Archive for October, 2006

Ain’t that the mofo truth?

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

As you may or may not know or care, I’m embroiled this comps business – comprehensive exams to test my knowledge of “the discipline”. The reading list I am digging into right now is for the exam titled “Toward liberation: Radical social theory and emancipatory communication”. So. I begin with Rousseau, On the origins of inequality. Then I move on to a brief history of socialism, through marxism and anarchism up to second wave feminism/post-colonialism and full stopping at pomo w/Foucault. I’m reading chronologically, cos that’s the kind of anal person I am. But for “light”, portable reading, I’ve decided to read Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (subtitled: The Handbook for the black revolution) while I’m on the bus, or at night when I’ve got half an hour. Did you know it is still apparently used as a resource by The Pentagon for dealing with the war in Iraq? Those wacky American war mongers! Always appropriatin’ the tools of revolution to use against it an’ shit. Anyhoo, this morning, this quote jumped out at me (never mind the whole thing – so far anyhow – is outrageously quotable):

“In capitalist societies, the educational system whether lay or clerical, the structure of moral reflexes handed down from father to son, the exemplary honesty of workers who are given a medal after 50 years of good and loyal service, and the affection which springs from harmonious relations and good behaviour – all these aesthetic expressions of respect for the established order serve to create around the exploited person an atmosphere of submission and of inhibition which lightens the task of policing considerably” (p. 38).

Ain’t that the mofo truth?

But seriously, it’s clear that the combination of these systems – education, moral and reward – results a totalizing social matrix that produces conformity and tolerates no deviance. Thinking, and doing, outside the box is not possible. There is no “outside”. For one simple example, consider the American response to those who dared to question, let alone condemn, the war in Iraq – either its rationale (e.g. WMD, of which there were none), its implementation (opposed by a newly galvanzied peace movement), its continuation (see here for “collateral damage”) and so on. As part of this “New McCarthyism”, people were publicly ridiculed, fired from their jobs, sent hate mail, surveiled and generally prevented from engaging in any activities that might now be construed as “anti-American”. All this in a so-called democracy, purporting to be upholding democratic ideals in the Mid East. Please.

But back to Fanon. He goes on to contrast capitalist Western style domination and exploitation practised “at home” with the techniques of violent suppression employed “in the colonies”. Needless to say, it is with police and military brute force that Western colonizers rape and pillage the human and natural resources of the clearly expendable “Other”.

When I get my wiki up and running on this blog I’ll post my reading lists and notes to the texts as I go through them.

Canadian Journal of Communication on stands now!

Friday, October 27th, 2006

The new Canadian Journal of Communication came out and I’m in it! It’s “only” a book review, which means not peer reviewed, which means fuck all in the world of academic publishing. But I don’t care. We’ve all got to start somewhere. In fact, this was my first foray into academic writing – I submitted it last January. Then I had the Media-Culture publication a couple months later but as that’s an online journal, the turn around time, as you can imagine, is much quicker. My esteemed colleague, and fellow ACTant, Roy Bendor, is also in the new CJC – in fact, his review follows directly after mine.

So anyway, that’s something.

Telling like it is

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

I met with Feenberg today to discuss my revised chapter for the ACT book, working title, (Re)Inventing the Internet. I knew his edit was going to be heavy – he’d already told me there were problems with my academic writing style. Today, he was unambiguous: I am sloppy. Or my writing is, anyway (I, in fact, border on neat freakishness). So he did a tonne of editing and bascially cleaned the thing up for publication. I couldn’t help smiling as he was offering up his criticisms of my work. I just thought it was funny to hear such harsh criticism delivered in so amicable a fashion. It’s funny to sit there and have someone tell you what’s wrong with something about you, as if they were discussing the lovely autumn day outside. Anyway, the chapter reads better than anything I could come up with on my own (yet) and I’m extremely grateful for the time (not insubstantiale) he took with my work.

On another note, I went to my first French For Parents Workshop today at Educacentre. These are for anglophone parents whose kids attend French immersion schools. When you register by phone, they ask you four questions at the basic level, and keep going till they determine what level you are at, say Elementary 2 or Intermediate 1. Based on my quick interview, I was placed in Beginner 1. It says, right here on the sheet, that this is for “students without previous training.” Indeed, most of the parents there tonight are not originally from Canada (Iran, Guatemala, Philippines, Japan, China, Russia – quite a United Nations), and so did not have mandatory French class from K-10. Now, I took French all the way through high school, including 2 courses in Grade 13 (which they don’t have here in BC, and not anymore in Ontario)! As if that weren’t enough to show my dedication to our country’s other language, I took a French course in first year university and got a B (anyone remember that old Cheech and Chong ditty with the verse: “Mexican Americans love education, so they go to night school and take Spanish and get a B”?). And I get placed into Beginner 1??? With people never before exposed to French, who, in fact, are pursuing a third, not second, language?!

Needless to say, the class was too easy and I should really advanced to at least Beginner 2 (for students with “a few basic notions in French”) or, dare I say, Elementary 1 – “for students who can have a short conversation in present tense.” Whatever, I’m staying put; I already marked up the activity book and can’t be bothered to switch nights. It’s only 5 or 6 more classes; I’ll chalk it up to review and move my way up, the old fashioned way – by just doing it.

