Reflections on my failure to post

I've mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating. I am finding the blog format totally counter-productive to the development of real thoughts or writing the dissertation. The pithy short blurbs, hardly developed simply don't fit with the attempt to work on more extensive arguments. Sure, I could write page-long posts, but no one wants to read lengthily on the internet. I get impatient with long interviews that other blogs sometimes post, and it has all made me very wary of the effects of internet reading. It's like watching t.v., really. I know that there was a recent book that came out, asking whether the internet has made us stupid. I'm not arguing that we're stupid, but I do think our attention spans for reading have surely been affected. The counter-example is the ridiculously long New Yorker articles that often beat a topic to death, which is not necessarily preferable. It seems that a good piece of writing should also lead you to raise your own questions about the material, to be able to generate new directions to take the inquiry that the author has initiated. I guess blogs do this, but they also seem to encourage the sound-bite length information.

So besides the obvious fact that I am no longer actively doing fieldwork (I arrived in LA a year ago today), I'm also not eager to post my preliminary dissertation writing thoughts. I'm finding the internet is increasingly becoming less and less interesting to me. And the solipsism of posting on it has also lost its luster.


Re-framing my interpretations

I've been struggling, for the last few weeks, to re-frame my interpretation of my data. I am exceedingly comfortable being a critic. Why something is wrong or perverse, these are easy for me to point to, but explaining why something might have meaning or be positive, that's far more difficult. I need to integrate the positive into my own work, as the organizations I tried to work with were quite enthusiastic about the vaccine and its availability. All I could see were the flaws and limitations of the vaccine, making it uncomfortable for me to work with the groups who wanted to promote the vaccine. It does beg the question: why did I keep working with people who want to promote it? I suppose part of it is circumstantial -- there aren't clear-cut anti-vaccinators. They tend to be mixed in with the more general anti-vaccine people -- people with whom I did do work. Part of the issue is the way that the identifications with certain beliefs and practices do not hew along clear lines. In fact, that is one of the things I intend to write about, how this vaccine falls apart when you try to hold it along more traditional vaccination definitions and categories.

At a recent cancer survivor support meeting, held by one of the groups I tried to work with, I encountered a mother whose 19 year old daughter had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. It reminded me that this vaccine, though not directly beneficial to these women who were so enthusiastic about it, is not "all bad". It's just awfully hard to figure out how to imagine it as problematic. The best I can write is a lukewarm appraisal of how it is not the worst thing. Faint praise does not really seem compelling, and yet, it has meaning to some people, and I have not tapped into that sufficiently.


Incredibly bizarre

I've been avoiding reading blogs, not checked my google reader, and sort of blissfully checked out of the internet as much as is humanly possible (while still being lured back by facebook, damn them). I found a personal essay on Plan B, aka the "morning after pill," and was eager to read the personal account. I'm not entirely sure if I should recommend it -- as the author ultimately seems conflicted about her choices and believes that the conservative anti-Plan B opinion that its borderline similarity with abortion, "Here you actually have the potentiality for a pregnancy," is a logical position.

When conservatives try to avoid condemning hormonal birth control outright, they argue that it does not have the "potentiality" for pregnancy, which makes absolutely no sense at all. It would seem that by taking hormonal contraceptives, one is exposing oneself to much higher rates of "potentiality," even though the body is not physically capable of becoming pregnant (except when the hormonal contraception fails or the user fails to take it properly, neither of which is a condemnation of the user or the object, but simply a point to keep in mind). Hormonal contraception does in fact lead, I believe, to many acts of potential pregnancies (assuming one is taking it to contracept and not for other purposes)...maybe that can be my tagline, should I ever really finally work in sexual health research for real. "Hormonal contraception leads to acts of potential pregnancy." If everyone else can play fast and loose with semantics, I don't see why I shouldn't.

But...trying not to become a totally tangential poster, given that I post so rarely, I think the Plan B article is worth reading. If for no other reason than hearing someone's experience with acquiring it before it was available over the counter is pretty powerful. I find it odd that it's framed as a "fateful moment when she [the author] made the choice," but I am pleased that there is a firsthand account of the experience, which I've rarely read anything about. I think Plan B is still not available everywhere without a prescription. It's state-by-state, but I know that Planned Parenthood has a campaign to allow you to call them and get a doctor to prescribe it without an office visit. The difficulty in getting contraception (more generally) in this country is really damn disturbing and the ways in which access to it has gotten tied up in other aspects of gynecological care makes me crazy.


Letting go of larger aspirations

I've realized, as I write the grant proposals, re-hashing what I'm going to do, and as I start the outlining of the thesis itself, that I need to let go of the sense that I am having an impact on the world. A friend whom I haven't seen in a while told me about her research project. And while I found her work interesting and unusual, I wasn't sure...why it matters. I know there have been moments when I've realized that dissertations are about rites of passage, proof of diligence and dedication. But somehow, I get stuck in my work when I ask the question -- "who cares?" The fact that my dissertation topic has some applied, real-world relevance has been a source of pride. I think it has also been a form of arrogance, assuming that my work was more "real" than some of my peers' work. I simply need to prove that it matters to me, and that I've satisfied that criterion with rigorous research.

The problem with that, however, is that it makes it much harder to complete. If I know why it matters to me, why should I care what others think? I'm not sure if this is a defeatist attitude, a lazy attitude, or (again) an arrogant attitude. I need someone to tell me why I should bother.


I just can't stand it anymore

I have never catalogued how many versions of writing I have produced on my research topic. You would think that after writing grants and exams and half-assed papers on the subject, that I would have a clear and coherent way to convey my ideas. No. No, I continue to write in belabored circles. I know that there is a way into this that I can't quite find, yet. But time is pressing on me to figure that the fuck out. Seriously, I've been writing something about this at some point or another for almost 3 years. THREE YEARS.

I'm trying to pull together a grant that I sort of forgot was due on Monday. It's only for $3000, and yet, I need a) prestige and b) whatever dribs and drabs I can find. Especially since it's one of two grants for which I'm eligible. It's producing huge amounts of anxiety. I'm staying in on a Friday with the grand assumption that I will accomplish this statement of project in a coherent manner. I'm just not adept at sustained writing. I find it miserable and unpleasant. I was telling someone the other night that I prefer lectures -- I like the rough draft and no edits. I prefer the kamikaze approach to intellectual development. Throw oneself out of the plane and figure out if there's a parachute. Hence further evidence that I ought to be a pundit. I could do the on-the-spot talking points so damn well. Measured, diligent academic endeavors make me so unhappy. Besides, we live in a time of sound-bites. Why should I be methodical?



I have created a plausible outline for the monstrosity. Obviously, it's a first stab at the thing. But I'm sort of excited that I am exploring shapes of the future. After meeting with 5 professors a couple of weeks ago, I'm finally finding time to sit down to think about what they said. 5 different ideas, 5 different approaches to the behemoth, 5 different attitudes about the whole process. I can't say that any of them were particularly revelatory. It seems the hard part is really up to me (which is not what I wanted to hear). The problem is that when it comes to the methodicalness, I'm damn lazy. I like the abstractions, but I have to confront that as an anthropologist, I'm expected to create a thingy that is grounded in people. I have been struggling with this problem a lot. I think my interpretations are very empirically-based, but I find the individuals' interpretations of the phenomenon a little boring. It just seems that what people (mis)understand only points to my main argument again and again. And as I've been trying to acknowledge lately is that the stuff I'm passionate about is not necessarily the concrete stuff I've been studying.

Circularity and circularness. And I get so distracted so easily. I currently have 2 other projects (both of which I feel ambivalent about my involvement, and yet which require me to complete them in some way or another), 2 grant proposals, and then all the personal projects that have nothing to do with academia, filthy lucre, or fantasies of renown. I really yearn for the mundane lately. Things that don't seem weighty. Or at least sort of weighty, yet not persuading me fully of their weightyness.


Too controversial

I haphazardly pulled together a syllabus yesterday during jury duty (after an intensive phase of napping while waiting for the judge to return to her courtroom...it's like I'm geriatric). My ex-advisor, whom I have no qualms about using when the moment suits to help me pull in grants, has been encouraging me to apply for a university teaching fellowship. While the money would be nice, being in Baltimore next year is not in the game plan. Yet I apparently suffer from a deep inability to resist potential income streams, even when they are not in my best interest. I figure I can always turn down the offer.

I presented to this ex-advisor the syllabus, and she immediately lighted upon the first sentence describing the central point of inquiry: most people in the U.S. spend more time in their lives contracepting than reproducing. She immediately told me that the first sentence was too political and would upset the committee. Basically, I was going to alert the old white men at the institution to my renegade intentions and freak them out. As she read through subsequent parts of the course description, she whittled away at all potentially "radical" concepts. She urged me to make this more of an overview of reproductive health anthropology, rather than my more interesting approach. I want to spend a lot of time showing how the focus on reproduction is naive, and that we need to integrate theories of sexuality and recognize sexual health more holistically in medical discourses. If she takes that away from it, it becomes an insanely boring class.

I know that her impulse was less about quashing me, and more about helping me to make a politic and compelling proposal, but this is exactly what I hate about the academic world. It is not really all that open to ideas, and certainly not at this university. I like to think that my more innovative stuff is what will make me a good instructor, but not if I can't engage with it. On the flipside, perhaps the lesson is that one needs to present a conformist front and then fuck shit up when you get the bodies in the class. Perhaps deviance is the answer.


