Saturday, January 18, 2014

not sure how or what to write

My life has been changing so quickly that I'm not sure how to write in generalities. One (if the many) gifts that I received from the knee injury was the space to reflect. I had no idea how intensely I had been burning the candle at both ends, as the saying goes. I've stopped writing. I keep opening my dissertation proposal, looking at it, feeling sick to my stomach, closing the document, and wondering if I'll ever finish.


I have two weeks left of work on the thing.

Two weeks.


Yet I can't seem to hunker down with it.

Of course, my personal life has had its fair share of shakeups in recent months. My head is spinning and concentrating is very very difficult. My personal and physical disruptions have led me to turn to yoga - as I often do - for healing. I've fallen back in love with the Ashtanga tradition. I've had breakthroughs in my personal practice. I've certainly had breakthroughs in my teaching.

I had one of the best teaching experiences at the college level in a long time as well. My groups were rowdy and funny and engaged and curious. They were frustrated by the difficulty of the course. But that's always to be expected (the soft bigotry of low expectations).

In any case, things are changing. All of them. I've no written/public language for it yet. It's all very exhilarating and all very exhausting. There are times that I just want to disappear so that I may gather myself. There does not seem to be any time for that.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Energetic dogs and torn MCLs

Exactly one week ago today, I was walking my neighbor's dog and BAM!, he struck the outside of my knee. I immediately felt intense pain and instability. A wave of sweat poured over me. With the help of my friend Jean, who had just arrived at the park, I hobbled home and knew that I had to go to the ER. I called my mommy in tears and we went to the local hospital that (supposedly) specializes in orthopedics. This hospital has a great reputation but I've never had particularly good experiences there. This time was no exception. I was seen by a very frazzled physician's assistant who x-rayed me, gave me a cast, said I have a "sprained knee"(meaningless diagnosis) and sent me on my merry way. Upon further reading, he did exactly what he was supposed to do so I can't fault him for that. But he was not terribly forthcoming about why he made the decisions he made and for that, I am not thrilled with the care I received. His ambiguity led me to skulk around on the internet for hours imagining worst-case-scenarios. 

I have an amazing guy that I see on occasion who is a chiropractor but also a general sports medicine practitioner. I trust him and I don't trust too many doctors. I made an appointment with him on Tuesday thinking he'd talk me off the ledge - as he usually does with my mild aches and pains that I go to him with. This time, with one look at my knee, I saw his countenance drop. I knew this was different. Granted, given I couldn't bend my knee at all, I already knew this was different. He order an MRI. He told me to have the results sent to him. He'd read them that day and tell me what was going on. Turns out I have a high grade tear in my medial collateral ligament (MCL). From the MRI report, it appears that I do not have corresponding injury to my anterior collateral ligament (ACL) or meniscus. This is surprising because it is usually the case that an injury as severe as the one to my MCL has corresponding ACL and meniscal strain. In any case, I've been referred to a surgeon. 

I'll be very surprised if I do not have corresponding injuries. An MCL tear rarely requires surgery but, again, it is not terribly likely I won't have other issues given the severity of my injury. Maybe this will be a stroke of good luck in all of this. I don't know. But the longer I don't know, the harder it is to cope. This is so for several reasons. 

Let's start with the easiest one. I'm not accustomed to immobility. I rely on my body for almost everything (I know, who doesn't?). I cycle or walk for transportation. I teach yoga for my living. I do yoga to relieve stress. Ideally, I should be spending my time reading all those books I've said I haven't had time to read. But I'm so distracted and distressed, I can't focus all that well. 

Also, I can't teach yoga right now. Chris and I have been living hand-to-mouth for a good while now. It's been *very* stressful. Relatedly, I've been trying to pay down my tuition before I shelled out the expense of health insurance. Yup. I'm facing knee surgery and I'm uninsured and can't earn half my living.

I've written about health care before. I've called this very situation one of my biggest fears. And here I am, staring down the barrel of what to me looks like insurmountable debt. I should preface this rant by acknowledging that I have tremendous resources at my disposal that will lighten this burden. I have an amazing friend whose first instinct was to organize a fundraiser. I have a mother who is going to help me with the costs. I have another amazing friend who is a hospital social worker and can help me navigate the system. I have yet another person who is a PTA and is siphoning free medical advice. I have friends who are walking my dog. I have a partner content to wait on me hand and foot. I have a lot of friends who have been supporting me in all sorts of ways through this. 

