Archive for the 'Naming Experience' category

Truly Social Media

Jul 18 2014 Published by under Geekalicious, Naming Experience

A change of scenery is an excellent treatment for depression, anxiety, and worry. So Mr. Z and I are going out tonight to see a band that he never wanted to see before.  But you know, they are taper friendly, and he has this fancy new bit of gear, and it's nice weather, and his taper friends all asked if he couldn't come out and play this weekend, and I said yes honey run along! Of course I am running along with him.

It's up in the Poconos, an outdoor show, and should be a beautiful evening so how bad can it be. I love the taper dudes, they are great guys, but sometimes hilarious to me. They all call each other up and encourage each other to go to various shows. "Take your rig out to play" "Your rig needs to get out and get some air" "Time to give that rig some exercise" and so on. Their behavior is indeed much as the proverbial women-going-to-the-restroom-together. They do not wish to go to a show alone, it is more congenial to have a taper friend to go with them.

They will tell you it's for safety - the music's safety. There has to be a backup. If one taper's recording is messed up, there will be another recording "for the archive", "for posterity" because they are in the business of preserving music.

And part of that is true.  But mostly I think it is because, surprisingly, taping is a social thing. It may look to us like a solitary pursuit but they know better than us. They have inside jokes about it, about the characteristics of the "taper" (with a picture of a tapir on a t-shirt) - the taper erects temporary structures, the taper does not like glosticks or beach balls (see here for further explanation) etc.  They know they are a tribe. Music led them to the tribe, but they are not bound by a particular music. It is the calling of the tribe to preserve music.

The calling of the tribe: to preserve music, and to gather the highest quality gear for the preserving of music, so as to have the rationale for the necessity of going out to preserve music. With the tribe. Socializing, by the media, with the media, for the media. It's all good!

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Theon Greyjoy: Catastrophic Transformation Into Living Death

Game of Thrones fans, book and show alike: this post DOES contain spoilers. If you are not up to date with your reading and show watching (Season 4, Episode 6), then read no further.

Also, this is very sad. You are warned.

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Eventually They Recognize Your Genius

I see the Google doodle today is in honor of Dorothy Hodgkin's birthday. They did a good job with the doodle. Very nice. Seeing that prompted me to think of another famous scientist in the world of protein structure, who it just so happens is also female - Jane Richardson. She is currently a James B. Duke Professor of Biochemistry at Duke University.

My time at Duke coincided roughly with the period between shortly after she'd been awarded a MacArthur 'genius' grant in 1985, and the year she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, in 1991. During that time she held, as the Chemical Heritage Foundation notes,

a variety of “invisible” positions as a research assistant, nominally in a variety of departments due to her lack of a doctoral degree and the university’s rules, since discarded, against hiring a husband and wife in the same department.

It only took inventing Richardson diagrams, winning a MacArthur, being elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and the patriarchy's grudging dismantling of the "nepotism" rule,  for Duke to find her suitable for the faculty.  Well, she doesn't have a doctoral degree. So really, Duke was doing her kind of a favor there by granting that exception.

Anyway, eventually they recognize your genius, if you live long enough. Tough luck, Rosalind Franklin. Ladeez: you may not need to depend upon the kindness of husbands to help craft an "invisible" position for you, but do strive to be über-excellent, have good health, and longevity! Then someday, when the d00ds are wondering just why there are no really top-notch women scientists, yours can be one of the names that never comes to their minds!

I feel a particular kind of grudge against Duke for Richardson's years in those "invisible" positions. Although I was a biomedical engineering student, I was working on my dissertation with a biochemistry professor. So most of the time I was in the biochemistry building. I was trying to figure out who was who, what the pecking order was, and where I would fit in, if I could at all. People were still talking about Richardson's MacArthur, and what an amazing scientist she was. A postdoc in my lab who was helping me find my way around warned me not to bother her with any questions at all because she was so incredibly important and busy and besieged by requests from other colleagues and the press, that mere students should never cross her path. And then he explained that she didn't really have any sort of real position, but just kind of worked in this kind of not-faculty not-postdoc not-labtech not-student kind of thingy job.

So, my mind was blown.

The MacArthurs, I had just learned, were for geniuses. You could not apply for them; someone mysteriously deemed you worthy and you were so named a Fellow. It was incredibly prestigious. This woman had won one. She was a genius.

But she had no job. And the university did not say "Hark! Unbeknownst to us, a genius lives amongst us! Let us hasten to beg that she honor us by joining our faculty!" Her official job appeared to me to be something like "scullery maid" while, according to what people were telling me, she was doing genius science.  How to explain the conundrum?

1. Her science was no good, but MacArthur, knowing nothing about science, got hoodwinked into handing out money to her. Everyone likes her now because she has money, and money is necessary to do science. Everyone wants some of the money.

2. Her science was okay, but it was mostly her husband's work, and the MacArthur folks got fooled.

3. See (2), but the MacArthur folks were making some political statement about feminism.

4. Who says the MacArthur awards are a big deal? This postdoc probably doesn't know what he is talking about. Who would give some big award to a woman who doesn't have a real job? Just forget about it, and your brain will stop hurting.

Not long after that, I found Women's Studies at Duke. Then a LOT of things that were murky and mysterious suddenly began to clear up and make a twisted kind of sense. I knew now why the genius was a scullery maid, and why even scullery maids who are geniuses are still not invited into the parlor.

The clarity was bracing, and yet enervating. Why on earth was I laboring away at my stupid little project? I didn't want to be a scullery maid. And yet I knew I was no genius, so if that was what genius got you, what was there for me?  There I was, down the hall from a genuine genius scientist potential female role model, and all I got out of it was abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Ye are come to where ye shall see souls to misery doomed, who intellectual good have lost. No hope but blind life meanly passing, and Fame of the world ye will have none.

