Archives for the month of: June, 2010

When I was a child, I was allowed free access to almost all of my father’s books.  I would ask him first, and almost always the answer was, “Yes, you may read that.”

I’m not sure why, but of the copious science fiction on his shelves, the first thing I gravitated to was his collection of Robert A. Heinlein books.  He had almost all of them, including a few superb collections of essays and short stories that are now out of print.  I believe the first Heinlein book I read was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, probably when I was about 8-10 years old.  I loved it, of course, and I remember loving how much I could think about the ideas in the books–I was fascinated by the discussion of the triangular covert revolutionary cells, and how the male-female ratio changed the basic ways that relationships worked.  It was the first book I read that invited me to think about its ideas, that made contemplation attractive.

I read more, and eventually reached a limit.  “I think you should wait a few years before you read this, but you can try it and see what you think.”  The book was something like Time Enough For Love, or Number of the Beast.  I tried it, and could tell that I would like it better later, and put it back on the shelf.  I never had any doubt, though, that I would get to it.  Robert Heinlein was exerting a really stunning amount of influence on the way I was developing.  It was during Starship Troopers that I began to really pay attention to when I agreed and disagreed with him, and why.  At first, though, I felt that if I disagreed I was surely in error.  I’ve come to believe that sometimes he was in fact wrong–but I still consider myself functionally illiterate because I can only read one language.

Once I’d reached the age where I could and was allowed to read all the Heinleins, another author caught my eye: Spider Robinson.  Specifically, the quotation from Ben Bova blazoned across so many of his covers; “I’d nominate Spider for the next Robert A. Heinlein!”  I had no idea who Ben Bova was, but I by God knew who Heinlein was.  In my infatuated opinion there was no way in hell this clown could touch Heinlein, but what the hell, I’d give him a shot.

And so of course Spider (and Jeanne) Robinson ended up having even more of an influence on me that Heinlein did.  I was always fairly given to a Heinleinesque worldview due to an overdeveloped sense of justice, but I never felt like I had too much in the way of compassion, and it wasn’t until I began reading the Callahan books that it began to dawn on me just what really big, deep compassion could look like.  To be honest, I’d had no clue there even was that much compassion in the world.  It was eye-opening.  The denizens of Callahan’s bar showed me compassion as a way of living, as a goal for being in the world.  I’d had no idea that was an option.  And one of the wonderful things about this world we live in, is that I am still being startled by how big compassion can be and the extent to which people can live it.

As a side note, one might lament that two of these earliest, strongest influences on me were men, and that there were no female role models, but in fact that’s not how it worked out.  Robert and Spider led me to their wives, Virginia and Jeanne, and those women have influenced me more than anyone but my mother.  The guys wrote, sure, but those women were stunningly accomplished.  Virginia spoke and read who knows how many languages, was two different kinds of chemist, an engineer, and she outranked her husband in the Navy.  Jeanne was a dancer and choreographer and a Buddhist monk–between the two of them, who could need more?

This has been a long post about two men who had an enormous impact of the shape of my life and mind (and the life of my mind).  Gone unsaid throughout, but inescapably there, has been the one man who is ultimately responsible: my Dad.

Thanks, Dad.  Consider this a late Father’s Day present.  I love you.

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Just a quick one tonight: class today was a little rough due to a showdown between the prof and some guys who were talking quietly among themselves, and the lecture just seemed a little slow and was very stats heavy. I’ve taken to drawing in class–seriously drawing, attempting to learn how to draw and reading my artist-husband’s books on it and all. It helps a lot, especially since the teacher speaks so slowly that I can write a heading, sketch a little, and then take notes without missing anything.

But even better, lab rocked! We had to do math which was (for me) fairly hard, which means challenging, which means I had fun! Because say it with me y’all: “Challenging is rewarding!”

The other good news: my husband is *finally* getting his passport tomorrow. This means that when I get my new pictures done, we can finally apply to teach in Korea! Thus, Hooray!

I found this draft from the end of March.  I’ve decided to go ahead and post it.  I have told my parents, and in-laws, about what happened.  To make it a little more clear, and because I feel that by speaking about this I deny the abuser control over me, I’ll explain: starting when I was 5-almost-6, for about a year, I was raped by a boy my age who visited his grandparents next door–and that’s one of the reasons I want to talk about this: he was my age.  Growing up, I never ever heard anyone say that kids could sexually assault other kids.  It was always, “Be afraid of grown-ups (and only men, too).”  That’s incorrect.

