Since the beginning of a new year seems as good a time as any to look back at the past 365 days and forward at the next 365, I thought I’d pop up and say some things.
2011 was a very peculiar year, full of growing pains. My graduate program has been more or less dismantled, which I have been reluctant to go into much here. I finished the spring semester excited for the summer and the following year of learning, but by mid-summer I knew that at least in the fall I would not be in classes and as of a few weeks ago, I am done with that school for good. One year of an MA under my belt and I am bitter. I was supposed to be done with my masters by this summer and instead I’ll have no degree and very few transferrable credits, and I haven’t applied to other programs yet because I loved that one so much and have no idea where I will find another one like it. So in the meantime, I’m working, trying to figure out where I’m going, what the fuck I’m doing, what matters to me. So the year began with direction, purpose, energy, excitement, momentum. And ended, here, with a grinding halt and a giant question mark.
2011 was the year of moving to Oakland, which ML and I decided to do before I found out that grad school was up in the air but which I ended up being very glad of, given that rent at our new place is $700/month less combined. And we have a house! With a yard! And wild blackberries and lemon trees, and I have a hammock and spent many fall afternoons reading in the hammock drinking lemonade. We also have a roommate (a friend of ours from before) who is pretty much my favorite person ever and I actually really like living with a roommate again. And we have a cat, Gilda, who owns all of us, and who knows to sit to get a treat. ML is trying to train her to take to a leash. So far, she’s having none of it.
2011 has been a year of a lot of personal and emotional upheaval, which has been both painful and broadening. I’m trying, probably unsuccessfully, to tow a line between taking risks and making a giant mess, and I think I’ve crossed that line in unfortunate ways at times this year. Maybe, eventually, I will go into some of these things here.
In 2011 I deepened friendships that are so meaningful to me in so many ways, and I watched one friendship between close friends crumble and am still grieving that, especially as I feel in some ways in the middle and don’t know how to support them and also give myself space to be angry at both of them and sad. In 2011 I grew apart from my parents but closer to my siblings and especially my sister who, despite being mystifyingly different from me also, still, can finish my sentences. We now live in the same state!
I came out to my grandparents this year, in the middle of everything else, and sobbed for three straight hours when my grandpa hung up on me. Not that that response was a surprise, but that there was so much of all of this other stuff stagnant inside me and unable to surface emotionally, and that when I started crying about grandpa hanging up on me it turned into crying about everything all at once and altogether. Then I brought ML to Thanksgiving with them, and with my mother and and my aunt and uncle and (gay, but not yet out) cousin and my sister and her boyfriend. And three days later my grandpa called me and told me, awkwardly and hesitantly, that ML sparkles and that he will consider her in our family. And I was like, wow, that was it? Like eight years of agonizing over this and he tells me she sparkles? I should’ve done it a lot sooner.
2011 was a year of deepening politicization and although this hasn’t been a space where I’ve really talked much about politics, current affairs, and theory much, I’m wondering whether that will change this coming year as all of those things are more present for me than they’ve been before as things I’m constantly wanting to think about, talk about, process. It was also a year in which that politicization has changed me personally, changed my sense of self and my sense of possibility in the world, and that feels exciting and that regardless of my grad program no longer existing, that energy is still simmering and I am running with it still.
Things look a lot different from this end of 2011 than from the front end. Maybe I won’t even bother trying to look forward; maybe I’ll just take this next year little by little.
I can’t believe I didn’t post at all in April – at all! I thought I was on such a roll at the end of March; then, classes resumed after spring break, and here I am now – it’s the last week of class, I’m sick in bed for the third time this semester, and I am utterly overwhelmed. But also okay. I’m okay.
J, C, ML and I have all hooked up a bunch more times since the initial time back in February (that post is password-protected; just email me for the password!). It’s been awesome and lovely. We’re cooling it for a bit now; largely because J and C are going to be in New York all summer but also because we all want to focus a bit on our primary relationships. Also, another classmate of mine, K, is someone that ML and I are both excited about and for different reasons than J and C. I’ll write more about her in the future, I’m sure, because I hope something will come of it. She’s smart and open and sexy and curious and really mindful. She lives way outside the city now, but is probably moving into SF this summer so hopefully there will be more time to spend with her.
Speaking of moving, ML and I may be moving into Oakland this summer. We wouldn’t have come up with that on our own; the short version of the story is that a friend of ours lives in a 3-bedroom house in Temescal and his two roommates are moving out at the end of July. It would be $1000 for both me and ML for the two bedrooms. I.e., $500 each. For a house, with a yard, and two bedrooms, and a living room/dining room/kitchen, our own bathroom… two blocks from BART… And did I mention $500 each? That is an absurdly good deal. So we’re seriously considering it. It would mean living with a roommate, which would be different for us and I’m not sure I’m that excited about that. So we need to have conversations with him to see what his living habits are, etc. I do know that he spends about half his time at his boyfriend’s place anyway, so there’s that.