David Simon comments further on "The Wire"

Really, I am going back to my work imminently. I thought this post-production reflection on the interpretation of "The Wire" in the US and the UK good to read. Simon acknowledges the limitations of the show (gender issues, immigration, etc), but he also points out why the stories they told were important to represent.

I received an email from someone who has lived most of his life in the Baltimore area (though grew up outside the city), and it disturbed me how pessimistic and critical he was of the state of the city. Ironically, there was a time when I offered similar critiques, and he vociferously defended the city. What upset me most about this person's critique was that it felt so hateful. My past critiques of Baltimore have always felt deeply emotional and sad, but this person just sounded bitter. In contrast, Simon does acknowledge that things in the city don't change, even as there are public claims to decreased crime and mayors become governors, but he also pushes the problem a little further and tries to unpack the complexity of the city's dynamic.

Unlike the email I received in which the final position was ultimately, "fuck Baltimore," Simon actually seems concerned with both the global and local challenges of Baltimore. What I found so compelling about the show was that as the seasons developed, it was clear that what happens in the streets branches back to those who live in the plush neighborhoods of Roland Park or Guilford. And I guess I see public health and public policies so often concentrating on the individual actors who are caught up in structural phenomena that are far more intricate than just "getting people off the streets".

Perhaps when I'm not thinking so chaotically, I'll write about this more, as it merits more discussion than a lazy nod to its link.

oh, but WTF, at the bottom of the page of the article, there's a slideshow of "Snoop" and "Marlo" modelling "cutting edge" fashion...um, not that (fictional) gangsters shouldn't be dapper, but there is something super-contradictory to have Simon's political economy critique coupled with high-end fashion and consumerism.

Proving everything worth thinking has already been thunk

I've cut back on my google reader reading. I've stopped keeping up with many of the academic blogs and the world of politics, etc, etc. But, I glanced at my feed for Savage Minds, which always explores critical topics in contemporary anthropology, and of course, they've provided a snippet of the same problem I discussed below, negotiating being a public anthropologist. I agree with the commentator, however, that their link to the Australian sex anthropologist might not be worth the click. Though maybe my suspicion of her work is just the uninteresting latent jealousy, though I don't think so.


Ethical quandries

One of the organizations I tried to do fieldwork with asked me to write a little blurb for the powerpoint presentation I did for them. As I started to write the blurb, and as I realized I was going to attend their annual conference to present the powerpoint materials, I was reminded of why my fieldwork didn't work out with them.

I wasn't able to do fieldwork with them because they kept wanting me to produce materials, and ultimately, I found that I didn't completely support their mission. They are very pro-vaccine, and they have explicitly acknowledged that there are compromises in getting their message out. Though they are not necessarily big pharma supporters, per se, they have accepted funding from the manufacturers of the vaccine. This uneasy alliance has been a major obstacle in my fieldwork, as I kept trying to dodge the inevitable overlap between the advocacy work and the corporate machine. Advocacy is a loaded term, as much shaped by corporate interests, government biases, and misinformation, as anything else. Health research and innovation in the U.S. are always messily entangled, and I don't know how well I've avoided being implicated. My work with the public health department, the CDC, and this nonprofit has put me in the position of supporting something that I have huge reservations about. As a researcher, participation has allowed me access to information and processes that I could only speculate about if I hadn't been involved. But how do I now sit down to write when I want to criticize the production of knowledge that I have also created. I am not immune from these very critiques (yes...bad pun).

So as I start to confront the monstrosity that is the dissertation, I also want to figure out how to make cogent arguments that don't make me feel like a huge hypocrite. The problem I've had with this project all along is that I seem to be an eternal relativist. Every position I try to stake out seems rife with contingencies. Everything seems to have a "yes, but..." component, and it exhausts me. Is this a form of insecurity? Or is this just a general uneasiness with commitment and claiming a position? My recommendations, when I dare formulate them, always come back to the concern with what precedes the vaccine -- what does not change, what remains the same, and how problematic all that earlier stuff is. It's as though I cut myself off before I can begin, but it also prevents me from moving forward. Strangely, however, the very argument I want to make is all about pre-emption and disruption. It's as though the very concept I'm trying to work out is haunting my thinking and writing. Or maybe it's just all a complicated distraction that I'm creating to avoid the daunting task.


Watered down, re-framed, and re-positioned

I'm working through my "rebuttal" to the IRB people, and it's kind of forcing me to confront some of my major methodological inadequacies. The easy solution is to blame my training -- for which I do believe some blame can be distributed. My department does not provide a particularly rigorous methods course, and when I try to work in the public health domain, I find that I have to constantly justify every method, every methodological approach, and the scientific rigor of the method. It's exhausting and deeply frustrating. Part of it is that it reveals my scholarly limitations, and I hate having to defend every research decision I make. I know that this is part of the road of academia, but have I mentioned I really hate it?

One of the least favorite parts is the demand to have lots and lots of references. I do understand why others' published work on something can help to demonstrate the reproducibility of the research methods, but it's particularly weird when the request for references demands evidence for the success of a very classic ethnographic technique -- such as observations. Casting around for the right bibliography is sort of impossible. Much of the ethnographies that I've read, the anthropology style ones, anyway, don't itemize their methods in great detail, and most anthropologists expect that we've already moved beyond needing to prove our more common methods to be legitimate.

I know, I know, I often proclaim my undying enthusiasm for explaining complicated concepts to those who may not be familiar with them (though this blog suggests that I am also terribly lazy when it comes to doing that, as well). But there is something different -- perhaps even haughty -- about scientists' skepticism that my research design is sound. Even better is when the very limitations and restrictions imposed by the higher-ups then proceed to cause problems with the research execution; yet, I'm required to justify decisions that had to be made given the confines of the project itself. It's all very circular and highly irritating. But, on the upside, it has forced methodological reflection. Not only in me, but in one of the beloved fellow "qual" researchers. I'm trying to see this like exercise -- often unfun in the moment but full of longterm benefits. Wheee.



I realized today that since I've moved, I've been so much less attentive. Technically, I'm not living in the field anymore, and so I get to relax and just live. In spite of this, I realized that the logistics and organizing that come out of moving have consumed me for the last few months, such that I don't even have the energy to notice things. I'm used to being in the world and constantly noticing and thinking about the social interactions I see around me. I'm used to observing people who pass by me, theorizing and noting and filing away for later information about their behaviors and their conversations. I haven't been doing much of any of that lately.

This afternoon, after a surprisingly positive medical exam, I decided to eat ice cream and sit in the park. Though my life is not particularly demanding (most of the time), it has felt so hectic lately. New jobs, new plans, travelling, blah blah blah. It suddenly seemed incredibly delightful to take an hour or so just to sit and think. I haven't made time for that at all, or if I have, it's usually been highly emotional and not super relaxing.

As I walked to the park, thinking about how pleased I was with a potentially very upsetting medical experience, I realized that perhaps this blog no longer serves the purpose for which I intended it. I'm highly ambivalent about fieldwork these days. I'm highly ambivalent about being a formalized anthropologist. I'm highly ambivalent about navigating between the personal and the professional in this space. I'm conflicted about participating in the blogosphere (or whatever it's being called these days), as I'm not terribly fond of reading online right now. How can I possibly expect my miniscule audience to also read online, when I find the act so distasteful? Further, I find my writing (cf. this very post) irritatingly self-referential. I'm in limbo, academically, trying to wind down the data collection, but not being able to do so completely; at the same time, I'm not willing to say that "I am now writing my dissertation" with full conviction. I'm hitting the point, with this space, that I hit every time I sit down to try to write more generally, where writing itself becomes belabored and unnatural. And I don't want to edit or revisit any of it. Is it that I'm lazy or just simply incapable of moving past a certain point?


Is there such a thing as pure empiricism?

It has seemed that my fieldwork has evolved into the LA-public health component more than my own fieldwork. I've constantly struggled with trying to ground myself in a community, a location, a relevant cultural group. And every time I attempt this, things fall apart. There seems to be no center and no connector. Ultimately, I suppose, this is because I'm more interested in knowledge and information than in people. That's terrible to admit, but it's kind of true, that people are the medium for the circulation of information, and therefore, they are a means for me to get to the knowledge. I've never totally written this out before and admitting to it feels a bit risky.

One of my professors in an attempt to "help" me, suggested that biosociality often doesn't have a center; the concept refers to how people organize around biological/medical identities, such as cancer survivors as a social group, even when as individuals they may not have other socially similar attributes (this is highly reduced, so forgive me). In other words, the lack of grounding with which I'm grappling is a reflection of the subject rather than my own failing. She's probably right, but it doesn't make a researcher feel better when everyone else is studying a particular community and its habits. And when asked about whom I study, I end up kind of tongue-tied and abstract.

Anyway, this apparent distaste for humans means that when the LA project was offered to me, I couldn't resist. It gave me a "location," and it will allow me to collect a huge amount of data without having to do the labor or pay for it. Also, I was seduced by the prospect of being sought out. I hadn't intended to work for/with them, I simply wanted to know more about what they were doing. I have moments of regret, where I wonder if it was a wise decision to take the job. At some point, we will start the research, but most recently, the IRB expressed concern that my observation methods would generate "bias" in those being observed. I've written about how deeply frustrating this "bias" anxiety is to me -- as it presumes that other forms of data collection (surveys, etc) are unbiased. Really, they are simply accepted biases, which doesn't mean that they don't also produce biases, it's just that we have more standardized ways of accepting these biases. The IRB honcho who has expressed his concerns has assured us that he is familiar with qualitative research methods, as he has conducted "qualitative" research around HIV, but the minute someone insists he is "familiar" with "qualitative" work, my suspicions are immediately heightened.

