Why the ‘Ivory Tower’ metaphor is misleading: notes towards an argument

  • Example the first:

Apparently Victor Davis Hanson has a new article out in the National Review.

Hanson is a former classicist who became increasingly disenchanted with the changes brought on by the ‘culture wars’ and ended up writing a well known and much-derided (in some circles) (e.g., mine) monograph, Who Killed Homer?, which is a book that makes the case for classical education (I’m on board!) and derides academe for being overly politically correct and obsessed with not offending anyone and what-not (I’m significantly less on board with this part).

He has since left academe, and made his way as a conservative commentator, and has written a number of pieces for the National Review (perhaps he’s a regular there; I don’t really follow him or that magazine closely enough to know), and he would be content to be placed in the Buckley tradition of American conservatism, I expect.

So his new piece is about how diversity has destroyed civilizations.

Which is tiresome, and, as a classicist friend who put it on facebook noted, just flat-out factually incorrect: Rome was an incredibly multicultural empire throughout its ‘golden age’, and the Ottoman Empire was generally pretty comfortable letting people go on with the lives they liked according to their own cultural standards, so long as they paid taxes and so on.

(I can’t really recommend reading the piece, but it’s here if you really want to.)

Full disclosure: I did not read past the inane first paragraph. Yes, I am criticizing an article I haven’t read. I trust my friend who commented on it, and I trust that Hanson’s history will be a reasonably good predictor of this piece’s argument.

  • Example the second:

Earlier today I read a very interesting overview of the history of African American studies (mostly avant la lettre) scholarship. The author identified four distinct ‘generations’ of scholars, and summarized their main concerns and questions and methodologies and models.

For instance, you have the late 19th century, when scholarship is more Biblically inspired than really academic, as few people writing on the subject have any significant academic training (what with most of them being black, and that whole slavery thing and all). Then a later generation moved away from that, and the focus of the field shifted to demonstrating the value of the ‘black race’.

(In quotes because we all know that race doesn’t really mean anything stable, but it’s more or less the language of the time.)

Subsequent generations have increasingly focused on identifying and illuminating the agency that underlies the black communities of today – and in fact the assumption that black people in America were active, intelligent, creative agents in the construction of their own cultures and communities – as opposed to being savages, or relying on white saviors, for instance – is currently one of the basic givens of the field.

The author pointed out how all of these academic generations related to their contexts: when the cultural moment was trying to stabilize the country after a war determined that blacks had to be dealt with as humans, it was about demonstrating that black people did some good things too. When it was about Civil Rights and integration, the focus was on creating sympathy and empathy for the black American. When it was on Black Power, the focus was on the fertility of black action and imaginations.

(I’m oversimplifying mightily, you understand, but that gives you a reasonable overview, I think.)

  • What these examples have to do with each other

Historiography takes as one of its basic premises that no scholarly inquiry can take place outside of its context. If you aren’t existing in a context that permits the idea that maybe black people are, um, people, your research is probably going to mostly take for granted that they’re not, and work from there. If you are committed to believing that diversity is dangerous, you’re probably going to find a way to support that claim in the face of what looks to me and my friend like incontrovertible and obvious evidence to the contrary.

That is my first objection to the ‘ivory tower’ metaphor.

But let’s step back, briefly, and clear up that term a bit.

In common parlance, the ‘ivory tower’ signifies the rarified air in which academics pass their lives, above the concerns of you petty mortals. It is imagined that they are isolated from the mundane, and never have to worry about anything like laundry or the price of milk or childcare or the human feelings that result from human interactions with human students.

The old tropes of professors – absent-minded, clumsy in the normal world, distracted by higher intellectual matters – reflects this.

It’s all bullshit, of course, as has become increasingly clear as academe becomes more accessible to the ‘lower’ classes and the poors (like me!).

That is partly what forced the culture wars of the 80’s: my intellectual ancestors with working class backgrounds started pointing out that maybe not everyone who ever did anything important was a straight rich white guy, and maybe it mattered a little bit to think about the perspectives of women and non-whites, who were also, allegedly, people.

Obviously some people – Victor Davis Hanson, for example – have found this shift so offensive that they needed to eschew the whole realm of academe as soon as they realized they couldn’t just stay in their ivory towers. Even as they, confusingly, refused to acknowledge the fact that their towers were actually fully embedded in and colored by the world around them.