Another reason why this would be a prudent move is that we are getting a kitten!!! Our current place is tiny and has no easy access to safe outdoors for a cat. A house with a yard would be a much better situation. The kitten we’ll be getting is one of a litter of 4 that our friend’s cat gave birth to on April 15th. We’ll get to take it home with us in mid-June. We haven’t actually identified yet which one we’ll take home with us; we figure we should get to know all of them a bit better through frequent visits and sooner or later we’ll figure out which one we have the best relationship with (or which one seems the best behaved!). This semester has been rough for me in many ways and one night, when I couldn’t stop crying, angry about the world because of street harassment (which will be another post…), ML said, “I know what you need… kitten videos!” and for half an hour we watched kitten videos on youtube and it really did make me feel so much better. I’m looking forward to having something to love like that, something so removed from the hard stuff in the world, something to care for uncomplexly.
I’ve been sitting here for a bit trying to figure out how to write about the things that are on my mind: my summer practicum, drama in my grad school program that I’ve somehow been swept into, gender identity and street harassment, showing up. Showing up especially. This semester has brought up a lot for me and sometimes showing up is all I can manage and sometimes I can’t even manage that, such as the several times I’ve gotten sick. It’s like years worth of pent-up rage and sadness and internalized sexism are oozing out of me out of my control, infecting me with their toxicity. Right now I’m tired, too tired to write about this in depth. But perhaps classes ending will be a chance for me to catch my breath; maybe seeing the kittens again this week will boost me up.
In the meantime, I need to go make myself cayenne and garlic soup to try to kick what seems like a nasty sinus infection. Any other non-medical sinus cleansing tips…?
Well hello there. It seems like I’m beginning every new post in the past few months with some iteration of “it’s been a while.” It has been a while. Schmeesus. Grad school is kicking my heiny. In the best possible way. Also I have two friends visiting from Germany for three weeks. Four people in our tiny little apartment is a bit, um, crowded. And have I mentioned that grad school is a lot of work? It’s a lot. Of work.
This semester I have to decide what I where I want to focus my research, and it’s daunting. My professor last week posed some guiding questions for us to figure out what directions we might go in: “What is difficult for you? What are your histories, your legacies, your family’s histories and legacies? What excites you? What work will make you feel beautiful?” For me, all of those questions have many potential answers, and the answers to all those questions aren’t necessarily coinciding. So I’m mulling over a lot.
I met with the professor individually on Saturday because she noticed, I guess, that I was having a hard time in class with those questions. Not that we were being called on to answer them right away or out loud, but nonetheless I was struggling and she is so intuitive that she noticed. And asked to meet with me. And when we met we spoke about my struggles around identifying where I want to do my life’s work because on the one hand, there are the things that are incredibly personal for me, that come up for me in major ways, that I know I could throw myself into 100% — anti-sexual-violence work being a main one, obviously, and queer/gender identity stuff being another. But I don’t want these things to have to necessarily define my life; I want to be allowed to be excited about other things too; I just struggle with this feeling somehow of betraying myself and also with a fear of stepping into an unknown. When I do work around rape and around gender and around queerness, I can do it boldly because I’m working and speaking as myself, on behalf of myself. On the other hand I would like to cultivate an ability to do other work boldly too, to have faith in my ability to be critical of and participate in the world in ways that do not have to rely on my personal experience as some sort of “expertise.” I want to take risks. So when I met with my professor and talked about all of that, shared some of my life and experiences and struggles, she invited me to think of work that I’m excited about not as a betrayal of my life and struggles but as a way of carrying myself into whatever work I do do. I do not have to leave myself at the doorstep.
So carrying all of this around in my mind, I see a world of possibility.
Mostly for myself (but also in case any of you are vicariously interested in what I might be studying and researching and living the next while), I want to write up some of my excitements. Right now it’s all boiling in my brain, utter chaos, and I want to see it out in front of me. So, here are some of the things I’m feeling excited about:
- How are people in various ways self-reflexive about their genders? Not so much in terms of how they perform gender, but in how they inhabit it. How do people situate themselves in gendered ways in the world? What are their struggles around it? As a femme, for example, if I were my own research subject: how do I make decisions about presenting myself to the world? What do I think about and consider, what do I not think about or consider about my gender? What compels me to femininity? What has been my process of identifying with femininity, or not? How do I understand my gender? What feels exciting/comfortable/scary/uneasy/ambiguous/etc. to me about it? How do I understand my relations to other gendered beings? How is my reflexivity about gender tied (or not) to my understanding of my sexuality? How open am I about my gender, (how) does it shift? Are there ways I feel constricted or confined by my gender, and if so what are they? What is hard about my gender, and how do people react to it? These and more questions… and not just questions of myself, but of others.
