Recently my life has demanded a lot of speaking, a lot of speaking up, explaining, having something to Say for myself. You know; bold-face, capitalised for emphasis, sonorous Morgan Freeman voice over: Say. People have been asking a lot of questions. Being a keen kidney bean I’ve dipped a toe into philosophy before I get thrown in the deep end at Chicago and I came across this.
“The formidable injunction to tell what one is and what one does, what one recollects and what one forgets, what one is thinking and what one thinks he is not thinking.” – Foucault.
Talk about apropos! And formidable is right. All that repetition. Those balanced pairs (is vs. does, recollects vs. forgets, thinking vs. not thinking) and that cheeky little flick of circular logic at the end (thinks he is not thinking – is that thinking or not thinking, or thinking about thinking, or not thinking about thinking, or even thinking about not thinking?????) Blerugh! This is like the brain-melting logic puzzle that is my life with CFS: I have to calculate a lot. Do I medicate my headache now and not have a drink when I go out later? Should I try and drink through it, or will I just be sucky migraine-riddled company? Should I take the drugs and have a drink and ride the completely intoxicated wave? Should I blow off the night out completely and go to bed early with a ginger tea and a book or will that mean I p*ss off a bunch of people? I should have taken tightrope walking for GCSE. Maybe it’s not too late: I could always take a class at Chicago. Life Skills 3300: Advanced multitasking blindfolded on a bed of banana skins. Set texts include A Beginner’s Guide to Juggling Study and Life and Social Acrobatics for Dummies.
Ok, so maybe that metaphor was a little strangled (for explanation of that pun, please refer to the above image) but the point is that now, on top of all the balancing acts, I have to speak up for myself!? Surely not?
All this Thinking has been brought to the surface by UofC Campus Day. Something odd happens, a kind of social alchemy, when you get a bunch of academically inclined people in a room and give them cold Thai food and beer. You get this question.
“What are you?” So maybe if you’re American you immediately understand this question. Me? I did a lot of blank staring at people and thinking “what on earth do you mean? I’m a human being… obviously?” After a lot of dumb-play and earwigging I figured out that they meant “What academic specialism do you hail from?” Not what planet. Cue penny dropping, oooooooh riiiiiight moment. But I’d hardly had time to celebrate my newborn understanding before panic set in. What academic specialism DID I hail from? I did a little more earwigging, hoping to cadge the right form of answer off someone better at this game than me. I heard a lot of things like this:
Well mainly I’m interested in the overlap between music theory and the political messages concealed in 18th century English topiary.
I focus mostly on the dawning of monochrome in the fashions of late 12th century bedlinen.
I’m in the proto-historical, socially significant observation of the interaction between 16th century history and internet shopping.
I am a poet. I live for the music in advertising by-lines, I create searing modern critique on society from them.
I look at representations of Marxist theory in Batman.
“I’m in violence design.”
Um… What?! I remained completely non-plussed! Violence design, since you ask, is to do with blocking action on stage for theatrical fight scenes. It was kind of a swim or sink-without-trace situation so I rallied and got through it by applying the tips of my thumb, index and middle fingers to my chin and nodding slowly… a lot (there was a general theme of appreciative nodding throughout.) I mumbled about Post World War II American literature and creative non-fiction. Never. Not once over the whole 48 hours did I utter the phrase “I am a writer.” I had heard a lot about “making the transition” and discovering “who you are as a writer.” I had no idea what those things meant. I have no idea who I am as *deep breath* A Writer. I just sit down, think a bit about what’s made me get that bubbly feeling in my chest recently and jot down a few lines about it, hopefully with some vibrant adjectives thrown in there too. Or maybe even… dramatic pause… a joke! I know. Scandalous! I don’t take myself too seriously: I’d never hit the little blue Publish button if I did. I just do what comes naturally. Sometimes I get grumpy when I can’t think of a first sentence. Maybe that means I’m in the conscientious study of the intricate history of writer’s block and its effects on the evolution of textual creation… or something? Maybe it just means I’m in the conscientious study of enjoying myself! I like words, I like to play with them. Sometimes I gaff (I described myself as the queen of queasy once and got a few weird looks – but I have a chronic illness that I try to make light of as much as possible… so sue me for being an oddball) sometimes I strike gold (or at least, I think I do… but right now I can’t think of an example…which seems ominous.)
So there’s all that, but there’s also some other things that have got me thinking about “What I am” or “Who I am.” Over dinner with a few friends the subject of how different I am now has come up. My mum has commented, without acidity, on how my temper is much shorter than it was. I know I can be grumpier than I used to, I have more sense of humour bypasses these days. I often think that the full spectrum of human emotions is exhausting and I’ll just stick to apathy thankyouverymuch. I’ve realised I lie a bit more than before. I never used to lie. Ever. I’m crap at it. My face just tells the truth all the damn time, which used to mean I often (accidentally) gave the stink eye to spatially incompetent strangers. Now, however, I use the phrase “I’m fine” nearly 50 times a day, and a lot of the time it isn’t true. Does that make me a fibber? Or is that acceptable? I have metric tonnes of anecdotal proof that people don’t REALLY want to know how you are, especially if the list of things that ache is longer than your exhausted arm. They want you to be fine. I don’t mean that they don’t care about you. I just mean that they want you to be fine, they want you to be good, happy, enjoying yourself. They don’t wish pain on you. How could you repay that kind of care with ugly truths that no one can really do anything about? Much better just to say you’re fine and smile. Plus, there are always the times when you really are FINE. (Those are invariably the times when no one believes you. Three cheers for irony!)
Having said that, I reckon I need to arm myself with an answer to the “What are you” question. How’s this?
“I am exploring my voice as a writer. Academically I focus on 20th Century American literature as I am interested in the cultural differences between America and England as exposed through their various literatures. I hope to break into the visual arts and philosophy because I’m greedy for new things to learn and I can’t pick just one focus *giggle*.” (Look, one of my infamous jokes!) If that fails, I could always just get a helix piercing and start wearing bow ties because essentially I have to over-think my normal life to survive it and I refuse to over-think my academic life the same way. I refuse to define myself or title myself with a rigid academic appellation that doesn’t even begin to mean what I mean. Maybe I’m a WRITER, maybe I’m just a kid who talks too much and uses big words because its fun and they’re there to be used!?
Oooph, that was a bit navel-gazey wasn’t it. I’m off to watch a drama about firemen, look at some abs and forget all about self-definition for a bit.