That was a bad time. This is why, I think, it's so difficult for women with some privilege to give it up and look at the patriarchy straight on. It's not like feminism is going to make you a cheerful, happy-go-lucky soul and give you tenure, fame, and cash. Cognitive dissonance and denial is bizarrely useful in a purely pragmatically functional way, even given the very high cost one pays to do so. But once you know, you can't unknow. Time to look around for like minds and foment a rebellion.

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ScienceOnline and Followup to #ScioSafe

Let's start by acknowledging that I was not at SciO14, so obviously I was not at the impromptu/spontaneous #ScioSafe session. Had I been at SciO14, I am sure I would have been at #ScioSafe. I hope that I would have done a good job of listening and doing my part to help create an environment where people felt safe to speak up and share.

I have the greatest admiration and respect for EVERYONE who participated in that session. And I have great sympathy for those who might have wanted to be there, but didn't find out in time. It's too bad they couldn't have had access to such a session on the regular conference agenda, as many have noted.  I do think it's entirely possible that what occurred in #ScioSafe could only have taken place outside the official boundaries of SciO14. Okay, in an ideal universe, the board of ScienceOnline spent the past year dealing head-on with their Boron-issues, got a lot of professional advice, and brought in some top-notch facilitators to help the heal the community. They had a plenary session in which they reviewed what happened, explained exactly what steps will be taken to change the culture, and outlined concrete plans for improved communication.

Roseanne Connor once said "I'm still waiting for chocolate air!" in response to sister Jackie's statement that she was waiting for Roseanne to say she was right. Organizations will be direct, effective, and rapid in their response to Boron-like disasters sometime shortly after we have chocolate air. They have to be pushed, nagged, prodded, dragged, "incentivized", and sometimes, reinvented, to make things better. Oh, you think you are hoping to just slide by this year with the "recent events" euphemism and some hand-waving in the direction of "boundaries" and then whoosh! back to "real" scicomm and on to 2015!  Well, maybe. Except, no. ScienceOnline as an organization should be thanking its lucky stars that it has dedicated and passionate members who want to make it into what it should be - a welcoming space for everyone who wants to talk about science online.

It's easy-peasy to be just one more unwelcoming, non-inclusive, harmful kinda conference. Nobody needs to attend a Scio conference. They aren't part of professional organizations, universities don't necessarily support attendance costs, the eclectic mix of professionals, students, and academics thus far drawn to SciO have to be choosey with their conference dollars. Why go someplace where you know there are serious issues that are festering and unlikely to be fixed, especially if it's an informal sort of get-together? Might as well go to the usual unwelcoming places that are official career-builders. So kudos to the people trying to do SciO a favor and make it better.

If you haven't already, read the summary of the #ScioSafe session here at Doc Freeride's blog and give some serious consideration to the seven items listed in the document session attendees produced. As far as I'm concerned it's all pretty much a no-brainer, except for part of #5. I think the SciO org desperately needs to clarify what, if any, relationship they still have with Bora Zivkovic, and what, if any, they currently plan to have with him going forward. Then let the community descend with pitchforks and torches decide how they feel about that. In my dream world, Boron is invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference on using social media for science communication but when he shows up, he is put on a rocket ship and sent to Neptune. I will admit that the rocket ship to Neptune is my preferred, albeit impractical, solution for dealing with all harassers. If SciO does its job right in creating a community that is truly welcoming and inclusive and safe, and that does not support or reward bad behavior, there will be no need to ban the Borons of the world. The community will make their existence so difficult they'll seek easier places to do their dirty work.

That's what I would like to see, beyond creating a community where people feel safe to report bad things that happen to them, knowing the perpetrators will be dealt with: I would like to see a community that makes bad actors less likely. I would like to see a community that plays a role in building better communities. Not just the stick, and punishment after the fact, but something like a carrot. Actions to prevent occurrences are a start, and then it would be wonderful to be part of growing a crop of folks who create inclusive environments wherever they go, because they have the tools to do so.

I think this is part of science communication, and part of what science online can and should try to accomplish. The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) offers a rotating series of mini-courses that can be taken for accreditation, to develop skills that medical writers need. There are skills that science writers need, and of course there are places you can go to take such courses. But ScienceOnline could offer something no one else does. I would like to see development of a set of courses that are offered on a rotating basis, maybe for some sort of accreditation, if SciO becomes a member organization. Participants would learn how to foster inclusivity through communication. Here are some topic ideas:

1. What is inclusive language - and will it ruin my beautiful prose? (Subtopics to be covered include: his/her is so awkward!; you people can't take a joke; lame is just an expression!; what's wrong with talking about hard & soft skills?; we just want "the best and brightest")

2. What is an inclusive lab group and what communication skills does it need?

3. How do I write about a scientist who is a woman without mentioning her knitting?

4. Is it ever okay to mention the knitting of a scientist who is a woman?

5. There's more to February and March than George Washington Carver and Marie Curie

6. Got privilege? Leverage it as an ally online!

Those are just some off the top of my head ideas, I'm sure you people working out there in real science communication can think of better ones, but you get the idea. Now go forth, my friends, and get to work. ScienceOnline isn't going to invent chocolate air without your help.

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Defining the Discourse and Words We Use: Who Gets To?

So, this is not the way I imagined breaking my writer's block. Or my refraining-from-writing-as-an-act-of-mourning. Or my mourning-induced aphasia. Or whatever is this is. I'm gonna just cross my fingers and hope I don't snap during the writing of this and say something that worsens everyone's depression (except mine) and destroys the universe (because of my omnipotent evil feminazi womanish powers)  which in any case should be ignored (really, the whole post should be ignored, on account of its having been written by a screeching harridan whining about no big deal).  Here we go.

First, I ask thee, gentle Zuskateers, to read Let Me Fix That For You, Nature at Red Ink. (Thanks, @rocza for that link via the twitters.)  Then please read I'm sorry...but you brought this on yourself honey by my dear friend Drugmonkey.

