a culture crisis

for the depraved

Month: April, 2013

On Anxiety, Coping Mechanisms, and Agency

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(source: http://www.pilotfire.com)

It is, at the moment, 12:01 am. I have been getting through a panic attack for approximately an hour and a half. Needless to say, at least for anyone who has ever had to endure such a thing, that the experience was rather terrible. This onset was especially distressing, though, because it seemed to have originated in the “nothing and nowhere,” to borrow from Heidegger. One moment, I was staring at my bowl of lentils (I made lentils for dinner) and then my heart was suddenly racing, for no apparent reason. I’ve had attacks before, but I don’t remember them being quite this bad. I began to shiver and so I moved onto my couch in the living room, laid on my side, and curled up in a ball. I was mildly convulsing and I began to cry, very fearful tears. I’m not sure what made them fearful, but I just knew that they were. If I’m venturing, I think I was scared about my anxiety (fear in the face of anxiety, or anxious in the face of anxiety, I can’t tell yet, will have to think about this later), about its sudden onset and my inability to tie it to something concrete.

This has been a problem for me lately. In my previous encounters with anxiety, they were very targeted. I used to deal with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Purely Obsessional OCD, and certain targeted phobias (mainly needles and stings). I’ve gone through bouts of existential angst before. It wasn’t pleasant but it had never been this bad before. And the thing is, I don’t even know that this was necessarily existential. I wasn’t anxious in the face of my own life, my own singularity, my own finitude. None of that. It was just this moment where I transitioned from a state of near-perfect calm (or unawareness, perhaps), immersed in my episode of Friends, to a state of severe and alarmingly quick heart palpitations. And lots of confusion. I didn’t know what to do. I tried deep, calming breaths to control my heart rate. I tried detoxifying yogic breathing techniques. My body wasn’t receptive to these strategies, though. So I didn’t know what to do for a while. It was the strangest thing, but I suddenly craved physical contact, physical shelter. I just wanted to be hugged, held tightly, perhaps. I’m sure there is some reason for that, one that makes perfect sense. But because I don’t know what that reason is, it just felt strange. Really strange, actually, and I can’t quite get over why that is. In any case, I called my sister and we spoke for about an hour and a half (which is why I began writing at 12:01 am).

But I wish I could put into words the way in which the internal tremors became me; I was anxiety itself, and we were indistinguishable. My body had difficulty taking in air, my heartbeat maintained its frighteningly rapid pace, and my mind… well, my mind was blank. I don’t know of a better way to describe it. It’s not that I couldn’t think anything; I knew that I was anxious, I knew that I was confused, I was talking to my sister and maintained something of a conversation. It’s just that when I thought about the anxiety itself, about what had triggered its onset, about my very encounter with it, I kept drawing a blank. Not a wall that I couldn’t get over, not a door I couldn’t get through – there was no secret something towards which I was anxious but simply couldn’t figure out. My mind was blank, my anxiety was blank, I was blank. My sister kept asking me questions and I kept answering “I don’t know,” because I didn’t… there was nothing to know in the first instance. Which is, perhaps, why this experience was so terrifying, why it lasted so long.

In the end, I allowed this anxiety to run its course. I chose to acknowledge the radical discomfort it aroused in me and accept that I would feel this way until the moment passed. This was my strategy for dealing with my various forms of OCD and phobias. This particular encounter was troubling, though, because I couldn’t even think of a coping mechanism to have to struggle against relying on. When I was dealing with OCD, I struggled against checking and willed myself to allow the anxiety to remain and run its course. But with this particular encounter, I had no choice but was forced to remain anxious. I could not actively choose to remain anxious over relying on some coping mechanism. It felt as though this anxiety was imposed upon me (as most anxieties are) but the difference was that I had no say in the matter.

I recognize the extent to which this is a perverse and problematic feeling. I am basically saying that I didn’t even have the choice to worsen the problem by relying on a coping mechanism. But that isn’t what’s troubling me. The fact is that I was stripped of agency in the matter, and that distresses me to no end. Precisely because this anxiety took the form of blankness, I wasn’t afforded an opportunity to struggle over the decision to allow my anxiety to run its course in the first instance.