Which reminds me: ‘ivory tower’, the term itself, apparently comes from the Song of Solomon, where the beloved’s neck was compared to an ivory tower. And later it was applied to the Virgin Mary, and came to signify purity and lack of concern with the banal dirtinesses of worldly affairs.

(The ‘See Also’ of the wikipedia page on ‘Ivory Tower‘, by the way, is amazing, and is comprised of ‘Gates of Horn and Ivory’ [a reference to a passage in the Odyssey]; ‘Liberal Elite’; and ‘Limousine Liberal’. Gag me.)

The confluence of the Hanson article and the article about the history of African American studies scholarship was fortuitous, but there is also a third piece: the University of Chicago wrote an anti-trigger-warning thing that surfaced on the interwebz today.

Time – and the fact that I need to get up early tomorrow for work training, and also finish packing for my luxury weekend in the Hamptons – keeps me from commenting further on this at any length, but I will say that, while I can see legitimate reasons underlying the arguments of both sides, I think the anti-trigger-warning side will turn out to be on the wrong side of history. If only because one of the major trends of scholarship has always been towards acknowledging the value of underrepresented voices, and taking their objections seriously. And ‘trigger warnings’ are, at heart, little more than acknowledging that certain people’s pain is real.

But I’ll leave that there for tonight. Lots on the table. But I always prefer that to simple neat pat answers, because those are nearly always bullshit.

I may or may not be posting this weekend, but in any case you can feel free to imagine me lounging around private pools on Long Island, and sailing leisurely around the Sound, and drinking more than is really recommended in the mid-afternoon.

And, of course, feeling deeply conflicted about it all.

Because that’s basically what I do for a living —

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Thresholds

Oops – I guess I’ve had a post called ‘Thresholds’ before. Figures. I’ve been interested in liminal spaces ever since I learned the word ‘liminal’.

[from Latin: limen, liminis (n) – threshold]

Anyway.

I finished the blue quilt blocks last night, which means now I’ve got to decide if I’m going to double-down on my original, unusual, design, or go for something more traditional.

Here’s a rough computerized plan of the quilt, but you have to imagine the quilting (absent in this image) doing the heavy-lifting in the central portion (also the colors are off, but it gives the basic idea):

emilyquilt

(I won’t go through the whole thing again – you can read about the original plan and what it signifies here if you’re curious.)

I keep going back and forth. It’s a weird quilt, and there’s something weird even about the move from light-outer to dark-inner, right? I think the reverse seems more natural.

But then again I kind of like it, and think it works.

In no small part because it is extremely personalized for the recipient, which goes a long way in smoothing over design flaws, in my experience.

Here are the actual colors, incidentally:

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Speaking of blue:

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A basement guy came by today. He was a great – and not at all skeezy or polyester – salesman, and the husband committed to spending $3,500 to have the basement cement cleaned up and patched, and have waterproof, mold-proof, basement-ready tiles installed over it, and PVC baseboards installed over that.

All of which I think is a great idea: he likes to be cheap about things, but I just don’t see how short-term solutions are really remotely worthwhile when you’re talking about a home you own, and especially when it’s in a workspace you spend many many hours a week inhabiting. That’s exactly the kind of thing you ought to invest in.

(Of course, this is all easy to say, as it isn’t my money.)

They expect the whole overhaul to take just one day, amazingly, and we’re currently scheduled for September 9.

As long as there’s no basement to house the husband’s office, incidentally, he’s working out of my office, so I’m also all in for getting this settled as soon as possible.

So I painted the doors today.

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There are so many doors down there. Closet (2 doors), bathroom (1), laundry (2), furnace and water heater (2), crawl space (1). They used to be all dark brown cheap wood.

And now they are all blue. Jury is out on whether or not a second coat will be necessary (probably), but already the space looks brighter and cheerier, even with that shitty floor.

The walls will be a sunny light yellow, the trim and ceiling a light blue-white. The floors are a light-pseudo-wood ‘parquet’.

(The basement guy kept emphasizing that his products were inorganic, and reiterating that organic materials in basements are just food for various nasty critters and bacteria and what-not. That visceral word choice was probably a factor in his successful sale, honestly.)

I have high hopes for the space, though, and even for finishing it relatively soon.

And I’m glad the mold problem forced our hand, because the husband would never have agreed to pay $3,500 for that room otherwise, even though he has the money lying around.