In the first post, Henry Gee's original letter is a discourse-controlling tour-de-force, and Red Ink does a marvelous job of deconstructing his blatherings. One just sits in one's chair, jaw agape at the hilariously depressingly superb job that is this pulling of the truth out of truthiness's ass. It both entertains and instructs. One gets a delightful dose of schadenfreude in the reading of it, whilst simultaneous schooled by the unmasking of rhetorical tricks Gee deploys .

Next up is Drugmonkey's blog piece, offering a detailed analysis of  Gee's nonpologetic discourse. Wait for it... comment #4 tells us how he is doing itt rong, and in an inflammatory manner, and how the rong is ineffective to boot. Trifecta of discourse control!

Commenter #4's knickers got bunched over all the rong because (a) Drugmonkey used an analogy - ineffective! and (b) Drugmonkey picked a bad analogy - inflammatory!  Drugmonkey might as well be talking to a brick wall. Or worse, trying to talk to someone on the other side of the brick wall but all his shouting for attention makes them climb up the wall and shove some bricks onto his head to shut him up.

I'm sorry. I know that was confusing and possibly inflammatory. The person atop the wall could have poured boiling oil on his head. Or shot him with flaming arrows.

Now, as Drugmonkey did, we pause here for a trigger warning regarding abuse, should you read further.

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Some Thoughts On Shaming (Maybe Not What You Think)

Thanks to a tweet from @Namnezia, I read this post: On chronic illness, disclosure, and imposter syndrome. The writer, who goes simply by the name disabledphd, tells of acquiring a "Stupid F'n Medical Condition" (which is how I shall think of the migraines henceforth) as a graduate student. Here's the advice he/she got about whether to disclose this information going forward in his/her career:

The main piece of situation-specific advice I was given was that moving forward in my career I should be very careful about disclosing my SFMC. This advice echoed from every corner I tilted an ear to. I heard it from mentors, from family in academia and from people I didn’t know but reached out to because it seemed like they had solid perspectives on academic careers. It was an amazing show of unanimity – Seriously, you try getting that many academic types to agree on a single issue! And when I thought about it at the time, it seemed completely sensible.

Assuming my goal is a tenure track position, do I really want the fact that I have this thing out there? Even in the best case scenarios, it places an asterisk over my future that committees looking to hire people into lifelong positions might take note of. Probably a silent note, possibly even a subconscious one, but the cold fact is that no one has to tell you why you didn’t get the job, especially amid a glut of qualified applicants. And manifestations of consequence could be more subtle than simply not getting hired. One academic I spoke with noted that colleagues in positions of power might hold back advancement opportunities because they ‘don’t want to stress you out with extra work.’ In the politics of academia, such a decision could be well-intended or it could be nefarious. But in the end, it wouldn’t matter. An opportunity missed is an opportunity missed. I look back at nearly a decade of work shaped by chance opportunities and shudder at the notion.

Yikes.

With that kind of helpful advice, who wouldn't try to deny one's own reality go into deep cover?

Of course, it eventually proved impossible to maintain a facade of "nothing to see here!" At some point, disabledphd "broke" and told the boss. The description of the fallout is painful to read: not because the employer was unkind or discriminatory, but because of the emotional toll the secret exacted on disabledphd. This emotional toll was not lifted by speaking the truth.

And why should it be? This is what disabledphd says:

So why do I say ‘broke’? Because somehow, without meaning to, I turned disclosure into the null hypothesis of my little experiment. Telling someone meant failure, even if he/she was someone I was all but certain would be fully supportive. This was my own mistake, constructing a psychological Maginot line against a war of my own creation.

There was definitely a failure here, but not on the part of disabledphd.

With secrets come shame. In characterizing the knowledge of disability as a career-shattering demon to be kept hidden, disabledphd's science family made the fact of disability into a personal shame. You can succeed in science - if no one knows you are defective. If you have a disability but keep it from showing, then it's perfectly fine to have a disability. (I can't think what sort of advice would be given to people with disabilities that cannot be hidden. I imagine letters of reference with lines about how "brave" they are and what an "inspiration" they are to everyone around them...)

The flip side of successfully, or mostly, hiding your disability, is that people doubt its authenticity, legitimacy, and/or severity. Regarding migraines, a friend once made the droll remark "if you don't have blood and pus streaming out of your ears, no one thinks it's serious."  Tell us about it: we'll punish you. Heroically manage it: we won't believe you and you'll punish yourself for us. Yay. Great choices.

No matter how well-intentioned the advice givers were, the effect was to cause shame. And, it helped to perpetuate the idea in the larger scientific community that disability is a liability and must be kept hidden. The disability-is-a-liability-that-rules-you-out discourse facilitates the agenda of sexists who label pregnancy as a disability and cite it as valid reason for discriminating against women. If you don't buy that discourse about pregnancy but you do about disability in general, you are undermining your own efforts to support women in science. And hey! Some people with chronic, invisible disabilities happen to be women! Lots of them, in fact. Intersectionality!

We've seen, in the past week, the poisonous effect secrets and shame have wrought in the scicomm community. (#ripplesofdoubt)  When someone is raped, abused, harassed or mistreated in any manner, they are often asked to keep quiet about it, for the sake of someone/something else - someone's job, keeping the family peaceful and intact, whatever. But when we ask for quiet we are asking to keep things just like they are right now. Right now, when white people say we're "post-racial" and find clever new ways to discriminate; when women must hide abuse and assault or face more harassment; when people with disabilities need to live like they don't have them in order to obtain "equal employment opportunities".

If you are in a position of power, and you ask someone to keep a secret rather than telling them "I've got your back", you are laying bricks in Oz. And Oz doesn't need any more help. It's distressing to learn, and keep learning, how entangled we all are in building and maintaining the edifice of our own and others' oppression. It's difficult and scary to stop doing even the little things, and figure out how to do them differently, or better. But we have to try.