Those who conduct this form of research are usually pretty sanguine about the imperfection of the methods, its messiness, its risk of imprecision. Generally, and perhaps someone will object to this description or assumption, those who use these methods anticipate and find interesting the tricky moments. In fact, some would even suggest that the tricky moments are the most interesting. This is where, I think, sociologists and anthropologists differ quite clearly, and where anthropologists and other qualitative researchers differ.

Anthropologists see the process as compelling and complex as collecting "rigorous" data. The idea that clinical encounters will fit into standardized data collection methods is naive. Clinical visits vary. Human interactions are generally diverse and complex, and to try to impose a formulaic way of capturing "what happens" is to impose an external expectation of what will happen in that encounter. It seems that what we call empiricism is actually highly dependent on imposing boundaries of understanding information. Anthropology is messy and often scattershot, but I would suggest that it can actually produce a far more robust understanding of "what is happening" in the world than the most "rigorous" of experiments.

Sigh...this was useful. Now I can go and respond to the IRB meanie. Better to vent here than in a professional context.


Why I (currently) do not wish to be an academic

Listed in order of importance:
1. I have bad hair, and I blame this on my abject poverty. Also lack of hairstyle inspiration being directly related to the mind-numbing that I attribute to a life of the mind.

2. I have boring clothes, many of which I have owned since college. Most of which fit badly and/or are being worn way past their fashion and functional life.

3. I am tired of theorizing things. The world feels predictable and small and I'm not convinced that I have anything new to add to it.

I suspect that I really ought to re-order and re-prioritize the list, but right now my room is a mess, and I've not done any productive work today due to running around for my new part-time employment. How is a person supposed to think during the day when she's busy slinging to keep herself afloat? Lately, I've been making major decisions while straightening up or vacuuming. I feel that any decision made during this process should be listened to, and I'll deal with the aftermath some other time or way. So far the art of domesticity hasn't failed me yet.

Basically, I do not want to be an academic because I hate the desperation of needing to secure financial support, and the desperation of trying to prove oneself intelligent through publishing and self-aggrandizement. It all feels very distasteful. I would much rather work mindlessly for a for-profit organization where I have only my scruples and morals to contend with. Also, recently someone told me he thought he'd like to go back to school for a PhD, and I realized what a crock the romanticism of advanced education can be. Having seen, at one point, how deeply miserable I was for a good semester or so, I can't quite understand why he would even consider it. But I suppose we all fantasize about the world that is not our own. And if I were at a desk everyday, I'd surely be getting off by perusing academic books and academic papers. That is just so so sad.

This concludes my snippet of personal ruminations. I've tried hard not to be a personal confessions blogger...but sometimes, I feel I need to vent a little.


Re-thinking the medium

I started this blog as a site to work through some of my initial ideas about my research, while in the middle of fieldwork. But as fieldwork became increasingly amorphous and unclear, it became harder to keep a blog on it, and as with everything, I increasingly became distracted by all the other worldly things that are tangentially related to my research. My problem, in my work, in my writing, and possibly in my life more generally, is that I find it very easy to get distracted by all the data surrounding me. It is as though I were hyper-sensitive to all information and can no longer parse out the important stuff. It used to make me feel like I had a super-power, but I've started to worry that it actually is a hindrance. I want to move toward tunnel-vision, focused and ready. But it's really damn hard.

Anyway, I present this dilemma here in order to remind myself that the next three and a half months or so need to be uber-precise. I want to finish this project (aka the dissertation, grad school, doctoring, etc) by 2010, not because I have a clear sense of what comes next, but because I'm weary of the world of studenthood. Perhaps my biggest problem in completing the tasks at hand is that I'm still unclear what the future projects will be. Academia often makes me nauseous, yet I've been there (is it a place? a mindset?) so long, that I've started to worry that I can't function in any other environment. Any time the threat of staticness, or narrowness, or confinedness rears its head, I start making plans to leave. It has happened frequently in grad school, but now that I'm far away from the city of my institution, all I can think about is quitting. A friend sent an address update that informed me that she had taken an assistant professorship in Northern NY. She was always so adamant that she wouldn't leave the west coast. But the idea of her now being a professor, when I knew her when we were idealistic college students, freaks me out. She's really in it. And I'm not sure that I want to join the fray.


Crap. Beat to the Punch.

I can't bear to link to the NYT long article on my research topic. Makes me feel lousy. I know I should be pleased that much of what they "expose" is stuff I've already noticed, but still. One of the key problems of academia is trying to feel new and "fresh". I feel neither new nor fresh.

Just noticed that they have misspelled trials as "trails". I feel a little better.


Phenomenological versus the Empirical

I commented to someone on Friday night that I was really more interested in phenomenological data collection as opposed to being a strict empiricist. It made me realize that I need to clarify my terms a lot more -- for myself, more than anything. I see that clarification as part of getting closer to a personal research philosophy, which I wouldn't say that I have right now. Or rather, I have one, it's just not clearly defined. It's hard to sit down and make proclamations about research, research methods, etc. When glimmers of clarity come up, it's like the golden hour in filmmaking -- too good to pass up. Obviously, there are others who have written on this, and I'm not reading them, but I tend to like to frame my ideas and then seek out sources to figure out how others make sense of something. Perhaps all part of the phenomenological approach...

I am pleased with myself today. And it's only 8:30am.

Also, I realized that my nickname for my cat sounds vaguely like a new pharmaceutical drug, for a new non-specific ailment. I can already see the billboards plastered all over BART stations. It would be especially awesome if the billboards had huge photos of cats jumping with joy, further baffling consumers about the actual purpose of the drug. I still remember the "Purple Pill" full-station ads from when I lived here 6 or 7 years ago. That's how powerful pharma ads are. I have no clue what the purple pill is, but it dominated the station for quite some time.


70s Feminism Seems to be in Vogue

I recently received a notice that Our Bodies, Ourselves was looking for a new assistant director. The email was charming because as any young feminist who grew up with a progressive mother knows, this is THE book that many women turned to to learn about their bodies. And sure, like any document, any attempt to define, explain, and bound information, it is flawed. But as a text, it has been remarkably fluid, and I have the sense that the collective has made a concerted effort to integrate criticisms and change as the times change.

Shere Hite is another 70s icon. Her book The Hite Report was a series of quotations and discussions on different aspects of female sexuality, and it was pretty damn revolutionary. I remember reading it in high school and being a little bored (I'm not sure what I expected)...but I know that it still remains an important text, at least conceptually. Hite has an article on Alternet that's worth reading. It's kind of clunkily written, and at times hard to figure out what she's arguing for. But the gist, should you not want to read an article entitled "Female Orgasm and the Need for a New Definition of Sex," is that our understanding of sex and sexual pleasure has changed a lot in the recent past. Calling for new expectations and definitions of sex is necessary.

She challenges the idea that penetrative intercourse is the self-evident way to pleasurable sex. I took a Freud seminar a few years ago, and I remember hanging out with a couple of the men from my seminar one evening. I made some comment about Freud's weird obsession with the vaginal orgasm (as he believes that women's proper and full sexual maturity depends on the experience of male penetration, and he doesn't believe clitoral orgasms are "legitimate" expressions of sexuality), and these two men (who also were taking the seminar) were really baffled about the possibility of something other than the vaginal orgasm. Young 20-something heterosexual men were baffled. The whole conversation made me uncomfortable and also disturbed, and I didn't push the issue (though I was grateful they were not my sex partners). Hite actually suggests that vaginal orgasm is a total myth, which I would object to as her major limitation as a researcher. But most importantly, Hite concludes by trying to remove the "goal" of orgasm as the sole purpose of sex. And I think this is a useful addition. While she makes good points about needing more egalitarianism in sex between men and women (and yes, I fear I'm hopelessly heterosexist in my writing on sex), she also wants to emphasize sex as more than just the wham-bam endpoint fixation.

In the course of my 3 week sexuality institute, I pointed out that we weren't talking much about desire. I do think this is an aspect of sexuality that gets muddled, because it's awfully hard to theorize and even articulate "desire" as a concept. Usually sexuality refers to some kind of category or expression of sexual behavior, rather than conveying how desire may be something uncategorizable, unhinged/unattached in a way. This is why sexual identity always baffled me -- as it seems what drives sexual behaviors is more about desires than some clear-cut attachment to physiology. It's tricky even for those who are desiring to communicate fully what they experience. But I'm really invested in phenomenological intellectual pursuits, and I think this is a great concept to develop further. Part of me thinks the most important first step is just to write about this stuff. A lot. I'm as fascinated by absences these days as presences, and, while not a perfect solution, I think trying to undo the problem of absence, by calling repeated attention to it is a useful start.


This is What I Accomplished

The last two days, officially the beginning of the two weeks of SHIT TO DO, have not been terribly productive. Last week was the week of MAKE A LIST, which, yes, this is very sad to report, took an entire week to do. Even with capital letters and self-flagellation. I got distracted, what can I say? The ambition of starting a "phase" of the work sometimes can distract me for multiple days, as I contemplate the anticipation of the potential of starting the planning for the thing. Dear lord.