I will have to think more about this. In any case, it’s past my bed time. Thank you for reading. If you’ve had such experiences, please share.

All best,

J.

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Judith Butler on Hard Intellectual Work

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So, I thought I wouldn’t post anything for a while, but in the midst of researching for a paper, I found this gem. It’s taken from Gary A. Olson and Lynn Worsham’s essay “Changing the Subject: Judith Butler’s Politics of Radical Resignification.” I have my own thoughts about this, but I will leave it to you to form your own. Just know, these are important words. You have to let them sink in in order to feel their full weight.

‘[Judith Butler] reminds us in the interview below that rigorous intellectual work is necessarily extremely hard labor. Becoming a critical intellectual in- volves “working hard on difficult texts,” and it entails “undergoing something painful and difficult: an estrangement from what is most familiar.” It is precisely because intellectual work is so demanding, so painful, that “not everybody wants to undergo it.” Perhaps the very pain of intellectual work is one cause of the upsurge of anti-intellectualism that the academy is currently experiencing. Butler wonders whether there is “guilt” about being an intellectual because we simply don’t know “what effects, if any, the intellectual (especially the intellectual in the humanities) can have on the larger social world.”‘

On an Essay Hiatus

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 Hello folks, 

I am essay writing at the moment and won’t be able to post for some time. That said, I plan to post some original works when I do get back. Short stories, maybe a poem (!). In any case, thank you kindly for waiting. 

 

In the meantime, though, a solid remix for you: 

On Being Busy, and the Maintenance of Sanity

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(source: For a Little Mystery)

I have been thinking lately that busy days do not merely constitute the continual performance of some action or other with little to no physical rest in between. Of course we are busy on days where we get up quite early in the morning, prepare something or other for dinner prior to heading out the door for work, and then, while at work, exhausting ourselves physically and mentally. And then of course, we leave work to pick up the kids (I have no children, but parents do this, don’t they?) and drive them to soccer practice – or something like that – and then when that’s over, we head home to finish whatever it was we prepped for dinner that morning. And then, since many of us bring work home, we do that for some time, and, well, you know the rest of the story. Voila, the busy day, par excellence.

But is it? This example of busyness must sound exceptionally familiar, resembling each of our lives in some form or other, relatable in some capacity. People know this type of “busy.” And it is certainly a type of busy. But lately, I have been thinking about different orders of busyness, different kinds, different levels…

I suppose, then, my point is that “busy” is not necessarily, nor exclusively, a physical state. Perhaps this is self-evident, but lately I have learned never to assume the self-evidence of even the most simple of claims.

(I teach a literature course to science students, and while I thoroughly respect the sciences and the value of such knowledge, other kinds of knowledge, knowledge that I understand as sheer common sense, is taken as the most revolutionary and radical kind of thinking… It’s a little sad actually. This is, of course, not the case with all science students. Don’t worry, I’m not homogenizing you all. But at least in the demographic consisting of the students in my class, very few of them understood concepts such as ideology and gender, nor issues like colonialism or even contemporary American politics. Writing and critical thought proved to be an “unfair” expectation of them, as one student shared with me, and that is just sad. A few of them threw around sexist remarks without even knowing they were sexist. “Obviously only women wear makeup, and if you wear makeup you’re either a woman or want to be one.” Well, no. “Obviously only females who can be compared to men are those that can be viewed as equals and in the same category.” Not sure exactly what that means, but once again, no. One student didn’t even know the word “patriarchy.” All to say, critical thought is required in all disciplines and I have learned not to assume that everything is self-evident. In fact, I had to break down, piece by piece, to one student the reasons why one’s enjoyment of makeup does not categorically mean that this person wants to be a woman. That, my friends, was a frustrating day. In any case, I digress…)

I am currently in the middle of my essay-writing period, and despite the fact that I have an incredible amount of work to do (I can’t even over exaggerate how much work I have) I have been ignoring it. I am currently ignoring it in order to write this entry (thank you blog for helping me procrastinate!). In fact, I’ve been filling my days with watching endless hours of Mad Men, and apparently I can’t tire of Don Draper’s attitude nor of Sally’s exceptional charm.