 

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Who Else Would The Perpetrator Be?

I understand full well why some people pressure victims to keep quiet. It's not, despite what they say, for the sake of the perpetrator and his/her reputation/ability to earn a living/the poor family etc. Or not just that. It's to keep to keep us all from looking behind the curtain. We must all continue staring straight ahead at the big green scary head of the great and powerful Oz (where Oz is, variously, patriarchy, racism, heteronormativity, unfettered capitalism, ableism, or some heady stew of it all).

 

 

The shouting, the scary noise, the bellowing smoke and flames - the big green head cannot produce these effects on its own. Someone must pull the levers and speak into the microphone. It takes a village, if you will, to run Oz. In Oz, supplicants are given minor rewards and the right to prepare future supplicants to appear before Oz. If they work hard, they can one day pull some of the levers themselves. Indeed, one day they must, or Oz will collapse. Livelihoods and the very architecture of Oz depend upon Oz. It is best to strictly regulate who can get close to Oz, lest the curtain and thus Oz and thus everything be endangered.

All this is logical, and easy enough to understand.

What I don't get is this: Say someone yanks the curtain aside a little bit. Look, see, this person. This person is a perpetrator. And the good people of Oz are shocked and appalled. They are shocked that one of their own is involved in the lever-pulling.

Well, who else would the perpetrator be? It is the colleague who harasses, who casually flings racial insults. It is the brother who molests. It is the priest who rapes. These people do not come from Mars. They come from right here where we live and work, in Oz. They are our neighbors and friends, our co-workers and bosses, our lovers and relatives, our clergy and officers. They may be very good people, but they are very bad friends, bosses, priests. They are, indeed, humbugs. Just as we know that Ted Cruz is a humbug of a member of Congress, we know these people are humbugs of what they purport to be in our lives. Perhaps they are nice to their pets and give generously to good causes. Perhaps they have been good to other people at other times. But their acts behind the curtain have made of them a humbug of the role they would play before it.

When the curtain is pulled back, it is right to feel shock and sadness at what we see - but not at who we see. The levers are being pulled all day long, every day, and somebody you know is doing the pulling. It cannot be otherwise. To continue to think otherwise is to lay bricks in Oz.

Maybe it was you once. Maybe you had a minor lever, just a tiny puff of smoke. Maybe you had to learn how to let go of the lever, try to walk out of Oz, and build something new. Oz is so appealing, though. You know how things work there; the climate's always just right for you; you don't have to think about things so much. You thought you were walking out of Oz but you're right back where you started...will you sigh and once more grasp the lever? or try walking out of Oz again? There is no balloon, and there are no ruby slippers. Just a long, difficult walk, away from everything comfy and safe, with everyone in Oz yelling "come back! come back! you're crazy! we'll kill you!"

 

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You "Lean In" to Puke. You Organize For Change.

I have no problem with leaning in. Really I don't. If you are going to puke on someone's shoes, you had best lean in a little, lest the spatter hit your own glorious footwear.  And Zuskateers know that it's just sadly necessary to give someone a proper shoe-puking now and again, if only for the sake of our own mental health.

But if it's real, substantive change we're after, then we'd best be talking about organizing and collective action. In all cases, it is most heartily recommended that one know something of one's history. Our foremothers' struggles and triumphs are inspirational, to be sure, but they are also instructional.

Do not waste your time, energy, or cash enriching Sheryl Sandberg with her corporatized vision of a pseudo-feminism for individuals. Do not Lean In. Do read Susan Faludi's excellent critique of that whole hot mess situating it in history dating back to the Lowell "mill girls" in 1834. I must confess I did not know this:

The mill workers went on to agitate against an unjust system in all its forms. When Lowell’s state representative thwarted the women’s statewide battle for the ten-hour day, they mobilized and succeeded in having him voted out of office—nearly eighty years before women had the vote. Mill women in Lowell and, in the decades to come, their counterparts throughout New England threw themselves into the abolitionist movement (drawing connections between the cotton picked by slaves and the fabric they wove in the mills); campaigned for better health care, safer schools, decent housing, and cleaner water and streets; and joined the fight for women’s suffrage.

Now that is far more interesting than that Leaning In bla. If those women, in the 1800s, through collective action, could get a dudebro out of office without even having the vote, imagine what we could accomplish today with the vote. If only we organized. And worked together. And stopped thinking of success as something that individuals obtain, for their own self-interests.

 

Hat tip to @KMBTweets for the link to the Faludi article. Follow @KMBTweets on twitter. You will not be sorry!

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Back to School All Over Again

Life-long learning!

Who doesn't want to know more stuff?!?

Do you remember ever once saying "I'd be a professional student if I could?"

WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???!?!?!?

Two days ago I set foot upon the fifth - count 'em! fifth! - campus of my life wherein I shall be a student, albeit just for a semester, and just for one class. This waking nightmare is the fault of my neurologist. It's his way of testing out whether or not I can keep to even a minimal schedule and focus for a (limited) extended period of time several times a week, without things getting much worse migraine-wise.

He insisted that the course be something quite challenging, and suggested some sort of mathematics. I felt I have had enough mathematics to last me a lifetime (no offense to my dear friend and brilliant math guru Mark @MarkCC). So I picked philosophy: PHL 100, Intro to Philosophy. And what do we commence with? Logic. Logic, which is akin to math. But of course!

I must note here two interesting and somewhat discouraging observations from my brand-new one-day experience as a student. We shall call them (1) What? Where? Help? and (2) All That Feminist Theory in Action.