Yesterday was a major wash due to health issues that continue to plague me and lead to napping with a surrogate cat for whom I have been caring the last couple of days. He also napped, so I didn't feel so guilty. Today, it took most of the day to wade through a 9 or 10 page article. In my defense, because I had already anticipated the need for one, even before I began, the article was somewhat irritating and incoherent. Not as bad as the bitched about article a few posts ago, but still kinda sorta bad. I realized, in revisiting that incoherent monstrosity, that the authors are not native English speakers. Thereby making me evil and thoughtless. But I'm not sure I'm persuaded that English language journals should not be required to meet standards of coherency. Those natural science journals get away with murder. I get chastised by the English majors in my life about things like over-blown metaphors, and the scientists get off scot-free.

In keeping with ways by which I can not accomplish things, I have decided to take a much needed vacation at the end of the month. Prepare yourselves, as I will not be blogging about extra-marital affairs, STIs, scientific journals, or any of such things. There will be no internet action for me, and I can't wait.

It does seem odd, and here I break the 5thD wall (what the hell is the wall called on the internet, anyway -- or rather, I should ask, is there any wall at all? Doesn't the over-sharing nature of the medium suggest that there are no walls and wouldn't we all be better off if there were more walls, or at least fences?), that I have decided to vacation when clearly I have stated mere paragraphs ago that I have done nothing of late. But, the beauty of the grad student lifestyle is that one must think about the doing nothing a lot. And that is exhausting itself.


Quantifying "Slut"

Wow...so no sooner have I mentioned Carla Bruni, it turns out that her exact number of sex partners is being discussed by the UK Daily Mail (actually, in "Femail," which is tinged with lavender headers -- making me feel a bit queasy). In this article, Ironside, the author, argues that Bruni's 15 lovers prior to her current husband is just about right (though perhaps a "touch on the high side") -- given that Bruni is 40. I found this discussion so appalling. Ironside dares to suggest that "more than 15" and you've "demean[ed]" sex, which is no longer "special". Apparently, also, male partners will start to distrust your male friends, wondering if you've slept with all of them. Clearly, once you've crossed the line into the >15 sex partners, you're morally suspect. What man would trust a woman who's been with so many men? My favorite question, however, is Ironside's baffled, "But what would be the point of Carla - or anyone else - accumulating more lovers?" As though having sex with more than 15 men is simply gluttony. How many varieties can one person need?! [That was sarcasm...]

Rachel Kramer Bussel, who is known in the sex blogger world and sex writing world, attempts a rebuttal on Alternet. Rightly, Bussel debunks Ironside's argument that the number of sex partners has to do with one's "quest for experience" or that the number has to do with your own happiness.

I realize I'm seeming awfully prurient lately, but I think writing about sex is important. My work depends quite a lot on cultural ideas about sex and public understanding of medical and scientific phenomena about...sex. And I just can't believe that it's acceptable fodder to discuss how many sex partners a president's wife has had. Or rather, not that it's unacceptable, just totally irrelevant. Similarly, I'm not sure why people feel they need to know how many sex partners their current partner has had before them. Knowing about STIs, health concerns, concurrent sex partners, these are good things to talk about. The exact number (if known) seems to add nothing to one's sexual relationship. Unless you're into that...


Idiot Scientific Writing

Please to explain what: "The same genes were able to immortalized human anogenital epithelial cells (but also other cell types) upon transfection and to malignantly transform rodent cells" means?! Is "to immortalized" even grammatically possible? Ok, maybe it's a typo but it's a very perplexing typo. And even if we remove the "d" at the end of "immortalize," are we any closer to having a coherent sentence? Who are these cracked out researchers who do not use basic English?

I am in a "boring" phase of research (self-imposed), in which I commit to the archives a bit more. I am a skimmer when things are of moderate interest to me. I have resisted reading all the scientific articles that I've assiduously collected because it can be very dull. And also bloody incomprehensible. Please do write in to help me understand the above sentence. I am really really baffled.

Internets makes all things possible

I just read about this site, InSpot, to anonymously notify your sex partners of your STDs (or as I prefer, sexually transmitted infections, STIs). Baltimore has not yet made the list, though many of us who have done research there know it ought to get its own hook-up. I'm a bit ambivalent about the anonymous sending of this info -- it seems like if you're sleeping with someone (or have been), you ought to be able to tell them this. Of course, if you're no longer sleeping with them and would prefer not to speak to them, this could be quite useful. Or vaguely passive-aggressive, depending on your interpretation.

Anyway, this concludes my friendly health advisory for the day. Go forth and avoid those STIs (though really, to tell or not to tell when it comes to HPV is another story altogether). We'll discuss HPV, wtf, at some other time.


Amendations to the one below

In the midst of my trial run for a cake-bake-off (baking anthropologist resurrected in the spirit of competition), I've been contemplating what I said earlier. I don't mean to suggest that Elizabeth Edwards ought not to forgive her husband, nor do I think women should simply drop their husbands because they cheat. It's precisely the fallacy that "good people" are able to resist sexual desire that I would like to challenge. What annoys me is the expectation for his wife to be a saintly wife. In this story, (from which I quoted in the earlier post), he says, "She was mad. She was angry. I think furious is a way to describe it. It was painful for her." Again, ultimately, Elizabeth Edwards is the stalwart, long-suffering, ailing wife. It's a bit too penny dreadful for me.

Laura Kipnis's book, Against Love: A Polemic, does a decent job exploring infidelity and love. I do think, however, that Kipnis ends up replicating the very problem with the way we think about and over-romanticize love by simply claiming that extra-relationship (not really just about extra-marital) affairs provide a different outlet or challenge the idea of monogamy. She interprets affairs as a delicious alternative to the monotony of committed relationships, which I think is true, but the illicit relationship ultimately doesn't have its own shape. It exists as a thrill, and it's that disruption of the quotidian that Kipnis thinks is valuable. Clearly, there are lots of ways to get thrills, and I'm not sure what's unique about the affair (for Kipnis), though she is trying to use adultery as a way of conducting larger cultural criticism (which I appreciate enormously).

She argues that monogamy is a form of perpetuating the liberal state and institutional. In contrast, she sees adultery as "small-scale social sabotage," though she also acknowledges that adultery requires the institution of marriage (or monogamy, for those of us who are disinterested in marriage) in order to exist and undermine it. She doesn't actually suggest that we need a new way of thinking about relationships and monogamy more generally, which I would suggest is an important direction to take the debate. I'm much more interested in re-imagination of institutions than trying to do something blatantly "different," which I think is often just a way of replicating by thumbing one's nose at the form. (The danger of setting oneself up into a dependent relationship on the original against which to construct the new form seems much less interesting than simply creating the form that fits instead of some kind of oppositional dynamic.) I'm not actually arguing for non-monogamy or non-relationships, but rather suggesting (as I suggested a month or two ago in talking about relationships more generally, friendships and love/sex relationships) that we need to re-examine how we expect certain kinds of fulfillment from love partners.

The Problem with Edwards' Statement

I try not to write on politics much, since I find politics exhausts me. I've yet to feel deeply enthusiastic about any candidates (though I remember giving money to the Democratic Party during the 2004 election -- mainly because "anyone but Bush" was my motto). This morning I was listening to the NPR coverage of the Edwards' admission of his affair. I find it amazing that we still get riled up about politicians' infidelities. I think it's stupid that they all purport to be morally superior, when obviously they are only human and fallible. This has been my main irritation with the Obama campaign, the eagerness with which his supporters have wanted to believe he is beyond reproach and progressive to the bitter end. He is a politician. Politicians are not just in politics for their investment in public service. It seems particularly reckless to engage in an affair when one has political ambitions, since Americans still want their politicians sexless and (Christian) morally pure.

So, Edwards had an affair. Blah blah blah. But what I wanted to note was how he portrayed Elizabeth Edwards. I can't easily find this statement online, but on the morning NPR show, he comments that when he told his wife, she was angry, and "she responded exactly like the kind of woman she is. She forgave me." This statement upsets me. The implication is that a good wife, a moral and Christian wife, will stand by her man and forgive him. I think Feministe or Bitch, PhD, have covered this bullshit before -- how political wives have the responsibility to be the moral compass for their politician spouses. "The Wire" actually shows this quite well, though seems to think the mayoral candidate's wife is a bit of a drip, so no wonder her hot-shot husband (who becomes mayor, sorry for the spoiler) is sleeping around.

Has anyone else noticed that these wives are never given any form of sexuality of their own? They are the anchor for their husbands, and dear god is this tiresome. I'm not a fan of Sarkozy, but I love that Carla Bruni is his wife. She may have used her sexuality and her beauty in manipulative ways (she's been involved with all sorts of high intellectuals and men of power), but she's also obviously extremely smart and competent. While there's lots to say about the problem of women having to use their bodies and their looks as their leverage for power, I also respect a woman who can go from Bernard-Henri Levi to the president of France. Though, I guess I wish that Bruni's power were not directly identified by her sex partners. I mean, she makes pretty good music. The Hillary Clinton Problem was that she was not recognized as her own woman, since no matter what she's done, she's still known as Bill's wife...what we need is strong women politicians who are not married to/sleeping with power. We have some women like that, but I do believe we're still only at 16% women in Congress. For those unaware, women make up about 52% of the population, and probably if you looked at the demographic distribution of congresspeople, most of them are probably over 40 or so, and as you get older, women make up more and more of the population....So it's quite possible that among the age group of Congress, women make up more than 50% of that age demographic. I am too lazy to look up U.S. demographics right now.

