Notes

* calling your father in tears basically insures three things: 1) your mother will contact you later at night 2) said conversation will include some encouraging story about how someone had to apply to same insane number of schools, but then got in and is now incredibly successful, and 3) your parents will insist you look for masters programs still open for applications, so that they can pay your fees and give you the best possible chance to go somewhere

* I’ve picked up Dorothea Brande’s book on writing. While she’s talking about fiction, it’s applicable to research papers because she’s talking about the psychological things that stop us from writing and how to get around those, not telling you how to structure papers. It’s from the 1930s, and utterly charming in its tone – she’s sarcastic and sharp, and not at all dated. It’s something that makes me smile, and I’m taking any of that I can get right now.

* President Jimmy Carter is an amazing speaker, and his talk about William Foege was so inspirational. Foege has done so many awesome things – came up with the strategy for eradicating smallpox, ran the CDC, has led committees on the next disease(s) to eradicate (Guinea worm and polio), has reduced newborn fatalities across the 3rd world… he is an awesome man, and has been dedicated to the social aspect of medicine long before it was even thought to be something needed teaching in hospitals. Carter continually referred to him as a medical missionary, a wonderful term.

How amazing it must be to have your life work celebrated by your friends, your school. I admit, I felt envy… but the good kind. The inspirational kind. The sort that makes me wonder if I should delay graduation and chase that public health/epidemiology bachelors, or maybe look into a medical anthropology degree, so I can play a bit more in medicine. I guess it’s the sort that gives me a bit of hope – I mean, if one person can achieve so much, so many incredible things, surely I can achieve even a fraction of that and still be content?

* Following parental advice, I spent a little time this evening looking into other masters programs…and discovered that Jon Moreno, one of the sweetest, funniest and sharpest men in bioethics, has an MA program in bioethics at the University of Virginia…and their deadline is May 1st. This has cheered me up immensely. It’s sort of silly, because who’s to say I won’t get equally passed over for MA programs, but… I met Jon last year. I really enjoyed my time with him; in fact, we got into a very fun debate over how often the Hippocratic Oath is taught, even read, to students. He is utterly charming, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I learned more from him in 50 minutes than I have from many people over the course of an entire quarter.

* I’m nervous about my impending surgery on Tuesday. Large needles and necks – squicks me out. I think when that bit of dread is gone, and hopefully the pain with it, I’ll feel better about life. Thursday night should be fun, though – sounds like people are going to come out. I hope so; as silly and superstitious as it is, I like to see my friends before I go in for risky procedures. So we’re going out Thursday night, and some people are going to join me to watch The Breakfast Club at the Friday Midnight Movie.

* People keep bringing up current/topical issues in ethics, and the back of my mind keeps thinking about how many of the problems arise (again) from our grand focus on autonomy as a whole. And I keep thinking, “I could fix this, if people would just give me the chance…”

Maybe I’m slowly crawling to a better state of mind.

Pervasive Gloom

I am basically overcome and overwhelmed by a pervading depression. No one wants me. No one likes me. I’m basically a huge fucking failure. Sure, the retort is that I just applied to the wrong schools or that the schools are idiots, but if I applied to the wrong places, then the failure is still with me. It’s still my fault.

I can’t even succeed at anything – at the moment, not even finishing my degree. Who the hell cares about finishing a thesis that maybe three people will read? It’s just going to sit on a shelf getting dusty. Might as well just do a performance piece – “Goth Moping” – and get it done. At least more people would probably see it.

I made the mistake at looking at job listings last night, and have realized that I really can’t do a damn thing with my degree. I’d be lucky to even get an administrative position somewhere, barely making enough to cover rent. I can’t live on my parents pursestrings forever – what the hell am I going to do?

This blackness has sapped me of all energy, strength, or interest. I have a final tomorrow, in a class with a professor who sat on the committee that most recently turned me down. Do I really care about doing well on the final? No, not really – what does it matter? She obviously didn’t think well enough of me to fight for me, and she even told me as much yesterday, that I am a good student, but that my application will not beat someone who’s spent the last few years of their life studying, exclusively, philosophy.

Anyhow. I have to go listen to Jimmy Carter talk. I’ll write more later.