Seriously, look how cute they are:

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(source)

But in any case… I have been doing nothing for about 6 or 7 days now, performing no action other than eating and Netflixing (and showering too, I’m not that quite that lazy), and yet, I feel as though I am busy. Very, very busy.

There is this constant worry to get things done, and to be fair, perhaps I am busy insofar as I have very much to do and the workload is only getting heavier the more that I delay, but that isn’t really my point. It is not so much that I am busy, but rather that I feel busy, as though I were doing something, many things actually, but really I’m merely planted in front of my computer.

Lately, I have been experiencing a kind of worry – a constant worry, actually – and I think that this feeling, this generalized anxiety, perhaps, is that busyness. My mind is always working, whether I am physically performing actions or not. It is on overdrive, overworking itself, refusing to rest, running on and on with a will of its own, irrespective on how much I want to simply relax. It strikes me, then, that I continue to delay, to relax by way of doing nothing (you know, just Mad Men-ing), in order to alleviate that sense of busyness, and I don’t think that I realized that until just now. Literally, just prior to typing it out…

But I don’t know that it’s gone anywhere. Nor do I know if it’s gotten worse. I can’t quite tell right now. But I think that writing this out has been helpful, if for nothing other than allowing me a space in which to sort out what it is that I’m thinking about. But now the trick is getting work done… I think I’m just going to have to force myself to get down to it (though I’ve tried that, but this is where I’ve ended up). Though, it is not the end that matters, but rather the process that led up to that end.

This past year, I’ve been working towards achieving a certain state of mindfulness and mental awareness, and I think I’ve done well in that respect. I keep reminding myself that it is crucially important to actively maintain my health. That is to say that if I am to be healthy, I must be the one to ensure that I am so. That’s not to say that this is something I must do alone. That’s rather silly, actually, and not always possibe. Nor is it the case that, if I happen to have difficulty with it, it necessarily means that I have failed. No. But it is something that I need to take part in, or else it cannot be achieved. I have to help myself be healthy. I’ve done this before, but then again, I’ve never felt this generalized sense of anxiety before, so I am not quite sure how I am going to approach this. But the important thing is that I will approach it.

Thanks for listening.

J.

Chai Tea Convert: How to Build an Exceptional Mug of Chai Tea

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(source: www.tammysrecipes.com)

I was never one for Chai tea. Firstly, as an English student, the very name “Chai tea” annoyed me. “Chai” means “tea”… So it’s tea tea…

In any case, it seemed that, some years back, we were all living our lives, pleasantly or otherwise, and then this overnight Chai phenomenon took place, and I just didn’t like it. I think it tasted too much like pumpkin spice (which I now love) and was simply turned off to the taste.

In any case, something miraculous happened to transform my taste buds and I am in spiced heaven. In this new found enlightenment, I will share with you the guidelines to a wonderful and comforting mug of chai.

You will need:

Spices: star anise, cinnamon stick shards, clove, cardamom, and anis for good measure

Black tea, loose leaf is best, but packed is fine

2% milk

Simple syrup (recipe)

Blend spices and tea in a tea strainer. Allow tea and spice combo to steep for at least 5-6 minutes in boiled water. The longer you steep, the stronger the tea. Add in 1 tbs simple syrup and stir well. Now, while this next step defeats the purpose of strong tea, it is just so delicious. Steam about 1/4 cup 2% milk and add it into your tea. Trust me, it is sooo much better than plain cold milk. Rich, luxurious, comforting – confessions of a chai tea convert.

If you don’t feel like making it yourself (which I often don’t), here is how to order it at Starbucks:

1 grande chai with steamed 2% milk and 1 pump classic syrup.

Happy tea-ing!

Generation Jobless: An Institutional Problem

Generation Jobless: A Documentary – CBC – Doc Zone – Episode – Generation Jobless.

First off, watch this documentary. Or rather, watch it if you are one or more of the following:

1. 20-30 years old with a university education and are sh*t out of luck trying to find a job in your field

2. A soon-to-be university graduate in utter fear of being the above

3. An info-junkie who is simply interested in things that probably don’t concern them

4. Annoyed with the world and in the mood to blame things on the institutions and, of course, capitalism, the creator of all our problems. (Also, this happens to be me sometimes… or most of the time lately – don’t judge).