This is sort of tangentially related to the Alison Bechdel strip on "The Rule", which I think will become a teaching staple for me. The characters in the strip discuss what qualities a film needs to have in order to be worth seeing. The film has to have at least 2 women in it, they have to talk to each other, and they have to talk about something other than about the men in the film. This seems like a silly set of criteria, but if you stop and think about most films (and many tv shows), it's actually quite hard to find films and shows that can fulfill those expectations. Try it.
p.s. I re-read this and realized how hastily I threw this together. Non-sequiturs all over the place. I mention the Alison Bechdel strip to point out how power is related and who gets top-billing and legitimacy. Most of the films, in which women are usually accessories, rather than protagonists in their own right, depend on female characters as means to promote/prop up the male characters. It just doesn't seem awfully different from the way in which female politicians and wives of politicians end up playing supporting roles.

More Publicly-Engaged Anthro

I just received the notice of this Anthropology Now publication, which looks great. Many of my friends and I have discussed and debated the ways in which to make Anthropology a more publicly-engaged and meaningful discipline. Anthro has a lot to offer, and it's unfortunate, as the editors describe on their "about" page, that our work gets so readily dismissed (see every rant on this blog, I fear).

A number of the articles don't seem to be available yet. There's a great short article by Tom Strong (who is often on Savage Minds), debunking an article by Malcolm Gladwell about emotions-theory. Having taken an entire class on "emotions" -- and having found it particularly dismissive of cultural influences on people's experiences -- Strong's criticism of how Gladwell accepts the emotion theorists' interpretations of behavior and attitudes is really well-conveyed and an important challenge to emotions research. Gladwell often has this problem, of doing an amazingly good job at making everyday phenomena seem complex and worthy of inquiry, but he often fails to substantiate his claims or really ground his interpretations in anything other than his own personal opinion. (Yes, yes, I do this too, but I have yet to be published in the New Yorker or had two books out.) Strong's challenge points out that we have to go beyond what researchers tell us and think a little more critically about how information and knowledge are shaped. And I obviously love that.


Savage Minds -- as usual, more eloquent than I

Savage Minds, a great Anthro blog, addresses the experience of anthropology as "personal transformation". The comments also capture the tension within anthropology to resist the dangers that some blame on the "reflexive turn" of the 80s. One commenter said he had been thinking of writing a piece called, "I am A Tool" -- which is exactly how I try to explain to others the experience of fieldwork and research.

It is comforting, in some ways, to hear the experience shared over and over again. It is disheartening that it is an experience that seems to be kept under-wraps for the most part, while one is being trained in school. There is definitely a fear in being too emotional or too personal in academic writing. At the same time, without the acknowledgment of the personal, writing becomes alienating and alienated, and the idea that one's work (especially when it involves fieldwork, whether sociological or anthropological) doesn't affect you as an individual seems absurd. Though in another post on the topic, one commenter wisely points out the danger of the sloppy "I am my own fieldnote" ethnography -- which is what I feel happens here on the blog. Hopefully what happens on my blog will not happen in my academic work. (And in many ways, this blog is an outlet for this meandering self-reflection, to keep it from becoming the form of my academic work...they are separate. I know that.)

And maybe, if this debate were more public and explicit, each student wouldn't have to tread the boring path (because I recognize that there is something tiresome about my concerns, even as I experience them nonetheless) of grappling for how to articulate the experience. Of course, just as our parents may find our youthful stresses and problems predictable (having already gone through the trials and tribulations of life), I suppose one has to "go through" the fieldwork growing pains in order to come out at the other side as a better and more reflective researcher.

Pharma creates new syndromes, or how we are all pathological

There have been a number of interesting articles about the ways in which pharmaceutical companies market problems to us. Meika Loe has a good short article in Contexts about the new generation of kids raised on pharma. (This is only the abstract, alas, as I don't know how to upload pdfs onto blogger. Will work on that.)

Alternet has one about Pfizer funding more studies on whether Viagara works for women. With a study sample size of 98. I love that...when anthropologists conduct research with only 25-30 people, we're denigrated for our lack of scientific reroducibility (that may have some truth, if that were all we looked at, but few anthropologists make claims with research conducted only through a few interviews), but when big Pharma conducts studies with fewer than a hundred, they still manage to be picked up by major news outlets. One of the observations the article makes is that the patent on Viagara is set to expire in a few years. I spent a summer interning at an advertising company that created ads for pharma. We worked on a new "extended release" antibiotic that touted itself as a solution to the heightened resistant strains of bacteria. Ironically, it seemd to me, much of that antibiotic resistance came from the over-prescription of the company's own antibiotic. In addition, their patent was about to expire, so it must have seemed a perfect time to launch a new and improved version of their formerly rockstar drug.

I know much of what I'm saying isn't terribly shocking to most who are paying attention to these things, but at the same time, finding multiple examples in which pharma creates demand is important, to confirm what I see happening with the vaccine I work on. In junior high school, my father started working on medical education, and that included direct marketing to physicians. I used to ask him how or why he could justify his work, and he would argue that medicine is not cut-and-dry a bad thing. Perhaps, at 14 or 15, I presented my argument too simplistically. It's not that I want to suggest medications are "bad". But I do think we need to be careful to note how we're implicated in the marketing of pathologies. As I get older and find my body more fallible, it's hard to resist the magic pills (whatever those might be) to cure or solve my discomforts. I can't help but wonder about those who are less medically-savvy or less aware of these nuances, and wonder about how they're affected by the commodification of health and the market of pathology.


Fieldwork bleeds into my spam folder

The most intense interview I conducted has resurfaced. It's strange because I have been thinking about her a lot lately. I looked at my spam folder, and she's added me as a contact through "reunion.com". I didn't even realize I'd joined this site...probably many years ago, when we were all very naive about joining various internet groups, I signed up when someone I knew added me. Possibly, in fact, certainly, pre-Facebook, MySpace and Friendster. It just feels incredibly weird to have her a) think of me (though the reflexive nature of voyeurism seems to be extremely relevant right now in my life -- watching people, watch me, watch them...etc...so Alice in Wonderlandesque) and b) to have her actively type my name into some search engine and pull me out.

A fellow grad student ended up changing her cell phone number when a woman in Baltimore would call her regularly to ask for financial support. This motivated me to get a second phone for research purposes, so none of my research participants have my main cell phone. It's a problematic way to distance myself from participants, but it also is a way to maintain control. I'm less good at the full-immersion aspects of anthro, as I'm wary even in the "real world" of my own life about keeping people in very distinct circles and trying to create limited access (though that rarely works).

I'm going to continue to pretend that I never saw the email, but I suspect she may call or email at some point. And in theory, I should go back to the mother's group, next time I'm in LA (which may coincide with the monthly meetings). I may see her again, but her attachment to me makes me uneasy. It sounds like vanity to call it attachment, but that's what it was. And I find it painful, too, to feel so hyper-aware of her yearning.

Flea Market Spectators

I love these two photos... I feel like it captures something very American about the social disengagement.

This was at the kettle corn stand, which included a spectator/eating station. With vintage chairs, of course.

more bad cell phone shots. But I'm trying to be a bit more fieldworky in my every day life. Even when it takes me to bars and flea markets. I'm an Americanist, so I can totally justify such indulgences. No?


"Me, you, and everyone we know"

I steal from Miranda July, whom I love sometimes and who drives me up the wall other times. Though, I suppose that's true of almost everything and everybody, so at the very least, I want to give her credit for a perfect summation of life these days.

I was writing to someone about what I miss about the neighborhood where I grew up, and I said,
I'm pretty heartbroken over how much the city has changed, and I miss the neighborhood I grew up in -- which was a pretty rough, but very community-centric place. I learned a lot by being raised there, and it makes me sad that the things that made it distinct are quickly being erased.

I feel like I keep coming back to the problem of individuality and what a supreme fallacy this is. America seems very obsessed with originality and proving one's uniqueness, especially in a city like San Francisco. It's kind of exhausting. And I'm not sure what the anxiety over proving one's inimitability is about. I suffer from it -- feeling that I need to be different in my own way. I guess that's why I quote myself (the arrogance), to point out the romanticization of my unique upbringing. It was unique, and it was irreplaceable, but I'm not sure why that matters in the scheme of things.

A friend recently told me that after spending a number of days with me at a wedding that he hadn't realized anthropology was an actual "skill" (his words, not mine). So maybe my main point is that specificity of experiences may in fact have a value -- that it allows you to perceive the world in certain ways. But then...I'm not entirely sure why or how that matters. So what? Another friend has noted that I'm an expert at discarding my emotions and moving forward, always asking, "what's the point" of dwelling on inconvenient feelings or past disappointments. So I guess I integrate this willingness to find no meaning in anything (nihilist!) into my larger research conundrums right now. But then, I get these weird moments of pollyanna-ism, and I'm much more positive (though not a positivist). Perhaps others out there in my mini-audience will weigh in (you are not adequately participating in my expectation of public discourse...) as to whether one can find a point to all this uber-self-reflection.


I got asked back to teach an "intersession" class I taught last winter. It's kind of awesome to a) be asked to teach; b) be paid to teach; and c) be paid to fly back east to teach. I really enjoyed teaching that class last year, and I'm looking forward to refining it and thinking about it more critically. Plus, it's Baltimore-centric, and I have a major soft-spot for that city. I like the ability to influence the freshmen's perspective on the city (as it's a freshman-only class). Makes me feel like occasionally, what I do is respected...by someone...somewhere. As I'm about to re-embark on grant-writing (endless chore of academia that I really hate with a passion), it's these sorts of affirmations that make such a difference. Unfortunately, they're too few and far between and they require so much work (usually) to come together. Hence the delight in being solicited and not having to throw myself shamelessly at the deciders. Sometimes, it's nice to make a quick buck.