But what if I didn't have a network of people that had the capacity to help me through this in this way? I'm going to fall through some cracks for sure. I'm carrying a burden for sure. I'm very depressed about this - as this was just another setback in a series of blows this year. However, in another context, this could have been the thing that destroyed me. This could have been the thing that made me lose my home. 

Seriously. I'm living paycheck to paycheck - just barely. I'm working two paid jobs, working on my PhD, co-running an events space, taking care of 5 pets, and trying to have friendships like a normal person. I was in a position where I was walking on a very thin tightrope and praying that the line would not snap. It snapped and I am lucky enough to have an interpersonal safety net below me. 

That said, my society would let me fail. I can tell you the myriad of reasons why our society is broken. Hell, if you read this blog or are friends with me on Facebook, you are likely familiar with my perspective. Yet, knowing all of the vested interests that maintain a wasteful, private, for-profit system that doles out decent healthcare only to the most healthy and/or most moneyed and/or those who chose/have/were lucky enough to get jobs that provided it, I still feel guilty for not prioritizing health insurance. 

That's how culture works. We live in a culture that tells us if we fail, if we're needy or vulnerable, we probably could have made better choices. This is how I feel. I feel like I should have gotten health care. I feel like this is my fault. I am embarrassed that I can't take care of myself and that, at close to 40, I'm asking my mother for money. 

It's kind of like knowing that all the models in the magazines are airbrushed but still hating your thighs when you look in the mirror. Cultural ideologies are powerful and intellectualizing cultural/political/social messages is very different than the power of internalizing the dominant ideological messages that are so easy to see through when it's not you in a cast facing surgery.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mountaintop Removal and Other Beheadings

This weekend, I took a trip with a handful of faculty members and a gaggle of students to Coal River Mountain. Specifically, we stayed on Kayford Mountain. Kayford Mountain is a protected mountain owned by the late Larry Gibson. When we arrived, we were greeted by Elise who is currently running an amazing organization called Keeper of the Mountains Foundation. She warned us that the area was inherently dangerous. It is dangerous for several reasons. First, it sounds like a war zone. There are explosives going off every few days which is common practice as a  means to blow the tops off of mountains. Second, there are big cracks in the mountains as a result of these practices that can be covered by leaves. It is easier than you think to disappear into one of these cracks. Finally, and this cannot be overstated, there is a literal war between the coal companies and their employees and the folks who are trying to save these mountains. 

It is pretty easy to emerge from a weekend in these mountains and be deeply moved and incredibly troubled by what is happening there. The situation is complicated. It's complicated because while it makes absolute sense that we as a society need to 1. stop blowing the tops off of mountains and 2. need to stop burning fossil fuels, it is also the case that there are very impoverished people who rely on this industry to live. We have become accustomed to a lifestyle in which we take our electricity for granted. It is certainly the case that coal companies purposefully hold the West Virginian economy hostage to create desperate people who will endorse a practice that is literally killing them because there is LITERALLY no other economy in the region. And it is absolutely the case that city folks owe a great deal to everyone involved: pro- and anti-coal folks. The reality is, we need to consume less and transition to a renewable energy economy. 

Here's the story: We went to learn about mountaintop removal coal mining. We learned of it from the perspective of local activists who are trying to stop it. These are local folks whose mountains (their homes) are being blown to bits. Local folks who are breathing coal-laced air. Local folks who are drinking contaminated water. Yet, in the course of our stay, we were also confronted by other locals who are feeling the crunch. You see, coal consumption is down in the US (though lots of Appalachian coal is now being exported to China and India). The overall decline in coal consumption is putting prominent coal companies in danger and is threatening the livelihoods of coal miners in the region. Coal miners are feeling this pinch (though it is rarely the case that CEOs take the hit). They are nervous and have no other skills. So, a bunch of coal folks called Friends and Families for Coal confronted us on the mountain. They escorted us to the interstate and threatened the life of the local activist hosting us. 

