Sunday, February 28, 2016

teaching and going home

It's been a long time, but I once used to teach my classes and go home. I had other things on my mind then, like trying to hustle more classes to avoid falling even further into abject poverty, and limit intimidating phone calls from people I owed money to. This weekend I've been missing those days.

I am now deeply involved in many aspects of my stupid university. When I'm not teaching classes, I'm involved in the academic senate and on the senate executive committee, I do faculty rights representation for the union, I join book clubs and sometimes facilitate discussions, and I'm also involved in the AAUP. I know several faculty who do as much or more, but mainly, they do less. I understand why.

I know my level of involvement causes stress, and I know my motivation for being so involved is not entirely healthy. Anxiety seems to be self-sustaining, constantly reproducing the kind of alertness that makes everything appear to be threatening.

And then last week, two major sources of stress became serious objective threats. My anxiety level reached Threat Level Busey at once. I feel vulnerable, exposed, and low on energy. I don't want to keep having arguments in my head when I'm trying to sleep, and waking up with them raging again. I don't want this crapola affecting daily life like this. Dinner should not be a daily crisis.

I know my friends have my back. I know I have support. Generalized anxiety means that I can't trust that I have support. I can't even trust that I can support myself.

Kinda awful.

Friday, February 12, 2016

normalization: remedial gym class, eye patches

I’m letting ideas swirl around a bit. Some of my motivation for investigating normality and normalization is autobiographical.

I wrote in a blog post once that I had been in “remedial gym” in elementary school. This is not what the school called it; in fact, I don’t know if they had a name for it. This happened in first grade, so my memory of it is not all that reliable. Some parts of it are crystalline.

Evidently, I was so awkward and inept physically that it was noticeable in gym class. I couldn’t catch a ball thrown or bounced to me, or throw or bounce a ball to someone a given distance away.

I don’t remember the precise circumstances, but I was sorted into a special gym class, of something like six kids. The one classmate I remember was an unfortunate soul who lived down the street from me, David Swisher. He was chubby, hyperactive, a fairly ineffective aspiring bully, and unsuccessful academically later on. He was called, of course, Swishy or Swish.

I had homework for remedial gym class.  So I could practice, my parents had to buy one of those hideous raspberry-Koolaid-vomit pink rubber inflatable balls with the scuffy texture—you know the thing, it was the “gym ball” because it wasn’t any particular kind of ball. I spent time in the hallway between our front door and the kitchen, bouncing this stupid ball back and forth to my mom. I think I wasn’t very good.

Now, this was strange, because I was physically very active, especially outdoors with my neighbors and best friends, Ryan and Trever Sink. It was hard to get us inside for the night. We spent every available daylight hour in good weather riding Big Wheels, bikes, or our old undersized trikes. We used the tricycles—solid steel and iron monsters—to play “Smash-Up Derby,” which involved riding them as fast as we could and running directly into each other as violently as possible. In the snow, we tromped around trying to see how far we could walk between yards, over fences that were nearly covered. I seemed reasonably coordinated for these activities.

It finally occurred to someone that I couldn’t catch, throw, or bounce a ball accurately because I couldn’t see it. On came the glasses. I still had trouble when the ball was to my left. It turned out I had a lazy eye. On came the eye patch, which was prescribed back then to try to train lazy eyes to work (I gather this has been abandoned since).

These were efforts to normalize my body and my movements. It didn’t matter that I was able, spontaneously, freely, and gracefully to crash tricycles together, to dig out of collapsed snow banks while suffering only minor frostbite, or to variously run, ride, leap, and so on. I did not perform to standard in the throw-catch-bounce test. Normalizing this performance began with identifying it as abnormal, separating my body from a mass where it could have remained relatively anonymous, placing me in a special location and prescribing special treatments. It reformulated my spontaneous, free, graceful embodiment as uncoordinated, incapable, and in need of correction.

Of course, a six year old with glasses and an eye patch (stuck onto the lens) is subjected to merciless hazing by other six year olds. This reinforced my body’s difference, the judgment that I am in fact uncoordinated and incapable, or in a word, defective. The failure of the eye patch to correct my lazy eye (lazy to this day) was my failure to achieve normalization, so along with my glasses becoming thicker every year, I remained defective, and it was my failure.

Now, imagine if my case had been really serious.