Friday, August 16, 2013

There Are Lasers in the Jungle, Somewhere

There are three reasons that Paul Simon's Graceland the first album played on my new record player. 1. It reminds me of Lex. He taught me that records are the coolest. He probably didn't know he did this, as he and I have had some complicated conversations about anything he does that smacks of hipsterdom. He was right, I was wrong. As anyone reading this stupid blog knows, Lex is the shit. 2. Longtime readers of this blog will recognize that the titular song of the album contain sentiments that resonate with some of my personal history on this blog. There, that was obscure enough. 3. It's not half bad.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Small Victories

I think you all would have been proud of me today.

I went into a ridiculous work situation armed with nothing more than a fake smile and "It's Just a Fucking Job" and, despite being repeatedly thrown under the bus and used as a pawn in game of petty political posturing, tumbled out the other side relatively unscathed. For the first time in a long time I was (mostly) able to sit back and observe the shit that the monkeys around the conference room table were flinging at each other in a (more or less) detached way and just laugh quietly to myself about how fucking pointless and stupid and not at all relevant to my life it all was.

And, when all was said and done and this same room full of assclowns pulled the dick move of giving me a fucking round of applause in recognition of my contributions, as if that somehow made up for them having spent the previous three hours selling my ass out for their own selfish ends, I managed to keep smiling and not tell even one of them to go fuck themselves with a dry erase marker.

A+ for taking one for the team. Give me a gold fucking star.

Why the Umbrella, I Have to Ask

People who know me understand why I am going to end up here for dinner tonight despite my best intentions. Yes, I love me some fried chicken, but damn if I don't love that logo. It doesn't hurt that they offer a half order of giblets - liver, gizzards, heart - for $6. I am assuming that they will be breaded and fried. Don't worry fans, a dinner of fried chicken will have me back to depressed blogging in no time!

It Gets Worse, It Gets Better

Is it going to get worse as it gets better?


That's a pretty abstract statement, what does it mean?

The path out of depression and isolation is necessarily routed through landscapes of anxiety that run as hot or hotter than anything in your long anxious history.  There's just no way around it.  You are more active and asking more from yourself and from the universe than you have felt safe doing for years.  Soon more and more people will join in this cultural economy of raised expectations and personal attachments.  They will telephone you because they want things for you and from you. 

You should expect that it is going to feel a bit like falling down an elevator shaft a lot of the time, but take heart: your very specific form of bad feeling is objective proof that you're lot in life is improving. 

Certainly you can understand how counter-intuitive this seems, sounds and feels.

Certainly I can, but I thought you fancied yourself at home with (negative) dialectics?

Shucks! I should have seen that coming.  That's just another example of how my ramped up anxiety around communication and connectivity clouds my experience of what you call forward progress. 

Perhaps.  You are swimming against the current of decades-old constellations of thought and behavior.  You should expect to feel more overwhelmed and not less for some time, even as you are surely moving forward.  

You mentioned swimming.  I try to swim at least 6 days a week lately at public pools.  It is socially awkward, often rather chilly and I have never gotten over my visceral aversion to the process of lowering myself into the water.  Worse, I swim at least as far as reaching oxygen debt, thus guaranteeing heavy breathing and hyperventilation that powerfully evoke my brand of panic attacks.  Everything about my daily swims brings with it some suffering and yet my swims are the centerpieces of my day.  I am more myself flailing in those chilly pools than I am on a stage or in my study.  When I swim I face discomfort head-on because my own counter-intuitive investment in resuming a half-ambitious, livable life dictates that I do.


Are you making fun of me?

No, exercise is good and you should be proud of your efforts. 

Obviously you're making fun of me.  Are you at all concerned that your message - it gets worse before it gets better - will piggyback on longstanding white-ethnic Catholic moralism inside of me?  Anxiety is uncomfortable, we can all agree, but it is no danger whatsoever compared to the moralism and defeatism of my negative self-talk. 

You sound afraid. 

Well, now it's my turn to congratulate you on your insight.   The physicality of anxiety can wash my days in tremors, trembles and chattering teeth, but I seem to be capable of swimming my laps and doing a certain amount of fledgling scholarly stuff regardless.  However, there are genres of negative self-talk available to me which, once triggered, can lead me on almost weeks-long benders of alternating self-attacks and hibernation.  I am afraid that this better/worse dogma incentivizes my telling myself to disregard my surface anxiety in the name of a larger cause in much the same way that I willfully undermined myself and under-reported my distress during traumatic periods of my life.  I am still paying a very high price for times when I thought the "right" thing to do was disregard my own discomfort and thereby degrade my own sense of importance.

That was then.  You are no longer surrounded by the same bad actors. You've learned some new moves.  

Oh,  I've learned some new moves.  If anything I have learned to distrust my personal interpretation of psychic events.  I believe you people when you tell me I'm doing better, even up to the point that doing better in a way means feeling worse.   I guess this means that for the time being there is only a minimal amount of gain to be gotten from talking of my distress with intimates and friends?

Reporting your anxiety is like turning on a white noise machine for people and expecting them to respond.  Reporting negative self-talk is likely to enable promiscuous phoning to the Emergency Room.  You should talk instead about your swimming or your band, the weather or what kind of podcasts you listen to.  Maybe even a little Oregon ballot initiative Politics? 