The Genealogy of Pinball Effects

Last night, I looked around my recently de-clothed living room, at books scattered here and there, stacked and toppled, mixed within camera and art supplies, and thought “ananda help me, I don’t want to read any of this!” I wandered between bookshelves (and yes, although I live in a studio apartment, I currently have three standing bookshelves, and two that mimic built-ins, thanks to Kevin’s help) looking for something to read, briefly considered going back to reading about the history of collecting and museums, and finally my eyes landed on James Burke’s The Pinball Effect. The perfect mix of academic and popular writing to curl up with before sleep, tempered with fond memories of a television show I’d rearrange my schedule to watch1

I opened the book, and having read pieces before, skipped the directions2 and skimmed the introduction…

We all live on the great, dynamic web of change. It links us to one another and, in some ways, to everything in the past. And in the way that each of us influences the course of events, it also links us to the future we are all busy making, every second. No matter how remote all these links may seem, over space and time, they are real. No person acts without causing change on the web. Each one of us has an effect, somewhere, somewhen. Everybody contributes to the process. In some way, anything we do makes history, because we are history. The web is the expression of our existence, and of all those who went before us, and all who will come after us.3

This is Foucault, Nietzsche4, genealogy. No beginning, no ending; stories stretch into the past, into the future, and they don’t do so in neat, straight lines, but instead more of a giant spaghetti mess of intertwining. Maybe this is not getting away from academia as much as I’d like – skip the intro and run to chapter one.

It doesn’t matter where you begin a journey on the great web of change. There is no right place, and no event too humdrum to start from, because one of the fascinating things about the web is the way effects ripple across it. Any action, anywhere, can trigger a chain of events that crosses space and time, to end (perhaps) clear across the world. anything that happens on the web makes waves.5

…he’s talking about resonance. The web is the environment, the world, everything that we sense, and the effects rippling, that’s a prodding of the autopoietic system resonating out and in, affecting and changing the systems within the system.

On the one hand, this makes sense. I’ve loved Burke since being exposed to his television shows, I’m slowly collecting the books as I find them used. It’s a style of thinking I gravitate to and can appreciate, and it brings me great joy to see just how renaissance water gardens made the carburetor possible, and to know how bubblegum led to the flak jacket (just to name two examples of trails genealogies he’s led us through). And it’s not like this is a new thought, that this is what his books and shows do. I’ve brought this in to class before as an example of a genealogy that’s accessible, easy to understand, and I’m sure I will again.

On the other hand, it’s almost disappointing to not even be able to sit and read something “for fun” without the academic brain kicking in. I want to ask if I’m cursed, will I ever be able to simply enjoy something for what it is, without analysing? Will I ever be able to sit down with a book and see it just as a book, something to escape with and enjoy for a few hours, or will I endlessly be thinking about how I can apply it in a teaching scenario, what it illustrates, how to utilize it for a class?

And the gripping hand points out that this connection, this seeing and feeling of the web, that is what energizes me, what I love, dare I say what I live for. To see the almost visible connections between science and fiction, affect and music, people. And it’s what I’ve been missing lately, those a-ha moments of connection and visibility.

  1. Burke’s show “Connections”, which ran through several iterations on the BBC, and was brought over here by the Discovery Channel in the mid 1990s. []
  2. Yes, the book has directions – it’s sort of a hard copy of internet linking, with the ability to follow multiple stories by skipping around the book and paragraphs. It’s very cool, and very difficult to explain without showing you. Just imagine the internet on paper, and ignore the headache that creates. []
  3. Burke, James. The Pinball Effect. Back Bay Books, 1996; pp 3 []
  4. Whose I can now spell without having to look up, something that I’m not sure is good, or depressing. []
  5. Burke, James. The Pinball Effect. Back Bay Books, 1996; pp 7 []

Friday Five

The Friday Five is a LJ question list. Every Friday, five new questions are asked, generally on a related theme, and you answer them in your own journal. The ones for this Friday got me thinking, a bit, as they were about teachers. Things like who were your favourite teachers, what they taught, your best memories…

Mr. Wright was my 6th grade CORE teacher; CORE was basically your English and History class, taught by the same teacher. Math, PE, etc – taught by different teachers, so you rotated classes every 50 minutes or so. (On top of that we rotated schedule daily, too – if class was ABCDEF one day, the next it was BCDEFA the next, and so on – but I digress). CORE was an attempt to keep up around one person a little longer, and make sure there was someone to help with our basic writing skills, etc.