(1) What? Where? Help?  New Campus is a nearby, very good community college that draws a diverse student population.  Their website is one of the most friendly, welcoming, and easy to navigate of any I have ever seen. Colleges and universities across the land could take many a lesson from New Campus's website.  As I mentioned, this is not my first student rodeo (4 degrees, worked for a university).  And yet...registering for the course did not go smoothly. New Campus has me in their database as a former student with a student i.d. number because four years ago, my neurologist asked me to try the Take a Course experiment.  I tried it at New Campus and had to withdraw within weeks. Returning students need their student i.d. number to register.  But I didn't remember that number. No problem, friendly online registration will look it up for me! by my name and social security number! Oops, I cannot be found in the system. Sorry. So I registered as a new, not a returning, student. No problem, registration app accepted! The online form asked for my email; I gave it. I was to be notified within two business days of my course status.

Days went by...a week...there was a family crisis...I forgot about the registration...then suddenly, hey, this is the first day of the semester! I called New Campus. A friendly staff person told me I had indeed been registered, but then dropped from the course, because I had not paid my tuition. Why had I not received notification of my registration? It had been sent to me, via email - to my New Campus student email account. Which I did not realize I had and could not have accessed if I did, because I did not have my student i.d. number.  Long story short, staff person put me back in the class, took my tuition payment over the phone via credit card, gave me my student i.d. number, and walked me through the web portal, which is all quite easy and obvious if (a) you know it exists, (b) you know you should look there, and (c) you have your student i.d. number.

When you check your course registration online, there is a nifty option to order your textbook from a link right there beside the course! Then you just go pick it up at the bookstore! How handy! As it turns out, ordering your textbook actually means ordering it, as in, they will now ask for it to be fetched from some faraway warehouse. It does not mean, you have purchased a book that is physically lying on a shelf here in the bookstore and we are reserving it for when you come in to pick it up.  Luckily, there were actually textbooks physically in store, and I was able to buy one of those and cancel my order.

Now, I have not been a student in some time, so all this stuff may be old hat to the twelve-year-olds jostling past me on the New Campus pathways. (Students! So young!) But I am really, really feeling for the Adult Learners who do often come to community colleges for a degree or certificate program as part of a career re-boot, or even a career start, in some cases. Nevertheless, I suspect that every student, young and old, can identify a little with the stomach-churning anxiety of looking for your classroom in an unfamiliar building - especially when you have missed the first day of class. The stakes are about as low as they can possibly be for me, and I still felt that anxiety of not knowing my place in this place, being alone in the swarm, and already behind at the start.  It vanished at the desk, after I sat down in what was assuredly the right room, wrote the date at the top of a fresh notebook page, and commenced studenting. But I have a lot of empathy for the twelve-year-olds.

(2) All That Feminist Theory in Action  It is with dampened spirits and a cheerless heart that I report this to you: my class contains A Dude Who Talks All The Time. He is compelled to answer every question the instructor asks, often before it is quite fully out of the poor man's mouth. Many times it is on the tails of comment from another student who managed to get a smidge of words in before Dude's Autopilot SuperJaw opened to spew forth his brilliance. He will mansplain your answer to the professor for you, because the Things Women Say are difficult for instructors to understand unless a sympathetic mansplainer mansplains them into mansplain-speak. What a bracing experience indeed, to be a 50-year-old woman in PHL 100, and watch some twelve-year-old mansplain your words to a twenty-something instructor, whose head immediately swivels towards the translation.

Obviously, I cannot let this continue. The Dude Who Talks All The Time was sitting right smack in the center of the classroom. I think I will be sitting there come next class time. And if the instructor is not going to do more to actively keep him from mansplaining and controlling the discussion, I will have a word with the instructor.  I welcome your suggestions in the comments for fun things I can do in class to deal with TDWTATT.

Near the end of the class, we had a small group break-out to work on the logic structures from the lecture. I was in a group with two twelve-year-olds, one male and one female. I would say they had about an equal grasp of (a) what the instructor was asking us to do in our small group work and (b) the actual concepts he had gone over in the lecture. You, like me, may be dismayed but not surprised to learn that the female, with a deer-in-the-headlights look, kept saying that she wasn't quite sure, and that she felt like she got it for just a minute and then it would slip away. When we finished an item she wanted to review it to make sure she understood it.  Whereas the male, who made little eye contact with either of us, except when I would tell him "no, that's not correct", confidently pronounced "ok this is an X" or "We need to do Y" or "this one is valid AND sound" (it wasn't). And when we finished an item he just wanted to charge on to the next one, even though he didn't exactly know what it was.

So, I may have a little work cut out for me in the small group sessions. Have to tread lightly, but I can't just let the Overconfident Dudes get away with making the Underconfident Wimminz feel worse about things. Especially in light of the dismal state of affairs for women in philosophy. (Have you been following the NYTimes Opinionator Women In Philosophy series? Start here.)  Please do fire away with helpful suggestions in the comments, also please feel free to vent your bile about similar situations you have observed, either as student or instructor.

 

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All Good Things...Eldercare Version

You’ve been traveling on the Enterprise E(ldercare), when one day you burst into your therapist’s office confused, upset, wanting to know what’s going on, what the hell you are supposed to be doing, and why she was on the holodeck with Worf. You feel at a loss, half-recalled pieces of the past and visions of your future mixing with your present. In short, you have become unstuck in time.

You were perfectly fine with your role in Engineering; serving drinks in Ten Forward; trying to corral tweens Jean-Luc, Ro Laren, and Guinan; or just being a red shirt. But now the Enterprise E(ldercare) has been ordered to investigate an anomaly in the Nursing Home System of the Senior Living Zone. Off you go. And there it is, a large anomaly threatening to consume you, your ship, and your elder. You go in for a closer look and…

Suddenly, you are back in your youth. The anomaly is bigger, but you are stronger, more confident, maybe even a bit arrogant. You take the Enterprise D(evilmaycare) out against explicit orders to see what's going on. You drive it around late at night, with too many of your friends in it, hepped up on synthahol. You ignore the jeering fools on the sidelines as best you can. You set off for Far Point University with barely a "make it so". On the way you run right over the trappings of your childhood once carefully hoarded by your elder.