(Of course, his impulse to being cheap is part of why he has several thousand dollars lying around idly, so there’s that.)

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It is also, of course, the end of summer, and I have not managed my time especially well this week, which means I have three articles to read and summarize tomorrow, in advance of Fridays’ training.

(At least I already did the reading and scoring of a completely extraneous totally appropriate number of sample final projects assigned to make sure that all faculty are working with the same standards in mind, so there’s that.)

For our last summer night out, the husband and I went out to the Bok, which has been controversial for various reasons, but actually is kind of the best you can hope for as far as ‘gentrification’ goes.

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Like, they hired locals – borrowing (but not poaching!) from local restaurants, I think, as a kind of free advertising mutual-interest thing – to provide a little food, and I had some deliciously fresh scallion pancakes prepared by a friendly Southeast Asian American.

It’s a great bar – the view alone is a brilliant selling point – and it is functioning as a non-profit subsidizing various locally owned establishments being housed in the building. Which, yes, used to be a school, and I am 100% on the side of people who hate the idea of closing public schools… but the developer wasn’t responsible for that, and she could have turned it into ‘luxury condos’, but instead decided to try to make it what she calls ‘a community living room’, which I think is a brilliant vision.

But soon we’ll be back in it, and summer but a distant memory.

I hope we got enough done.

I think we did.

But it never feels like enough.

But I had fun doing my work, and learned and marveled and was engrossed and enthralled, and performed ballet and pointe, and traveled the world, and sewed, and strengthened friendships, and wrote a chapter, and laid the groundwork for several more chapters, and took the gut-punch of an article rejection in stride, and am mentally preparing to get back to revising that article this fall… so it’s all time well spent, right?

So we’ll call it a success.

That seems fair to me.

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Spotty

Like when you’re driving and a radio station is going in and out of range: that’s more or less how I feel right now.

But all three course websites are up, and dates are settled with the librarian and (mostly) with the rare books room guy, and I did about a third of the bullshit busywork incredibly useful important homework for Friday’s meeting.

I just bought this shirt (in blue) for Broadway, and I predict she will love it

I just bought this shirt (in blue) for Broadway, and I predict she will love it

And mom is home, so we’re no longer responsible for a car. Which is always kind of a relief, however convenient they are for some things.

And the ugly shitty baseboards from the basement are all ripped out, and someone is coming tomorrow to do an estimate of redoing that shitty concrete. The other guy estimated $2,400, which the husband thought was absurd and I found totally reasonable and expected, and actually slightly on the low side, based on the random smattering of research I did.

finally saw this Phila-famous mural, put up a few months back. Don't worry: I was stopped at a red light.

finally saw this Phila-famous mural, put up a few months back. Don’t worry: I was stopped at a red light.

 

And I committed to going to the Hamptons this weekend, so that’s happening. I’ll pour out some Dom Perignon for you poors while I’m out there.

from yesterday's text exchange with DC

from yesterday’s text exchange with DC

Everything is compromise.

I’ve got quilt blocks and an entertaining and exceedingly absurd novel calling my name —

I'll move him before I turn the iron on, I promise

I’ll move him before I turn the iron on, I promise

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Dichotomies

Dichotomies, admittedly, tend to be deceptive. Like gay vs. straight: hardly anyone is decisively one or the other, without nuance. Or male vs. female: we’re all finding out (belatedly, many of us) that that’s false. Neurodiverse vs. neurotypical: nope, again with the spectrum. But they’re so convenient to think with!

This is something that drives me crazy about my boss: she thinks in black and white (often black vs. white), and one is always better than the other (not different: better) and you’re doing a disservice to your students if you see it differently.

(A fun happy hour with colleagues once involved hyperbolic escalations of how we’ve ruined everything with our bad teaching choices; my favorite was, well, great: now [school] has lost its accreditation because of this, just so you know.)

(It’s funny because it’s based in truth, helas.)

Rich vs. poor.

My rich friends want me to come up to their house in the Hamptons this weekend. Our mutual DC friend is going (she of the delightful Miami trip of a few months back).

I have some good arguments against going: it is a five hour trip, basically, by train – and that’s assuming I take the Acela [expensive fast train], which I probably won’t – and I’ve got a shit-ton of work to do this weekend so I’m ready to teach on Tuesday. And I can’t really do it all now, because the new semester’s training session isn’t until Friday, so I won’t know all the changes, and understand how they will impact my plans, until that’s done.

