How Being Obsessed with Boys Made Me a Better Academic… In the End.

When reflecting on past troubles, I try to take a positive appraoch by thinking about what they taught me. I’m thinking about the things in my life that might have been too hastily categorized as neurotic or epidsodic. I think about certain parts of my life whose memories are generally suppressed and labled simply as embarrassing, weird, or shameful; memories NOT to be revisited. I ask myself: “Despite the appearance of failure or the shame of error, what kinds of skills did I unintentionally develop through these experiences?” I’m thinking about the alarming degree to which I was obsessed with boys from a very early age.
While in grad school, in a stroke of genius, I tweeted the following: “Grad school: enabling compulsive behaviour since ever”. Only through the succeeding years, have I been able to understand the truth of this statement:

I think of what’s scrawled on my hospital records: “obsessive tendencies”

I think of the ocean of post-it notes I lived in during grad school, the feverish underlining, and pouring over hundreds of articles just to find one elusive mention of dashes in poetry.

I think of the twenty-second draft of my honors thesis, and the sentence that took three days to properly punctuate.

I think of being twelve and leaving daily fruit offerings at the mailbox in hopes that some mail deity would make Daniel Radcliffe finally write me back.

I think of e-mailing advisors and scholars, over periods of months, persistently.

I think of the countless times guys rejected me, “Actually, I just like you as a friend

I think about being rejected from a PhD program last year

I think of 7th grade and filling five journal pages with “I love Sam” at 2:00 in the morning

I think of memorizing Walt Whitman poems by writing them down at least fifteen times

I think of being thirteen and filling twenty journal pages with “I love Peter”

I think of college and hand copying all of my class notes twice.

From the age of twelve to fourteen, I would remain very much in love with Peter; crushes were only supposed to last a few weeks or so in middle school, but I was comitted to crushing on Peter. I wrote songs for him, I wrote letters to him, I listened to all of the music he liked, I often saw his band play, and he was just about the only thing I talked about to all of my friends… for two years. I mean, talk about a long-term project with sustained interest and inquiry…
From the age of twenty until… now, I’ve read John Keats every day, or have thought of him at least a few times a day. Somehow, everything in my life seems to relate to John Keats; everything I read somehow relates to John Keats. I look at my research journals with scribbled quotations and partially finished bibliographies, and they look much the same as my middle school journals did… but instead of being filled with reveries of Peter and Sam, they wax poetic about rhetorical choices, post-structuralism, and pedagogy with just as much alarming fervor.

I think back to the hospital records: “obsessive tendencies,”

and I think,

“I was building a career”

Currer Bell and the Feminist Disease

This is a satirical essay I wrote a year or so ago.

                                            Currer Bell and the Feminist Disease

Currer Bell was a great man but nobody ever talks about him anymore. History has forgotten him and his legacy has been swallowed by a rampant tide of feminism that has inexplicably attributed his great work to his homely, adoring lover-editor and scribe: some Charlotte woman. In light of the myriad letters and unpublished manuscripts that have recently surfaced, it is high time that we honor him for his monumental contribution to literature. More importantly, we can now understand the man behind the work; his troubled life sheds new light on the deeply autobiographical aspect of his great novel. The surfacing of these documents—what is now being called the Currer Bell collection—is a revelation for nineteenth-century literary studies. It is nothing less than a Rosetta stone for academics and historians worldwide. The incredible mystery of Jane Eyre’s origins and influences may, at last, be resolved… yet no one is talking about it.