- What are ways in which queer politics can be stretched and expanded in exciting ways to form new alliances? I’m thinking about, for example, ways in which queers make families push against heteronormative family models, and ways also in which people of color resist white/heteronormative family models as well. What opportunities exist there for alliance, for together re-defining for society what “family” is and how “family” can and should be protected and understood. This, to me, is more meaningful than a fight for marriage, which I see as one way for queers to form family, but not by a long shot the only way. This isn’t to say I disagree with the marriage equality struggle–I think it is hugely important in many ways–but I am more excited by ways of thinking beyond that in ways that also make room for alliance in struggle. Another example of my thinking around this: ways in which queers and folks of color, especially immigrants (and also keeping in mind that those two loose categories are by no means mutually exclusive) are both targets of nationalist rhetoric and politics in the US: we’re dangerous, a threat to national security, “Other.” And look what’s happening in schools — inclusion of curricula that address our curricula are being threatened, excluded, targeted as dangerous. This is not at all to say that our struggles are the same or to compare them in any quantitative or qualitative way, but rather to point out spaces for possible alliance, ones that I am excited by.
- I’m stirred, for obvious reasons, by issues surrounding sexual vi0lence. What would it mean for targets of sexual violence, including cis and trans women, children, elderly, homeless, sex workers, etc. to be able to find empowerment? How can sexual violence education be targeted towards potential perpetrators rather than towards potential victims? (And I don’t mean specifically men but rather, turning the lens of education away from “ways to avoid being raped” and more towards “ways to have justice and cultivate a society free of sexual violence, and ways for folks to be aware of and accountable for their actions and ways of moving through the world.”)
- Moving away now from the stuff around my personal legacies now… I’m interested in Islamophobia and ways in which the West v. Islam bifurcation is harmful to our freedom and justice in the US. Specifically I’m really interested in going to Germany to study this — I think many Western European countries are much more clear-cut case studies of the rise of anti-Islam sentiment in the world. Germany is an interesting case on its own: it has a long history of Turkish migrant workers in the country, many of whom after several generations still do not have citizenship. Turkey, too, is a place with its own West/Islam struggle — Istanbul seeing itself as more “modern” and European in many ways and then eastern Turkey aligning itself more closely with “tradition” and the Middle East (these are gross over-generalizations to be sure). So Germany’s relationship with Turkey is quite illustrative of global trends. In addition, Germany has its awful history of anti-Semitism, which I think in much of the West informs our relationship with Islam in that we are paralyzed by guilt and feel the need to be unreflexively allied with Israel. And, Germany (and Berlin especially, which is where I would want to do my research) itself has the fascinating history of being divided in two after WWII, being split between (capitalist) West and (communist) East. This is not the same split, obviously, as the West/Islam split, but I think it still does strongly inform Germany’s conception of itself with and in the world. There is so much material here. And I would love to be able to go back to Germany and continue fostering my relationship with it.
- At the end of last semester, I wrote a paper about multi-national tourist corporations and the post-tsunami (the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, that is) reconstruction efforts in specifically Sri Lanka; how tourist corporations, US aid agencies, and Sri Lankan government leaders saw the tsunami reconstruction less as a project to re-build what was lost and more as a project to capitalize on coastal land freed of inhabitants by the waves. So (again, an over-simplified narrative, but still one that holds truth) reconstruction of homes and small businesses was forbidden along much of the damaged coast, and a green light was given to large-scale tourist operations to move in. The idea was that this would stimulate the national economy and provide jobs, but what of people’s homes? What of their autonomous fishing livelihoods? Are those really so easily replaced by jobs as concierges in luxury hotels? The lack of consultation with the tsunami-affected themselves is astonishing, and I was appalled that the money I donated back then was likely not used in ways I would have supported. This paper excited me, motivated me, angered me. And so I’ve developed a strong interest in multi-national corporations and politics of “Third World” development. How can we do “development” work ensuring that people’s lives are prioritized, accounted for, heard, respected, and also ensuring that global nations are growing sustainably and without perpetuating reliance on (and indebtedness to) the US, Europe, Japan?
These are just some of what my mind is busy with these days. Perhaps more to come. What are your thoughts about this? What excites you?
I will continue to write when I can. Miss you all greatly, and much much love.
Gulp, it’s already the middle of January… whooops. Classes start on Tuesday, and I’ve been working and catching up with various friends the past week and a half since getting back from the east coast. Also trying to get in a lot of pleasure reading, since my books for this semester have started tumbling in and it’s veeeery clear to me that I will not have any time to read things of my own choosing this semester! So. Many. Books. ANyway, last year at the beginning of January I did a sort of year-in-review and some intentions for the coming year, and I decided to revisit that this year and see where I was last year, whether I did the things I’d been planning to do, and then look ahead to this coming year.
