Monday, March 31, 2008

Coco may be the buddha

I have been thinking a lot about what is going on in Tibet. Not with any intelligent understanding of it, just a vague, khaki-colored kind of thought that troubles you without the anger that comes with tangible knowledge. Something like that.

Anyway, when I think of TIbet I think of a place known as "little Tibet" in Northern India, a place my Matt and I went to in 2000. Little Tibet is in and around the city of Leh in the area of Ladakh, smack in the middle of the Himalayas and just south and east of Tibet proper. It's called Little Tibet because the area is populated mostly with refugees from Tibet.

I was very naive about India when we went. I imagined women staining my hands with henna and I imagined small huts and elephants and temples that felt amazingly holy. The truth of India was crowded, polluted streets, busy markets, a smell that was sickly sweet everywhere you went -- a mix of sweat and curry -- cows in the middle of the street, auto-rickshaw drivers that took you to a shop where you were pressured to buy things, people following you for many many blocks trying to sell you a wooden flute or a box of colored powders or cigarettes, and quick, ridiculous down pours every afternoon.

But Little Tibet is very different. It is quiet, with very thin air that makes you hallucinate just enough, and makes climbing stairs incredibly difficult for the first few days. And the sky is a blue that you don't see here. A different, deeper, darker blue.

In the breeze you hear bells ringing from the prayers at the little temples everywhere. You get fresh mint tea every morning, like really fresh, just picked out of the freaking garden outside your all-three-walls-floor-to-ceiling window where you can see the Himalayas rise against the sky and, on your tiptoes, the women doing laundry on the rocks in a stream.

And there are these markets. Tibetan refugee markets. These are so different from the markets in Delhi or Agra or Varanassi. There is no pressure sell, and everything is labeled a fixed price. We were offered yak butter tea, which was unfortunately horrific, but we were (I hope) adequately humbled and appreciative. We were quite taken with some prayer beads, and had a delightful conversation about how they are used, blessed, and the politics of selling them to tourists. We also talked about the refugee status of the seller, and how he was there to avoid the political situation in Tibet, which we were painfully ignorant about. But the prayer beads we were considering were made of yak bone and were about 1500 rupees. We were deciding whether we could afford them when the seller who had been so hospitable told us that there were some at another booth for only 500 rupees.

"Oh, you have another booth?" "No, not my booth. Another booth." What? Someone else's booth? And we had more yak butter tea there.

Later, we were walking the long road to our hostel and a man walked by with a big, beautiful cow. It was just starting to get dark outside, and the cow was just breath-taking. I mean, big, dark eyes, with giant, thick lashes. A beautiful bell around her neck rang lazily. The driver of this cow saw me look, and stopped to gesture that I could pet her. We did. Then he offered us his cigarette and we stood, three of us, watching the sky grow darker, smoking a cigarette between us, nodding heads and smiling at each other.

We learned of a monastery not far away, but tucked into the mountains, where the monks kept dogs that they believed had reincarnated souls. (My mom's pup, Coco, is very likely one of these wayward monks, contemplating life and death, and laughing at it all.)

So when I hear of Tibet, I have little idea what is going on, but I think of a few Tibetans who would greet us with both hands clasped on top of ours with a sincere "Joolay!" I think of a stream where I washed clothes and mint tea and prayer flags and prayer wheels ringing throughout the day. I think of a market where booth owners offered more than we could pay for. And I feel that vague sense of having turned the wrong way and not knowing where to go. That the road we're all on is the wrong one, and there is a big sign, in offensive red, "WRONG WAY."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Closet perfectionist

Ugh, again, I need to have it out about my work habits, or lack thereof.

I decided to challenge myself and I applied to present a paper at a grad symposium at my school. The challenge isn't giving the paper, but rather that I chose to apply with a paper I had not written. I just thought it would force me to work harder than I might normally work and therefore get more done in less time.