On this we can agree. There is a woozy hunger out there for my penetrating analyses of Initiative and Referenda politics in Oregon.   It can be titillating, if not transgressive, to plum obscurantist politics while regularly undertaking waves of bodily anxiety, dissociative flights and near-panics.  Lately I'm amazed by how much I accomplish daily, considering how my impression of the day is usually given over to recalling my symptoms and not my good works. 

Maybe you need to give yourself some credit. 

Maybe I need to feel less every day like the Face-hugger from Alien is crawling, tendril by tendril, outta my backside, up my body and towards my skull.  If that feeling went away I could surely learn to take it a little bit more fucking easy. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Save Me

It feels a bit like we here at the OG are on somewhat of a similar trajectory, no? Lex writes about returning to grad school and I find myself (potentially, probably) returning to the classroom in one and a half weeks.

I got a surprise offer today to teach a class in the Women’s Studies department at my present institution. Gender, Identity & Pop Culture: my first, my most frequently taught, my most loved course. A pretty fucking nice surprise, that. I said yes, of course.

Even more surprising, the WMST gig wasn’t the first teaching offer I got this week. This was offer one of four. None of them was a sure thing (and, due to contractual obligations to my full-time non-teaching day job, I can only accept one of them anyway), but it’s the first “maybe” I’ve encountered after a long, long dry spell.

I guess what I am getting at, if I allow myself to feel optimistic, is that this has the makings of a much more significant turn of events—not just a temporary return to the classroom, but possibly a return to teaching. If the budget situation is actually turning around and there is finally new hiring again on campus and there is a reasonable expectation of regular work, I could tell this job that I loathe to go fuck itself and happily rejoin the ranks of impoverished contingent academic labor.

And, of course, this being me, I have cruised right past acknowledging that this is all wild speculation and skipped straight to thinking about what this purely hypothetical turn of events might mean.

Could this be the exit that I am so desperately seeking? My last career move (not that I really had any good options at the time) was a huge mistake and I just. want. out. Escape fantasy? Probably. Although maybe, on a positive note, it might also translate into fewer hours spent fantasizing about stabbing myself or my co-workers.

Isn’t it also likely that I am setting myself up (again) by trying to make this somehow more than just a long shot job prospect? Haven’t I learned the perils of tying my identity to my occupation? Every day I try to remind myself, “Fuck it, it’s just a job.” You know, unless it’s that job, in which case it’s totally a measure of my self-worth. (And on the days when that job kind of sucks? Or when the reality of returning to living paycheck to paycheck comes back to bite me in the ass because, after all, that job really doesn’t pay for shit? Or when something inevitably happens to remind me that a not insignificant number of my faculty “colleagues” pretty much believe that if you’re not tenure-track you’re not shit? How will that whole defining myself based on my job thing be working out for me then?) I could end up hating that job, too (and hating myself more) just because I went into it with unhealthy and unrealistic expectations.

I’ve obviously got a lot of shit that needs sorting out. But it’s so much easier to ignore it all and think about how my make-believe job prospects are going to change my life, right?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Diasporic OG

How does one return to one's birthplace after one has long since read and accepted Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again?

The question isn't academic. Well, it kind of is:  I ask because I am in the process of processing my way back into graduate school after a long medical leave.   I ask because I, like Ash and Solid, have certain positive associations with the academic milieu despite also harboring some hard-earned ambivalence.  I ask because nostalgia isn't really available to somebody as anxious as I am, but living my life inside a mirrored cave of apocalyptic self-doubt and drab self-loathing has after months and months finally culminated in my feeling the need to make a move.  (Of course I have all kinds of feelings, but after much anger/fear/shame and a lot of hard work my urge to resume living has sharpened itself from a mere psychic sensation into something more like, shit, a belief.)

So I'm moving, flailing, backstroking, flouncing.  It is sometimes hard to distinguish between the concrete and the symbolic, between place and time, between my own desires/anxieties and those of others.  It's a mess and, like Ash wrote, equal parts lonely and boring.  But it's better than the lonelier and boring-er confines of a stigma'd life lived out of bounds, out of work and out of sorts. 

After moving to Michigan and before my great depression I had many occasions to fly "back" to Oregon for work or school.  Each time I returned I felt a certain lightening - even from the inside of the cheesy airport - as if it were somehow possible for a place and its associated people and memories to welcome me into myself.  I hope to Christ I don't feel that same ease when I visit Oregon again, because it would only be the pinging of false hope.  There are good times ahead in my medium-term future,  but not very many easy ones.   (The easy times went under-appreciated while I was living them and weren't even ever really that comfortable anyway. Anxiety can be dull or diverting but it's never comfortable.)    I cannot go home again but I must once again go to my real and imagined Oregon. 

These trying times need metaphors, archetypes, tropes.  And so it is that I, like my OG colleagues, find myself shopping for terms of self-understanding.  Am I "returning" to myself or is this a "new beginning"?  I am fearful of both metaphors but I am conscious that life without a worldview is madness in itself: boring, lonely.