From last year’s post:
[I]n 2010, I hope to:
- continue to fall in love and deepen my relationship with ML. I’m looking forward to more great sex, more power play, even better communication as we learn each other through and through and more and more, mini-retreats (that hopefully won’t be too expensive), accompanying her to her sister’s wedding where she’ll be outing herself to all of her extended family and family friends, and maybe even moving in together (!) (but we’ll wait to see what my grad school plans are before we really talk about that seriously).
Well, I certainly had a functioning crystal ball on this one; this has all happened, and more! We’ve really fallen in cozy with each other, in a good way — we have had very few big fights this year, and the fighting has gotten easier as lurking questions like “will she leave me over this?” have faded away. While the frequency of our sex has decreased somewhat, it’s still great, and we did do some interesting work with power play this year. Mini-retreats… we went on a few I think? We went to Palm Springs in March for her birthday, and to Cazadero for Thanksgiving… That might be it. But two per year might be enough given our busy lives. Her sister’s wedding in August was lovely if also somewhat challenging, and I felt a bond with her through and after that that I describe in that post. AND, we moved in together! At the beginning of June. So we’ve been living together now for seven+ months and it’s fantastic. We both have such busy independent lives but we almost always manage to end the day together, in bed, with a bit of time before we have to go to sleep.
- start graduate school (speaking of).
And ever! I started the MA degree program in anthropology at CIIS here in San Francisco, and it’s got to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. I fucking love it. I can’t wait for classes to start next week (even if it does mean less time for pleasure reading…).
- leave my job (which should be concurrent with grad school, but in case I don’t get into any of the programs I’m hoping to enroll in, I STILL would like to leave my job).
Yup, I left my job at the end of May, and continued to work somewhat part-time during the summer but with very flexible hours. The summer was nice, I had a lot of time to cook and plan and read and think and do fun stuff… but I was also ready for it to be over when it was over. Too much of a good thing :)
- continue to take care of myself and be strong enough to seek help in taking care of myself, from medication and therapy, but also from intellectual, spiritual, and physical mentors, as well as friends and family.
I think that this past year, especially this fall, I have really figured out how to be at my mental and emotional best: be busy with things that I care about. It was really that simple. As soon as I started graduate school, so much of my stress and anxiety and existential ennui and co-dependency tendencies just … started to evaporate. I’m doing my thing, and it feels right.
- come out to my grandparents. There. I said it. I made it a goal.
Uh. Whoops. I forgot that I’d made that an intention this past year. We’ll see if it happens this year. I’d love to make it an intention. Problem is my grandma’s in early stages of Alzheimer’s, and I’m just not sure what coming out to them at this point would accomplish. But it’s a possibility.
- continue to write here and use it as a platform for airing my relationship-, life-, and self-processing, and continue to strengthen my internet bonds.
I did continue to write here, although with less frequency. As I’ve said before, that’s been for lack of time, not lack of motivation. But I’m still here, and I hope to figure out a way to write weekly.
So, you see, I did alright in 2010. As for 2011, I’ve got some intentions for the record as well:
- continue to fully invest myself in graduate school, worrying less about social aspects of it (which totally have been falling into place) and knowing that the more I bring myself fully to the table there, the more things will continue to open up for me. This year I’ll have to figure out a practicum and a research focus, so one of my intentions here is to think that through and carefully weigh my options. And also, I want to start ironing out post-MA plans: Ph.D.? Here, or elsewhere? Work? I’ll be meeting with my academic advisor early this semester to start talking about that.
- continue to prioritize friendships and relationships both in my graduate program and outside of it. I adore my grad school cohort.
- with ML, continue to communicate well, to set aside time to do fun things together, to leave San Francisco every so often for a breath of fresh air, to love her and appreciate her with intention. We also want to continue to grow and expand our sexual life, and though we’re not quite sure yet what that’s going to look like, we’ve got some hopes and intentions: set aside time and boundaries to work more with power play, specifically with figuring out a way for her to push through topping insecurities and me to push through subbing insecurities; push more against boundaries of monogamy/non-monogamy, and play with how we can approach those explorations as a team and make it something fun for both of us; go to sex/play parties and increasingly take our sex life out of just our own private and exclusive domain. Very excited about all of that, and I imagine I will be writing about all of that at times throughout the year.
- travel at least once out of the country. I will have so many opportunities for that this year: my sister is living in Vienna, and wants me to visit this summer and travel to Poland and Croatia with her. One of my best friends is getting married in Paris in August. And another mutual friend of ML’s and mine is getting married in Japan in the fall. Not to mention, I would love to get back to Germany, Berlin specifically, and then there’s always the possibility that my master’s work will take me out of the country too…
I think that’s a pretty good list of intentions for this year. Of course there will be surprises too, and that’s as it should be. But I will just state for the record: I am excited about this year. And I intend to continue to make this space somehow a part of it all.