So the symposium is Saturday, and though I've only broken down into tears once, I'm a total wreck. I am not prepared to talk intelligently about this text, and I will be nervous as I give it, as opposed to confident and smart. My nerves will get the better of me and when questions are asked, I will flush red and my ears will ring and I will have no idea what to say.

Fact is, I am a closet perfectionist. I want everyone to think I am brilliant, and if they don't then that means I have failed. Here's the kicker: I'm not brilliant. I may be smarter than the average bear, but the average bear will not be attending Saturday's symposium and therefore I will finally be exposed as the fake I am.

So there you go. The ruse is up! My attempt at being smart ends on Saturday. It's all over now! I hope to see you all at the nearby Starbucks where I will be happy to make your drinks to order.

Seriously this is the shit that goes through my head for a meaningless, 15 minute presentation at 9am on a Saturday in March. I know logically that I will do fine. I know that no one will decide to de-PhD me -- but this all goes through my head as I try to get a 9-page paper out of a few pages of notes and some writing in the margins of "Green Grass Running Water."

I'm sick. Will this all go away when they give me my degree?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Let's be honest...

I'm not going to say that Annie Liebowitz is racist. Or Vogue itself. Or Gisele Bundchen. Or Lebron James. But the fact is, the cover makes an obvious allusion to King Kong. I think anyone who has seen the movie or the multiple images would see this allusion, conscious or not. This isn't necessarily racist, however. While I do think the denials only make the matter worse -- "What, you mean there is a cultural discourse about brutish black men and wispy white ladies?" -- I think it is possibly true that the shoot was not trying to define James as a brute or Bundchen as a helpless victim. But it is hard to deny that they are working in a culture where this kind of relationship between a black man and a white woman has been exploited for racist purposes.

Perhaps James enjoyed displaying his aggression alongside Bundchen's whimsy. The contrast is beautiful. And, James is an aggressive ball player. And, Bundchen is a ... model. Who pliantly does what she is told. The poses are not strange; they suit these two figures.

The real question is, why are these two figures on a magazine cover together? Vogue made a big deal out of having the first black man on their cover. So why did they have to go get a waify little white girl to accompany him on his trailblazing?

I know it sucks that these decisions get scrutinized, but let's be honest about our racial environment. Let's not pretend that anyone is innocently making decisions, without a past looming over or a profit dangling ahead. The cover may not be racist, but it is certainly not innocent.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I juice

That's right, I'm a juicer. Get over it. Last week we had cabbage, celery, and pear. This week it's grapefruit and carrot or apple and carrot, with a few raspberries last night. Oh and then there was the papaya drink with lime juice. Damn that was good. And we feel so healthy. My skin is clearer. I have more energy. Just one week of juicing every night, and there you go. All is well with the world.

Then today Matt went to the dentist. Matt, my courageous love muffin, is scared to death of the dentist. So I went with him. He was the only one there, and as I read nearly all of Thomas King's "Green Grass Running Water," I listened to the terrible sounds of the spit sucker and a drill -- for nearly an hour and a half. As he walks out with our lovely dentist, I hear her say, "do you eat a lot of candy?" Matt said, "No, we hate candy. We're anti-candy." [I then had a brief moment of loving the fact that he used "we" to answer. Aw.] "Hmmm," she said, perplexed. "Do you drink a lot of juice?" "Um. Yeah. Fruit juice? Yep, all day." "That's it," she said, and then she told him that they had a lot of filling to do today because of decay from sugar.

Oh man! Dude. Juicing is supposed to save the world. Juicing is peaceful, it is true manna, in drinkable form. And then it goes and betrays our asses like it doesn't care. Oh well, we'll just cut the fruit portion of the drinks down, or add soda to the fruity drinks. See, the world is well once again.

Matt couldn't feel his face for most of the night. I would make him laugh and he would look like a stroke victim on crack.

So tonight, we decided to forego the juice and have us some fried rice instead. I mean all that juicing means we get to eat bad stuff every now and again, right? Tomorrow night, I'm thinking carrot, spinach, and a little apple. Mmmmmmm.....