(I will commend the Powers that Be on getting our course websites put together in reasonably good time; usually we only get them a few days before the semester starts. This time I was informed that they were ready to go on Friday afternoon – that’s more than a week to play with setting them up to my liking!)

I’m worried that their arguments are better, though: namely, they’re moving to London at the end of the year for who knows how long, and this will probably be the last chance to see them at their fancy beach house mansion for a while.

(They spent $150,000 just on the design plans. Although maybe that’s not expensive? I don’t know how much it costs to design a house.)

(And, to be fair, the land itself was in the rich friend’s family – her father’s family had a little modest cabin on it – but then again I think they bought the lot next door to build their tennis courts, so… yeah.)

(Yes: they have tennis courts. Plural.)

I admit that I have a real problem with wealth. I am judgy and impatient with it, and find displays of it off-putting and insulting. But these are old friends, and they are basically good people…

I’m still deeply disdainful of the rich friend’s husband choice to stick with his green card and not get citizenship in order to avoid paying taxes on all his family’s wealth, which I think is gross and selfish. But, again, there are no hard and fast lines, and we all make the choices that make sense to us in our context, and sometimes those choices don’t make sense to people who don’t have all the information.

Yet and still.

But who am I kidding, I’ll probably go. For one thing, the rich friend is exceedingly pushy when she wants to be, and it’s easier to give in than resist.

And of course it will be glorious and ritzy, and I will feel a little icky, but I will enjoy good company (and excellent booze – they are always well stocked with excellent and free-flowing booze) and I know I will come home more happy than not.

Anyway.

I know I haven’t been especially prone to engaging with the world around TDP for a while now, and have been mostly on about personal concerns and what-not, but I am interested in these Trump statues that appeared last week, and the responses to them.

So, if you haven’t heard, some anarchist artist collective put up statues of naked Donald Trump statues in several cities (New York, Seattle, LA… three or four others) (not Phila, alas — bringing out my requisite Phila-chip-on-shoulder: what, we’re not good enough for yous and your art? Well fuck yous! We don’t want your art anyway!) and they are, shall we say, not flattering. I don’t feel like embedding images, for various reasons, but I am positive that google will do you right on this front: the interwebz are full of pictures of these statues.

But I will describe them: the statues depict an unflatteringly aging man, with small buttocks and a spare tire and looming paunch, with blue veins showing through in various places, with the trademark atrocious hair and arrogant mug, and, most saliently, with a very small male member, and with no balls.

When I first came across the story, I thought it was funny, and payment in kind, in a way: he talks incessantly about women as if we’re only there to be observed, and only as valuable as they are beautiful (by his narrow, nasty, boring standards) – ‘she’s a dog’, ‘she’s bleeding out of her wherever’, ‘she’s no longer a ten’:

(Props to Heidi Klum for having a sense of humor about that nonsense, and giving it the middle finger it deserves.)

In short, I had a hard time feeling bad for Trump for being ridiculed for his body.

But a lot of people came out pretty hard against it:

And I see the point. It may be momentarily fun to publicly remind Donald Trump that he hardly registers on the ten-point-scale-of-attractiveness, but…

Doug Muder, as he often does, encapsulates the problem neatly:

I’m of two minds about this, and I’m glad to hear that the sculptor is a Gary Johnson supporter, so Democrats have nothing to answer for. Slate‘s Christina Cauterucci sums up the anti-statue position:

Encouraging people to laugh at the statue of Trump because it’s fat, wrinkly, and small-dicked doesn’t tell them Trump is a bad person. It tells them that fat, wrinkly, and small-dicked (or transgender, or intersex) people are funny to look at and should be embarrassed of their naked bodies.

Like many of Trump’s own insults, the statues are “demeaning, gratuitous, and don’t say anything worth saying.”

I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, though, because there’s an ongoing debate among anti-Trump people about whether to respond to him with fear, anger, or laughter. The statue clearly comes out on the side of laughter; which is a point worth making. (Though I agree with Cauterucci about the collateral damage to people who share the statue’s supposedly risible features.)

As for the offense to Trump himself, what standards of decency are he and his supporters playing by? If I could identify any, I’d happily grant him the protection of those standards. But it gets tiresome to follow rules and uphold standards when your opponents don’t.