6th grade was my first year in public school; I had been in a private Christian school from kindergarten through 5th grade, and in addition to very small classes, we were encouraged to work at our own speed. For all intents and purposes, by the time I was in 3rd grade, I was reading and writing at a 12th grade level, and the next two grades were a chance to finesse my skills rather than build on them. (I would often spend the entire day in the library, those last two years, curled up in a chair and reading.) So coming into the public school system was a bit of a shock. I hadn’t originally tested into the gifted and talented (GATE) program, I apparently missed the cutoff margin by a few points, but after two weeks of “regular” class, the teacher begged them to transfer me. Guess I was a bit of a troublemaker… So I had the double fun of joining a new school and having all my classes change on me, to move me into an area where it was hoped I’d be more challenged. It wasn’t my idea of fun.

Mr. Wright, on the other hand, was. For one, he thought our textbooks were useless, so instead would assign us to go do independent research on a subject, and then come back and teach the rest of the class about what we learned. I remember choosing to research about the black death, and having a lot of fun explaining in graphic detail what the various forms of the disease did to you. We’d have about a month to research, and then a week to teach the material, and then our choice of test or paper to decide how well everyone learned the subject.

His big focus, though, was social activism. Over the course of the year, we would spend time in class preparing sandwiches to give out to the homeless people in downtown San Jose. We would organize food drives, and spend our evenings in the National Guard Armory soup kitchens. This was the year of the Tianamen Square massacre in China, and we raised funds to build a replica State of Liberty for the students in China, wrote stories and poems, drew pictures, and did what we could to bring more and continued awareness to the situation. The poem I wrote and illustrated was picked out of everyone’s to be framed and displayed in Norm Mineta’s office; I hear it moved with him when he was given a position in the Bush Administration and moved to DC.

Mr. Wright was a dreamer. One of the other things he believed strongly in was the importance of computers. He ran a BBS, the Chalkboard, and encouraged us to turn our homework in via computer. If we didn’t have a computer or modem, he would longterm lend us a dterm and modem (150/300 baud – woo). He was convinced it was how the classroom was going to change, and what homework was going to move towards – much to the scorn of the majority of the faculty. He and my father really got along, at least on that front…

Mrs. Callahan was my 7th grade GATE CORE teacher. She was bored with textbooks, too, so she had us cover the walls of our classroom with butcher paper, and draw in a new planet. We had to study planet formation to understand this, from gravity to rain forests and ecosystems. Once we finished that assignment, we learned how to fill out job applications, and the jobs we were applying for were on a spaceship traveling to this new planet. The rest of that year, everything we did was framed in the context of this spaceship, our job, the new planet. It was kind of cheesy, and I remember a lot of us being a bit embarrassed by the entire idea (myself included). But at the same time, it was a lot of fun…

She was the first teacher I had who wasn’t “normal”. And by normal I mean, she seemed cool to us kids. She had tinted purple hair, dressed in what I now realize were sort of new romantic clothes, and she liked a lot of the same music we did – Depeche Mode, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran. She was another social thinker, liberal and passionate. I remember her bringing in a taped performance of Michael Jackson singing “Man in the Mirror” and after making us watch this, led us in an analysis of the lyrics and what the point would be behind singing such a song. About how it is we go about making change.

I don’t remember all of my teachers, of course, but I remember a lot of them. Mrs. Stone was the teacher assistant in 2nd grade; she and I have the same birthday. She would always find me, after that year, on our birthday, and bring me a cupcake. Played a mean game of tetherball, too! Mrs. W (she was Polish and we never even tried to pronounce her last name) was the aide for 3rd thru 5th grade, and took those of us “advanced” students aside for math for a few years. I was developing my rather smartass attitude by 4th grade, and she made some comment to another student about how she wasn’t going to take lip from anyone shorter than her. Well, at that point I was already a good few inches taller than her, and also standing by her at the board working out a math problem. I remember her whipping around before I could get more than a smirk out, and telling me that she wouldn’t take lip from anyone taller, either, and she could still break my kneecaps if she needed to. It cracked me up, and I see a lot of my current rather sarcastic attitude as her filtered through me.

