute when she's being a "big dinosaur" (low-pitched "ROAR" sound) or a "little dinosaur" (quiet squeaky "roar").

Her biggest challenge these days has been daycare. She doesn't mind staying home with her babysitter, and she was okay at daycare during the first three months, but after Thanksgiving she became very upset when we'd leave her there. Right after Thanksgiving, she would cry the whole time she was there. She doesn't do that so much now, but when I mention school to her in the morning, she gets very teary and overwrought, though trying to keep a brave face: "Miriam go to school, and Miriam have fun" she says, lip trembling. At school, she plays and has fun, with occasional random outbursts of crying, and then when I come to pick her up you can see the pent-up energy burst. It may just be a burst of separation anxiety, of course. I wonder what I should do in the meanwhile, though, how I should address the issue. She'll tell me all about it, later, saying "Miriam cried at school, said 'Daddy daddy! Mummy mummy!'" or "Miriam was sad at school." (I tried asking her why, but she's not quite that verbal.) Lately I've tried a little cognitive therapy, telling her "You were only sad a little bit at school. You were happy at school too, you had fun." Try to break the connection in her mind between school and crying. They're going to move her into another classroom for older kids in a couple of weeks, and maybe that will be helpful for her: more of a challenge, and a new room with new teachers to break old associations.

Now she wants to go look at the big clock with me, and watch the hands move, so time to go. :)
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Here's an interesting article which echoes the thoughts I've been having about being a male feminist:

http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=whats_the_alternative_to_tucker_max

The point of the article is that progressive men are defining their gender based on what they're NOT-- against rape, against violence, against homophobia, what-have-you-- but there isn't any good idea about what masculinity SHOULD be. Of course, one might suggest that looking for a definition of masculinity or femininity is needless stereotyping, and that one should just be who one is, regardless of gender. That's pretty much how I approach gender most of the time, it's how J approaches gender, how I'm trying to raise my daughter, etc. But one thread of feminism goes beyond this to celebrate femininity and find strength from it, and while this is partly an attempt to counterbalance the centuries in which men have had their say about everything, I think it is also an embracing of diversity: that even if men and women were equal in this world, some of these feminist authors and philosophers would still find strength and purpose in their gender, and that has a certain appeal to me.

But can one create a positive progressive image of masculinity that does not detract from women? Maybe it's not possible at this stage of history, with so much misogyny remaining in the world, but I think we have to try: gender is an important part of most people's self-identity and certainly important in how one interacts with the world, and if one's self-definition is largely negative-- I am not this, I am not that-- then this makes it harder to grow, because you don't know where you're going, you just know where you're not.

(This idea of defining oneself in terms of what one is not ties in surprisingly well with my previous post, where I discuss my tendency to see myself up as a misfit in every group I belong to.)
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One thing which makes it difficult for me to find community is that I have spent so many years seeing myself as a misfit (in the literal sense: a "poor fit"), that this is an important part of my self-image. I find it very hard to latch onto commonalities between me and other people; to the contrary, I am very quick to notice how I differ from the rest of the group, and I'm sure that other people see me the same way. It's not about superiority; it's about uniqueness I think. I know that my self is very important to me: the thought of personal annihilation after death is extremely terrifying to me. I am suspicious of crowd thinking, and whenever someone expresses an opinion my immediate reaction is to take up the other side of the argument: it's not out of malice (though it can appear to be), and I like to think that this comes from a drive to be open-minded and fair, but maybe it comes from a fear of agreeing with people, that if I don't have a different opinion then this other person, then what's the point of me being around?

This came to mind this morning as I was bicycling to work; towards the end of the ride, another bicyclist ended up behind me, and followed me all the way to the physics building, and indeed even into the physics building (where most people would leave their bikes outside). Some people might see this coincidence as a nice way to connect with someone who works in the same building and the same department; I, on the other hand, was extremely annoyed that he had "followed" me. This happens to me a LOT (though I was maybe a little touchier about it this morning than usual). In fact, someone just decided to sit at the table next to mine in the restaurant, when the rest of the section is empty, and I caught myself glaring at him: "what the hell? Go sit in one of the 20 other tables!"
You can imagine how this played out in Chicago, where there was always bound to be someone following you anywhere you went.