(Quotes within quotes!)

So there’s another dichotomy lost: it isn’t always obviously okay or not okay to make fun of even the worst people.

Goddammit. It’s like the world is incredibly complicated or something, and everything is compromise.

But I’ve got only three more quilt blocks to do on the blue quilt, and a new absurd David Wong novel to get further into, so I guess we’ll call that a night.

Where do you stand on the Trump statue, though?

Oh, and how could I possibly not include the New York Parks Department’s statement about why they removed it, because [potential trans-shaming etc aside] it is golden:

NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.

young-goat-on-a-grass-field

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Pile-ups

Yesterday, not quite outside Phila, we saw a three-car pile-up wreck on 76 (aka the Schuylkill Expressway, archly called the Surekill, for its many unfortunate entrance ramps, a fair number of which dump you into the fast lane with only about 30 feet of straightaway to pick up speed – I try to avoid it when at all possible).

It was not an especially bad accident – when we saw it the cops weren’t even there yet, and no one seemed to be hurt, as there were three guys standing around idly, arms on hips, assessing the situation. Based on how they were all crashed, I diagnosed it as the result of two cars in each of the outer lanes trying to move into the middle lane at the same time, without signally, while going far too quickly, and without leaving an appropriate safety space cushion — and thus they basically sideswiped each other and then rear ended the guy in the middle lane.

That’s just my self-satisfied reconstruction based on how their various vehicles got dented and crushed and damaged, and how they skidded to their halt, because I get so frustrated with drivers, and especially with passing on the right.

But Phila drivers hate driving around me, to be fair: I don’t go fast enough, I insist on keeping at least two car lengths between myself and the car in front if we’re going above 35, and I’m generally overly cautious and defensive. Which I grant is its own kind of bad driving, but my blood pressure stays fairly low, and I’ve always gotten there eventually so far, so it seems to work for me.

I get honked at so much, though. And tailgated and then furiously passed.

Anyway, I didn’t meant to gab on about a car wreck or driving, because I know I am patronizing and precious about driving. Everything is kind of piled up right now, though, so it’s got me thinking about wrecks.

Last week we replaced the water heater, right? $825 later, we have fucking scalding hot water (seriously, I need to turn that thing way the fuck down – it seems to be currently set on, like, Satan’s Ass or something) and life is good now on that front. That coincided, coincidentally, with the major basement work that has been thrust upon us by mold problems, which means that currently the husband’s office is scattered around the house, but mostly centered in my office (which is fine: I’ve got my own pile-ups that are keeping me too busy to sit down at my desk and write), and we pulled the basement carpet up.

Y’all.

It’s horrifying. I knew it would be a plain cement floor, and I figured it wouldn’t be in great shape, but… wow. It’s stained with old carpet glue, and its crumbling in places, and there’s mold in places, and it’s just awful.

So now we’re trying to find someone to come redo the basement floor. This is going to be pricey, I expect. $3000-$5000, I’d guess, for repairing the cement and then laying down a reasonably attractive basement-appropriate flooring?

As in, not just putting fucking carpet over nasty cement in a dampish basement, like the previous owners did. Ew.

We’re taking this opportunity to redo the whole room. It badly needed a makeover anyway: it was all beige and neutral, with dark wood doors, and it was cramped and depressing-feeling. The husband picked out a sunny yellow (not too glaring: a gentle yellow) for the walls and a light sky blue for the trim and doors and closets. I’m lobbying for repainting the ceiling too, in a bluish white we have left over from doing the sewing room last year.

Not that I know when this is going to get done. I think we’ll both be impressed if we manage to finish it all by Christmas.

Side-note on the husband’s private pile-ups: the USCIS – that’s the Citizenship and Immigration Services, whose officers oversee all the kinds of cases the husband does (hardship, asylum, extraordinary ability…) – seems to have undergone some big shake-up this summer, and now all the officers are demanding unreasonable supplemental evidence submissions, and are denying cases for bogus reasons, and are generally being assholes and not following the agreed-upon playbook of How the Law Works.

The husband joined an immigration lawyer listserve, and this is a well known and widespread problem. AILA (the immigration lawyer professional organization) is actually filing complaints or something, it’s so bad.

Which is all to say, he’s getting a lot of ‘Requests for Additional Evidence’ and ‘Notices of Intent to Deny’, and obviously his clients are freaking out a little. Or kind of a lot, in a number of cases.