Wait! That was a dream! Wasn't it? But it felt real. Who was that callous ass who paid so little regard to the feelings and concerns of others? And why was that anomaly so damn big?

Whoa! You’ve been put out to pasture; your joints are creaky, your hair is white, and you've got early onset Irumodic Syndrome. But you remember, you remember, you remember...there was an...an anomaly...your family is visiting, you desperately need to communicate to them the importance of going back there, because you were just there, it is real, it is not a dream, it is happening now. And they speak soothingly, and promise to take you there, and...

No, you are back in the present! That's just a vision of the future, some projected bad acid trip. You do remember the past. If only people would listen to you when you tell them it's bigger in the past...

And you're back there, and you are taking Enterprise D(evilmaycare) further and further out ...

Into the future, where your kids and ex-wife remind you that you that Irumodic Syndrome is causing your brain to deteriorate, and this is all in your head.  But they promise to take you for a ride anyway, and that goddamn son of your is driving the Enterprise E(ldercare) and after a spin around the block he insists it’s time to go home and you say "no, no, we have to go to the Devron System!" and you become increasingly agitated and they say we were already there and we're on our way back and here's some haldol and wait those aren't your kids and those aren’t Starfleet uniforms and a voice whispers to you that the only way to understand the anomaly is with a letter-call-visit (LCV) beam...

You are talking to the staff of the nursing home where your elder is now staying. You suggest a more aggressive LCV beam to deal with the health care bureaucracy and to fight depression in your elder, making physical therapy more effective. Your family needs professional support in this, and some sort of data organizer. And you think...

That you should use a LCV beam all the way out here at Far Point University And Beyond. Yes! Make it so!

And waking from the haldol you insist you do remember the Devron System, you must go there, the LCV beam is absolutely critical, and they wheel you to the holodeck and set up the Wii bowling...

And now in the present you realize that the LCV beams from all three time periods are together creating the anomaly, which is indeed a temporal anomaly. But the LCV beams must not be disengaged, they must be made stronger in each time period. (Your therapist tells you to ignore that little voice which says you are going to be responsible for the destruction of humanity, that’s just internalized homophobia.)  Together the LCV beams create a static warpshell and blammo!

You find yourself in the present, wishing that when you’d gone to Far Point University And Beyond you could have somehow brought the Enterprise D(evilmaycare) back to the spacestation a bit more often. The little voice in the future, the one that whispered about the LCV beam, was also going to tell you how to arrange things so that people can do useful work and keep their elders close by, and not have to worry about their own elder care years, but it stopped short. All you can do is share your time-travel story, finally join the poker game – and keep that LCV beam going.

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Letter to Santa

My mother kept a book for each of her children (at least, the younger ones) called "School Days. It had two pages and a pocket for each grade. It had room to record your child's teacher(s), friends, pets, hobbies, clubs & activities, awards & achievements, sports, school & location, height & weight, "additional information", a place to paste their photo, and a line for them to print or sign their name, as they gained prowess. We always thought the entry for school and location was hilarious because you could just put it in at the beginning of the book: Bobtown Elementary, Mapletown Jr-Sr High School. What else was there to know? We had no concept of kids moving from one school to another as their families moved. Nevertheless we dutifully filled it in.

Fifth grade's additional information dutifully notes in my crabbed printing "My teeth are coming in; hair is shoulder length; am going to write". A very important year: the gap from my missing front teeth, which had inspired the great poetic work "Toothless and Teethless" (another time, Zuskateers) was finally getting patched; and I declared myself as a writer. Never mind there were detours through engineering and administration, and writing turned out to be blogging. I was right all along.

The pockets were for newspaper clippings, extraordinary art work, and things of that nature. I was going to say "I don't know how she had time to keep up with that" for all of us. Except that, you know, we were our mother's job - nay, her life's work. There was time because this is what she did. I was thinking the other day how badly we've all been hoodwinked with that "how can I combine career and family" question. The question implies that "family" a.k.a. mothering (and here I mean mothering, not parenting) is something that is not very difficult, creative, important, worthwhile, or time-consuming when done right. Therefore it can be "combined" with Career, which is all of those, by correct application. Think of Career as the shiny new glass tile of your kitchen backsplash that everyone looks at and wants, and Family as the grout which you paste in the thin little spaces inbetween (and nevermind that you need the grout to keep the whole business together).  Once the grout is properly in, you need not think of it much anymore, and can refocus all your attention on the pretty, shiny glass tile.

Mothering can be done by women or men, I think, but it truly is more than a full time job - it is a life's work.  Parenting is something different. It can be done by one or two parents, and parented children can thrive just as well as mothered children. Whether you are in a family where the children are being mothered or parented, life for everyone would be so much better if everyone's workplace was less greedy and demanding. And not just your fancy white collar jobs.  I remember my dad would trade shifts with someone in the coal mine, or go without sleep before the next shift, so he could see me or my sister or brother sing a silly song in a school play, or be crowned Queen of Hearts at Valentine's, or march with the band at our first football game. Mom would be glad he was there, and then worry about him at work.

Among the ephemera my mother saved in the pockets of my school years was a frantic 5th grade note:

Mom,

I need 50 cents, one self-addressed envelope, 3 buttons, my cotton balls, and a milk carton for Monday. Also, get me up at 7:00 and make sure I get up then.

Sue

p.s. I need an 8-cent stamp

I would dearly love to know what that was all about.

Another piece she saved leads us finally to the title of this post - a letter to Santa. Written when I was 9 years old and in the fourth grade, I was teetering on the edge of believing/non-believing. As a budding scientist, I was hoping to garner some proof one way or the other.

