On Fun

March 22, 2008

This is seriously one of the hardest questions of my life. What do I do for fun? What brings me joy? A rush? Relaxation? You know, just fun. If you go back through pictures of me as a girl, a smiling child I am not. I have always been pretty serious.

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As the first year of my doctoral work is coming close to an end (only a month a half left), and I tally up the years I have been in school (twenty-three years, not counting preschool and a break from 02-03), I have come to wonder to what extent I have mistaken work and achievement for fun. Or maybe I have the wrong idea of fun, and some of us are just not wired for fun-as-typically conceived (Is writing a paper fun? This is not clear to me). I used to insist that there was too much suffering in the world and that, in fact, no one should be having fun while there was so much pain. Clearly, I have rethought this. I am all for fun and joy and enjoyment. Perhaps, in some ways, it is what makes the suffering in our lives bearable.

But I just can’t figure out what is fun for me. That doesn’t cost a lot. I like massages and vacations. But these are rare and costly. I like to sleep. I enjoy reading and school and even my work. But does this count as fun? I like to knit, but I wouldn’t say I consider it fun. I guess I am talking about letting lose, vegging, laughing, and truly enjoying it. No guilt that you are not writing your paper cleaning the kitchen volunteering at the church doing taxes or swiffering the floor that hasn’t been cleaned for three weeks.

One of the things that I really do enjoy (enjoy=fun? still unclear to me) is blogging so I am going to try to do that more. Maybe I’ll take up sky diving too. Ha. Just kidding. Oh, aren’t I funny. A riot. So much fun.

How do you have fun?

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Hard Decisions in Mentoring

March 6, 2008

One of the young men I mentor has been having a hard time – went one year away to college but it was too far from home and too expensive (do you know how hard it is to be away at college when your family doesn’t have a car to give you or to come and get you with or spending money to give you?). Came back, took classes at a community college but had a hard time living with his mom, around all his old friends, having to work a lot to pay part of the rent to his mom, and such. It isn’t that it wasn’t do-able, its just that it didn’t work well for him. He isn’t Mr. Hero perfect, you know? Like a lot of middle class white kids, he’s bright, not brilliant, a hard-worker, but not a super-achiever. But many middle class white kids have parents to help pay for college. And parent who went to college and are familiar with the system. It is a hard system to figure out if you are the first one to do it and most of your friends aren’t doing it.

So, we’re brainstorming, talking, thinking about what to do and he says he’s thinking of joining the service.

What in the world am I supposed to say? It breaks me apart inside to think of him being in harm’s way. But it would sure make things a hell of a lot easier – we both agreed that the disciplined environment would be good for him. The job and plan would be good. The place to live would be good. Did I mention how nice it would be for him to have a job, training, money for college, and a plan and discipline?

Oh, yeah, except that that there is a war going on.

I don’t want people yelling at him or putting him in harm’s way. I don’t want him to have to be a soldier to make it in the world.

But who am I to get on my liberal high horse about the military and wars. Not that what I say is the be all, end all, but I do influence him and I don’t know what to do. Can I offer him money for school? Can ANY of the well-off “we love kids and Jesus so much” people at the after-school program where I met him give him money for school? Apparently they are paying off the mortgages of their McMansions and swimming pools in gated neighborhoods and buying new big video screen projectors for the new youth center they just built at church so no they can’t help, apparently.

I once made a really really bad call in advising one of my young mentees when he was only 16. Maybe a different approach on my part could have made a difference, maybe not, but the point was that I made a bad decision not recognizing the full weight of my opinion and the consequences of the situation.

Damn. I don’t want to do that again. And it is such a hard thing. Sure, college might/could work without the military. But it will be way harder and a clearly rocky path as the last two years have shown us.

But then again being dead or injured is sort of a bad option too.

Ugg. Again, no good answers. And none of those Jesus-loving, big-hearted, super-rich Christians who started this afterschool program around to help either. Sorry if I sound bitter. But for all the freaking electrical equipment they buy to recruit suburbanites to come to their megachurch, no one has ever suggested maybe super-huge scholarship fund (like the super-huge everything else this church has) for the kids in the afterschool program might be a good idea. Which would be real helpful right about now.


A little late night academic humor

March 4, 2008

So, I always like to post little things that make me laugh. I was looking up the phase “always already” which is a very hip poststructuralist sort of thing to say. Of course, I’ve heard it used a million times, but I didn’t know exactly who came up with it. I should have known. Of course, our old friend Martin Heidegger and then used liberally by Jacques Derrida. And I found this out at a hilarious posting How to talk like Jacques Derrida. I’m sure this must have been secretly circulated among many professors and students I know. Here is some of the advice:

Use the phrase “always already: Not only is the meaning of language always slipping out of our grasp, it has already moved on as we attempt to grasp it. What better phrase to express the urgency of this dynamic than to jam together two words which lesser minds would never have in the same room together? Thus, we are always already finding ourselves closer to the Derridean mode of expression.

Become a thesaurus: Why use one word, term, phrase, idiom, when you can use many, multiple, a plurality, two, maybe five words for the same concept, idea, meaning, signified?

Never finish a sentence too early: Always there will come an impulse, a wish, a directive to bring a sentence to a conclusion (a linguistic parole – Barthes’ parole applied to his lang? – time off for good behaviour, the sentence is brought to an end, the meaning is no longer a danger to society: but what could be more dangerous than meaning?), to bring the discourse to a terminus, which is after all merely another starting point, but this desire must be resisted (often through creating another subordinate clause, a subordinate which may grow to resist its subordinator, finally becoming the dominant term in the grammatical relationship, which is, after all, an essentially political one), although when one is quite certain (which is to say, one believes oneself to be certain) that the reader will have forgotten (or rather, neglected to remember) how the sentence began in the first place.