Happy New Year <3 xoxo AF
PS: I will be doing a pin-up modeling shoot in a few weeks. I’m thinking I might share some photos… :)
I’ve been feeling pretty politicized, lately, which has contributed to my not writing as much here (that, and midterms, obviously). What I mean is, this blog has been, for most of its life, an account of my personal life. My verrrrrry personal life, haha. The main reason for that, I think, is that since this blog began, the stuff in my personal life has been the most interesting stuff going on for me. I was working a job I didn’t care for, hadn’t situated myself squarely in any community in the city (part shyness, part being busy, part general feelings of liminality), and was spending most of my intellectual brainpower, outside of work, on thinking about my relationship and my burgeoning personal identities (primarily femme, but also, in smaller ways, “survivor”, feminist, queer, sex-positive…). Thank God for all of that, and for this blog and all of you, because it enabled my mind to continue to open up and expand when my work life was encouraging it to stay stagnant.
Now that I’m full-time in a graduate program (having lost my part-time work, eep. I really need a new part-time job…), it’s like my mind is blowing up. It’s brilliant, it’s like a re-birth. I’m navigating new relationships with classmates and professors, which is time-consuming and exciting. I’m reading a TON of stuff, mostly assigned, but I’m amazed that the assigned reading is actually motivating me to go out and read non-assigned stuff, both for context (e.g. Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge) and just because it excites me (e.g., Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl, which, GO. READ. I’M SERIOUS.). I’m writing a lot for class. And I’m having a ton of conversations both in and outside of class, about things like what I posted about in my last post (which, don’t worry, I’ll be doing follow-up posts on) and about other things: midterm elections, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Tea Party, local politics. (Y’all, San Francisco just passed the most effed up bit of city legislation: Sit/Lie, a law that will *criminalize* sitting on city sidewalks, for any reason, which is ableist, classist, and a total betrayal of our city’s history and the folks that made SF the “free love” city that it is.)
And I’ve hesitated, I guess, to write about all of that stuff, because it’s not my personal life. It’s not just about my own personal identity anymore, but about my identity in the context of larger social and political forces, and just about those larger social and political forces on their own. I feel a bit strange about starting to use this blog as a sociopolitical soapbox (to be clear: when I talk about social politics, I’m not really talking about partisan politics (except in the context of these midterm elections), but I guess something more like progressive identity politics. I’m just not sure this is the platform for that. But you know what? It’s what’s on my mind, so I guess I’ll just roll with it. We’ll see what happens. And for the record, I love feeling more politicized. The blood in my body feels quicker, I feel more alert, more purposeful, more engaged with the world. I’ve been sharing a lot of stuff on my personal Facebook page, and I think I might start moving some of that to this blog’s Facebook page as well because I want to start having those kinds of conversations over here, too.
In the meantime, life’s pretty good. The weather here is gorgeous. Halloween came and went, and I stayed in all weekend; it was rainy and cold and I wasn’t feeling well anyway. ML is super busy with grad school applications and preparations, but this week we’ve actually managed to have dinner together every night so far, which is very welcome after three weeks of hardly eating together at all. My midterms are over and I’m already swallowed in more reading and beginning to prep for finals. I’m frantically trying to find part-time work but haven’t had any time to put into the search. This week, hopefully. Anybody have any Bay Area progressive connections?
One last thing: Apparently, the Giants won the World Series. I think I was probably the last person in San Francisco to find out. I truly live under a rock in many ways. But guys, the city erupted. It was almost as bad as Massachusetts when the Sox won in 2004. Sports fans!!!
PS: My next post, currently in draft form, is about the consumerization of femininity. It’s been fun to think about and write. I’ll finish it up and post it in the next day or two. Can’t wait to hear feedback…
Midterms, y’all. I forgot what it’s like. I’m coming up for air.
I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately. I’ve been thinking about queer as a politicized identity: what does it mean to me to identify as queer? In what ways is it more than just a sexual orientation and is, in fact, in many respects a way of life? What are ways that I resist heteronormativity in my queerness, other than just by “happening” to be partnered with a woman?
I’ve also been thinking about: femininity, specifically my femininity. (Are you surprised?) What I claim as feminine, what its history is, what it’s a resistance to. How so often the presumption is that femininity is something imposed on women, by men, as if men were actually creative enough to invent femininity from scratch, as if femininity weren’t something that many folks feel inside, and figure out ourselves or as community how to express.
In relation to femininity, I’ve also been thinking about ways that women are constructed consumers in our society, and how there are many ways in which femininities in the US are compulsorily consumerized. How that’s a class issue, because it renders working class/poor women who can’t afford all of femininity’s trappings less feminine, or even un-feminine. I’ve been thinking about the ways in which I participate in this (make-up, shoes, grooming, home-prettifying stuff, kitchen gadgets…) and about how I can be in resistance to this without relinquishing femininity itself, without even necessarily relinquishing make-up, shoes, grooming, etc.