Letter to Santa Claus from 9-yr-old Zuska

Letter to Santa Claus from 9-yr-old Zuska

The text of the letter reads:

Dear Santa,

We left some cookies and milk for you, and some salt for your reindeer. (Be sure they all get equal amounts.) I hope you brought my Love doll, and Cindy's doll like mine. Are you real? (Write yes or no) [Arrow pointing to two blank lines]

I really do believe in you.

Suzy, Cindy, Paul, Andy, Eddie, Mom, Dad [unexplainable sibling deletion - sorry, Pat!]

In the morning, the cookies and milk, and the salt, were gone, and the letter was signed in elaborate script "Thank you Merry Christmas - Santa". Santa declined to answer the "are you real yes or no" portion of the letter. Obviously beneath his dignity, or maybe he just didn't see it - it was in the messiest part of the letter, and he was probably in a hurry.

So Santa, since I have written proof of your realness, I'm writing again to ask for just a few things this year. I believe I have been especially good this past year. I've whined only the usual amount about the migraines; I've done a lot of elder care and not begrudgingly either - time spent with elders can be difficult but is often a gift itself; I've done most of the litter box duty and all of the cat puke duty. So please, please Santa, this is what I am hoping for.

1. Let lots and lots and lots more people follow George Bush Sr.'s lead and resign from the NRA.

2. Let those who remain fight like hell to change the organization from within.

3. Let Wayne LaPierre vanish into a world where the only sound is is own howling.

4. Let the tide be turned back on the vicious onslaught against workers and unions.

5. Let the people realize that not just the children, but the teachers, too, are our future.

6. Let parenting and mothering both become more possible and pleasurable as real and unconstrained choices for all.

7. Let The Hobbit be a reasonably pleasurable and escapist viewing experience for me and not a total crushing disappointment when I compare it to my own mental images of the novel.

Thank you, Santa. I know you are busy this time of year and I will appreciate anything you can do with this list. If #7 is too difficult you can leave it off.

One last question. Are you real?

(Write yes or no).  ___  ___

 

 

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"Side Effects": My Life With Cymbalta

According to the official site for Cymbalta, the most common side effects experienced when taking it are:

nausea, dry mouth, sleepiness, fatigue, constipation, dizziness, decreased appetite, and increased sweating

It doesn't sound any worse than any of the other stuff in my medicine cabinet. Reality was another adverse event list. In fact, I bestow upon Cymbalta the rank of Number 3 in the list of Worst Ever Drugs I Have Taken, behind No. 2 Topamax and No. 1 All-Time Winner Depakote.

The full package insert mentions that minor weight loss was seen in clinical trials. In two trials, minor weight gain, no more than a mean of 1.4 kg, was seen. I gained 13.6 kg in a matter of months. I might have been willing to live with the new-found weight if I hadn't also had to say goodbye to orgasms (but not, frustratingly, desire) at the same time. Ultimately, this was the "side" effect that pushed me to tell my doctor I wanted off Cymbalta.

I had a two-week ramp down period. By the time that was done, so many other things that I had not realized were also Cymbalta side effects had vanished or begun to dissipate. For example, excessive flatulence, which I had blamed on menopause. Mea culpa, menopause! I still hate your hot flashes but you're off the hook for this one! And while I did get Cymbalta's promised sleepiness and fatigue, I got something else no one had mentioned: insomnia. The insomnia worsened over the course of the year I took Cymbalta and it was blamed on all manner of other things: stress and grief, migraines messing up my sleep cycle, kittehs in the bed, Mr. Z's tendency to bodily transform into a windmill at night. A week after the last ramp-down dose, I was sleeping through the night like a baby. A baby without colic, one of those good ones that doesn't wake up or cry and makes you think having another wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Falling asleep was a breeze! I no longer had to get out of bed two, three, five times for a robust bout of micturition before finally falling into an exhausted semi-sleep at two, four, maybe six a.m. I had thought the excessive nighttime voiding was just another symptom of encroaching old age but no. It was my pal Cymbalta, partying with my bladder.

I'm used to meds that fog my brain - see Nos. 1 & 2 on the list of Worst Ever Drugs I Have Taken. When Depakote made my hair fall out in what should have been alarming amounts, I didn't mind, because I was taking Depakote! I didn't mind about anything! Topamax is nicknamed Dopamax for a good reason. I love Zonegran as its replacement because it has much less impact on word recall, spelling, and general short term memory and because, vainly, it made me lose weight. Until Cymbalta, the asshat of drugs, came along. Every pound Zonegran spirited away, Cymbalta ferried back, plus more. I have a dear friend whose sure to be a bestseller autobiography would be titled, she says, "I Hate You: An Explanation". A not entirely inappropriate title for use in discussing Cymbalta! The drug that makes you fat and stupid! A week off the drug and it was truly like a fog was cleared from my brain. I could think more clearly, focus a little better. I didn't feel quite so tired. (Well, maybe that had something to do with being able to fall asleep and stay asleep.)

What else? Constipation, of course. That was the least of my problems. Here's a good one. Although it is discussed on the package insert in some detail, neither my prescribing doctor nor my neurologist mentioned to me that Cymbalta in combination with blood thinners can lead to bleeding problems, in some cases potentially life-threatening. My PCP made this connection after I showed up in her office with softball-sized dark purple bruises on both hips. By the time I saw her, the swelling had at least gone down; they were still extremely painful. How did I get them? I was on an Amtrak train, and sat at a table in the cafe car for a few hours reading a magazine. The benchlike seats in the cafe cars are not padded. The gentle rocking of the train back and forth was enough to generate massive bruises where my hips bounced against the hard edge of the seat with each sway. Needless to say, this should not happen. This was a week before mine and Mr. Z's annual vacation to a warm beachy place and we both know my purple thighs attracted a few looks. We half-seriously joked that we should make a sign for my back: No, I'm not a battered woman, it's just the medications. Because my thighs looked like I was.

