Life as an Extreme Sport

Puzzle Prompt

Oh dear. I’d forgotten that Parrington has wireless. It’s probably a good thing I’m (re)discovering this at the end of the quarter.

Today Karen has asked us (the CHID thesis class) to spend five minutes writing about something that is puzzling us with our thesis. So, naturally, I first check email, then LJ, reply to a LJ comment – oh shit, nothing left to do to look busy. Guess I’ll try to tackle the topic. The puzzle.

See, the thing is, I haven’t really been working on my thesis so much this quarter. I’ve spent some time on affect, and a lot of time at the beginning simply fleshing out my general ideas. But things keep getting pushed back in favour of other, more immediate things – 390, conference preparation, other classes, a social life. I find the thesis slipping to the back, and then I find myself wondering: is the thesis slipping to the back because I don’t care about it? Is it slipping to the back because I’m overwhelmed? Because it’s overwhelming? Or is it something I should actually be engaging in – is it what I want to do?

I guess that is the larger thing, tied in to the graduate school search and application process: what do I want to do? Where do I want to go, what do I want to study? Is medical ethics a right path? What about a more humanistic studies of medicine? Where would I even find that?

No wonder I’m feeling grumpy, stressed, and generally like sleeping until March.

The Function of Monument

We trust or not based on prior events; our experiences from the past shape our expectations of the future and tell us what is safe, what can be trusted. Time and trust are inextricably linked. Time and monuments Young defines monuments as “a subset of memorials: the material objects, sculptures, and installations used to memorialize a person or thing.” are also inextricably linked, for monuments funtion in conjunction with memory in an attempt to externalize a collective memory of an event. Are monuments then an attempt to rebuild a fractured trust, so that options once again limit themselves into a realm in which we can navigate? This appears to be an idea worth exploring.

Monuments rarely go up to a person, but instead to an idea the person embodies, or to an event or moment in time; in all cases, they function as remembrance. Elizabeth Grosz would likely see monuments as an effort to stop time, remove it from our conscious-ness stream, and freeze something in perpetuity. (For that matter, Young and the counter-monument artists would likely agree as well.) Is this functional remembrance a form of reasserting our options of trust on the future, so that we’re not paralized animals in oncoming headlights? It’s an intriguing idea, especially when combined with both concepts of Holocaust monuments and spontaneous roadside memorials.

The Holocaust monuments universally proclaim that “we will never forget” – do we need stone to make sure we will never forget? Young says that “once we assign monumental form to memory, we have to some degree divested ourselves of the obligation to remember.” Young. The Texture of Memory, pp 5. I wonder if it’s really a desire to expunge the internal memory, or if it is a desire to have a general, collective memory to repair a basic faith in the human condition, in humanity itself. If we place a monument swearing we will never forget an atrocity in a general public place, we are publically confirming our [societal] unanimous condemnation of the atrocity that occured, declaring it abherant to humankind Sadly, the evidence of history suggests otherwise., and something that we will vigilantly prevent from occuring again. The end result of this is to reanchor trust that has been violated by violence, and to once again narrow down options for the future and have that trust-filter in place that allows us to make decisions.

The same sort of reaffirmation of the goodness of life itself and reinstallation of the trust-filter can be seen in spontaneous roadside memorials which I suspect Young would call spontaneous roadside monuments, which seem to function as a spontaneous gathering of people who need to affirm that what occured was not normal, was cruel and unusual and outside the realm of the norm. Instead of simply reaffirming their faith, their trust, in fellow humans, they attempt to reaffirm their faith in life itself. This seems especially true with those that exist individually; that is, the places where people are remembered for car accidents that killed only themselves (and/or their passengers – in other words, no one external to the moving vehicle injured). The place of death becomes a point of rupture in the survivors ability to categorize the past and understand the future. Trust in the very fabric of existence – of being able to get in a car or even walk out the front door – becomes shaky. But by creating a monument, one that exists outside the memorial of the grave-site, the survivors are declaring that what happened was outside the norm, a statistical anomaly that they will not allow to overcome them or their basic faith in the world.

In both cases, large and small, we can see monuments functioning as a way to heal the trust that people need to have, be that trust with one another or trust in life, living, the universe itself. Monuments become a way to acknowledge the unspeakable by moving them to a realm of unusual and denying the violence that is actually common to living. By doing so, people regain control of their ability to manage what would be, without the ability to filter via trust, the almost incomprehensible flood of life.