I’ve been thinking about how much “visible” queerness is marked by class, whiteness, gender non-conformity, age, location. And how privileging visible queerness as the only way to be truly “radically” queer renders marginalizes so many folks who live queerness in many multi-faceted ways.
I’ve been thinking about how it’s necessary for transmasculine/masculine-of-center/butch/genderqueer folks and transmen to be allies to ally against misogyny, against the massive trivialization, sexualization, objectification, and derision of femininity. But how it’s also so, so important for cisgendered feminine women to be allies to our gender-”transgressive” partners-in-crime.
I’ve also been thinking about fun stuff: about sex, and ML’s and my forays into Master/sub-type dynamics, which I still really want to write about. About Thanksgiving, and how ML and I are, like last year, going up north a few hours to celebrate together and also to celebrate 2 YEARS together, this time to a little cabin in the woods with a hot tub (what else could we possibly need?). I’m counting down the days… I’m thinking about making pumpkin bread and mulled cider this weekend and having classmates come over for “study group.” I’m thinking about making butternut squash soup tonight for dinner… mmmmm…
So, you see? There’s quite a lot going on in my mind. I’ll be back in short order to turn some of it into something of substance. <3
So, grad school has started. I’d really wanted to do a post about my day trip into the central valley to see my grandpa’s pistachio orchards, but I can’t figure out how to get the pictures off my blackberry and onto my computer. Sadface. As soon as I can figure that out, I’ll post about that, because it was pretty amazing.
So, yeah, grad school. In the span of a week and a half, my life has changed pretty dramatically. Time is such an odd thing; when you’re in a particular timescape, you feel like this is it, this is what life means, it’s all led up to this, for better or for worse. And then something changes, and things shift, and that particular timescape feels so distant and you wonder how that ever felt real. My drop into grad school has been a waBAM kind of shift, and I look back on the summer (and, for that matter, the intervening years since I finished undergrad) and it feels like this weird island-in-the-sky, this floating interlude between something real and something else real. But what does “real” even mean? I guess for me, “real” means that I feel connected to myself — to my interiority as well as my exteriority — in a way I haven’t felt in quite a while.
It’s exciting. And it’s scary.
For the past two years, my relationship with ML has been the single thing outside of my own self that has motivated me the most. I have interests, sure. I love to cook (as y’all know quite well by now). I love writing here. I care deeply about the anti-sexual violence work I’ve been doing. I’ve enjoyed setting up my home with ML and expanding my sense of community in San Francisco. Many things. And yet on a day-to-day basis the thing that’s most occupied me has been my relationship. I love thinking about it, being in it, challenging myself to communicate in more effective ways (or not communicate when it’s really just time to shut up). I like positioning myself in the context of my relationship and in the context of a greater Queer Community, however fictive such a thing might be. I’ve really found resilience in my femininity and femme-ininity, and ML has been an instrumental part of that for me.
And now, in the past week and a half, my mental landscape has re-oriented. This was bound to happen no matter what program I entered, of course. But I think this particular program has hit a nerve in me in a way that undergrad never did (and that’s saying a lot, because I loved my undergraduate experience). I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but already the reading for my classes and my fellow students and the professors have all pushed my thinking to a level I haven’t been at in a while. I can already feel my mind expanding, opening windows, sweeping out old stuff and letting the cross-breeze carry in fresh air. I fucking love this feeling. It’s the feeling of being held accountable for my thinking. And the stuff we’re learning gets to me. Social justice always does. I’m gobbling it up.
What’s scary, though, is that it’s something outside of my relationship that’s driving me in a very real way. I was trying to articulate last night to ML what it was that was making me feel a bit jumpy and anxious lately and that’s really what it is. It’s this fear that being forced/encouraged to grow and expand is going to somehow make me grow and expand away from her. I know that’s probably unfounded, and that part of the beauty of relationships is pursuing our own things but being there to support each other in them. I mean, she does music, and I go to all her shows and listen to all her recordings and offer feedback and clap and cheer (and love her music, natch). I’m a part of her musical growth to the extent that I’m there by her side. Until now, there hasn’t really been that thing that I’ve needed her support in. I think grad school is going to be it. I’m going to need her to bounce ideas off of and to support me when I have a lot of homework to do and to read my papers and be interested in what I’m thinking about. So it’s going to be a probably subtle (and definitely positive) shift in our relationship once that dynamic blossoms. And I’m really excited for that.