A week or so after I wrote this, I went to the local rape crisis center.  The counselor there helped me find a therapist, and both women helped me actually finish the school year–with decent grades, no less.

Here’s the draft, written just a few days after my memories started coming back.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_trauma

I haven’t told hardly anyone yet. I told my husband when I figured it out, and then my sensei, and the sister I am close to. It happened when I was 6-7, and I haven’t told either of my parents. I have no idea how they would react. They surprise me a lot, and not always in the happy ways.

Last week or so, my sensei used a word that equates men who fail at being masculine enough with female genitalia, and I was shocked and hurt. I mean, I was sitting there with a vagina…anyway. After so many years of (mild to less mild)abuse and neglect from friends and family, I don’t really react to things right away when they hurt. I’m getting a little better, but it still basically means being more vulnerable to someone who just hurt you, and I just can’t quite manage that, most times. Living means getting hurt, and having friends means letting them hurt you–they don’t mean to, but they will. This is how people work. They mess up. I get that. And I know that in order to have good relationships, I’m just supposed to sort of trust them and lay my heart out on a table and pass around the hammers…that’s what it feels like, anyway.

I don’t tend to be honest with these few friends I have now. I don’t be as sarcastic or cutting as I am. I don’t speak up enough to make the mistakes I make all the time, because if I mess up maybe they’ll leave. I have to be better than I am, all the time.

After a few days I wrote an email to my sensei saying that what he said hurt my feelings, and don’t do that. I tried to make it a little funny, and I made a point of saying that I had never stood up for my feelings to him before, but that I thought that now our relationship was strong enough that I could do so and not break it. He emailed me back 2am last night, and I started crying almost as soon as I started reading, and this really puzzled me. He was being really fair and honest, for all that he evaded the hurt feelings part–and I think that’s because he just didn’t understand why they were hurt, to such an extent that I think he got distracted from that they did really get hurt. He didn’t understand, and thought that I would understand it just as a joke, and he seemed hurt and said that the email had a lot of hostility and it seemed to come from nowhere.

After sobbing for awhile and trying to puzzle it out and feeling worse and worse about myself by the second, I finally noticed that I was replaying that word in my mind, and that it was being accompanied by images from the series of sexual assaults I suffered when I was small. Every time I thought that word, it felt like a punch in the face, and then came those images and feelings…

I wrote an email back falling all over myself apologizing. Part of the sobbing was because I hurt or upset him. I didn’t explain further. I didn’t tell him how much it bothered me, or why, or what was happening now. I couldn’t–I tried several times, and erased the few times I managed to actually type some words.

I cried for another couple hours, and then slept, and then dreamed.

I dreamed that I was back in Clay County.

Context: we moved there when I was 16 and it was the most utterly miserable time of my life–the only place where I have actually cried myself sick (which is really overwhelmingly awful, by the way). My parents were both depressed and fucked up, Mom was in and out of hospitals, I had to care for my sisters, sometimes there wasn’t enough food, or heat. The high school was one of the most abusive, ignorant, soulkilling places I’ve seen in America. I don’t go back to Clay County now. Not for anything. Not the family reunion, not funerals.

I was back in Clay County and I was naked. I had to find an apartment to live in. I was looking all over town, and there were these buildings owned by this white guy with brown hair and beard, overweight, accent. He started commenting on me from the moment he saw me–horrible, lewd, graphic, violent things. I was naked. I couldn’t stop him. My family were there then, and we’d picked an apartment. He was still saying things, making gestures. No one stopped him, or noticed. Finally he said something right in front of my dad and my husband, and I had my little orange safety knife and in one quick motion I slit his throat. There was milk in with the blood at first, for some reason, and my husband put his arm around the guy’s throat to try to stop the bleeding.

At first I didn’t care, exactly. I was upset that I had betrayed almost every principle I try to live by, but I didn’t regret having attempted to murder him–I don’t know how that makes sense, it’s just what I felt. But then I did, and I called 911 and got my favorite shirt and my favorite sheets to help staunch the bleeding, to show that I was sorry. My husband was sitting behind the guy, who was now very small and totally wrapped up in sheets. He was gleeful. He pulled back the sheets to show me the wound, and I freaked out and yelled at him to put them back so the guy didn’t lose any more blood.