Well fuck.

Maybe Phillip’s way is right. Maybe it is better to keep everyone – at least everyone who has any contact with you as a student/teacher/power dynamic relationship – at serious arms length. At least then things wouldn’t blow up in your face when you weren’t expecting it.

Today reminds me that I get too close to my class at large, and people in specific. Trust only so far – trust any further, and you’ll just get hurt.


A bad mood snuck up on me Monday afternoon. I shook it off as low blood sugar, got some food, and seemed to be okay. It crashed down on me again yesterday, right after lunch. Okay, not a blood sugar issue.

A person issue.


I’ve lost a bit of my zen calm, it appears, and have let someone’s constant challenging of authority get under my skin. And it’s not that I even see myself as an authority – not even when I’m standing up lecturing about something. If I did see myself in such a light, you can sure as hell bet I wouldn’t 1) go out drinking til who knows when with students in my classroom, 2) be willing to sit down and talk with any students at any point about anything or 3) make jokes and other comments on papers while grading them.

I have to keep reminding myself that the other person may have been having a bad week. Perhaps two sour moods just hit and mixed badly. Or hell, maybe they really do have an issue with me – whatever. I need to not take it personally…

…except that’s really the problem with the pedagogical (if you will) method that I inhabit. This is personal for me. I pour everything into what I do, and to have that rejected sucks. More than that, it hurts. I just want the best for the folks I happen to get into student/instructor relationship with. Hell, I tend to be possessive and watchful of them long beyond when I should be (failing of mine, I admit).

I just don’t want what feels like the constant battle, and feel like it’s really stupid for it to even be there. And so I indulge in petty fantasies of handing back a paper with little to no markings on it, of removing myself from conversational opportunities, and withdrawing and becoming distant. I have too much a sense of responsibility to do the first, but I suspect the latter two will indeed happen in outside-my-classroom spaces. If I don’t want to get engaged in that sort of thing, I need to remove myself from the potential.

And if you think you’re detecting a note of sour grapes, yes, you are. I don’t want to remove myself from conversation with a dynamic, interesting person. Of course, the other option would be the mature route – the one that sits down and says “what the fuck is up with you?” and goes from there. Maybe when I regain a bit of center and balance, I’ll even take it. Right now, it’s more fun to fantasize about being six.

A Good Day

I had a good day. A good Monday. Does this bode badly for the remainder of the week?

I want to get this out and down while I’m thinking about it. It’s been weird, today, the convergence of school and friends. Specifically, I was listening to a CD given to me by one of the musicians in 390; stuff he’s worked on over the past while. It finally clicked, after several days of heavy rotation, that one of the bands reminded me strongly of Crowded House. This, of course, meant listening to Neil Finn, and whenever I listen to Neil Finn I think of Lisa and I smile. A good thing, and something that probably means there is now a link between this student, Lisa, and smiling for the rest of my neural life.

The 390 focus group went well tonight. We ended a bit early, but it was a good place to stop and I knew two of the students needed to talk with me. Ended up spending several hours chatting with one, and just had a lovely time. I really like getting to know people better in those one on one situations; it makes me feel good about my meager role in this whole life-thing. She’s a smart girl, and I think things will smooth out quickly.

Focus group – right. We focused on travel, and what Flaubert and Nightingale have in common with one another, and then ourselves. Why do we travel? Why did they travel? What are their reasons versus our own, and their attitudes versus our own? It was a fun discussion, with much side conversation about the Ick-Factor of Flaubert. If they only knew the half of it (for which I’m ever so “indebted” to John for sharing). I felt really good about the class, and pleased with the constant participation. Adam really nicely picked up and ran with things (especially given he’d not been around for the planning of it).

Phillip, as usual, is right – teach from your passion, and everything will fall into place. Step outside that zone, and things will fall apart. I already know what I’m doing for Thursday, and am confident it will go well.

Plus, hugs and congratulations from Phillip, as well as a sweet “I told you so” and verification that he has much more faith in me than I have in myself. Yeah, a good day – I’m feeling very confident and good about myself; it’s nice to have that feeling stick around a few days. Maybe it will even stay a few more.