BUT, here’s the thing. At the moment, we are both absurdly busy. I have a weekend-long seminar this weekend, plus I’m performing in a burlesque show on Tuesday so I’m rehearsing a bunch before then. Next week, she’s taking an evening music seminar Monday and Wednesday, is rehearsing with her band Thursday, and then has a major show on Saturday. The one night neither one of us has something separate — Friday — is a mutual friend’s birthday. Then Sunday I have a new student potluck to attend in Oakland. And the following week she’s got the same seminar again, and then band rehearsal again, and then another gig that Friday. And I’m kind of freaking out. When are we going to see each other???? When will we get to actually talk about the stuff that my mind has been turning over since classes started last week? She was out of town all Labor Day weekend at a wedding on the east coast, and then she gets back and BOOM we’re both frantically running around with 8 million things to do and the only time during the day that we get to share is the half hour before bed. And usually, that involves sex. Which is, you know, important. Obviously. But … I need the rest of the stuff that goes along with being in a healthy, loving and mutually supportive relationship, too. Call me high-maintenance.
So, we were just e-mailing back and forth (she’s at work, I’m at home supposedly “reading for class” but I’ve stretched the definition of that a bit by writing here…) and decided that Sunday evening, after my seminar, we’ll have a Date. Go to a wine bar, watch an old movie on the floor with lots of pillows and blankets, and have sex that’s not just half-hour-before-bed sex. So, yay! Step in the right direction. Breathe in, breathe out, and everything’s going to be okay.
And now I’d better get back to my reading…
I am very happy. Having been sitting with my decision to stay here and go to CIIS for a few days now, I can honestly say that I’m just plain happy about it. And that’s how I know it’s the right thing. I read the blog Zen Habits, which, for those unfamiliar with it, is a lifestyle blog of sorts — for living life simply and productively. I take some of it and leave some of it (barefoot walking? no thank you, plus, I have massive foot problems and need arch support), but one post this past week was particularly apt for me: The Secret to Making Life Decisions. It went up after I made my decision, or else I might think it’d influenced me. Instead, I get the nice feeling of knowing I made my decision all by myself, without any help, plus this sense of validation afterwards:
We’ve been brought up in a very left-brain-directed world, where the traditional decision-making strategy is a very logical process that involves listing each option, listing the pros and cons of each option, and then weighing up your lists in order to make your decision. This can be useful in very stable, predictable environments where we have all the information we need and in some business environments where we’re solving simple problems, but it isn’t the most effective way to make your most important life decisions . . . . In an information-rich world where we have abundant options, when it comes to making important life decisions, we need to be able to synthesize lots of information, see the big picture, spot themes and relationships, intuitively sense what information is most important to us, and invent possibilities that don’t even exist yet. These are all right-brain-directed thinking skills that we can employ through our emotional navigation system.
Most people treat their emotions as though they’re purely incidental and sometimes even a hindrance in life. Emotions are often side-lined as impulsive and troublesome parts of ourselves that have to be controlled and are of little value to us. Actually, our emotions, both negative and positive, are all perfectly safe and healthy and serve us in incredible ways, especially when it comes to making important life decisions. Every emotion you experience is a clear signal to help you differentiate between the expectations and demands being placed on you and what’s truly important to your Essential Self.
As a chronic list-maker, I always tend to stay emotionally uninvolved with my decisions. Emotions are too messy, too disorganized. I like things to be organized! Straightforward! Clear! Who needs more confusion, you know? Let’s just be practical! But I had to follow my heart on this one, because no matter how many lists I made I wasn’t finding the answer. The answer wasn’t in line-by-line comparisons of program statistics or in budget spreadsheets analyzing the costs and benefits of each option. I really had to dig around and go with my gut feelings. And that wasn’t easy either, because, as I kept saying, “I have two guts! And they’re saying different things!” But I had to go with the one that was kicking me harder.
When I came home today, there was a beautiful vase of tulips on my kitchen table and a sweet note from my roommate, saying “Congratulations on your choice EVG! I’m glad we’ll get to keep you!” [My roommate, see, has airport codes for everybody in her life, and they come from a funny mix of our names, initials, random facts/qualities about us, and what sounds good. Apparently "Ee-Vee-Gee" has a nice ring to it? Her lover du jour, for example, is called "IPM": International Playboy of Mystery. Lol.]
Speaking of my roommate, though, I don’t think I’ll be staying here much longer. The lady and I have decided that June 1st will be our day. This afternoon, we went and looked at a place not too far from where we both currently live (we’re not really looking at places yet, but this one just sounded so lovely that we had to go see). It’s gorgeous and affordable. Hardwood floors, giant windows, lots of closet space, perfect location, and a HUGE backyard with a garden and a patio all belonging just to the one flat. Amazing. We’re going to apply and see if a May 15 moving date would be too late for them. We’ll see.
And suddenly, after typing that out, I feel all jittery again, just like that. Like, wait, what? We’re moving in together? Ahhhhhhh, wait, no, what?! Can’t do it! Stop! Scary! What if we hate each other? Where will we go when we need space! What if we lose all our friends! Is this really the right thing to do? Quick! Let’s make some lists! Let’s do a cost-benefit analysis! GET ME A SPREADSHEET, STAT.
