Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Equality Continuum

When I stand in front of a classroom, I tell my students that I assume they are all feminists. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in the room. The females, many of whom don’t think of themselves as feminists, are there because they believe they have as much right to education as the males. The males, most of whom don’t think of themselves as feminists, are there because they accept the presence of a female professor. At some basic level, they are there because they are not at point zero on the equality scale.

There has been abundant discussion this week about the sexism of Seth McFarlane’s various comments, songs, monologues, on Sunday night. Lots of people say oh lighten up it’s all in fun, and lots of other people say it was straight up misogyny. I don’t plan to get all strident about it, but there was a time not long ago that men could grab buttocks or breasts and if a woman minded she should lighten up because it’s all in fun. He doesn’t mean anything by it. Well, yes, he does. He does mean something by it.

Satire is the mocking of a group to itself, and it requires a moment at which it straightforwardly declares its point. Otherwise, it’s just a reinforcement of a norm. So, “We Saw Your Boobs” was not satirical. At no time did it chide filmmakers for tirelessly asking that female actors bare their breasts. Instead, it reduced female actors and their performances to a juvenile litany of Girls Gone Wild flashes for the camera. But I should lighten up because it’s all in fun.

What could be more fun than bulimia and the suggestion that it’s what got those same female actors into their dresses? Or how hilarious, I mean seriously hilarious, is it to suggest that a nine-year-old female is ripe for the picking? In effect, that’s what was said. Taken as a sum, it’s the relentless reinforcement of anti-female attitudes that wore me out. That’s why I can’t lighten up. It isn’t that I can’t take a joke. It’s that those things aren’t funny. If we’re laughing at those things, we aren’t thinking. If we laugh, we’re letting them slide by.

I could laugh at the list of famous boobs, if at some point there were a comparable jibe thrown at something male actors do. I wanted to ask if Adele and Queen Latifah and Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer didn’t look beautiful because they aren’t of the stick woman set. That was the implication, you see. Only the thin ones looked great. There was no balance in the skewering. Makes me think of a time when people would tell hilariously racist jokes and we should lighten up because it’s just a joke. It isn’t. It just isn’t.

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Writers and Taxes

I am convinced that no writers should do their own taxes. It can’t possibly work out to our benefit. For a few years, I tried, because an accountant costs. I’d fill in all the boxes and end up owing some outrageous amount that I didn’t have anyway. How could that be right, I’d think, living right on the poverty line, at best. Then, I tried using the taxation software, but it has no brain. It can discern nothing. Just because I entered something on one line, did not mean that it would deduce that I should get a deduction on some other line. Tax forms are entirely biased against right-brain people.

Numbers happen on the left side of the brain. I think there’s a plot against artists. I think it’s sinister. The revenue people do not look over my tax return and see everything I miss deducting. They only look for things I miscalculate that would mean a larger payment. Come on. A person living at the poverty line or lower has to pay every year at the end of April? So, I started paying an accountant to sort out the meaning of all my bits of paper. She takes them seriously. She doesn’t laugh aloud at any of them. She’s worth every cent because I know that, whether I get a refund or have to pay, it would be way worse for me if I still tried to handle it myself. It’s a bonus that my income isn’t so pitiful as it was.

Today, I got out my file folder and started sorting statements and receipts. I do not dread it. Adding up the category totals isn’t scary at all. And there’s a bonus: some of the receipts are like looking at pictures. Because part of my work involves travel, I look at the receipt for cheese from Sheridan’s in Galway and cannot help feeling wistful. Over cheese. As I do the currency conversion for the Belfast taxi receipt, I remember the trip to Milltown Cemetery and Bobby Sands’ grave. When I see the receipt for accommodation on Inis Meain, I can see the green door of Synge’s cottage out my window.

Accepting the truth that I cannot complete my tax return with anything like accuracy has meant that I can take a perverse pleasure in preparing my papers for the accountant. Perhaps I could write a poem for her. Or, at least, about my receipts and the memories they conjure.

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Going to Listen

Sometimes, my work ethic interferes with some other positive aspects of life. I find it difficult (impossible) not to feel guilty if I’m not producing something or doing something. I’m having to relearn the importance of “doing nothing” as a component of well-being. During my time as a graduate student, I worked every day for years. And years. About two years after I completed the PhD, I began to realize that I could give myself permission to take a day off.

For the last several years, I have been unable to go somewhere just to go there. As a continuation of the graduate experience, I tend to turn everything into work–can’t do it just to enjoy it, need to turn it into a project or a course. It isn’t healthy to look at a pleasure and think, “How can I turn this into work?” Justifying my existence is exhausting, always feeling that I had to have an active answer to “what are you doing.” My days were full of gerunds–finishing, writing, researching, developing.

Awhile ago, I related a story about staying in the Irish midlands for a few focussed weeks, but being stuck and not writing, becoming frustrated and anxious about time passing without results. In my creative paralysis, I went for a walk to the bog, mostly just to get away from all those unwritten lines and empty pages. Stomping along the road berating myself. I got to the edge of the bog and stood there staring at it, and eventually, I became aware of the breeze on my face, and I gradually became present. My head had been back in the cottage with the unwritten lines. I heard birds calling. I started to look around and saw all sorts of plants and grasses and little blossoms. It was a revelation.

I realized that I had been neglecting the sensory world. I was so excited because I had discovered why the lines were empty. It was because I didn’t know anything about the things that belonged in those lines. In order to make a world real, there must be breezes, grasses, sounds, colours, textures. There was a lot of research to do, to discover the natural world, the sensory world. It wasn’t an intellectual discovery. It was a sensory discovery. My surroundings told me.

The other day, I was telling my coffee companion that I’m nervous about the three weeks I have set aside for myself in June, going away for the first time with no specific project to pursue. That’s uncharted territory for me, and I don’t know how it will work. How do I justify the going? What am I going for? She reminded me of my epiphany in the bog. She said maybe I’m going to listen. I’m excited by that. That’s doing something. Why am I going? I’m going to listen.

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Hours in a Day

John Lennon said that life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. My carefully drawn plan for a Spring program had life happen to it, so now, I need to find twice as many hours in a day. The question isn’t really “can I do it.” I can. I could fit every bit of that work into every day of that three weeks. I could. But that isn’t the whole of it. When we get stretched like that, something suffers.

Even if we don’t like to admit it, that’s the truth. Maybe it’s the quality of the work that suffers. Or the overall atmosphere in the office or house or group. Patience snaps. Tempers flare. Quality drops. Other people are affected. There’s a lot of writing and reading and thinking and listening to get done in that three weeks. There’s a limit to how much we can listen in a day, and I don’t want merely to look like I’m listening. I want to be listening. I want to be thinking. Maybe I should change my plan. And that’s a hard thing to do–let go of something that looks so good, in theory. It doesn’t matter how good it looks, if I can’t execute.

Lots of us overbook our time, and it’s just plain unhealthy and inefficient. Today, I am going to appear extremely inefficient because I am going to be staring into space, thinking. Occasionally, I’ll scribble something. Then, I’ll stare at that, and maybe I’ll scribble over it. Acts of creation are not impressive to watch. The act of creation is the idea, the plan. It takes a great deal of energy, and if it isn’t a solid plan, the reality won’t be solid, either. I can think on my feet, but I don’t want to spend three weeks juggling flaming sticks, especially if I’m tired. No good can come from that.

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