The very worst is something I can't absolutely prove, but of which I feel fairly certain. After ten years of taking this and that and the other medication and observing the intended and "side" effects on my body, I think I know when there is a connection between a med and a mess. In this case it is a bit more tricky as you will see, but I still feel strongly about it.

I started taking Cymbalta in November of 2011, and was told that as an added benefit I might expect it to help with my migraines, as it has a known effect on pain. In January of 2012 my migraines began to worsen, becoming more severe and more frequent. We blamed the odd weather patterns, we blamed my insomnia and resulting screwed up sleep cycles, we blamed a possible failed botox treatment and/or developing insensitivity to botox. Things went from bad to worse and eventually I was hospitalized for a week in May. I came out of the hospital headache-free and with a new preventative medication. Unfortunately, shortly after that began a series of family loss and illness that went on for months. The health I'd gained rapidly unraveled. The botox treatment I had in the middle of all this didn't do much good.

The last botox treatment was just a few weeks before I stopped Cymbalta. And then the migraines improved - less severe, a little less frequent. The family stress is only moderately better. So either the last botox rocked my brain's world, or taking Cymbalta for migraine pain is just like bashing your head against a brick wall - because it feels so good when you stop.

Despite all the bad experiences - and there have been many - I have had with medications over the years in the effort to control and prevent my migraines and prevent another stroke, I have remained a strong believer in medication to treat what ails you. To a point. I saw my mother's med list climb to nearly 25 different meds, until her PCP and a rehab doctor pared it down to 13 in a radical revision during a rehab stint. Afterwards she was more alert and lively, more engaged and cheerful, more full of affect in general. And she was less like a shambling zombie in her movements. I've read that one risk factor for falls in the elderly is taking more than 5 different medications. My own med list has been climbing in fits and starts over the past 10 years and it frightens me. I don't want to become an affect-less shambling zombie pill swallower, and I'm afraid I may already be one.  How many meds in my pillbox could I do without, are there others that are hurting more than helping me? It's a question I think about a lot more since my life with Cymbalta.

 

 

 

 

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What Keeps Women Apart From Other Women? Discuss!

Sep 27 2012 Published by under Daily Struggles, Isn't It Ironic?, Naming Experience

1) Have you ever been buttonholed by a woman recently ejected from her science career, anxious to tell you her tale?  You know it will be filled with sadness and anger.  You know you should listen and give some form of support, maybe point her to some resources if she’s asking and you know them.  But what you want is to disentangle yourself as quickly as seems decent.  You wonder whether if maybe she wasn’t that great in the lab and has jacked up a few disparate events to cover for her deficiencies.  You want to get away in case whatever she has – bad lab karma, a kick-me sign – is catching. You feel slightly ashamed. Still, you hand her off to someone else with a palpable sense of relief and head for the door.

 

2) Have you ever been approached by a woman scientist looking to start a support group for women at your level? Something informal, meets maybe once a month, just get together over some munchies and talk about how things are going, share career advice, provide moral support. You say it sounds like a great idea but you aren’t sure you can commit to another project at this time.  You really need to keep your head down and get this set of experiments/thesis/job search/grant proposal/tenure packet/promotion under your belt before you can even think about anything new.

 

3) Have you ever gone to a conference where you knew a Famous Woman would be present and you were excited to meet her, your hero? And you are finally introduced to her, and she’s in the company of Professor Eminent Graybeard, Dr. Big Swinging Dick, and Dr. New Hot Thing? And she gives you a brief nod and a cursory hello and goes straight back to her Important Discussion with the boys? And you get the hint and wander off, and never get another chance to speak to her, let alone meet the big boys?

 

4) Have you ever found yourself in the position of being the Famous Woman at a conference, and you just couldn’t find a single minute to introduce yourself to any n00bs, take a little time to mentor someone, or participate in the women’s caucus, if there is one? Did a n00b approach you with shining eyes and tell you she is such a fan, because you have done X! And you drily reply, “Well, yes, but I’ve also done Y and Z,” irritated that the n00b doesn’t even know this significant information about you. You! The very things that make you a Famous Woman! Who is this crazy person who thinks she is your fan? And you turn back to your conversation with your Important Friends, giving the n00b some of your back so she knows to go away?

 

5) Have you ever been at a talk about the advancement of women in science, and during the Q&A you opine that such talks bother you, because you (the only woman ever hired into your department) have worked very hard and been extremely successful as a result, and you didn’t get any help from anyone, or any special treatment or lowered standards to make it easier to get to where you are, and you resent the idea that spreading talk like this around is going to make other people question your credentials even though you don’t believe in this hogwash?  Women just need to work twice as hard as men to prove they can do the work, and the men will see they are capable and they will get the jobs!

 

6) Have you, a white woman, ever had an HR or department admin bring to you a talented person of color, because “you will know everything about being a minority in this field, and can help them out”?  Have you, a white woman, ever been tasked with orienting a woman of color to your lab, and begun (and sometimes ended) by saying “you probably want to know where the Multicultural/Diversity Office is. I’m not sure, but I’ll look it up for you.”  Or you assume the new woman likes to drink heavily, or is interested in scoping out dudes with you?

 

7) Have you ever wondered why we women have so many ways to keep ourselves from joining in solidarity? Why we believe so much the lie that individuals are responsible for all their success and all their failure, so we each need to get cracking in our lonely monk’s cells? That failure might be catching if you talk about it, but not success?  That other women are the real enemy?

 

Discuss.

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Telling the story of Woman, over and over

Sep 18 2012 Published by under Feminist Foremothers, Naming Experience, Role Models


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Are You A Mentor? Or A Dementor?

Contrary to popular belief, dementors are not just imaginary creatures who live in J. K. Rowling’s imagination and the Harry Potterverse.  Anyone can be a dementor, at any time, to anyone.  Most of us, given the choice, would likely rather be a mentor than a dementor, I think.  But can you recognize the signs – in yourself, or in another?  Herein I offer a wee guide.

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