I guess I’ll just have to go with my heart on this one, too.
I’m sure you’re all waiting with baited breath to hear about my decision regarding graduate school. And I’ve (almost) made the decision. I’ve got one more thing to do before it’s final, and I’m doing it tomorrow. So barring something rather extreme happening tomorrow, my decision is made.
I’m staying here.
Most of you, in the comments on my previous post about graduate school, said “go to LA! you’ll do great!” And you’re right, I would do great; I’d make friends, I’d do well in the program, I’d enjoy the lovely weather, and I’d have an adventure. And I’d graduate with an MPP from UCLA after two years. Exciting! I know.
But I’m not doing it. Instead I’m going to graduate in two years with an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Social Transformation from CIIS. And let me be clear: I am not doing this because it is the safer option. I am not doing it because it’s more comfortable to stay here, or because it’s easier not to push myself. In fact, it is probably the less safe option. It would be easier to just go with UCLA because it’s more socially normal. Because, you know, who in her right mind turns down a fellowship from a highly regarded university to pay to attend an unheard-of social justice program?
I do. And I swear to you I am in my right mind.
I am not choosing CIIS just because it allows me to stay in San Francisco, though that is appealing, to be sure. And if it had been the other way around — leave San Francisco to go to CIIS, stay in San Francisco to attend highly regarded university with a fellowship — I probably would have made the opposite decision, no questions asked. I would’ve stayed and attended said Highly Regarded University. No questions asked.
But having to make the decision that was actually in front of me really forced me to ask questions, and I’m glad, because I probably would’ve neglected to ask them otherwise. Because they’re tough questions, and I tend to like to ignore tough questions. I’m very good at evading things that force me to look at what I want, because so often, I don’t really know. But this time I had to. And these are the questions I asked:
What do I want out of my life?
How will I get there?
What do I want out of my life? I want happiness. Obviously. I want to be doing work that fulfills and inspires me. I want to be doing work that reminds me, when the alarm clock goes off, that, oh yes, I do actually want to get out of bed. More specifically, I want to be doing work in which I have autonomy, can use creativity, and in which my whole self is embraced as having relevance to the work I do. I want to be doing work that is for the greater social good, and no it is not because I’m a young idealist who wants to change the world, it is because I know that that is the kind of work that makes me care. I want to be doing work in which I am a decision-maker. I want to be doing work that stimulates my mind, challenges me every day, and connects me with others. I want to be doing work that completes my life, rather than work that takes away from my life. That’s the work I’m doing now, and I never want to be there again. I sit at work sometimes and wonder how people can do the work they do and take themselves seriously as human beings. I never want to wonder that again in relation to the work I’m doing. Never.
I also want to be doing work that draws on my strengths. I’m good at connecting with people in a genuine way. I’m good at organizing (understatement of the day), good at logical thinking (have I ever mentioned here that my favorite class as an undergraduate was Symbolic Logic?). I love writing, especially about things that relate to queer identities, gender, social identities, social justice, and my personal experiences with all of these things.
And though I’m not an expert on careers or anything, I look at all of that above and I think that maybe, just maybe, I ought to be a professor. Boring, I know, because that’s what both of my parents did, and don’t you think I could be a bit more creative than that? And also, ouch, because it’s so hard to get a tenure track job these days, and all that. Plus I have all sorts of qualms about the academic industrial complex, as I like to call it, which I won’t go into right now because I’ll potentially have the rest of my life to do just that. But it would be a job that would allow me to pursue my research interests, connect with people, write, be challenged. And get summers off (score!). (Did I forget to mention that as one of the things I want out of life?) But anyway regardless of whether I actually become a professor, that’s the kind of lifestyle I can envision for myself.
And how do I get there? Well, I’d need a Ph.D. And I’m a whole lot more likely to end up in a Ph.D. program from an MA than from an MPP. Not to mention that classes in the MA program are more academic (“Critical History of the Human Sciences,” “Reading and Writing Culture”) than the professionally-oriented classes in the MPP program (“Management Challenges and Tools for the Nonprofit Sector”). And also not to mention that I love the mission of CIIS’s MA program: to facilitate self-reflection on our own cultural presuppositions as a prerequisite for sustained engagement with the realities of difference and culture, and to focus on practices of creative intervention by developing skills in intercultural communication, critical social analysis, emancipatory research, strategic thinking, and alliance building.
That is something that will get me out of bed in the morning. And it’s scary to go this route, for sure — as one of the professors told me in one of our several long conversations about what this degree would enable me to do, it is taking a risk. But the risk is not the program itself. The program itself is highly reputable in the world of academic social justice and human rights. The risk, she said, is in forcing myself to confront privilege. That is not something I can take lightly. But it is something that, deep down, I know is right for me.
Tomorrow, I will sit in on a seminar at the institute. And if it feels right to me, I’m all in.