I woke up before 911 got there, with a blinding headache and salt on my face.

I wish that were the end. I wish that it was just one bad night and a really fucked-up dream. But there’s today, too. Today I have skipped class. I haven’t done any work. My mind feels like most of my brain is missing. I can’t focus on anything. I lost several blocks while driving earlier–I’m not driving again. I haven’t felt this depressed in a long, long time. I’ve had some very unfortunate thoughts, the nicest of which was that really I should just not have friends. The one who called me a cold, hard bitch was right and I am toxic and I should just sort of quietly retreat and let them have nice lives.

Today’s class was much, much better. There was no movie, and while the lecture was a little redundant for me, that’s only because I had biology last semester, and it obviously wasn’t for most of the class.  I and a couple others actually asked questions, and the lecture portion was broken into reasonable bits by breaks.

For lab we went outside and walked around identifying trees.  Surprisingly, and gratifyingly, there was almost no self-segregation.  Everyone kind of hung out together and joked and helped with the trees, and I didn’t hear anyone blow off the assignment or complain about it.  Everyone was pretty into it.  I even made a couple of the sporty guys laugh with my assessment of the US’s chances against England on Saturday (i.e., that we will beat them into a bloody pulp and piss on their graves).

We just watched the Seattle Sounders play against DC United.  United had 3 goals, us none, and two of their goals were literally within 5 minutes of each other.  Then, it the last 5-8 minutes of play, Seattle scored two goals within I think two minutes of each other! Everyone else was in bed so we couldn’t scream, except in our hearts, which we did.  I don’t care at all that they didn’t win; Sounders fans are by far the best in the US, and supporting that team is all about that community–basically, we’re there win or lose.  Before we scored, the commentators noted that one time the Sounders lost 4-0 before a home, sold-out crowd, and they refunded every single ticket.  Seattle is my beloved hometown, but that really cemented my love for the Sounders.  That was a noble and gracious thing to do.

Prof. Terry Shank slept in class again today.  I apologize for the poor quality of the picture.  The room was dark, since another movie was on.  However, I’m sure that over the next five weeks I’ll have many more opportunities to document this disgrace.

(The only alteration done to the picture, by the way, was to lighten and crop it in GIMP.)

Today we “learned” about particles like protons and electrons.  We learned what determines an element’s atomic number, and what makes it an element.  Then we spent about an hour watching the *sequel* to What the &^%$( Do We Know?”.

One of the first things he mentioned yesterday was the importance of recognizing junk science–but I guess when science gets confused and tries to be religion, he doesn’t mind so much.

To answer the question I would certainly also be asking, no, I have not spoken to him about any of the problems I have with this charade.  First of all, where would I begin? With his verbally treating members of the class like animals by “Ah-ah-ah”-ing them?  With his naps? With the constant movies?  With the fact that he’s starting the course in high school for any student from West Virginia or North Carolina (the only two school systems I can definitely affirm require basic science courses to graduate)?

I’m not going to drop the course or stop going to it.  I am extremely ready to be graduated.  Regardless of what everyone from West Virginia seems to think, however, I believe that when one encounters something wrong, one should try to fix it!.

One good thing to come from the past couple days is that I now realize how deeply fortunate I was to be tested as academically gifted at a young age.  Barring last semester’s breakdown, the only courses I’ve ever failed were the ones that bored me, that didn’t challenge me.  And I’m sort of sorry if this offends anyone or causes them to laugh at me, but I not only refuse to, I cannot comprehend being the “typical” college student who is eager and happy to have an “easy” class, one that does not teach, does not challenge, in which nothing is learned, the classes where you pay your money and serve your time and get your B on the other side.  I’m actually here to learn.  I always have been.  Getting back to my gratitude for passing that AG test, I realized this today:

If I had failed the AG test

and been put in classes this bad or close

for ten years

I’d be shocked if I didn’t drop out, too.  I, or anyone who cared to, could learn more and better by going to the library and reading a book.  Not only am I not learning, I am actively prevented from learning by being forced to spend my time listening to this placeholder instead of doing something worthwhile.

I’ve had people tell me that this is just a hurdle to be jumped.  What a cowardly way to avoid confronting the fact that Marshall is utterly failing its community as a school and as a business–if a mechanic charged me almost a thousand dollars and then napped in front of me–I can’t logically finish this example, because no mechanic who did anything other than fix your car after charging you that much money would ever get any work!