(And they were already pretty worked up based on the last year of national political rhetoric: the things Trump et al are saying become exponentially more frightening when you are (1) an immigrant, (2) Muslim, (3) not a citizen of the US, and (4) a citizen of a really complicated country like Pakistan or Syria. Especially when you have young children, as most of his clients do. Tempers are running high on all sides.)

And then there are my pile-ups: the sewing ones, first of all. I’ve had this waterfall of sewing interest and intent, and finished that skirt, and restarted that abandoned coat, and started the intended new coat, and made great progress on the quilt… and just bought some new patterns, and fished out an old retro dress-and-jacket pattern after discovering several yards of navy cotton in the Stash (navy is my new color this year: my back-to-school purchases were navy booties and a navy-based skirt-shirt-cardigan outfit)…

Which is all to say, yes, it’s fine that the husband is taking over my office for a while, I’ve got my work cut out for me (heh… literally…) down here.

And then there’s work. Our training session is this Friday, and I have several hours of bullshit busywork useful homework to do in advance of that. And I’ve been putting my course websites together, and gathering all the various files, and thinking about how to organize them, and trying to figure out when I can work in the visits to the museum and to the rare books room —

(Being back on the magic class means being back in the museum and rare books room! And the rare books librarian, who is a delight, has assured me that he can put together a solid presentation on fairy tales as well, so they’ll get a little field trip too.)

— and trying to figure out how to help my kids see past the local culture of hating my class, which is popular because it is a required class and full of a lot of admittedly tedious work (but I promise it’s useful-tedious, if you can keep your sense of humor!)… but now my job depends on student evaluations, which means I need to make it easy for them to see what they’re getting out of all this time and effort.

I’m going to experiment with a couple of mid-semester anonymous surveys, with questions that ask them to reflect on what they think we’ve been doing in the class, what they think they’ve learned, how they think they’ve been performing in group work and discussions, and that sort of thing – always with a focus on the positive (‘what is going well?’) and on their own role in their education (‘what are you doing to make this time worthwhile?’).

They’re easy kids, as I’ve said: they come in knowing how to be good students, by and large, and many of them don’t even mind working hard, provided I can convince them it’s worth their while (which often just means reminding them that it’s not that hard to get an A- in this class). So maybe this little intervention will help, and will make them more conscious of what they’re getting out of the time they spend with me, which maybe will translate to high eval scores, because that’s all that fucking matters, because no one on the faculty committee can apparently be bothered to look beyond our eval scores to assess whether or not we’re worth employing, and getting a high ‘Course Quality Score’ is literally the main hurdle to getting our contracts renewed now.

Not that I’m bitter, no.

We’re just checking in to see what kinds of potential collisions are threatening, and taking a deep breath, and doing everything we can to just keep rolling smoothly along.

And I’ve got a new audiobook calling to me, and six more quilt squares to make before I’m done with the piecing part of this quilt, and all the rest is too much to think about at this hour anyway —

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Harms and fouls and tolerance

The husband and I drove out to Lancaster today. Actually to Lancaster-the-city, which is about in the middle of the more famous Lancaster County, which is famous primarily because it is home to a large population of Pennsylvania Dutch (e.g., Amish and Mennonite).

Anyway, apparently Lancaster is one of the oldest inland towns in the country, and was the state capital from 1799-1812, and was, for one glorious day during the Revolutionary War, the capital of the nascent United States. It’s also the home of President James Buchanan, about whom I almost guarantee you now know exactly one fact: that he was born in Lancaster, PA.

US Route 30, which connects Philadelphia to Lancaster and remains a major farm-to-market road (and which is called Lancaster Avenue in the greater Phila area), was the first paved road in the country. Phila never gets tired of firsting it over other cities. For instance, Lancaster claims that it’s Fulton Opera House is the oldest continually operating theater in the country — but then Phila steps in and thumbs her nose and asserts that her Walnut Street Theater is the oldest continually operating theater in the English-speaking world.

Fuck you, The Globe. Yeah, so maybe you had Shakespeare, but then you had all those down years when you had nothing to give.

Anyway, we actually didn’t go out for the history. We’ve spent some time out there before (one of the earliest posts I did on TDP, in fact, was to do with a Lancaster County trip the in-laws took us on a few years back), and done some of the touring and learning about Amish and Mennonite life and what-not, and this is my take-away:

They push the limits of my tolerance. As do ultra-orthodox Jews, and for very similar reasons.