Thursday, March 20, 2008


From the AP:

"Should Obama become the Democratic nominee, conservative activists are virtually certain to remind voters of Obama's ties to Wright, perhaps by using the videos in TV ads, several strategists said.

'He can give a speech a week, and it's not going to make the issue go away,' said Chris LaCivita, a Republican adviser who helped create the "Swift Boat" ads that severely damaged John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.


If they do, LaCivita recommends a light touch and simple approach.

'From a visual perspective, don't make it political," he said. An announcer might say, "'Obama preaches unity, but his friends don't,' and boom, run the tape," he said. "Why do anything else? Let people make up their own minds.'"


From Obama's speech:

"For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle--as we did in the OJ trial--or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time."


Which choice will we make?

Coffee and Cat-Sitting

I'm cat-sitting this week, and let me just put this out there: I'm a dog person and I so don't get cats.

They rub up against my legs, all purry, and then I reach down to pet, and they're gone in two seconds! I need a scruffy pet I can pat on the head. And that's all I have to say about that.

About coffee: at my regular Starbucks ( a 3 minute walk from my front door) I keep confounding my friendly baristas. I get into a groove: First, tall americano, then, grande iced coffee no sweetener, then venti iced green tea no sweetner, and now a tall bold of the day. They get into my rhythm too, knowing what I want as soon as I walk up. But as soon as it gets so predictable they don't ask anymore, I change it. Then for a couple of weeks as I go through the various staff, I piss off the old-timers and confuse the newbies who were told, "she's the venti iced green tea lady." I can't tell if I do this on purpose. I don't think I do -- I just change my order every two months or so.

But then again, I consider how much I hate it when someone thinks they "know me." Drives me crazy. "Oh, I know you.... You want a grande iced coffee with no sweetener." Or, "Oh I know you, you're supporting Obama because you're a bleeding heart liberal." Or, "I know you, you are a Libra and so you like to weigh everything and can't make any decisions." Never mind that this is all true. I simply don't like people thinking they can make such simplistic statements. And I get so damn contrary about it too: "No. I CAN too make a decision. Just now, I was wondering whether to smack you upside your head and I have made a definite decision on that one." I think it's because my mom, in imagining that I got into the same trouble she did, but knowing she couldn't catch me at it,used to say, "I know you like the back of my hand." To this day, she knows me less than my baristas do.

So today, I got a tall Verone with a little room, and my barista said, "switching it up again?" I said, "Maybe. Maybe not." How dare he claim to know me. I'm going back to the iced venti green tea no sweetener tomorrow. We'll see who knows who then, won't we???

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cynic much?

I became a supporter of Obama after he passionately invoked the audience as "You who have been taught to be cynical, who have been taught to believe change can't really happen -- come join me and let's make change together."

So the previous post is simply symptomatic of the disease of cynicism as a life-long struggle, akin I guess to alcoholism.

(I am off the wagon? On it? How does that work?)

My name is Jamie, and I am a recent cynic. I have lapses sometimes from my normally positive outlook. It is constant work, but I will remember that all is temporary and very possibly a big joke. That's a good thing, in case you are wondering if I just became cynical again. Jeesh.

I will try to be more chipper in the future in these bloggy things.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Race & Repetition

Barack Obama has said that his tours across this country as a presidential nominee have made it clear to him that Americans are ready to move beyond the old divisions of race. I think he has a point; that my mother voted for Obama in our state's primary is a small testament to this observation. But the media is not ready to give up on what is the most sensationalist, divisive material they can grasp onto: that of the confusions and misunderstandings between people based on race, gender, and class.

As a teacher, I'm not sure I can make the same observation Obama has made. My mostly white, affluent students continually complain about "reverse racism" proven through anecdotal stories of "my friend who didn't get in to his college of choice." In other words, my white students feel entitled to a college admissions process that does not force them to compete with people of a different color, ethnicity, or class than themselves.

