So, I got a job. An awesome job. That is consuming my life in the best possible way. I am a full time lecturer at a major university, and I teach upper division human development classes and one leadership and ethics class. I get to do all the stuff I like, but way more of the time, for more money, and fabulous benefits. It’s all kind of crazy. I’m almost through my first semester and am planning for spring. I will be back to posting soon, as I’ve felt the need welling up, and I have many things to day. So many things.
I’m co-hosting a meetup at SXSW Interactive on behalf of Pantsuit Republic Texas, who I volunteer with as a digital psychology and content consultant. Lucky me, I get a platinum pass, which means I can go to everything I can get to – music, technology, film, and everything in between. It’s kind of a cross between a conference and a festival on steroids. The last time I went was 2004.
This morning I picked up my badge and hightailed it to the first major speaker – Senator Cory Booker.
I’ve been aware of him for a while, though not as long as I should have been. He’s been an outspoken opponent of legislation and appointments that infringe on human rights. He’s also a straight up mensch.
He started with an impassioned speech about love. He pointed out that tolerance is a lame goal, because we tolerate a cold. Loving our country, loving the children of others, loving those with whom we disagree is the path to healing.
He told a story about an activist who he worked with in the projects of Newark. An older black man who lived in poverty, but was totally present for the people he was trying to help. He was a mentor for Booker. Booker said that his mentor lost his sight as he aged. When he would visit him in the rest home, he’d say, “Hey, it’s Cory” and his mentor would say, “I see you.” Those words, along with “I love you” were his last words to Booker.
Booker seems incredibly present. He sees all the problems, all the crap going on, but he also sees it in the larger picture of human history and human nature. I found what he said really affirming.
I’ve had a hard time in life at times. I struggle. I’m also crazy privileged, which can lead to guilt over not doing enough. But something in what he said affirmed my stubborn need to see the glass as half full. No matter how shitty things seem to be, I can usually turn it around to something hopeful. Yes, the internet is a cesspool, but I found a way to study the cesspool and find evidence that people are not as broken as they seem. I’m attracted to learning about the way people grow from breaking, rather than why they break and how to fix them.
The other thing Booker said that I found inspiring was in answer to a question I posed (we could pose questions online through an app and then he read them on a teleprompter or something). I asked how to turn digital activism into real world activism. And instead of talking about calling senators and marching, he talked about community service. It really struck me. I feel like I’m not doing enough as an activist, which is partially from the knowledge that what I do won’t stem the tide right now. But I know from my teaching that I can make a huge difference in one person’s life, and that’s real.
So how can I take those skills and use them more in the community? What can I do that is small and simple and makes a real difference in a person‘s life instead of worrying about the big political picture? Not that political activism isn’t important, but Booker doesn’t see a difference between political activism and community service. He’s got a point.
So if you read my blog or know me at all, you know I spent the last couple years doing academic research on aggression on these here interwebs. I eventually chose to look at my data from a psychological (psychodynamic) perspective, wherein I examined the potential motivations for peeps to engage in said aggression. This proved enlightening, as it underscored what psychodynamic theorists (Freud, Jung, Vaillant, among others) have been saying for over a century: everybody has issues.
Rather than trying to decide the validity of anyone’s arguments, instead I looked for cues (clues) about what kind of stuff was going on unconsciously. The use of sarcasm, for example, demonstrates the writer’s tendency toward middling defenses like displacement or isolation. Name calling and violent language are less mature, most often indicating projection or in more extreme cases, acting out.
So why am I talking about this? Shouldn’t I be working on my book or something?
I have a confession. I originally planned to concentrate on online aggression among women, and use a Jungian Feminist framework. But I was so very put off by the rigidity of the feminist perspective in the Academy. Like for reals.
It’s hard to sort out. It’s been hard for a while. I started acquainting myself with mainstream-ish tomes of feminism like The Beauty Myth, The Chalice and the Blade, Women who Run with Wolves, and The Feminine Mystique before I started my PhD. I excitedly signed up for a Feminist Theory class my first semester. And then backed away slowly.