Take public schools, for instance, which I am a huge fan of, but which insular communities can do major damage to. I actually have no idea if the Penna Dutch are doing anything remotely similar to that, but it points out a large flaw in the system: it is possible for there to be large communities of people who are unwilling to participate in the larger system of governance of their city/county/state/country, but who are still able to vote and influence how public services work (or fail) in their area.

And of course that leaves me conflicted, because of course freedom of-and-or-from religion is kind of the cornerstone of the country and all, but yet and still: as soon as your religion gets in the way of the operation of public government, we’re no longer in fair territory.

The husband objected more than I, as he is wont to do (largely because he likes taking extreme positions and then finding arguments for them) (you can see why he’s a successful lawyer), and argued that Amish shouldn’t even be allowed to vote, since they don’t engage with the technology that they would need in order to fully understand the issues and candidates on the national stage.

I wonder, actually, how voter turnout is among the Penna Dutch.

Thank god for google: apparently voter turnout is very low in Penna Dutch communities. Like 10%, at least for national elections. So I guess that’s a problem that takes of itself.

I did have occasion to get momentarily annoyed at their antiquarian insistences, when two horse-drawn carriages were on the freeway, and wanted to turn left, which involved them changing into and through my lane from the shoulder, which involved me having to pass in front of one Amish cart, and it turns out? Really hard to see in your rear-view mirror, what with their not-using-electricity. So you check your mirrors, and you know there’s a horse and wagon there somewhere, but you can’t see fuck-all, so you signal, and hope the guy with the reins knows what he’s about and can handle your confusion.

They do have flashing light displays on the back of the carriages, incidentally. Would a lantern in the front really be that much more of an offense against their arcane obstinacy?

Anyway, the point wasn’t to go on about the Amish or whatever (although seriously – and I think I can say this without censoring myself, since literally no Amish person is ever going to see this – fucking buttons and zippers, man. Use them. They are amazing. The Amish literally use only straight pins for closures on their clothes. It makes me so uselessly, randomly angry).

Ahem.

Lancaster-the-city was a cute little small town in central PA, and we did our usual: stumbled on a used bookstore (I bought a book of Neil Gaiman short stories and, to everyone’s amazement, stumbled on a copy of Elizabeth Barber’s Women’s Work: the First 20,000 Years, which I’ve been curious about ever since TR talked about it ages ago, because it’s about women and history and textiles, oh my!) (ps TR, I can’t find a post where you go on at length about Barber’s book, though I thought I remembered you having one; if you want me to link to it, drop by the comments)…

… so we found a bookstore, then visited a brewery for dinner and a drink, and then went to a baseball game. That is our basic playbook of American day trips. It only occurs to me now how pleasingly alliterative it is.

The baseball was good:

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We saw the Lancaster Barnstormers play the York Revolution [I object to their team name, but no one asked me], and the ‘stormers were ahead when we left in the 7th (because it is a nearly-two-hour drive home).

Favorite part of the day: learning that Penna Dutch love baseball!

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Okay, there weren’t that many, statistically speaking, but still: there were a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch people at the ballgame!

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Fantastic.

Favorite new stereotype by miles.

‘It’s like Mennonites and baseball, amirite?’

Please let’s make this a thing.

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Filed under baseball, culture, travel, varia

Proprioceptions

If you were to ask Aristotle (not that I would advise it, really, ever) about the cause of motion (at least if you were asking him qua author of de Anima, as you’d receive a rather different answer if you asked him in terms of Categories or Physics – and let’s not even touch Metaphysics), he would tell you it resides in the sensitive soul.

(This would be ‘sensitive’ as in ‘capable of perceiving the world through senses’, not as in ‘prone to emotionality’ or whatever.)

The nutritive soul is the principle that allows the basic functions of life: reproduction, growth, consumption of food and expulsion of waste, that sort of thing. Every living thing has this. The rational soul is what allows beings to engage rationally with the world and reflect and opine and wonder, and this is limited to humans.

(Let’s be honest: mostly men. The rational soul in women is deficient at best.)

The sensitive soul is shared by animals and humans, as things that can locomote through the world at will in one way or another. This requires understanding one’s own boundaries, and how those boundaries will be affected by interaction with the not-self.