What we have here is the "eternal" dilemma - pitting short-term survival against long-term survival. Why? Because our political leaders are thoroughly owned by energy companies. I believe, over time, that we can wrestle our economy back from these folks. But large social processes take years to change. And we don't have years. This is a social movement that can't afford to be patient and I'm worried we're already too late to reverse the practices that are threatening the capacity for humans to live on this earth. I'm deeply troubled and very sad. I'm trying to muddle through the complexity of this situation to figure out how to be a responsible ally to these frontline communities all the while understanding how to be supportive of folks who are trying to feed their families. There are no easy answers.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Desk Jockey

I feel like I'm really done being a desk jockey. I feel like I'm done sitting in front of the computer all day forcing myself to do work that I have ABSOLUTELY NO MOTIVATION to do. I'm not really sure *why* I do it except that I don't know what else to do.

I just don't know how to admit to myself that I'm done and I have to move on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. -Albert Einstein

When something isn't working, you change it.

I felt myself hardening. I was frustrated with a great number of things in my life and this has become very clear to me in the past few weeks. Something just wasn't right. I wasn't getting what I needed to do what I had to do. I could see those old patterns of frustration and blaming and hardness setting in.


My harness leads to things I like about myself: my firmly held convictions, my discipline, my strength (both physical and emotional), my biting sense of humor (i.e., making fun of things), the fact that I'm forthcoming.

My hardness leads to things I dislike about myself: my rigidity, my sometimes hurtful frankness, my impatience (both with myself and others), the fact that I'm judgmental.

I tend to cling on to things even though they're not working anymore. It takes me a while to realize that I'm doing this. But once I let go, even if the results themselves don't necessarily *change*, I can see myself responding to the world differently. It's freeing.

I'm experiencing one of those metamorphoses right now. Onward.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Nature of Work

I hate autumn. Everyone is so happy that it has arrived. Me? I snort and sneeze and suffer through allergies, feel that initial chill in my bones that I know will only get worse and remain there for 5 more months, I'll get colds, feel cold, and re-figure out how to layer appropriately to bike to school, work, yoga, and everywhere else for that matter. I'll be less motivated and go to bed even earlier. I do not welcome fall as most everyone else does.

I think I've already hit that initial funk that haunts those with seasonal affective disorder. I'm ready to quit graduate school and wonder what the hell I was thinking devoting myself to a career that demands I sit in front of a computer for umpteen hours a day and turn reading into a task rather than a joy. I read a non-academic book yesterday. I sat down and read the entire friggin thing. It had a plot, I could easily stay focused on it. I didn't worry about whether I was "getting it" or "remembering it" or "integrating it." It was glorious. And writing. I hate it. I'm happy about the final outcome but I'm not sure being a third rate (and I'm being kind to myself when I rate myself third) writer and thinker is worth the effort.

David Rakoff (may he rest in peace) said of writing in Don't Get Too Comfortable:

During the act of making something, I experience a kind of blissful absence of the self and a loss of time. When I am done, I return to both feeling as restored as if I had been on a trip. I almost never get this feeling any other way. I once spent sixteen hours making 150 wedding invitations by hand and was not for one instance of that time tempted to eat or look at my watch. By contrast, if seated at the computer, I check my email conservatively 30,000 times a day. When I am writing, I must have a snack, call a friend, or abuse myself every ten minutes. I used to think that this was nothing more than the difference between those things we do for love and those we do for money. But that can't be the whole story. I didn't always write for a living, and even back when it was my most fondly held dream to one day be able to do so, writing was always difficult. Writing is like pulling teeth. 
From my dick.

Yes, Mr. Rakoff. That's about right. Making... ahhh!

In this essay - as alluded to in the quote - he also discusses the nature of the transformation of a task into paid work. How that changes the nature of the thing. I think he's onto something there as well. The moment I become re-enmeshed in academia, I get a sense of panic. I want out and I want out NOW. No other thing tells me to flee quite *that* much. But what else is there? Ironically, the nature of the work that I hate is to interrogate the historical and contemporary facets of our economy that demands a "profession" or at least that one become a "wage slave." The wrong-headed "value" placed on sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day doing shit that you hate and that, frankly, is killing people metaphysically as well as physically. Consider this quote by Murray Bookchin:

Socially, bourgeois exploitation and manipulation have brought everyday life to the most excruciating point of vacuity and boredom. As society has been converted into a factory and a marketplace, the very rationale of life has been reduced to production for its own sake—and consumption for its own sake.