Fieldwork @ the bar

I wish I had my proper camera with me, as my cell phone camera doesn't do it justice. I had been telling my bar companion about my work (a fellow academic who may have been indulging me or may have been genuinely interested in my rambling, time will tell, I suppose), had to pee, went to the bathroom and discovered this...

yeah...I don't think it's legible. I'll have to go back and bring a camera with flash. (bad anthropologist, not ready to whip out her research tools even when out on a social call.) I'm not sure it's actually all that interesting, but it was weird timing. And who decided "pabst smear" was a good idea?



So, it's all well and good to point you to interesting scientific analyses of human phenomena. Because, yes, attempts to "legitimate" human phenomena are interesting as cultural productions in and of themselves -- but that's also what I find so irresistable. The idea that we should just take scientific knowledge, nod our heads, and accept its self-evidentness. A year ago, I forwarded to some friends the Guttmacher Institute's article on the fact that most people in the U.S. have engaged in (or are engaging in) premarital sex. Its very obviousness was fascinating to me -- what I find compelling about these sorts of studies is how information needs to be disseminated and how there's an anxiety about not having hard cold data to defend any sort of position or attempt at re-imagining our current intervention methods. The article I linked to below is sort of in the same camp as the "most people have had pre-marital sex" (I mean, you wonder about all those people who never marry or those for whom legal marriage was never an option to begin with, in most states). Quantifying everyday human behaviors somehow makes it all seem more substantive and worthy. My investment in qualitative research methods comes partially from the desire to allow the messiness of human behavior to bleed into research. Surveys get you only so far. And hearing how people think and talk about behavior seems important to me....

I'm not sure why I wanted to defend this position (and perhaps this is totally redundant as I've said things along these lines many times before). Still, I think it's important to clarify and re-clarify why I find certain kinds of science interesting and useful.

A link -- and not so much damn navel-gazing

From HL. All hail camera phones.

I've been a slacker on the linkages...
Today, I keep the meta and the analysis a bit tamped down and offer this fun link/site/information about hyperventilation, sex-noises, and sex. It's all scientific, and shit. Because I believe in being as erudite and research-y as possible even when (and maybe especially when?) talking about sex.


Plus the blog has the great name of Neurotic Physiology with the sub-heading of "are you sci-curious" -- and that's pretty awesome in and of itself!


The personal on the blog

Is it too meta to try to figure out how personal I ought to be on this -- or more meta to try to share my figuring it out in the process? This has always been my resistance to blogging more generally (I once even titled an unfinished project "solipsistic, navel-gazing, and self-reflection" in an attempt to remind myself how absurd the whole process was). But here, in particular, I've worked to keep up a modicum of anonymity. Most who read this are people who know me, and therefore, I do censor myself somewhat. Though the truth is, most who read this, who also know me, are people with whom I'm close and to whom I would say all this and more.

But...occasionally, I share the site with someone who may indirectly be mentioned or criticized, and then I freak out about how my (solipsistic and navel-gazing) comments will be interpreted. (I try only to write nice things, and genuine things, for that matter, about people directly, thinly veiled with acronyms and nicknames.) And lately, because I'm a lazy-ass researcher, I've not been writing about my work directly at all (that is because I have not been working in the fieldworky sense of the word).

So, there has been a fair amount of "personal" stuff on here, even though sometimes it's a bit cryptic, it's not that hard to decipher. I realized I'm a bit relieved that my father never bothers to read this, though I'm sure he would not be terribly disturbed to read about his daughter's "abstinence and diaphragm" contradictions, it still feels a bit unsettling to publicly proclaim this purported birth control method. (Do note the "purported" -- since I've obviously been committed to medical flouting.) It's also weird to announce such things in a public forum. Part of the advice of the writing intensive summer institute I just finished was to put yourself back into the work. It's true that much academic writing is dry and distant. I'm grateful that anthropology allows for the personal, but it's also such a fine line between the personal and oversharing. And fieldwork is not about "you" -- though it's hard sometimes to figure out where "you -- the researcher" and "you -- the human being" begin and end.

I guess this is part of why the blog format appeals to me. It allows me to play a little more with the boundaries, so that there can be "me the human being" a bit more in my work. My work is personal...I think no matter what I do, I will always want to be doing something that has significance to me. I don't really understand the friends and acquaintances whose jobs are just time-fillers. I do understand the allure of good money (sigh), but I know of a number of people who sound like they're just keeping on keeping on. They complain about being boring and they let their jobs get them in terrible moods. I suppose I ought to be more sympathetic.

Still, I'm not sure about what it is I'm trying to accomplish here. I think the August goal will be to document a bit more the process as I careen into the remaining quarter of fieldwork, as it's something I need to do in the non-virtual world, as well. Or maybe I'll just start logging my progress of being allowed to run again. Or my bike itineraries. Or something equally dull -- thereby losing my mini-readership. Perhaps I ought to start a poll -- what should misanthrope hate next?! Maybe I'm not actualizing the populist potential of blogging sufficiently.


Enough with sardonic commentary

I realized I've been awfully negative. Gripe. Gripe. Gripe.

Perhaps the change in my mood is due to triumphing over the FDA and the inane "iPledge" (not to be pregnant, to comply with multiple forms of birth control (perhaps they'd like to simply set up surveillance monitors in my uterus?), and to spend money having my blood tested to verify that I am not an incompetent, untrustworthy slut....ok that's a wee bit over the top, whatever). I rocked the system, and yes, I am quite proud. At one point one of my doctors wanted to prescribe me birth control pills, and I told him, he could prescribe it, but I wouldn't fill it. Is it crazy to want to challenge the system by proving how such a hyper-compliant, semi-hypochondriac fantasizes about giving the feds the proverbial finger? The reality, of course, as S/z pointed out in another context, is that really I exert a lot of energy getting mad at straw men, and really the only person who's exhausted in the process is me. Nobody "wins", though I do generate fuel for blog. Not exactly the most productive use of my energy.

In other, more interesting news (though if you consider the many ways I'm flouting my "abstinence and diaphragm" magical birth control methods and failing to be pregnancy tested when I'm supposed to interesting...well...then....), I'm writing -- or trying to write on absence. It's kind of a harkening back to my philosophy glory days, yet taking it beyond the armchair. How do we write about absence in the context of concrete objects that actually create and generate forms of absence? Perhaps I ought to get tattooed -- "ambiguities, uncertainties, and absence" -- since these are the themes I am finding so fascinating. And, I have to say, personal conversations of old have actually crept in interestingly --- there was a particular word I used in a non-drama drama that is resurfacing in productive ways in my work. Funny to re-appropriate terms and find that their resonance at one point is actually directly related to something much more interesting and complicated than trivialities.

What I'm trying to say is that all these terms and theorizing all come back to the very mundane -- an awful lot like life in its banality. And yet the only thing that makes the banal interesting is to make it complicated. I love circularity, even as it makes me want to hit my head against the wall.

Blame the patient games...

I've written before about the weird female requirements for one of the prescriptions I'm on...I've now found myself caught up in their labyrinthian rules that make it impossible for me to pick up my prescription until I again have a pregnancy test, talk to the doctor, and then answer the quiz online (also known as money and time). Mainly because the pharmacy didn't fill the prescription when I dropped it off, and then failed to contact me when they'd filled it -- I fell out of the 7 day window from my last pregnancy test. I wonder what the male experience with this medication is -- as they don't have to spend the money or the time proving that they're not knocked up with (as one friend called it) "flipper" babies.

What disturbs me is the expense and complication and the power of failure that is laid at the (female) patient's feet. The error occurred when the pharmacy didn't fill the prescription, and I waited a few days to go get the prescription, thereby dropping out of my eligibility window. So whose fault is it? Probably mine...I didn't check immediately, but I also assumed the pharmacy would call me when they filled the prescription. How naive. Again, I am fascinated (in an irritated sort of way) at how economics factor into this, how an entire industry of multiple commercial sites (the testing site, the pharmacy, oh and definitely my posh doctor's office) can coalesce around my one action.

This is a very science studies way of interpreting the situation, but it's important. In fact, it's not just a question of economics (though that's explicitly embedded), it's about entire systems that determine how individuals can access care and medication.

More on this later, as I must go off to write and write -- ostensibly to create a finished document at the end of the week.


Love the bikes, time for an identity politics around the chicks and their rides

Two weeks of identity politics, and I keep trying to remind everyone to bring back in desire into the conversation. Why must the conversation keep returning to specifications of sexual identities (not sexualities, even, not desires)? I know, I know, privilege makes it hard to fully understand the vulnerability of claiming a political and sexual identity. But what I'm asking for is about moving further down (urgh...sorry about that), exploring the constructions of desire, which is not exclusively about sexual identity, and I would argue is more than the performance of desire and lust and love and politics.

I am just not convinced that any of us can speak fully about ethnic/racial/sexuality positions without first discussing what desire means or looks like. And further, as I'm on the soapbox, the presumption that these identities exist in direct opposition to a predictable and definable heterosexual desire irritates me. The (presumed) staticness of heterosexuality upsets me. I have yet to see forms of my desire, or the powers that come out of engaging with one's sexuality and desires, represented in any of the conversations these last two weeks.