(Full disclosure: I don’t think Aristotle would really put it that way, but we’re moving away from Aristotle now, I’m just always happy to work his theories in every chance I get.)

I am most aware of this when I’m driving, because I find it amazing and astonishing that I can expand my sense of selfness to include the whole car I’m in charge of, and can navigate the world with a conceptual and practical understanding of ‘my’ edges and spaces. I mean, if you tried right now to imagine your car around you, and to estimate its size and boundaries, I bet you couldn’t. But somehow when you’re in a car, even if it’s a car you’ve never driven before, you (assuming you’re an experienced driver) instantly expand your sense of self to include the car.

I mean, consider a time when you’ve had on some kind of costume that extended your body in new or large or unusual ways; chances are you struggled to move through the world without constantly running into things, because your brain hadn’t figured out how to account for the new situation — and then think of how easily you do it in a car. Incredible

This is proprioception, basically, though I don’t know if the people who study such things would actually apply the term to that expanded understanding of yourself that you get when your physical ‘selfness’ includes foreign entities of one kind or another (cars, tall hats, costumes with tails or extra legs…).

Proprius being a Latin adjective indicating things that are proper to oneself, ‘-ception’ from capio, having to do with catching or taking: proprioception is thus the grasping of what belongs to oneself, and how it is deployed in the world.

I was thinking of this today, of course, because of ballet. Balances in dance are gorgeous because they look like time has stopped and the dancer is just suspended in timelessness, but the truth, of course, is that still-looking balances require infinite and constant minute adjustments of form and placement.

In pointe there were only three of us tonight, and L. left early, so it was just J. and me (side note: J. is back from her summer job in a different city!), and the teacher had us attempt balances in passe – i.e., balances on one leg without the barre, because we’re big girls now, and ought to be pushing ourselves.

Mine did not go well on the first leg – I could only let go of the barre for a second – and the teacher came over for the other side, and put her hand softly against my back to push me a little bit forward, and then told me to shift my shoulders a bit to the other side …

… and I hit it. Only for a few a seconds, but there I was.

Which got me thinking about proprioception. How is it possible that I can internalize the dimensions of a car I’ve never driven before within seconds, but can barely perceive of how to align my shoulders and hips to achieve balance on one foot?!

I’m tempted to get one of those balance balls. Seems like it would be a useful way of training myself that balance is not stillness but instead very tightly controlled movement.

(2)

Well, I had intended to also include a discussion of a different kind of proprioception – that of understanding how one fits into a given context socially – but it makes me tired just to think of it, because the context I had in mind was work, and engaging with colleagues again, and especially engaging with the boss again…

A whole different balance ball game. And one I’m only marginally better at.

But we’re near the half hour, and my thighs are aching, and I need a long hot bath if I intend to manage stairs tomorrow, after two weeks off ballet followed by two nights of class in a row, and I find I really don’t want to talk about work.

So just very briefly (3): proprioception in surrogacy.

In beginning class yesterday a large woman who has been coming for the last few months tapped my shoulder in a down-moment and told me how much she enjoyed watching me dance. It means a lot to me, since I often feel awkward and ungainly, and usually feel that I haven’t met my baseline goals in any given class.

And tonight in class a young woman (she looks like a college student, frankly, but apparently she’s 30?! I must be getting old) who has been coming for a good six months or so now got self-conscious about following my marked steps while our group had a break and the other group ran the exercise, and she told me she didn’t want to be creepy, but really found it helpful to position herself behind me and try to do what I did.

I know exactly what she means, because I do this with K. and D. all the time: sometimes when you’re watching someone else do something you can’t really do yet, you can forget your own body’s limits, and sort of briefly inhabit their body’s abilities, and that’s one of the best ways to learn to dance, in my experience. You can’t do it yet, but you can see someone else doing it, and you can become them a little, and slowly your body will learn.

Which is a kind of proprioception-via-alloception — which is not a word, to my knowledge, and is a bastard Greek-Latin hybrid, but which ought to mean something like grasping-someone-else’s-sense-of-self. Like, figuring out a new way of being in the world based on watching and imitating someone else.

Though nothing beats a teacher who can see where you’re off, and tell you which way to lean. Because even though it feels crazy and dangerous to lean that way, sometimes you find that you’ve leant yourself right into balance.

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Filed under ballet, dance, goals, identity, learning, musings