Part of this was because I’d never been asked to think about my privilege before. Like ever. I now consider this kind of pathetic and sad on the part of my previous 3 degree-schools, especially the one where I got a master of Leadership and Ethics. The fuck didn’t we talk about Marx and structural inequality? Why didn’t we read Gareth Morgan at the very least? In retrospect, I feel like the whole ethics thing was watered way down.
I digress. Anyway, it’s painful and confusing to face one’s own privilege. Especially when one’s professor refuses to let anyone in the class of diverse women who are less aware of the basics of feminism than I (and I am woefully ignorant of anything beyond pop-feminism at that point), talk to each other and relate on an interpersonal level. Because The Man.
So it turns out my prof was a real-life Radical Feminist From The 70s ™ and REALLY really didn’t want anybody having feelings or sharing or any of that shit. Because THE MAN. It was kind of like being a beginning initiate into a religion and having someone tell us we weren’t real Christians/Muslims/Jews unless we believed the most rigid, dogmatic version and didn’t question or discuss anything. It kind of sucked.
But, on the other hand, I was beginning the lifelong process (at 42) of confronting my ample privilege and recognizing that (a) that didn’t mean I was incapable of deep suffering and (b) there are certain types of shit I will NEVER face that many other people do daily, because structural inequality. Stressful and humbling, but necessary. Said teacher’s approach to presenting this information? Unhelpful, cryptic, and censoring.
Eventually, I wove the parts I grokked in with my self-concept because I gave up on the idea of perfection or being “finished” with growth. Especially as I progressed through my PhD and became more embedded in the developmental perspective which is: We develop. Forever. Then we die.
Also, teaching brought with it many difficult but enlightening lessons about my blindness to the views and experiences of others. I’ve learned to welcome them, as much as I dread fucking up and none of my students telling me that it’s really time for me to pull my foot out of my mouth.
Okay, so the nowadays.
The nowadays is full of crazy. The Rad Fems (who I find less and less rad) are policing the language of Fucking Everybody. Fucking Steve Martin (not known for his feminism anyway) gets drummed off Twitter for saying that Carrie Fischer was pretty to him before he knew her as the badass she was. Horror.
This then leads to the anti-fems saying “I fucking told you so all feminists are the suck!!?!!”
This is not unlike some of the interactions I’ve watched/participated in recently as I’ve tried to get involved in progressive activism. “I have this opinion about this thing.” “Your opinion is ignorant/hurtful/stupid.” ALL BRAINS EXPLODE.
I find myself trying to moderate, calm people down, and mostly failing. People are scared. They’re on the defensive. They’re traumatized. They’re extending the trauma by bringing it online, the perfect place to get further traumatized by some random person who just does that.
So how do I make sense of all this crazy? How can I help the causes of civility, civil rights, open communication, the defense of the constitution, and other little things like that?
Well, I think I need to retreat back to my comfy place of the intrapsychic (psychological) perspective for a bit. Bear with me.
Academics and others often break the human experience into three levels:
- Structural/Social/Macro – Society and its rules and norms.
- Interpersonal/Relational/Meso – Relationships between people.
- Intrapsychic/Psychological/Micro – Our internal worlds.
Here’s where I think we are screwing up.
On the structural level, as a hyper educated upper middle class white lady, I need to listen to the experiences of people who face far more discrimination, bigotry, and oppression than I ever have or will. I need to understand that I cannot walk in their shoes, and pretending that I can is delusional. I also (and this is the really tough bit) need to recognize my collusion with the forces of oppression if I am not actively fighting them. Ouch. That part is hard and sometimes makes me feel ashamed or guilty. It also motivates me to grow and contribute to positive change.
On the interpersonal level, I have relationships with lots of people who have many different experiences. My black friends may be relatively privileged; some of my white friends may come from deep poverty. My gay friends may have a great deal of social status or very little. We relate based on shared experiences, interests, etc. Each relationship is unique; we make up the rules as we go along. The structural stuff may have a lot of impact on the quality and depth of our relationships, or very little. For example, my skinny friends may say stupid shit about their diets, or complain about feeling fat in front of a fat person; I decide whether I want to give them information about oppression of different body types, or just let it go.Ultimately, it’s between us how we navigate this stuff in the context of our relationships. I believe that in some relationships ignoring these kinds of things will erode existing intimacy; in others it’s not that important.