Part of it is that I feel quite uneasy in any political identification with sexual groups, which of course leads to inevitable alienation everywhere (can this be my identity politics -- the politics of alienation??), and part of which is due to a confusion about my ethnicity in general. The labels I sometimes claim are much more about the labels I assume have been ascribed to me. Too tiresome to express ambivalence about ethnicity, when I tend to think my class has defined me far more than my ethnicity (though even as a teenager, I felt very aware of how groups of teenagers in stores in NY were treated, and I knew that my white skin and uniform skirt made me far more invisible than the public school, non-white kids). And because the fact that I hold dual citizenship in a Latin American country and the U.S., and yet feel that I've been seriously uneducated about that ethnicity, it all makes me uneasy. And because I think American identity is wrapped up in strong forces of assimilation that make it difficult for many of us to find ourselves, or stake a claim anywhere, I hesitate before I sigh and call myself white, heterosexual...blah blah.

Oh, wait. What I wanted to say is that I want to start a coalition of women in skirts on bikes of some sort. Today one of the women on her bike, as I rode up Market St., complimented me on how cute I looked, and that it was hot (desire represent!), and how much she liked my boots, and we talked about riding in a skirt and how we preferred it. (She was not wearing a skirt, but she explained she often does.)

A) I want a solidarity of women biking in the city, which I think is really important. As much as I enjoy men on their bikes, and checking out their asses, I also like passing them, and speed-demoning and weaving out of traffic. Most of them don't know how to do a city ride. It's a unique biking form. Really.
B) As she and I discussed (it was amazing in our red light-length conversation how much came out!), there is a form of power in biking in a skirt. She suggested that it makes people pay more attention to you -- which can be good in a defensive biking sort of way.

My skirt biking days began early. From 2nd grade until 7th, my dad and I rode the tandem everywhere. He would "drive" me to school, and until 4th grade (when I asserted my independence and right to use mass transit), would pick me up and drive me home. Whenever we went out to the theater or to doctor's appointments, we'd ride the tandem. By 7th grade, I switched schools and had to start wearing a uniform, and I decided I wanted my own bike. It never occurred to me (and probably not to my dad, either) that a girl on her bike, in a uniform skirt, might have been just asking for attention. But I also learned to be tough and challenge the catcalls, and I think it made me pretty fearless.

I find biking a powerfully liberating way to inhabit space. There are no spaces that I don't feel safe on my bike -- even places that might be a little scary on foot suddenly feel like places I can reclaim. The freedom of zipping around and getting directly from point A to B without depending on anyone else is phenomenal. I used to bike down 5th Avenue after being at high school parties, and the streets would be empty at midnight or 1am. I've (recklessly) biked home drunk, and I once had a serious accident on 8th Avenue at 14th Street (a major intersection and merging of avenues) with no cash in my pocket to take a subway home. I've biked in snow and rain and sleet.

What's strange is that for the last six and a half years, I hadn't biked much. I've had a spate of stolen bikes, and I started to feel that I wasn't meant to have a bike. Last summer in the desert, I had a bit of a bike revelation -- and decided to confront the endless parade of stolen bikes by learning more about how to use and fix my own bike. It was a further level of independence, since for so long I've depended on my dad or the repair shop to fix the flat or tighten the brakes.

And, I've never owned a woman's bike. Not sure if I want to.


Fieldwork already a piece of the past

I've realized that when I'm in the field (actively), it feels painful and drags and I can't bear it sometimes. While that's happening, I have a clear recognition that it's important to stay present, be in the moment, and not fixate too much on the time after (post-fieldwork). But I don't think I've been successful at that. It's too hard much of the time.

Now that I've left LA, fieldwork feels distant and remote, and I can barely remember my life in LA. I feel so completely disassociated from the experience, and I have to write about it, and think about it critically, but it feels like a dream or a movie or another person's life. I think it's because fieldwork feels kind of traumatic to me. Separating from home (whatever that means these days), throwing myself into other people's lives, depending on and needing my research participants so much, and the need to be fully attentive to all sorts of everyday details, are all intense and overwhelming. It is an incredibly active and engaged way of working, which I think many people don't do in their day-to-day lives, but it's also so very emotional and physical and intellectual. There's no way to hide or disconnect from "being in the field".

When I came back from Morocco, I really feel that I suffered some kind of post-traumatic stress reaction. It was coupled with some major drama at my university, that just made everything worse, but I literally couldn't speak about what had happened to me. And the thing is, it sounds so very overwrought to equate my time in Morocco with trauma, when there are real world violences that happen every day, but I do think there were significant traumatic elements.

Los Angeles was more slow-burn -- because I was in my own country, and some of the isolation that I felt in Morocco simply wasn't present -- but at the same time, trying to see one's own world and culture critically is painful, too. A week ago, someone asked me how LA had been, and I felt as though that were another lifetime, not a month ago. Eight months somewhere doesn't really seem as though it can be synopsized, and the weird fluidity between quotidian (being in the States and somewhat familiar with the world around me) and the foreign made it neither distinct enough to be commented on nor familiar enough to feel at ease.

I'm trying to sit down and write something -- anything, damnit -- about my research, and I'm just not there yet. I'm not able to articulate how all the bits I threw into the pot as a form of analytic framework actually come together. I have (perhaps overexaggerated) a fair amount of faith in the logic of my own strategies and even when things seem meaningless and incoherent, that they have an internal structure that I should be able to access somehow. But writing about it stakes a claim and staunches thinking, in some ways. It feels that I have to be logical and committed to a direction, when I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet. I find thinking about one vaccine specifically is just incredibly slippery. The minute I try to pin down a series of problems and reflections on the vaccine, it opens up a bunch of other directions of thinking. And I am convinced they're all connected and relevant, but I'm not sure how to make them seem relevant in a larger picture. Why should we care about this thing in particular? How does its particularity inform more universal/generalizable concepts? I am increasingly compelled by finding the universalizable -- which freaks me out, as a product of the school of 90s poststructuralist/postmodern/phenomenological/feminist philosophy.


Pace, misanthrope**

I biked home today writing this post in my head, but more than half a bottle later of the lovely and amazing Unibroue beer, Maudite (meaning Damned, in French), and two phone conversations with both also lovely and amazing EKT and CDG, I've mellowed out about the day's events a bit more.

I'm spending the next two and a half weeks at this summer institute, all about teh sexxx. Ok, really it's about sexuality, but I realize that I occupy this strange position (or perhaps want to over-vaunt my position, but whatever, it's my blog, and I'll boast and self-import if I want to) of being post-sexuality theorizing. Arrogant...I know. I appear as a white, heterosexual, upper/middle class, and over-educated (all of these labels are actually problematic, and I would say that I don't identify with most of them, except maybe 'over-educated' -- but I'm talking about the superficial so why not use superficial categories to convey my point? I'm not even at-ease with racial/ethnic category, as I've tried to figure out how my family's time in Latin America places me, who grew up in NY)...it's hard to sympathize with my boredom. I know that to most of the people in the institute, I read as "white, straight," aka, boring as hell. Yet, I identify with the queer community and feel frustrated that I get pigeonholed. And among people who have had to struggle to protect themselves and claim their sexuality, my kind, at least superficially, is exactly the world from whom they're trying to reclaim power. It's difficult for me to be constantly reduced to stereotypical het and to find that my sense of queerness has no place at the table. It's a weird circular tension of who gets to have a voice and whose experiences are considered legitimate.

Still, a possibly apocryphal story my dad likes to tell is about my being 3 years old, and after a dinner with my father and his partner's friends (two men, as well), I asked about whether Bob and James were married -- or whether they live together (as stories go...it's always hard to get precise language on these things). My dad explained, some men love men, some men love women, and some women love women. I apparently looked bored and said, oh, okay. And returned to coloring or whatever engrossing task kept me busy. In other words, sex and sexuality have always seemed pretty matter of fact to me.

This doesn't mean that sex and sexuality are intrinsically easy or uncomplicated for me, but it's just that I'm a bit disinterested in theorizing or debating much around it all. And so much of these sorts of institutes become "processing" sessions. I know that for many of the people involved, these opportuntities are rare and important. Further, most people who come to sexuality studies have had a coming out process, or have felt oppressed or silenced in their lives, and this opportunity is liberating and a very personal process. It is important to have the conversations about the proliferation of sexualities, to engage with the race and class issues that are tied into imaginations about sexualities, and to reflect on the extreme challenges of making this a more public discourse, but...like with the proliferation of sex blogs, it's sometimes incredibly mundane to me. Maybe if I'd grown up into a more non-normative sexuality (I had a phase of feeling confused about why I wasn't a lesbian, since at 15 or so, I spent a lot of time with radical lesbian feminists at the NY NARAL offices, and felt a bit funny as a straight daughter of a gay man), if I felt that I could claim an identity politics position, I'd be more excited about this whole endeavor, but I just don't...

And I really never thought I'd say this, but I kind of wish there were more theorizing. I know the personal is political, and that many of us come to sexuality studies because of our own experiences, but there are times when the institute feels like a therapy group. There's also a big commitment to advocacy and activism, and the truth is, though like a sense of social failure of not turning out a big dyke, I've made peace with my inability to be a true activist, and that I'm more comfortable in the realm of abstraction. (Ok, that's not totally true, I'm comfortable-ish with my academic status.)

**is it legit to use Latin and Greek in the same sentence? I'm having a language-obsession lately, trying to only update my facebook status, for example, with descriptors and no verbs at all. I'm not sure what that's about, but I've been enjoying the way words fit together much more than in the past.


Psychedelics getting research attention

A few years ago, my university sent out a press release announcing that one of its researchers had conducted a study on psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in friendly fungi. It was amazing how science-y the press release made the whole endeavor sound, reducing it to a sterile scientific study with few flicks of the wrist. The study explored religious experiences and the effects of psilocybin on long-lasting religious belief. The press release stressed that this study was conducted under the most rigorous scientifically controlled environment, and that its results ought not be duplicated by the casual "dabbler".