If he sleeps again tomorrow, I’ll send that email to the deans.  Apparently nothing will come of it, but if that’s the case, I do know how to reach the local newspaper and television stations.

Last night I received a comment on my last post. This person used an alias and no contact info, indicating a wish to hide their identity. However, the content of the comment immediately and unmistakably identified this person as someone who once knew me. She/he laid down some old, familiar tunes that were rather less welcome than sudden and explosive diarrhea. Because I absolutely do not want to have anything to do with this person for the foreseeable future, I deleted that comment and posted one of my own saying that it was removed for reasons of gross incompetency–and that’s true too. People who are uneducated about protecting privacy on the internet certainly get to use it, despite putting themselves and others at risk, but they also get to deal with the consequences of that. This includes having their data mined, having online communications read by undesirables, getting worms and viruses–and having their comments removed.

I might be alone in this, but I treat blogs and personal websites like houses. I would never go into someone’s house and pick an argument with them, especially if I did not have all of the data, and especially if I had previously hurt that person in some way. Yet this commenter did, and that left me with a quandary of how to keep my blog-house a safe space for myself and my loved ones? At first I thought I would make the blog invitation only, and I even changed that setting and sent out some invitations to trusted friends. But over the course of the (remarkably rotten) day, I changed my mind. Like many people my age, I both jealously guard my privacy and wish to be open–in specific, chosen ways. I want it to be up to me, and not others.

So, I have decided to get rid of commenting and make the blog public. Nearly all the comments I ever got were negative/uninformed, so really the problem was commenting, not privacy as such.

I am trying to take this up again more seriously. I think it’s a pretty good practice, and it helps keep me honest. If I’m writing on here, although I never say, you can assume I’m writing for myself as well, and that is of course something I need to do more of.

I hope this new arrangement works out, and I hope that I pretty much never hear from that person again–not from animosity towards them, mind. My life is simply better without them in it.

Because privacy really does mean a lot to me, I won’t out them, either. I will, on the other hand, out Prof. Terry Shank of Marshall University. I have one final class to pass before I can graduate, and it met for the first time today. After the same lecture on “What is science?” that I’ve been listening to since the third grade, it was time for “lab”. “Lab” consisting of Prof. Shank putting on a movie and taking a nap. In his chair, right at the front of the classroom with everyone watching. When the movie was over and he woke up, he saw that one student had left–whether from boredom, an emergency, or sheer disgust with the spectacle, who knows. He then spoke sternly that “that behavior will not be tolerated” and that the student would not receive credit for today’s “lab”. He told us to pass it along to whoever it was that
left.

We all stared at each other in shock, and then left. “Class” was over.

If a professor smacked a student, called them a nasty word, or sexually harassed them, I would know who to report it to and I would feel fairly certain that appropriate action would be taken. In the face of this kind of neglect, however, what does one do? I’ve prepared letters for both the deans of his and my own college. I can’t decide whether to send them now, or to wait for him to fall asleep again and attach pictures. I’ll sleep on it.

I don’t really understand people. Anyone who knows me well could confirm this. I am frequently confused when people do one thing and say another, or do something that doesn’t make sense, or fail to live up to a principle out of laziness and don’t feel like they’ve failed.

I’m by no means indicating any kind of perfection or steady making-of-sense on my part–I snap too much and when I’m hungry I become downright shrewish and stupid. For contrast, I’ll give you an example of the kind of thing I just don’t get.

This past semester I had a pretty major breakdown and missed a bunch of class. When I started to pull myself together, I emailed my teachers and told them what was going on, said I didn’t expect any slack or anything, I just wanted them to know that I was neither dead, nor just ditching. All of them wrote back quickly and said that under the circumstances, they would work with me so I could finish the semester.

One of them wrote that he hoped “God turns your pain” and that several of his family members dealt with similar issues and he would definitely work with me. I was very relieved, because I hadn’t been doing well in that class, although I was probably the most engaged, interested person in it as far as in-class performance. I immediately emailed him back and asked what exactly I’d have to do, since most of the rest of the assignments were group projects.

He never emailed me back. Never. I re-sent the email several times, checked my inbox and junk folders almost hourly for days, then weeks. I was having panic attacks every time I spoke to someone I wasn’t related to, so I never called him or went to his office. I accept my measure of culpability in this.

But even so…from “May God turn your pain” to completely ignoring a student in need? I just don’t get that.