On the intrapsychic level, we are all the fucking same. We have the same range of emotions. We have the same fears and hopes. We fear death, loss, sickness. We desire love, safety, connection. Culture has some effect on what we value and how much, but our basic psychological material is the same. Structural inequality and privilege affects the kinds of trauma that might be primary in our lives–or not. It depends. I think the main thing that comes from oppression is a lack of safety, but it’s not unique to structural inequality. It can come from a history of mental illness (also a form of inequality in cultures that don’t treat it like ours), or a loss of fortune, or a contentious divorce. Each person’s deepest, darkest fears are their own, no matter how they measure up to anyone else’s.
So here’s where I think stuff goes haywire. Here are some terms that have been thrown around historically and lately on the internet:
“angry black man”
What do these phrases have in common? They all reference emotion. Emotion is not structural. It’s not even interpersonal, really. We trigger emotion in others – we don’t cause it. Emotion is intrapsychic. Freud imagined emotion coming from the viscera – literally from the guts. Emotion cannot be interrogated like privilege. It can’t be controlled by others (much as many would prefer it that way). Emotion lives in our bodies and must be processed through the body and the mind.
We can’t process this stuff structurally. Not really. Yes – recognizing the social systems that allow certain kinds of behavior by certain people but not others is super important. But it doesn’t heal. And the thing that really worries me is the amount of shaming I see people doing to each other online. Not because the targets will suffer forever, but because it’s just another way of avoiding feelings and by extension, relationship. Feelings are not structural. Structures may inform what feelings we cling to or avoid, but that’s it. At the core, like I said, it’s the same set of basic human emotions. The end.
So if I use the language of social justice to shame someone for being angry, or sad, or fearful, am I educating them? Am I helping my cause? Prolly not.
I tend to think about this in terms of parenting. There are certain times when I can’t avoid hurting my kid’s feelings. She needs to know if she does something destructive. And her wails of “You hurt my feelings!” don’t fall on deaf ears, but I don’t back away. On the other hand, if I’m angry, tired, sad, or otherwise freaked out and I yell at her or say something hurtful, that’s on me. Even if she did something annoying, I’m responsible for responding disproportionately. She needs to know that I’m fallible, and that I’m not too attached to my authority to admit when I’m wrong. She needs to know that I wasn’t coming from a loving place, and that I’m sorry.
So when another professor explained structural inequality to me in a way that, while compassionate, still made me feel uncomfortable and guilty–that was okay. I needed to sit in that place for a while. She was coming from a good place, not a destructive one.
But as I watch these clusterfucks play out online, I see a lot of traumatized people using the language of social justice to beat other people over the head. (And just FYI, it’s not relegated by privilege. It’s equal opportunity verbal abuse.) And that just seems self-gratifying and defensive to me. It comes out as sarcasm, ridicule, name calling, and verbal attacks. In fact, it shows the same kind of immaturity and general projection as the conservatives who are parading their victory over progressives as if they won a football match. If I was doing research on this stuff, it would all end up in the massive data dumping ground of projection and displacement. And while those are human behaviors, they are not righteous, they are not generative, and they are not, above all, compassionate.
Compassion can’t happen when we’re acting out of our lizard brains/hindbrains/Id. Compassion only happens when we can face our own fears, anger, and shames, and then open up to other people and see them as sharing the same human strengths and faults.
If we try to battle our feelings out based on structural high ground, we won’t move.
Early in my relationship with my now husband, I read Men are From Mars etc. etc. It’s not a lengthy or particularly deep tome. But I got something profound out of it nonetheless. Whether it’s gender, or background, or culture, we’re are often very different from our partners. It behooves us to learn to communicate with them in ways they understand. I distilled it down to one question, that I think applies to the current discussion:
“Do you want to be right, or do you want to have a positive outcome?”