Esteemed experts and entrenched ideologues will continue to deny the existence of Currer Bell and will insist on the authorship of Miss Brönte despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This response is nothing more than the feminist tyranny that has decimated the memory of some of the greatest men to have ever lived. They will vehemently deny misandry while gleefully castrating the entire literary canon. For example, these supposedly high-minded occupants of the ivory tower refuse to acknowledge the 1845 letter written in Brönte’s own hand that describes the process by which Jane Eyre was written. In this letter, it becomes clear that Brönte served as nothing more than a scribe who recorded Bell’s narrative—something he was unable to do in his blindness. Brönte, Bell’s devoted illegitimate lover, was the only person still at his side after he went mad and seared his eyes out with a hot poker.
Simply for the sake of reserving another great work for a woman, it is puzzling now that scholars contend the legitimacy of the marriage license issued to a Mr. Currer Bell and a Miss Antoinetta Poole. Nor will they acknowledge the records of Bell’s inheritance of an old aristocratic manor in the moors. Currer Bell definitely existed and the Currer Bell Collection ought to be embraced by the status quo because of the complex and illuminating relationship it details between him and Bronte. If anything, these social justice warriors should rejoice in the reality of Miss Bronte’s outspoken, sensual character. Her shameless sexual exploits and tremendous intellectual prowess should be a banner for feminists everywhere, but not at the expense of Mr. Bell. The establishment cannot accept that although Bronte did not author Jane Eyre, she was still a fascinating figure in her own right. According to them, it is not acceptable to chalk her up to another great woman behind a great man (even though this is the unmistakable truth).
Bell’s romantic idealism and subsequent struggles with Victorian-era social norms provide ample material for “gender studies” as well as the actual truth, and it is disappointing that scholars cannot adjust their own blatantly false preconceptions to accept it. Bell’s virtuous loyalty to his emotionally distant wife Antoinette, despite his all-consuming love for Miss Bronte, locates the torment from which Jane Eyre arose. The recently-discovered correspondence between Bell and Bronte is as beautiful as it is informative and possesses an almost Keatsian effusiveness that is missing from his earlier, unpublished work. A letter from July 8th, 1843 serves as a perfect example of his hidden poetic sensitivity:
“My sweet Girl,
Your letter gave me more delight than any thing in the world but yourself could do; indeed I am almost astonished that any absent one should have that luxurious power over my senses which I feel. Even when I am not thinking of you I receive your influence and a tenderer nature stealing upon me. All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights, have I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot be called Life. I never knew before, what such a love as you have made me feel, was; I did not believe in it; my Fancy was afraid of it, lest it should burn me up. But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, ‘twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures.“
Thwarted by the prospect of scandal and the legal intricacies of inheritance, Bell’s extramarital relationship with Brönte would remain a secret until his descent into madness, but this secret ultimately became the seed of one of the most revered stories of all time. Bell’s defamation was inevitable when it was discovered that his lover was just a lowly, young governess who looked after his bastard daughter. After a heated argument with Antoinette, Bell’s insanity became fully manifest in the form of the mangled, fleshy craters that were once his eyes. Ashamed and alone, Bronte became his caretaker and would remain his dedicated partner until his death. In fact, his dying words to Bronte were “I have two luxuries to brood over: your loveliness and my hour of death. “
In a letter to her sister, it would seem, Bronte bemoaned the long hours of transcription by candlelight at Bell’s bedside. Declared “unfit for society”, his ostracism became his solace as he spent the rest of his days with Charlotte, who embodied the enchanting romance of his innermost self. She was, in many ways, his mirror to such a degree that she would ultimately replace Currer Bell altogether as the author of Jane Eyre. Bronte was only an aspiring writer, whereas Bell was an old master, yet their voices are almost indistinguishable in their respective extant manuscripts, which affords Bronte at least some modicum of respect.
The collective conflation of Bell and Bronte is fair in this regard, and also in that Bronte outlived Belle by some 20 years and was the one to actually get the novel published after his death.  The only thing more mysterious than the origins of Jane Eyre is the fact that the academy continues to blatantly disregard the infallible evidence that has been discovered which has the capacity to demystify the whole thing. This is the battle cry to academics everywhere: JUST ACCEPT THE TRUTH.