In junior high school, we passed around the book "Go Ask Alice," which traumatized me with its horrific descriptions of a young girl's "descent" into drug-addled irresponsibility and eventual death. The book was presented as an actual girl's diary, which revealed the dangers of LSD. I found out in college that it was pure propaganda. Like the Covenant House "books" that came in the mail about runaways and children living in the streets (see the new Maritime Hotel on 9th avenue...which used to be a Covenant House and would freak me out whenever I took the bus past it -- it has portal windows, and I was convinced that bombed out abused and runaway children were hanging themselves in desperation, now it is an expensive hotel, which I simply find unacceptable on so many levels), the early 80s depended on a lot of mass hysteria and invisible threats (such as the word on the street that acid tabs were being handed out to innocent children with cute cartoon characters on the blotters). I recently discovered that my junior high school friend, who teaches in the New York schools, has "Go Ask Alice" available at her school. I am deeply disturbed that this is considered acceptable literature -- at least, without its disclaimer that it's a work of fiction and not a true (and totally ludicrous) story. The narrator dies at the end, even though she's renounced her drugging and sexing ways, because her friend-enemies lace the bowl of popcorn (or nuts or whatever) at the house where she's babysitting.

I tell this nonsequitur seeming story to actually direct your attention to the Alternet article about psychedelics. Although the piece can get a little preachy, the article raises some interesting questions about addiction in American society. In addition, the article points to the vested interests that want to prevent access to and use of psychedelics, even though they may provide important benefits. I once had a student who tried to explore pharmaceutical companies capitalizing on plants and indigenous medicines by re-packaging and distilling the naturally occurring compounds into packaged and processed, and costly, drugs. Though her paper quickly went off the rails, it was an interesting and important question to ask. And the corollary is whether we want to formalize/legalize/sanitize the power of certain compounds that are freely available (or at least, available without the cost of R&D, marketing, litigation and doctors' kickbacks all neatly embedded in the price we pay at the pharmacy). Similarly, the renewed interest in psychedelics concerns me a bit -- pharma is so untrustworthy, and if they can get the FDA to approve dosing everyone, for a solid buck, they will do so happily.


Intellectual fatigue

I realize that I have not offered up much in the way of 1) fieldwork, 2) anthropology, or 3) research, but I am suffering from the malaise of an undirected malcontent.

The usual frustrations with my academic support system continue -- though perhaps they've never been fully articulated here. But more than anything, I'm just tired. That doesn't really seem like a terribly compelling argument to leave academia, but it is awfully tempting. I feel that my methodological approaches to my research are seriously limited, and it's kind of damn late in the game to be doubting foundational bits like methodology.

The main problem with my work is that the topic I'm most interested in -- vaccines -- is designed to be forgotten. Further, it's a one-time (or a few time, given boosters, increased adolescent vaccinations, and the emerging adult vaccination market) event, that's hard to capture in its emphemerality (is that even a word?!). As my advisor pointed out, vaccines have actually radically changed mothers' roles as parents, since the role of nursemaid has been significantly reduced by the fact that many of the more serious childhood illnesses no longer occur (in the U.S., at least). Vaccines have actually altered the types of care mothers have to give their children and demands on mothers' time. So here I am, trying to figure out how to study a thing that exists primarily in its absence.

My primary focus, on the STI that no one knows about, also raises questions of absence. The vaccine created a demand without widespread knowledge about the very thing it purports to protect against. Really, brilliant in terms of marketing -- framing an object that no one even knows they need to be protected against, even though it's incredibly ubiquitous. The virus is something that is very common and can lead to cancer, which in turn can lead to death, but the way in which people are (halfway) learning about it is through the pharmaceutically produced lens.

So in the course of studying one vaccine -- I found lots of absences and disconnects. People didn't know much about it, and what they did seem to know did not reflect any actual knowledge about the virus, only awareness about the vaccine. And now that I'm moving into broader generalities about vaccines, I'm finding it so hard to figure out how to study what is designed to be forgotten.

And, I guess, I'm not even sure if I am comfortable with the rarefied nature of academia. In some ways, I think I'd feel better about working in a field that I don't care terribly about, but at least pays the bills. I'm just not sure that I'm willing to go the full distance with academia. I'm not good at abandoning my whims and fickle nature to the long-haul of academia.


Burn the armchairs

Oh, this is very exciting. There is apparently a movement of Experimental Philosophers who are looking to branch out beyond the theorizing that, in my opinion, hampers the utility of philosophizing. I've only skimmed the page, but the concept is pretty great. Conversely, as we all know, I'm a huge skeptic of compulsive data collection (ie -- Public Health), and I wonder how similarly this project might end up "defending" its legitimacy by over data-fying the world? I have yet to figure out how one treads between the "compulsive" and the "useful," so I suppose I ought not critique them yet.

Similarly, there's apparently a group of Feminist Philosophers, who have a great post asking whether philosophy has a "woman problem". I read the title, snorted, and then noticed that they had included the "snort" as part of their title. Brilliant. Yes, yes, I think Philosophy might have some issues with gender...whether analytic or continental...though the continentalists (somewhat dismissed by the analytics) tend to be a bit more inclusive.

I do love the burning armchair logo, though! Maybe if I were to get a tattoo, that could be my tattoo.

Future fantasy

I know that I have reduced this blog to bitching about the CDC and public healthians, which perhaps I really ought to cut back on -- yet, such fun for me!

Anyway, working with five different people, who all seem to be on their own erratic timetables (sometimes, the turnaround is expected to be in 15 hours, from 5pm to 8am, othertimes, it's impossible to get a single useful feedback from anyone) and who tend to drag their feet right at the moment when we need to get things out the door. It's baffling going from being a self-directed researcher to having an entourage who has to vet everything or on whom I depend to deal with some of the logistics. In other words, nothing seems to get done, everything is handled at the last minute, and receiving documents with four differently colored track changes makes me crazy. Basically, I want to find myself a benefactor, who will encourage all my outlandish social analyses, and who lets me direct the research as appropriate. I wouldn't mind having my own team, if I could actually make demands on their timetables. I'm in such a liminal position with this project, where I was told that I was in charge, but of course, that's not actually true, and it's a bit confusing to me. I'm not sure when being assertive is productive and when it's destructive. And since our conversations happen over the phone, and rarely do we see each other's faces, it's very hard to know how information is being received.

I was not cut out for modern technologized research teams. I was meant to be boss-supreme in a luddite world of face-to-face interactions and people who adhere to deadlines. I am setting myself up, no doubt, for a lifetime of disappointment. I find that amusing...at least, today.


Science, research, and perhaps a form of self-loathing

I have returned to my habit of listening to "Thinking about Science" podcast, while doing boring gym-exercise tasks, and I listened to a great one with Barbara Duden and Silya Samerski. Of course, I tend to think they're great when they say the stuff I've been arguing about for the last 6 years of my education, which isn't very long in the scheme of things, but is always pleasurable when one comes to an idea on one's own (and in spite of mainstream naysayers), only to find that there is actually a whole world of thinkers who concur. At the end of Duden's part of the podcast, which is about the concept of the gene and the ways in which the "gene" means different things in different contexts (see general Science & Technology Studies theory about scientific objects), the interviewer asks her what is the relevance and application of understanding that there's a cultural perception of the gene and a scientific/researcher perspective on the gene, and that these are very radically different ideas. She sighs, and admits that it doesn't really change anything -- it's a bit of an academic exercise. It excites academics, but what difference does it make if the meaning of the world shifts depending on your perspective? This is not actually a radical or particularly academic understanding of things. And yet, we spend a lot of time, we cultural anthropologists or science studies types, parsing out the different meanings and interpretations of things. But it doesn't "get" us anywhere, it seems. The world of researchers and scientists are not particularly interested in hearing why they've designed something with a specific framework in mind that might be interpreted differently in the world at large. And those who engage with the object or technology, don't really care whether it has a different meaning outside their everyday lives.

I jokingly suggested to HL on the phone today that I am an excellent diagnostician (about certain personal affairs), but not so good at the practitioner side of things -- and I suspect that this extends to all aspects of my life.

I read an article in New Science, about the "science of bad boys," which I am not going to bother linking to because why give them traffic -- and also it's an inane article. I hate all the scientific research that grounds understanding of cultural phenomena in evolutionary theory -- and particularly the gendered way it's usually interpreted. The refusal to ground social behaviors in cultural context irritates the hell out of me. A friend who is gay recently has found himself attracted to F to M transsexuals (women who become men, whether physiologically or live their lives as such) and we were discussing some of the challenges he found with dealing with a female physiology -- which I suggested might be partly due to lack of experience with the female form. He suggested that he just wasn't attracted to certain female parts, but I pointed out that even straight boys I've known over the years have learned to become more comfortable with the female anatomy. The idea that one would intrinsically find the messier parts of physical intimacy attractive seems to be a form of this assumption that we're "programmed" to desire or find interesting all aspects of the sex we're attracted to. I guess what I'm trying to say, connecting my gay friend's newish interest in a different form of male to the bad boys' scientifically proven behavior is that none of these things ought to be analyzed devoid of their cultural context.

Was that a terribly long way of saying something simple?

The self-loathing, by the way, is due to the recognition of what Duden admitted, that maybe all this work and theorizing doesn't add up to much. Yet, how does one become a productive practitioner and not just a diagnostician?