5. Bored and chilling in your room with your cat (No, I am not a cat person. That would be you — yes, you there, hanging out with your cat as if that’s a lovely thing. (If you can’t tell, I am not a huge cat person – more on this later)).

Cue the Comments:

This video has recently been on my “recommend to friends” list. Perhaps because its contents directly relate to my life and the life of many of my friends as soon to be graduates from a graduate program in the humanities (See: Thesis Hatement – Slate Magazine). While the video comments on many aspects contributing to the generation of, not just unemployed, but underemployed graduates, there is one particular bit that frustrates me most.

The fact is, this lack of communication — or rather, actively ignorant communication– between institutions, not to mention the immensurately unconscionable greed of capitalist industrialists (they are everywhere these days – literally polluting the population with their ideological reifications), has created an economic landscape that reproduces the conditions that subject us to its power, and what’s worse is that we partake in the reproduction. We propagate a discourse of autonomy and individual responsibility, tell ourselves that it is up to us (and only up to us) to ensure that we secure a position that will sustain and support our lives, blah, blah. And if we don’t manage to do this, we are the only ones to blame. We didn’t send out enough resumes, we didn’t work hard enough in school (what’s an A- worth these days), we didn’t volunteer and intern enough (as if interning is a viable and feasible option – see video). All to say, if we aren’t succeeding, then we aren’t trying hard enough.

But let’s briefly take a moment to shake ourselves out of this hideous lie.

Go ahead, shake yourself out of it, spirit fingers and all.

Now that you’re somewhat more alive then you were some seconds ago, let’s chat about a few problems surrounding such a discourse of individual responsibility. It is made up, or “fictitious,” as Pheobe from Friends would have it (season 3!). By whom, you ask? By your resident  capitalist shirker, who, to be fair, comes in all shapes and sizes, but in this particular case is probably your university president, potential employers (though they aren’t quite that, since next to no one is in fact (ethically) employing) and, of course, your faculty dean. Your president and your dean can accept as many students as they can muster into your program, jut out as many graduates as possible, all in the name of higher enrolment and higher funds. Your potential employer can then go on to outsource jobs, offer jobs to less qualified people (they don’t cost as much because, of course, people are commodities), or they can offer the position to your mom or dad or aunt or uncle (what up, baby boomers?!), or they can offer you a position and seriously underpay you …

Insert oozing sarcasm here: But sweetheart, if you don’t get that job, it’s your fault.

Recall, capitalism is only maintained through its capability to produce commodities, but it must also reproduce the social relations governing production that subtend the material relations of the system even as they are products of that system through the internalization of ideology. Translation – Universities produce commodities, those being the university graduates. But they must equally produce the rhetoric that the to-be-graduates internalize in order to buy into the institution in the first instance. And once we buy in, graduate, as commodity, is consequently reproduced. Ah, the circle of life capitalism.

I recently attended a conference in which a friend of mine presented on the problematics of the institution’s appropriation of therapeutic discourse in order to manipulate students into internalizing the construction of individual responsibility to achieve economic success. This might be the worst part of this whole jobless nightmare. The purpose of therapy is to help you deal with your life, to help you through stress, to make you feel better (we can chat about this in more detail later). How perverse is it, then, when capitalist institutions manipulate a discourse meant to help alleviate the very real burdens of stress, both mental and physical, in order to trick you into buying into a system that will in fact reproduce and propagate this stress?

I won’t name which university website this came from, but note the problematic, singularizing language inherent in its discourse:

And ironically, nearly every North American university mental health centre is seriously lacking.

In the end, economic success is not something that is attained by the individual. If there exists the individual, and the individual only, then there is no economy. The space of economy is fundamentally and necessarily communal. Without community, there is no economy. We exist in a condition whereby the act of the one inflects the life of the other – this is the nature of society. And considering that our institutions are a part of our communities and thus partake in the economic exchange — for better or for worse — ask yourself: is it really all your fault?

P.S. I think this video is only viewable in Canada, but I’m sure it’s posted somewhere else on the web, if you are now oh so compelled to see it!