Even in the communities where I've felt the most welcome, I still carried the misfit label in my mind. My first year in Bethans, I was "the freshman" (the only one that year), a label I was always ready to embrace as an excuse for not knowing things. Sophomore year, I kvetched about everything, to the point where, when Colin and Zach pulled me aside and asked me to direct the next year, I thought they were going to chew me out for being so annoying in rehearsal. :) Being a director sets one apart as well, of course, which is maybe why I was more comfortable in Bethans than I've been in any choir since (being one tenor among a whole section is too anonymizing for me). And looking back, I kick myself for the times I turned down invitations to coffee or board games, or sat alone in my room instead of seeking out company, because I didn't feel like I belonged, felt like I might be a nuisance without being aware of it. During senior year, I fought with Heath tooth and nail because I saw him as more "popular" than I was, putting me in an underdog position. About halfway through the year, though, I was surprised to realize and discover that in fact I was greatly respected (not to oversell this here), and that rather than being the underdog, I was in fact the senior director trying too hard to impose my will when I didn't need to try nearly so hard. I like to think that this discovery allowed me to back off, and brought our directorial relationship into a more cordial state.

I think everyone must wrestle with the twin desires of belonging and being unique. I think one can have both. But I probably have to find some way to sacrifice a little bit of self, and try to develop a self-image that includes my belonging to a group (which is something I really desire).
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This is complete procrastination on my part; I'm hoping that typing will prove a better segue into work than websurfing is.

Miriam )
OK, let's try working now. :)

Story

Oct. 31st, 2009 11:51 am
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I woke up with the idea of a story in my head, and I spent the last hour on a first draft. Thought some of you might be interested in reading it (particularly the professional authors in the audience, *cough cough*). Just a first draft, of course; I may want to play around with the names and dates.

RIPPLES )
Edit: I mixed up Rachel and Yvonne in the last letter; fixes in bold.

Research

Oct. 23rd, 2009 12:49 am
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I envy Jen her full-time research position (not to mention the tenure-track part): I know that there's a lot of bureaucracy involved, but that still leaves a lot of time to do research in, where it's your top priority. Doing it in drips and drabs, as I have done during the past five years or so, is so much harder: harder to keep track of what's going on from week to week. I sometimes wish that I could have that kind of time.

And yet, I DID have that kind of time to do research. It was called graduate school, and post-doc. And I hated it; I was miserable and largely unproductive. I think there were good reasons for that: in both cases I was doing someone else's research, working on a problem I didn't really think had a solution, solely responsible for all the technical details while my advisor handled the big picture, so that I had no one to talk to about the nitty-gritty problems I had. I was paralyzed by anxiety all the time, and so progressed very slowly, and I was very lonely. Maybe things would be different if I found a job like this again: I could work on problems I was actually interested in, I could find collaborators, I could be a little less worried about my reputation and a little more willing to ask for help maybe. But I'm not really convinced that that would happen. All too often, I have great ideas about what I want to do with my time, only to start and find my motivation being replaced by overwhelm and anxiety: how should I start, is this too much for me, did I make a mistake that will render all of my results invalid (I found bugs in grad school that wiped out months of data, a few times), is this really the best use of my time?

I'm trying to keep my research going. I've got a collaborator in Boston, and we're fighting to get a paper published in PNAS (a pretty impressive journal). I'm trying to get something going with an ecologist here in Toledo; we haven't come up with research per se yet, but we are meeting weekly (or at least, we're trying to), which I think is an important first step.
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I really hate conflict, but you would have a hard time telling that from my behavior, because I have a stupid compulsion for expressing my opinion whenever I disagree with someone. Or worse, to play the Moderate or the Devil's Advocate, to challenge every generalization with a skeptical cock of the eyebrow. Online, it gets me into heated conversations which I loathe, until I finally am disgusted enough to close the tab on my browser or, more dramatically, avoid that website altogether. (I also end up posting drive-by opinions on comment sections which I will never visit again: this seems silly but it's probably better for my psyche.) I'm not a flamer, but I can be annoying when I latch onto some small element of a comment and respond to that, rather than respond to the post as a whole, and of course I'm not always the target audience anyway.

It's not just online, though. I've gotten myself into hours-long debates with people in which I can't concede defeat, and yet suffer through every minute. Some people confuse my propensity for debating with a love for debating; meanwhile I which I could just shut up. :) Even if I hold them in, though, opinions can ruin things for me: part of the reason I got so exasperated with the Catholic Church is because I couldn't go to Mass without critiquing the liturgy, the music, and of course any political message which might happen to slip into the sermon.

Isaac Asimov wrote that while he was in the army, he came to the realization that it was not his job to educate everyone he met, if he overheard someone making a comment which was wrong. Maybe all of his books were his way to direct his drive for explanation to a willing audience. Me, I'm more like the XKCD cartoon: "I can't go to bed yet; someone is wrong on the Internet!"

Sigh. Probably why I like math so much: for the most part, if you come up with something new to say, you can prove that it's true, and not have to "agree to disagree".

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