On Conference Excitement

Attendees at RespectCon 2013

This was an exciting week. Not in the way that last week was trip-to-Texas exciting. And emotionally different than the previous weekend’s trampolining exciting. But exciting nonetheless!

Most of that derived from the fact that RespectCon, the conference on sexual assault prevention/response that I helped organize, happened this past Friday. Like, actually happened. People came! Presentations were made! Cameron and I got to have a wonderful discussion about armadillos and leprosy! There was a hashtag!

So that was very nice. I think it went well. If it didn’t, then I know a lot of very polite, very convincing liars, which is emotionally equivalent.

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Viking Bocce

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I am back in Atlanta after spending a week in the hills (near where FDR died in the arms of his mistress) with some of the other folks in my scholarship program. Though I’m not totally sure what that particular retreat is supposed to accomplish other than making all of Emory’s merit aid recipients tremendously fat on southern food, I am in no way complaining. There was muscadine ice cream! And viking bocce!

It’s called kubb. No, really. It was insane, as games invented in cultures that don’t have balls are wont to be.

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Summer’s Ending at the McChevron

“Are you taking this photo for your blog?” “… Yeah.” “It’s okay.”

Atlantans may talk about our native Waffle House as the only place to be when it’s two in the morning and you want to make terrible decisions (food-related or other). And certainly WaHo reigns supreme when you want to hasten your demise with hashbrowns and the possibility of aging rockers trying to punch you. But it’s not the only option.

You could, for example, swing by my neck of the woods and go to what has been charmingly termed the McChevron. The McChevron (always with the definite article) is exactly what it says on the box: a McDonalds attached to a Chevron gas station. The Chevron is the classy kind of joint where the cashier stands behind plexiglass, and the McDonalds is a) open 24/7 and b) inexplicably sock hop themed.

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Fiber Optic Umbilical Cords

Me in a fly dress.

My tailor is magic!

But the other weird flipside of that is that people expect you to be able to be fairly immersed in your at-home life while you are abroad. This happens on both a social (“why haven’t you uploaded Facebook photos yet?”) and academic (“you need to register for classes/apply to the honors program/find your summer internship”) level.This has been a weirdly America-focused week for me. When people talk about the dangers of technology while going abroad, they seem to be focused on you withdrawing—staying on Facebook (or blogging, ahem) rather than engaging with wherever you are. This happens, of course, and I’m guiltier of it than most.

After a minor existential crisis earlier this week, I decided to pursue an honor’s thesis for the coming year. Because you’re required to file all of that paperwork before April, this has meant that I’ve spent a lot of this week writing in English, to other English-speakers, about things I’ll be doing when I’m back at home. Ditto with the very weirdly terrifying experience of asking someone whose work I really like if I could maybe possibly work for them this summer—which requires me being able to email them. Continue reading

I Drank Cheese Tea

So for school I have this group project. It’s a 20-page paper that is supposed to be written by 7 people in what is for all of us a second language. This is supposed to teach us something about teamwork, or why we should go to business school, or why other countries hate the American educational system or something.

Despite the fact that my group is full of smart, capable people, this project is going about as well as 99% of group projects go, which is to say terribly.

It’s no one’s fault, really. Seven people papers of this length are doomed to fail, because they’re a stupid idea. So when my group decided without me to move away from printing our annotated bibliography* off a Google Doc to a system where we emailed our individual components to a single group member, I happened to vaguely lose it on the poor person who was sent to tell me.**

I feel bad about this, because he is an Exceptionally Nice Person in what appears to be an alarmingly genuine way. You know how I know that he is nice? Because after I lost it on him about five extra minutes of work on my end, he invited me to his Thursday night ataya party.

Seriously, he’s a really nice dude.

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Franny and Zooey and Rites of Passage

Yesterday, I finished re-reading Franny and Zooey. This is the third or fourth time I’ve read the book, which I found early on in high school. I relate to it the way that a whole slew of folks relate to Catcher in the Rye, which Salinger is of course much better known for.