Compassion and Respect: The Problem of Discursive Inequality in the Classroom

This past week, a few students were telling me about the various times they’ve seen a professor viciously castigate and reprimand other students based on an opinion they expressed in class. Students used the terms “lay into,” “rip a new one,” and “destroy” to describe how the professor interacted with their student. I asked the students not to tell me who the professors were, because I’m not interested in personally addressing them; I’m only disturbed by an overall trend, and wish to express my general opinion on such a heavy-handed pedagogical move. I’m not trying to make anybody wrong; I am describing my ideals for a classroom environment. I am not accusing, whistle-blowing, or blaming. It doesn’t matter if this specific event did or did not occur, because I know that this is a thing that happens; I saw it happen in classrooms as a student, and it made me as uncomfortable then as it does now.  The whole point of what I’m saying is that shaming people into thinking “what’s right” is not an effective teaching practice, nor is it a kind thing to do to another human being. Dogmatic indoctrination does not belong in the classroom. Period. Certainly not in my classroom. From students, professors, or otherwise. And I will tell you why:

Being a new instructor, a few weeks ago, I had to formally articulate my “classroom policies”. After thinking about all of the strange and shocking things I’ve seen over my many years of education—as a student and an instructor—, I came up with two things: compassion and respect. All I ask of people in my classroom is that they practice compassion and respect in their writing, towards each other, and towards me. Originally, I drafted a syllabus with a long list of specific behaviors that might compromise compassion and respect. Among those were things like, “Don’t expect to do your best work if you’re consistently coming to class drunk and/or high.” One of my colleagues pointed out to me that this could be perceived as infantilizing to the students, especially since I’m dealing with older students (who could probably figure out stuff like that on their own). My final draft (is there such a thing?) was a bit more open-ended, and I’m trusting that my students know what that means. And they know that I trust them to know what compassion and respect mean. It’s only three weeks in, but I have the most polite, engaged, brave students that I could have ever asked for—also, their attendance has been amazing. I have been so grateful for the ways that they have been exercising compassion and respect in my classroom.

So, this student is telling me that one of their professors “laid into” one of her fellow students for saying something that I imagine was, indeed, somewhat misogynistic in nature. The student’s comment was not directed at anyone—it was part of a discussion and, apparently, the professor went all “social justice warrior” on him (please forgive me for borrowing this term from the far-right, but it is very descriptive for the purposes of this essay). The instructor did not follow up the student’s comment with a question, but rather launched into a fulmination of righteous indignation. This behavior, on the part of the instructor, violates compassion and respect for a couple of key reasons:
1) The instructor is not demonstrating compassion for someone who is trying to learn. The only way that learning will occur is if the instructor understands that their students may not know as much about a given topic as they do. The compassionate thing, then, is to guide them towards a better understanding. Students are working from a much more limited set of life data—they are not the ones who paid tens of thousands of dollars to go to grad school and obsess over things. Their journey is only beginning, and we are compassionate if we ask them questions to guide their own inquiry, so that they can become familiar with the sword of Reason and just how easily it slices through bullshit. It’s just the Socratic method—only, like, the first pedagogy ever, and I think it has a pretty solid track record.
2) The instructor is not demonstrating respect for the profound sacredness of the creative learning process. Not much is sacred in society anymore, and few people are willing to argue for it, which is what it is. If we consider the very process of gaining knowledge, though, we are struck by voices of long ago who described knowledge as something ‘stolen’ or ‘gained’ from God/the Divine. I think of the Judeo-Christian creation story, which describes knowledge as a forbidden fruit in God’s domain that was ‘stolen’ by the first woman and man. I think of the Ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humankind—this ‘fire’ is fruitfully interpreted as the metaphorical fire of Reason, technology, and progress. Knowledge can feel like accessing some Divine Order because it enables us to make sense of things. In a wildly chaotic world, having any sense of understanding of what’s going on makes us feel more powerful. Like we have some power/control over our surroundings and our situation. I think this is what is meant when people say Knowledge is Power. To experience such power, as fundamentally limited beings, feels like we’ve accessed some element of universal order—
In addition, we cannot forget that the modern University in the West originates from the Roman Catholic Church. Throughout the middle ages, or the “dark ages,” much of the knowledge of the West was preserved within the Church, and modeled on a sacred relationship between student and master. In respecting this relationship and the process of learning, instructors may truly have a great impact. An article about Plato aptly synthesized the Meno dialogue in saying “knowledge and intelligence without virtue lead to despotism.”[1]
Socrates says
“Unless he can run the gauntlet of all objections, and is ready to disprove them, not by appeals to opinion, but to absolute truth, never faltering at any step of the arguments—unless he can do all this, you would say that he knows neither the idea of good nor any other good; he apprehends only a shadow, if anything at all, which is given by opinion and not by science;—dreaming and slumbering in this life, before he is well awake here, he arrives at the world below, and has his final quietus.”