Because for reals. Which will it be?
A whole lotta stuff has happened since the last time I blogged. Here’s a short list:
- I finished my PhD! Woo! (I don’t get the title for a few months, but done, bitches!)
- Trump won the election.
- One of my best friends from Conservatory died.
- I decided to start a consulting business.
- Family emergency
- Had a graduation party
- Health junk involving a round of steroids. Blah.
On their own, any one of these things would cause some major turmoil in my life. All together – I’m surprised my brains aren’t leaking out of my ears.
The election knocked me on my ass. It was less than a week before my defense. Like many others, I was filled with shock, terror, and confusion that we elected a narcissistic, xenophobic, utterly unqualified racist to one of the most powerful positions in the world. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck. I had celebrated the election for the historic nomination of a female candidate and spent a lot of time on Pantsuit Nation reading the stories of people also celebrating. Then the celebrating was over. I’m going to have a lot more to say about it in future posts, so I’ll leave it there.
Finishing the PhD
Finishing my PhD was GLORIOUS. The last 3.5 years have been grueling. It felt like I put on this backpack. It had a few rocks in it. Every semester, more rocks. Dissertation? ALL THE ROCKS. I have so much more energy/brainpower/resilience now than I had three weeks ago. The constant gnawing away of my self-esteem and confidence is gone. Glory be. With it, goes the intense level of paranoia I had about being able to make something of myself (and enough money to make my student loan payments) after graduation. Still nervous, but not hopeless.
A dear friend who had moved overseas died from complications due to cancer. Death sucks. I can never fully grasp it. I can only say that it leaves a gaping hole in my heart where the cold wind gets in. She was beloved by many and there was no one like her.
Starting a business
So this is super scary for me. In the aftermath of the election my existing plan (pick up more adjunct work, work on getting a full time position at the community college which would be flooded with funding after Hillary was elected) didn’t really look viable any more. But in the aftermath, issues of hate speech and cyberbullying are very urgent and I realized that I have tangible skills and knowledge that can help with policy building around aggressive speech for schools, government, and corporations with social media components. Now I just have to get past my fear and come up with a short term and long term plan. Yikes. I will continue to teach and look for teaching work, but I believe getting my hands into the policy muck is more important right now for our society. Good experience will make it easier for me to find good teaching work as well.
I have some initially volunteer stuff in the works that I think will become crucial to shaping my career trajectory. It’s at the nexus of political activism, online community, and developing language to help heal historical divisions that have derailed social-political movements in the past. This is BIG stuff. I hope I can make a difference.
My dad had a minor heart attack and a major surgery (quad bypass). This is the closest I’ve come to losing a parent and it was pretty crazy. I’m grateful he’s recovering well, and trying to be supportive from my perch in Austin.
I probably blogged about this before, but I have low level chronic asthma that balloons into major events when certain pollens are around or I get a virus. I had to have my first steroid shot in over six months the day before my Dad’s surgery. So adding a giant dose of stimulants to my adrenaline rush was extra fun. I slept about 5 hours in two days.
This was a nice house party just to say hi to all the people I’ve blown off for three years and to thank the ones that have helped me get through. I was high on sleep deprivation, steroids, and adrenaline. It was fun, but for the mentioned reasons, surreal. Great to see my people, though.
So yeah, roller coaster much? Lil’ bit. Now I’m crashing from the steroids, but starting to sleep more. Still not really centered enough to do some of the healing work I need to process the trauma. But very excited about the work I’m starting to engage in. Also excited for the holidays, and for our trip to California in Jan for graduation and Disneyland.
Hold your love ones close. Don’t take the times of peace for granted. That’s what I learned from the last 30 days.
This year had been a gradual stripping away of the things that keep my identity intact. Of the things that keep me stable. My health. Most of my social life. Hobbies and interests outside blatant escapism (PokemonGo). Cooking. Dancing. Eating regularly or with any balance. Sleep. Exercise. Yoga. Money. To a great degree, happiness.