This makes perfect sense to me. The way it's all set up. It's a fucking crock. I had a conversation with my friend J this morning about the industrious folks on the Baltimore Free Farm. I was admiring the hard work that they do as well as their deep sense of community and commitment. She wondered how on earth they "made a living." It make me think about how there's so much ideological baggage around "making a living." I explained that they traded their labor for a wage when they needed to but also relied on each other, shared with each other, limited their material desires, and produced a great deal of what they need and want on the farm itself. It blew her mind, that life can be that way. 

Outside of the Free Farm's commitment to sustainability, their value lay in the fact that they demonstrate that life can be profoundly different than that demands of wage slavery and much more enjoyable. They enliven their "species being" and engage in non-alienating work. This is not to say that they live in some type of perfect utopian harmonious la-la land devoid of human drama. But their lives and work, it seems to me from an outsider's perspective, give them a deep sense of meaning and community. 

It's so different than checking my email and FB every three seconds to feel connected to something real. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Authentic Self

It's no surprise to anyone who knows me: I fucking love yoga. I really do. I follow yoga blogs, I practice A LOT, and I'm generally curious about how bodies work. One of the things I'm no so into in yoga teachings, philosophy, etc. is the somewhat individualist conception of "enlightenment." There's lots of talk about uncovering the "authentic self" - that the superficial concerns of the world will melt away and the "true self," the unattached self, the observer, will arise from that and create liberation. This flies in the face of my other life as a sociologist who believes very firmly that the self is so embedded in the social; that the self, while they may have their tendencies, are inextricably linked to the broader social, cultural, environmental context that there can be no shattering and realization of authenticity. It rings hollow to me.

Instead, for me, yoga is about dealing with the world as it is. It gives me the tools to breathe through the frustration. Sometimes practicing is one of the most frustrating things I do. For instance, I've been working on dropping into a backbend from standing for YEARS and YEARS. I've (frustratingly) watched my yoga students surpass me in this very fundamental pose in Ashtanga. It's a pose that I just can't figure out. I might not ever figure it out. But I'm going to keep trying. I've learned long term patience. I've learned to be strategic. I've learned to confront my fears but all the while be pragmatic and safe - meaning that I want to do this thing for as long as I can so I need to make my interaction with it sustainable.

I take these lessons into my life. In that way, I get a lot from yoga. I use it to serve my life. What makes me suspicious is that people turn a mechanism for drawing lessons about life into life itself - giving everything over to the "spiritual" practice of yoga as if it's transcendent in and of itself. In some ways, I translate it as narcism masked as spirituality as the rhetoric claims that in the finding of the self, the world can change. I think yoga is a great way to make life more bearable in order to go out into a fucked up world and confront its realities without going completely mad. At least for me, it's done that. But I think many rigorous and transcendent outlets allow for that - playing music, dancing, singing, hiking, climbing, meditation - whatever ways people find to center themselves in the visceral.

It could be that I'm a soulless killjoy. But I am finding more and more this "authentic self" stuff gets to me. It fully confirms the individualist tendencies of Western societies - particularly as they play out in the United States - at a time where collective pursuits are more necessary than ever. While I am not suggesting that people are taking this philosophy to its most radical conclusions, complete and utter asceticism, most people don't, I worry that yoga *can* be another mechanism for putting one's head in the sand as justified through philosophical and spiritual texts. 

Maybe I'm conflating this quest for the authentic self with escape from the world. I think a sophisticated reader of these texts would argue that indeed, I am. But I'm not talking about the sophisticated reader. I'm talking about the ways in which something very complicated and nuanced turns into another marketing scheme (Lululemon cough cough) that sells (relatively affluent) people their liberation at 80 bucks a pop.

I'm glad nobody actually reads this blog. I'm sure this would be very offensive to lots of people.