They repeat the phrase "reverse racism" as if through their repetition this fallacious notion might become true. And eventually it does. But reverse racism is illogical: oppression is the yoke of the marginalized. For example, my students are often furious that in the desire to be "politically correct" their school has replaced the "Redskin" mascot and team name with "Redhawk." They assume the Native Americans after whom the school is in fact named should not be offended; after all, they insist, "we wouldn't be offended if a school had a 'Honkey' as mascot."

Well, no you wouldn't be offended would you? Because Honkey has never been used to dehumanize in order to enslave, lynch, or disenfranchise an entire group of people based on their racial classification. "Honkey" is humorous, in fact, because the power whites have in society is only emphasized by their ability to offer up their own skin color as the basis for a school mascot.

All of this is simply to say, the consistent definition and naming of race, and its necessarily subsequent product, racism, is not less common "now" than "back then." We simply have different effects of that racism: the political disenfranchisement of black Americans for instance. As I watch the CNN team ("the best political team on TV") go on and on and on about women voters, white women voters, old white women voters, black voters, educated voters, young voters, white male voters, etc etc etc, I see the divisions of race, gender, and class, not observed, but engendered -- these divisions must be repeated, over and over, to be maintained. And the media is so good at saying the same thing over and over again.

I hate to disagree with Barack. It seems we are working harder than ever to maintain these divisions. We may be ready to move beyond them, but first we have to recognize how they work: through daily maintenance of difference as a fixed, insurmountable category.

Let's begin to recognize the way these boundaries that "The Best Political Team on TV" name are in fact blurry, unclean, unkempt, messy and, well, fucked up. Obama himself represents this blurring: the son of a "white" woman from Kansas and a man from Africa, the child who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, and came to religion later, not as a blind follower, but a thoughtful devotee. Yet even Obama has to pick one: Black. Could he even run if he defined himself as multi-racial? Would the media be able to comprehend him? What would they do with him?

Categories make for clean, easy, and sensational news and they aren't going away anytime soon.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Workaholics make me mad

I am writing a dissertation for my PhD in English and I spend way more time wondering if I am doing any of this right, or doing any of it enough, than I do actually working on my diss.

Some days I work 2 hours.

But I still get it done. It gets done, and, honestly, it's usually pretty good. My committee members mostly agree that I'm doing something new, something important. They mostly agree that my biggest challenge is organization of ideas. That's because when I write, I just get it out and then send it off.

I think I'm being too hard on myself. The above sentence does not include the fact that I agonize over sentences sometimes. That I have actually printed out a chapter draft, cut it into pieces, surrounded myself with those pieces on the floor and tried to put it all together again. I'm apparently the worst perfectionist ever. I want everything to be perfect, but then I don't do all the work required. Or do I?

Am I making a blind assumption that this should be harder? Maybe it's OK that I can write a dissertation with 2-4 hours of work a day? (Sometimes 6. That's rare though, really.) See, it wouldn't help to ask anyone who's ever written a dissertation before because there's a secret contest all us grads and profs have: I work harder and sleep less than you. I don't believe any of it whenever someone tries to convince me that they are getting 4 hours of sleep and working 14 hours a day. Maybe those 14 hours are spent checking e-mail. If that's the case, then I work way harder than that.

I am trying to do one of these two things:
1. Work more.
2. Be OK with the fact that I don't work all day -- as long as it gets done it's all good.

I'm not sure which one I should choose.

Well, I'm off to do some work. Before dinner, and LOST of course, I may get 4 hours done today. And I bet it will be good.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Chaos Manifesto

I believe in utter randomness, that the universe swirls without a care of me, and I love it.

I believe in not knowing a damn thing. Agnostic to the core and excited about possibilities.

I believe in the not yet, the yet-to-be springing out of now.

I believe we are beautiful accidents, fatally rotten to the core and thoroughly charming in our flaws.

I believe that time is the only thing that's perfect, the one damn thing that will never falter.

I believe that resolutions are the silliest, greatest things and I resolve today to be more grateful for the utter brevity of life and for the utter beauty of its imperfection.

I resolve to laugh at chaos even as it wounds.