Mrs. Cobb taught the smallest class I was ever in, a joint 5th/6th grade class. My fostered sister was in that class, as well as several people I had become good friends with – but there were still only about 14 students. This was the year of practical jokes, of rubber cementing everything to her desk, fishing wire to rig drawers to fly open. Of sitting in Mrs. Cobb’s bright red pickup, listening to Simon and Garfunkel – music she wasn’t allowed to bring into the Christian classroom, but she thought we needed to hear, anyhow. I guess I never really thought, before, about the fact that she taught with music, but she did, constantly. We were always going out to listen to something or another, stereo thumping, trying to hide from the principle.

The brief time I was in high school, I didn’t have any teachers that really made a difference to me, or really even much of an impression. But the vice principal liked me, and would frequently catch me cutting class to hang out in the computer lab or library. We struck a deal – I stop cracking the school grading system, and he wouldn’t turn me in to attendance. I suspect it was his affection would kept me from getting into a lot of trouble when I blew up the science lab…all three times. He knew I was bored, and knew why, and really pushed for me to graduate early and get my butt on to college. Probably one of the better decisions anyone ever pushed me into.

I guess the seeds were planted early. I think back on these teachers with great fondness and a lot of memories, but I also see bits of them in me. The way Mrs. W would use sarcasm to defuse a situation, using current media events and social causes to teach with from Mrs. Callahan and Mr. Wright, how what’s in a book doesn’t mean much if you can’t connect it to the outside world. That you need to tolerate the people who learn in all kinds of different ways, and that independent research and then turning around to teach it to someone else is the best way to learn. I suppose I have a strong pedigree, only strengthened by the last few years in CHID.

getting comfortable in my own skin

On Monday night, I received the following in a fortune cookie, at the end of my “omg I need protein now SUSHI!” dinner – yes, Japanese restaurant, fortune cookie with the bill. I don’t question these things anymore, I just go with it.

Anyhow, the fortune read:

Use your abilities at this time to stay focused on your goal. You will succeed.

Now, knocking the typical and childish “in bed” stuff that you’re supposed to tack on to the end of these, it was a rather…resonating fortune. You see, I had one of those moments in class earlier Monday night.

Monday’s show had us watching Meridian, the Stargate SG-1 episode where Daniel is, as usual, incredibly noble and heroic -and he “dies” for his efforts. Or to be more precise, he is dying, and instead of doing that, as he flatlines he ascends to a different plane of existence. If you’re not a Stargate SG-1 fan, don’t worry about this – it’s a vaguely Buddhist tone the show took for a while.

I paired this show with some readings on medical ethics as a whole. The two major schools of decision making, deductive and inductive, and readings on death and dying and what it means to have a good death. There was a lot of material to read, and of course we didn’t have time to go over it all. And because of other news, I wasn’t as prepared as I like to be for class, so I ended up asking the kids what they wanted to talk about, and the answer was medical ethics.

I had printed out information on Tirhas Habtegiris for the students to read, and we ended up using this case to discuss ethics, and particularly deductive ethics. I swiped Charles to help write on the board, and we ran down the four principles of medical ethics (autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence and justice) and using deductive logic and Kantian ethics, ran through the case as if we were an ethics committee.

At one point, I was joking with one of the students about…something, I don’t even remember what, and I made a crack about being an ethicist…and then I stopped, and realized and said “well, I guess this is what I’m trained for, isn’t it? I suppose I am an ethicist.”

It doesn’t sound like much to type out, but it simultaneously brought about a significant pause in time, one of those things where time warps and extends itself while my reality shifted and I almost physically snapped into my body/self and awareness. I was hyper-aware of everything, and in that hyper-awareness was a sense of self confidence in my ability, both as an ethicist and a teacher. It was a surreal and awesome moment, one that once time resumed its course, I laughed off with a “how weird is that” and moved class forward. But the feeling has stayed with me, a new poise, and it feels good.