The process of trying to birth this damned document has stripped my resilience, my energy, and what flexibility I originally possessed. The extremes of feeling are exhausting. It feels now like when I was at the bitter end of a long relationship, my health failing from the prolonged stress, and I somehow had to find the strength to pick up and leave in order to save my own life.
Funny thing – I like my dissertation. I think it’s actually pretty great.
This time I don’t want to walk away. I want to come out the other side. But every setback crushes me harder. I feel as if my personality has been reduced its best and worst aspects. The rest is dust.
I’m super sensitive. I take things personally -even more than usual. But I am tenacious as fuck. I have a core of rage that screams NO. NOT THIS TIME. I am deeply insecure, yet I know without a doubt that I have something of value to contribute as a teacher and researcher, and I just want to fucking get on with it. I cry all the time. Nothing bounces off me anymore.
FYI, this is not a great state to be in while sorting through critical feedback of my first in depth research study.
Teaching is my calling. Other than loving and being loved by my husband and daughter, nothing makes me more fulfilled than creating a learning environment and watching my students grow. I even love my failures as a teacher, because they mean I can get better.
I think differently and I usually have the courage to build new things from my thoughts. This is the point of academia, contrary to much of what is demonstrated therein.
But every time I think I’ve turned the corner, something else lays me flat. I’ve survived months of chronic asthma and steroid withdrawal, crippling anxiety and depression, a painful and terrifying breast biopsy, and the reduction of my life to this pinpoint of pain that I keep thinking is almost over, and then isn’t. If it wasn’t for the mundane reality of parenthood, I’d be in deep trouble by now. You can get Adderall on the street, but you can’t fuck with that shit when you have a kid. The worst I can do is drink too much coffee and then feel like an ass for being jittery and grouchy.
I submitted my proposal in mid January, and expected to be finished months ago. Now I’m looking down the barrel of another semester if my committee doesn’t let me through, which means I’m looking at either being ABD after 3.5 years of busting my ass, or burying my family under more debt than we can take on (and I’m already responsible for far more than half our debt because of my schooling).
This semester my students told me, in class, how I’d changed their lives and how unique I was as a teacher. It was a flash of light in this darkness. Ironically, my raw state allowed their love and appreciate to penetrate. I didn’t have any energy left to resist.
I am thankful for having a family I love enough to hang on to some of my health and sanity for.
The one thing I am grateful for out of the batshit insanity that has been this process is humility. Humility makes me a better teacher and a better person. I am less quick to judge others, or at least to believe in my judgements. I look for people’s truth instead of the reasons why they’re wrong and I’m right. I being to realize the depths of how bad things can suck, and how much more they might be sucking for someone else, and that makes me less judgy and dismissive.
I appreciate small kindnesses. Austin is full of these. In the midst of this freakshow election, I love my city more than ever.
I keep imagining what it will be like when this is over, and then something else happens that makes it seem like it will be ripped from me, along with the 100k or so I paid to get here. No bueno.
Think kind hopeful thoughts for me. I need all I can get.
Pokemon Go. It has consumed my every waking hour. Well, the ones that aren’t spent feeding people, on hygene, playing other video games, working on my dissertation, and eating pancakes. I love pancakes.
And look! It’s not password protected! My dissertation is coming along apace. I hope it continues to do so. So many variables, but I have written all the chapters and now have to do a bunch of editing, smooshing together of sections, APA fixing, and appendixes and such. Still, written! Woo!
So, Pokemon Go. First I downloaded it because I was curious and another friend had just started. Then I got super obsessed. Then I joined the Facebook Groups for Austin and found out how obsessed one could truly be (in the absence of kids who prevent you from abandoning them around midnight to troll for pokes at the Texas capitol which is THE BOMB for pokemon go. Ahem.)
Several of my mom-friends are obsessed as well. Oddly, less dudes, though some of them (my husband) are getting into it. My daughter even got her grandfather addicted.
So “addicted” implies negative stuff. And there are plenty of risks, as corporate news has already exploited. Obsession, car accidents, walking off cliffs, blah blah blah. I’m going to explore it from a first person phenomenological (what I experience it as) perspective.