For those who haven’t raed the book, it follows Franny Glass, the 20-year-old youngest sibling of a large family of kids who spent much of their childhood performing on a radio quiz show called It’s a Wise Child. After reading a book taken from the room of her  beloved eldest brother (who committed suicide several years before the book takes place), she attempts to pray without ceasing. Disillusioned by college, she has a nervous breakdown. The rest of the book consists of the next-oldest sibling, her 25-year-old brother Zooey, talking her out of her breakdown.

I always took more to Franny than to Holden Caulfield. I suspect that I would like him more if I reread Catcher in the Rye now, but when I first read it I was too close in age to him not to find him annoying. Franny was enough older than me that I liked her. True to form, now that I am the same age that she is, I see why Zooey is annoyed by her breakdown even as I have spent much of my time at Emory struggling with the same disillusionment.

In class this semester we talked about the structure of rites of passage. We focused on two models—one from van Gennep, and one from Lincoln. I think it’s interesting how the two Salinger books follow the two models.

Van Gennep‘s three-part structure for rites of passage (separation, liminality, incorporation) works incredibly well for many male initiation rituals. Professors love to use the example of fraternity hazing to illustrate the model, and to van Gennep’s credit it works very well. However, it doesn’t work for a lot of women’s rituals, which often depend on individual biological realities (like when a specific girl begins to menstruate) and focus on the girl’s relationship to her family, rather than her peers.

Lincoln‘s model attempts to find a more universal pattern from women’s rituals. In it, women’s rituals follow the model of seclusion, metamorphosis, and emergence. The woman’s ritual takes place alone or within her family home, rather than with the other girls of the village.

Neither model is universal, and there are plenty of cultures which violate the “correctly”-gendered model or conform to neither, but they are useful frameworks. It wasn’t until this year that I realized that Catcher in the Rye follows van Gennep’s pattern and Franny and Zooey follows Lincoln’s.

It was interesting to have my coursework so directly impact my interpretation of a book that I love. Buddy Glass, the narrator, asks whether the story is a mystical story or a love story, but it is of course also a story about a very American rite of passage. We talk a lot in my anthropology classes about how Americans lack rites of passage, and I think that Salinger shows two very American rites of passage in these books.

Where I’ve Been

So! It has been a very long time since I updated this. (Sorry, three people who have told me they have this on their Google Reader. I love you all! Especially the ones I live with!) That is mostly the result of a) a bout of depression at the beginning of the semester that, I shit you not, ended in me crying to “Punked Up Kicks” in my Civic outside of a barbecue restaurant (no, I don’t know either) and b) lots of writing/legitimate employment at all of my other jobs.

These things keep me busy, because you guys, it is hard to come up with a new version of “don’t be an asshole on Twitter” each week for 500 words. True fact. As much as I am thankful to have the job and love my coworkers, it is kind of burn outy sometimes. Such is employment in knowledge work land!

Most of my time, though, has been dedicated to wrangling passage to the exciting west African nation of Senegal for next semester. It has a jazz scene and a legacy of slavery and beaches, so basically there’s something for everyone. Including, hopefully, a visa for me!

Fun fact: the visa application for Senegal is like two pages long and appears to have been made in MS Word in 1998. It is the best. My friend getting a visa to Switzerland had to submit her high school diploma in triplicate. Third world is where it’s at, guys.

So, stay tuned for what will no doubt be another update in 4 months from now after I’m about to leave Dakar, illustrated with a YouTube video and a camera phone picture because that is how I roll. Thanks for tuning in, y’all.

Poets and Mathematicians

“I stayed away from mathematics not so much because I knew it would be hard work as because of the amount of time I knew it would take, hours spent in a field where I was not a natural.”

— Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg is a poet, the author of my favorite poem. I’ve been thinking a lot about his quote this past week, which I’ve spent reading through the Zen Valedictorian articles over at Study Hacks. The articles are a better-expressed version of a life outlook that I’ve written about some on HackCollege, and which I espouse to anyone who will stand still in person: at some point, being the over-stressed, over-extended student in an attempt to be Tracy Flick will fail you. More importantly, even if it’s something that you can manage, at least for a little while, it’s still not an efficient use of your time. The students who stand out are the ones who become very good at something they enjoy. Colleges don’t tell their students that, though, and so you get the sort of student that the Zen Valedictorian articles are critiquing–over-worked and not particularly outstanding.

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I want to get it published.

Paper monsterNews Paper Origami Dragon Monster / epSos .de / CC BY 2.0

I’ve been talking a lot lately about essays. This is partly because, as of today, I am done with classes at Oxford College (woo! and also, wah!) and so I and my friends are writing lots and lots of term papers now (including mine on Facebook and death). But mostly, it’s because several of my friends have had some very similar interactions in the last few days. They go like this.

SANE PERSON: Done with my paper!

CRAZY CLASSMATE: How long is it?

SANE PERSON: Fifteen pages. You?

CRAZY PERSON: Oh, 35. I want to get it published.

This has happened with us on papers with 12-page limits, on papers with 20-page limits, and on papers with one-page limits. Someone-typically multiple someones–turns in a paper 10-20 pages longer than the maximum word limit assigned by the professor. This bothers my friends.

It’s offensive to begin with because, if nothing else, turning in final papers twice as long as requested indicates that students do not value a professor’s time. The professor presumably knows how long it takes her to grade 20 five-page papers, and so that is what she has budgeted. When one person (or five) turn in papers of 10 pages, then the professor is put in a bind. Plus, speaking from a purely self-interested standpoint, turning in papers which are longer than requested takes away time from every other student in the class, meaning that their papers (the ones that followed the requirements!) are likely to receive a less thorough evaluation than they might otherwise. It’s not that the people who turn in extra-long papers are bad people, but they are being inconsiderate. There needs to be a reassertion that maximum word limits are there for a reason, not just for shits and giggles. Grading takes time. Turning in unasked-for huge papers wastes that.

More worryingly, approaching papers in this way seems to indicate an underlying problem of a culture which values quantity over quality. Students are encouraged to do more: more clubs, more classes, more honors societies. Little attention is paid–by faculty and staff or by students–to doing better. At best, this leads to substandard work and clubs dominated by the same small group of people who are minimally invested–the same complaint that I’ve been making at HackCollege over the last few weeks. At worst, as Lena Chen has been discussing on her blog this week, it leads to a college culture which promotes mental illness and anxiety disorders. Colleges need to look at what they are doing as institutions to encourage this approach to learning.

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Viva Academia: Women’s Studies Symposium Style

Last week, I presented at my first conference (like a grown up!). It was Oxford’s Women’s Studies Symposium. The presentation was over  a paper I wrote as a culminating project for my Women and Cross Cultural Perspectives class. Here’s the abstract:

This paper explores the evolution of third gender identities in the Navajo, Zuni, and Lakota in North America. Prior to European settlement, each tribe possessed a different term for and conception of third gendered individuals. Though it is tempting to consider Native American tribes as enlightened and accepting of non-binary sexualities, the treatment of third gendered individuals within these groups (and the roles they were expected to fulfill) was as unique as each individual tribal identity prior to European settlement. Though each tribe possessed distinct, defined third-gender identities before European settlement, individuals which identified as third gendered became much less common as a European gender binary was either forced on Native American tribes or accepted as part of an intentional effort to seem more European. However, since the 1970s these identities have reemerged in the form of a pan-Indian two-spirit identity intimately tied to Native American activism surrounding health care, land rights, and the AIDS epidemic. In part, this is the result of LGBT Native American individuals who have been alienated from the Euro-American dominated LGBT movement in the US. This modern two-spirit identity, though outwardly similar to the traditional third genders, is actually quite different for many of the tribes: third gendered people were typically conceived of as engaged in heterogendered sexual partnership; this is not true with the modern two-spirit person. The paper concludes with a summary of the two-spirit movement as it stands, in the words of two-spirit individuals.

If that sounds like your cup of tea, the paper is available here.

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