Saturday, February 26, 2011

Psychological Androgyny

Breakfast out this morning. That used to be a regular routine, but financial circumstances have curbed its frequency. Sitting in my customary spot in my favorite cafe, I hear two older men, regular customers, talking about recent attempts to bust unions in Wisconsin. I hear one man grumbling about "what I didn't get when I retired," and sees no reason why anyone else should get what he didn't get. He then moves on to education. The solution to the problem, he says, is to make all schools K-12, only have 1 superintendent, 1 principal, and only 1 teacher per classroom. That would solve everything. Too many administrators, too many assistants. I am tempted to turn around and remind him that there are over 3,000 students between two high schools in the County--we're not even talking K-8. I'm tempted to tell him that teachers work 10-16 hours on average per day, and have to do a lot on weekends with grading, assessment, rubrics, extracurricular work, and jumping through administrative hoops. They also may have to deal with difficult students or ones with special needs. But I say nothing. It seems to be human nature to only focus on oneself--I had this, I didn't have this, I saw you do your job and all I saw was this. Therefore I am qualified to say what you do and don't do, what you deserve and don't deserve.

I recall that there was a time that corporations gave free health benefits and real pensions, and reasonable vacation time. It was presumed that what you didn't get in these benefits you exchanged for higher wages. I can't help but think it's wrong to expect government workers to give up all of their perks when they don't get paid the way corporate employees do. Maybe it's evened out over time, I don't know. I'm inclined to think its lousy all over, but unions give you some hope that you might come away with something fair. Certainly there are corrupt unions, but on the whole, I don't think they have as much of the power and perks as people seem to think. In any case--this has less to do with individual bargaining contracts, and more to do with the erosion of the rights of the labor force. Without unions it is likely that we will return to working 16 hours a day with no vacation for little money. I don't think I'm exaggerating. Corporate greed knows no bounds.

This is not how I wanted to start my morning, and I am grateful that the din of other customers rises as the place begins to fill up. I order an omelette with kielbasa, and my body reacts like a man discovering water in the desert. It seems I am not getting enough protein these days.

I am reading Helene Cixous again, her chapter entitled "The First Lucidity". She is writing about graduate school, about her "delirium" that was not delirium, being told you are mad and realizing later you were perfectly lucid. She is talking about writing her dissertation on James Joyce's Ulysses, and there is an implication that those who declare her mad are those critiquing her work. Not surprising for literary academia. I resisted graduate work in literature, in spite of the temptation. In literary academia, there is a right way and a wrong way to look at things. This is hard for me to swallow. Literature reflects the culture, it may reflect a broad context--but it also reflects the personal. We fall in love with a piece of literature because it resonates with something in us. To disown that because it is the "wrong" interpretation seems antithetical. Writing comes from the soul, and while the mind can pick it apart, it is hardly a necessity. Some experiences are best left undissected.

She states that her mentor might say to her that "the head is the plaything of the soul", and that her lucidity is "a weakness of the brain that is not suited to women, and will lead me to the other side." She then states. "Madness is a protection. It stands guard against the horrors of reality." This resonates with me, because I identify with her lucidity. I feel like it keeps me away from "normal", makes me suspicious of others and vice versa. I become aware all at once that there is no group to which I completely belong, where I am completely a member. There are always conditions for membership, and I am loathe to follow conditions. I stand on the edge of everything, watching everything, half wanting to be involved, half pleased to walk away. And many consider me "strange", perhaps even "mad". Certainly "deviant".

Earlier this week I went to one of the universities where I teach to attend a couple of talks, have dinner with a friend, and attend a faculty get-together. The first talk was given by a student on the genre of film noir. He mentions the femme fatale, whose presence stands in opposition to that of the mother, the nurturer. The femme fatale is independent, she adopts many male behaviors, she may even be dangerous. She is always tragic. We discussed archetypes of women--the virgin, the mother, the whore. It occurred to me that these archetypes are still very strong in society. I do believe it's why people mistake me for a wild woman. I don't fit the virgin category, and I don't fit the mother category. So I must be a whore. And simply ask any of my sexually liberated friends--they will tell you that I am decidedly the opposite, almost to derision. My colleague suggested that I was more "motherly", but that is also a mistake. I tend to attract men who want to be mothered, because I come across as strong and independent. In fact, what I want is another strong, independent man whom I can trust and respect--and who will be the same for me. I'm not interested in being anyone's mother, except perhaps the cat. I can't imagine a more loathsome type of relationship. But, I am also not virginal and innocent, a mistake still others will make because of my spiritual bent. So what am I?

I came across a test on a writer's blog, where you could paste in some of your writing, and it would analyze it and tell you if it was written by a man or a woman. I pasted in 3 different writing samples--two were fiction, one was a blog post. For two out of three, it said the piece was written by a man. Which, linguistically says that I use "male" words. Whatever that means. In any event, it makes me think that I am some sort of psychological androgyne, and some people find this fascinating, others find it unsettling. I look at the faces of people meeting me, and sometimes they furrow their brow, pull back in suspicion. What are you? And what do you want? seem to be the unspoken questions.

What I want is irrelevant. I expect nothing from anyone. I get what is mine, and not through manipulating or using someone else. We always get what is ours, and don't get what isn't. There is no need to worry about it. I am interested in what you are, but not because of what you can do for me. There is nothing utilitarian about my friendship. If I like you I will seek to spend time with you, but not obsessively. If I love you, I will go out of my way to be with you, but will still not be obsessive or jealous. I don't own anyone. And they don't own me. If you really care about someone you respect their space, and their choices, regardless of whether or not you agree with them.

Maybe it goes back to my stubborn refusal to decide. Why is it "us and them"? Why is it "either/or"? Whatever we are, we're also the opposite. That might be what bothers people--they want clear categories and labels, they want to know which shelf they can put you on. Anything else is chaos, as far as they're concerned. But the shelf is a hallucination. There is no logical order to the psyche.

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