I get it, Plato is a super-dead “white” guy. Although his place and his positions are contentious, I still think he said some good stuff. Instructors can’t be power-tripping on students; it’s a violation of learning and a gesture towards despotism. Now, more than ever, we need to be inviting students to join the conversation and express their ideas.

Last week, a student came to talk to me after class, and in a hushed voice told me he was nervous to talk about the paper he was going to write. His thesis was, “Women in the U.S. should focus more on issues of inequality around the world, rather than just US-specific issues that affect women.” He was so nervous to even approach any issue relating to women.
“Is it because you’re a white guy?” I asked.
“Yeah,”
His hushed, anxious voice reminded me of that of a Soviet informer, or that of some Orwellian conspirator.
My student was making an interesting point, and an inherently pro-feminist argument, but the carelessly tossed around, dangerously politicized, hot-potato term feminism has become a point of such great anxiety and trauma for society, that people are not even talking about it. An uneasy, somber, penitent silence has fallen over those who need to be part of the conversation the most.

All instructors relate to the baffling silence they’re met with when they pose questions to the class. I think there’s a lot more going on with this silence besides students being tired, distracted, confused,  or oblivious.  I just want my students to know that I have no intention to be a despot. I want everyone to feel free to express their thoughts. I am making a conscious effort to choose compassion over pride by inviting everyone to say what they think and say what they mean. No matter how “ignorant” a comment seems to be, or how counter they are to my personal opinions, we all need to join the conversation so we can learn together.

It’s not time to scramble the academy so that we can devise a newer, better political correctness. It’s time to set down the theory and just practice compassion and respect with one another, regardless of our position in society. Whether you’re a student or an instructor, a boss or an employee, a parent or a child, a policeman or a criminal, we must practice compassion and respect to progress as a society. The heart of patriarchal bullshit is a rigid hierarchy that seeks to exercise intimidation as a means to maintain its own influence, and excluding others.

As I see it, there’s presently a discursive inequality problem in the classroom.

[1] http://www.kirkcenter.org/bookman/article/platos-idea-of-the-teacher

I Look for You All Day

I look for you all day:

A stranger with dirty-blonde hair
about yay high, with
aviator sunglasses
Turns around
and
it’s
not
you.

A silver dove updarts—
a whoosh of wings—
only
to
return

It pecks and coos at the bird-seeded grass,
and pauses,
to
tell
me
something
important

“Hello, Lucas—“
I whimper.
It responds with flight:
it,
too,
has
gone
away

I listen for you all day:

I say something hilarious
and among the voices of boisterous laughter,
I cannot distinguish yours—
I wonder if you’re really dead,
Or if I’m
Just
not
funny
anymore.

Where is your
loud,
unsolicited
opinion?

I touch someone else—
their hot skin is real enough
to
be
yours

But they don’t remain like
you
would.

I taste an amazing chicken wing,
realizing that you weren’t the one to
talk me into the
spiciest
sauce

Everything fatty and sweet and creamy and exotic
and delicious
tastes
too
much
like
you.

This place smells like dog and marijuana—
you won’t defensively point to an
empty
febreeze
bottle
anymore.

We won’t talk about how horrible cigarettes are
on
our
smoke
breaks
anymore.

You won’t call me at 9:00 AM Sunday
to ask if I have a magnifying glass.

You won’t bring me an
unexpected
99 cent
burger
anymore.

Your eyes won’t well with tears at the
drop
of
a
hat
anymore.

You won’t change my 8-year old tire
in
the
snow
anymore.

You won’t show up with a U-Haul
and say
“Let’s change your life”
anymore.

My ribcage won’t be crushed by
your
arms
anymore.

My ribcage is crushed because your arms
aren’t
holding
it
together
anymore.

You won’t
call
me
back.

Anymore—

It’s better when
I don’t
think
about
it.