- Obsession. Like any online interest, it can make me a little jumpy and neurotic. Too much time spent projecting my consciousness into cyberspace has a tendency to feed on itself. Once I get into the cycle, I have a hard time getting out. I have a particular problem with this in the evening when I should be winding down. Luckily there’s not much pokemon activity in my neighborhood, so I don’t spend much time with it after dark.
- Flip side – My husband has been riding his bike all over the neighborhood and has gotten significantly fitter. I don’t ride bikes, but I’ve been doing a lot more walking. Carrot; meet stick. (in the form of fictional critters made of ones and zeros. Weird.)
- Lowering of inhibitions. Yes, I surreptitiously load up on pokeballs at pokestopsin my car, if traffic isn’t too fast (never on the highway) or the road is empty. I usually pull over if I need to catch some rare poke critter. I predict that cops all over the country are going to figure this out very soon and start issuing tons of (probably well-deserved) tickets for people fiddling with their phones while driving. The hands free laws in Texas are less enforced than elsewhere, but I doubt municipalities will resist this potential cash cow.
- The flip side of lowered inhibitions: I HATE being outside in the summer. H A T E . It’s so flipping hot, bright, and humid. Bugs. Mosquitoes. Ants that bite. This August, we got tons of rain, so the temps are about 10-15 degrees lower than usual. I’ve spent a ton of time doing stuff outside alone, with the husband, with the kid, or with friends that involve me moving around, sweating, and not really caring because I’m having fun.
- Acquisitiveness. While I’m no neurologist, I know that my brain likes it when I buy, am gifted, or find stuff. In the short term, new stuff=happy. Pokemon Go allows you to “win”, find, and buy stuff which can build into more stuff. It really gets to that wanty place in the brain. Is this good or bad? As always, it depends. If it gets me and my family out of our rut and out and about doing new things (which it has), I’m going to put this on the positive side. However:
- Flip side – you can make in app purchases. It is very easy to rationalize using hard cash to buy fake money to buy fake stuff. I fell into this trap in another game and after I came to my senses, I vowed that I would not do any more wanty in-app purchases. (Only the ones that add functionality to a utility type app, and only then with some serious consideration.) It’s essentially gambling, in the sense that you spend some money on items like lures or incense (short term things that attract extra pokemon to your location), and you may or may not get any pokemon of “value” out of it. Other purchases can speed up your rate of egg hatching-the only way to get out-of-region critters. So this is potentially and endless suckhole for money if you have a hard time controlling those impulses. Beware.
- Relational stuff. Yes, you can become sucked in and ignore your relationships blah blah blah. While I have been known to snap at my kid for not catching all the pokestops while I’m driving (whoops), in general this has created some new friendships for me and some new activities for my family. It’s pretty fun to have something we’re all interested in. My husband and I have very different interests, and the ones we have in common (sci fi and superhero movies, innovative restaurants for example) aren’t age appropriate or interesting for the kid. So we’ve been doing way more stuff as a family, which I call a win. I have a couple of friendships that were more casual that have moved on to the “hanging out together” phase because of the game. We’ve also started to solidify some family friendships in the same way.
- Health. I’ve mostly covered this, but from a personal standpoint, being outside is really good for my body and my psyche. I was cooped up inside for most of the spring, because pollen counts were high and I was plagued with chronic asthma. Every time I would spend a few hours outside doing something fun, it would get worse. It sucked. In spite of being in the midst of the shitshow that is the end of the dissertation process, I’m feeling more energetic and balanced. My husband, who needs to keep his weight low to keep pressure off one messed up and one fake hip, has lost 15 pounds from tooling around on his bike at all hours. The kid is mega-stressed from the first few weeks of school, but dragging her around to pokemon-heavy parks has really helped her unwind. My social life has expanded. I’m going to go with WIN.
So there you have it. My experience of Pokemon Go, while fraught with the usual risks of video game play (minus the social media trolling and sedentary effects), has been pretty fun and generally good for my overall mental and physical health. The media, as usual, is painting as entirely binary. It’s not. Nothing is. But if you decide to start playing, let me know. The next release is supposed to include trading!