The Down-Time Playlist: Relax and Let Go

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I’ve always prided myself on my ability to compose exceptional playlists. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but apparently I have a knack for things that pair well (one day, I’ll post about pairing spices while cooking – awesome stuff if you’re something of a foodie, like myself). I am passionate about music, and sharing, and caring, and all that jazz. Thus, I have resolved to post playlists for various moods, events, occasions that I sincerely hope you enjoy. Here’s the first one, as it’s currently the mood I am in. Let me know what you think.

The Down-Time Playlist:

1. Let Go – Frou Frou

 

2. Hear Me Out – Frou Frou

 

3. Ride – Lana Del Rey

 

4. American – Lana Del Rey

 

5. Ekki Mukk – Sigur Ros

 

6. Call Me Maybe (Cover) – Ben Howard

 

7. Pretty Little Heart ft. Little Wayne – Robin Thicke

Graduate School or Game of Thrones?

Image(source: http://www.phdcomics.com)

If you are a fan of the Game of Thrones series, you will find this funny — even exceptionally funny.

If you are a fan of the Game of Thrones series and also a PhD candidate, you laugh because it is, of course, funny.

For about a minute.

And then, something really shitty happens.

As the reality of this comic hits you, very much like a cast-iron pan to the side of your face, you wallow in misery as you see your life compared to the gruesome (but ever so entertaining) war for the throne of Westeros. We fight for the nearly-extinct tenure track position, dreading the day we decided to apply for graduate school, as though that was a clever idea. “Yes,” we thought, “I will get my PhD and become a professor! I’ll teach for 5 hours a week, and have my summers off, and research things I’m interested in, and read all of the books ever! And life will be fantastic!”

Until someone tells you, “Um, no. You fool, a PhD is the worst thing you could ever do to yourself. Run away now! Do it! Run like Forrest and don’t come back! Get a real job, one that won’t break you into teeny pieces until you are shattered and broken and there is nothing left of you to be found!”

That lovely piece of advice came to me in this Slate Magazine article: http://slate.me/ZDw2Ol

Ah, the misery of disillusionment.

Enjoy (or don’t!), but at least now you know!

And happy Game of Thrones Sunday!

The Crisis of Capitalism.

 

Food for (critical) thought. Capitalism is a problem. Let’s talk about it.

Words: A New Page

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I’ve recently added a new page. “Words” is what I hope will remain a continually evolving, continually growing page, filled with words that have shaped me, developed me in some capacity. Because, after all, words do that. They make us grow, they make us regress, they flatter us, the hurt us, they render us sad, they spur passion within us, etc. I could go on, but, let’s be honest, the list can never end. Words have such weight, such power, and yet these qualities often go unnoticed, unrecognized.

This page, then, is a tribute to the words in my life, for better or for worse. They are not always good words, not always happy nor inspirational. To be fair, though, I am not always good, nor happy, nor inspirational! Such is life, though. But nonetheless, they have come to mean something to me; they have helped mould whatever it is that I have become, whatever it is that I am today.

I’ve started the page with a series of quotes from some literature and authors that I really admire. Eventually, though, I hope to add some words from philosophy, from politics, from critical thinkers. If I am brave (and I hope that I am), I will also contribute words that I have encountered in my personal life. That is not to say that I don’t consider literature or philosophy a personal encounter, but rather that I want to contribute words that I have said or that have been said to me, even if they have been difficult to bear. Bearing them, though, is why I am my own self today, right now.  Words that troubled me have had equal influence (if not more) in shaping me, challenging me to determine who and what I would become.

What do I want for my life? Who will I surround myself with? How do I choose to cope with anxiety? How will I remain healthy? What kind of person do I want to be? What are those things, those qualities, that I value most?

While such questions are seemingly generic, something you’d perhaps find on a silly “discover yourself” questionnaire, if answered as honestly, faithfully, and bravely as possible, they somehow becomes exceptionally revealing. I recently interviewed for a position in a research firm (more on that later), and my interviewer told me that I seemed to be very self-aware. I told her that it was one of the things I was most proud of in myself, because I worked very hard to achieve this state (more on this later as well).

All to say, though, that words are extremely influential. Pay attention to them.