Speaking of advancement, I was on the Bored Housewives Network today (My Friend now considers himself among those ranks – I linked to it through his blogroll) and there was a very interesting discussion about holding “younger” kids back – they’re talking kids born in September and earlier. I never thought of these kids as younger – only those born really late in the year, like November or December. And even then, it never seemed to be an issue. Monica Szucs and I never had any problem communicating over Barbies, and she’s a Late Autumn Baby. But that was the 70s; things sure seem to be different today, as the BHN discussion suggests (people in New York not putting their kids in Kindergarten till they’re 6?!). My kid is a December Baby, but I never thought much about it till after the first parent-teacher meeting of his little grade school career. It seems there are some warning signs: “Is French for him?” the mat-leave replacement asks. Oh, French is for him, alright. It’s for him till it very clearly isn’t, anyway. But it got me to thinking. The boy does get frustrated at not being physically adept where his 5 year-old classmates are (cutting and other fine motorish skills in art, agility and prowess on the play structure etc.). And he sure can be a little goof, socially. But his verbal and conceptual skills are advanced, he has a long attention span, and loves (and is learning) to read. So I feel confident he’ll be able to keep up academically. And if his mum can pass Beginner’s I French class, he’ll be laughing all the way to France, n’est ce pas?

Coffee and KK+

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

I was walking to school today (SFU Harbour Centre), down Seymour from Granville station, lost in thought and not paying attention to anybody or anything, simply enjoying the beautiful fall morning, when I run into Kris Krug. He was approaching from the opposite direction and paused just abreast of me, thus catching my eye. I met Kris, local geek and photographer about town, at BarCamp in August. We arrived at the same time and I was sure he must be an organizer: he looked so rock starish. Now you might not think that local geeks look like Lenny Kravitz, but I think Kris (or simply KK+ as I like to refer to him) does a good job.

Today, though, not so rock starish. Perhaps a Tuesday morning rendition; still styling regardless. “Hi Kris,” I say, once I focus and register his face. “Kate, right?” Yeah, hey, how’s it going etc. etc. Anyhow, in the span of 9 minutes, KK+ invited me to coffee, put money in his metre, bought me a coffee and tried to steal my Globe and Mail. I told him I was going to the next Social Tech Brewing, which begins at the office of his work, Bryght and then moves on to a local watering hole to fulfill the “brewing” aspect of its mandate. He told me a wee bit about his trip to China. I’m beginning to dig this bumping into people I know (I don’t need to know them well). Also, and it’s what I’ve always suspected about Vancouver – it’s as small a town as Windsor, or any other Canadian city dwarfed by Toronto or Montreal. Once you get to know people in a certain set – say the geekish community, or fellow students – you start seeing them around. And all of a sudden big ole Vancouver smells the same as the City of Roses (whether sweet or rancid depends on your state of mind).

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The fine art of sandwich slicing (or why your children hate you)

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

I was preparing my kids’ lunches today when I had a profound realization: what happens to us in childhood stays with us. Elementary, my dear Kate, you might utter with justified condescension. Of course. But I’m not talking about big things – like absentee parents, divorce battles or finding a dead body (like in Stand By Me. Man, I miss River Phoenix). I’m talking about the little things that are seared – if not into your conscious memory – into your sensory memory – that collection of experiences that is stored in your body, only realized in physical release.

Let me clarify. So I was making lunches for my kids – you know, turkey on brown (oh the indulgence, the irony of using deli turkey as a carcus of the same bird sits in my fridge reminding me of yesterday’s gluttony). It was as I was cutting the sandwiches (diagonally) that it came to me: I do it this way (triangles NOT squares) very purposelfully, and only because this is how I wanted MY sandwiches cut as a youngster. It was a minor tragedy to endure squared sandwich pieces. I felt resentment toward my dad – for his practicality, his lack of creativity, and what I was certain at the time was his mean spiritedness. Now, my dad’s a decent guy – an author, mentor to some, and overall good citizen (shovels his walk on snowy days, tips the Canpar guy at Christmas, and says things like “howdy” and “good man”). But to my young mind, he approached Scrooge on this matter.

Well. I reflected on this as I finished preparing the lunches; there are other things – tiny little things – that I do as a definite reaction to my childhood, and it’s perceived shortcomings. Mostly this has been brought into relief as I raise my own children. It’s a bit like reliving my childhood and, in a way, it’s like a second chance. I get to broaden and deepen my experience of childhood, after the fact, from the perspective of an adult. It’s fun. But in other ways, it’s a conscious response to aspects of my childhood that I wouldn’t want to recreate for my own kids. Trivial? Yes, on some level – and it’s prudent to be mindful of context. But some of the silliest things (to adults) carry the most weighty significance to children. In righting the injustices of my childhood, I hope I can also stay attuned to my kids, and respect their harmless (yet potentially profound) little likes and dislikes.

On another note, I’m finally making some progress on my comps. I dumped one committee member, and signed up another. Rick Gruneau is an old Marxist, but erudite and pretty fucking savvy. He knows what’s the what and doesn’t mind telling you. He swears a lot, which of course I like, and has more than a healthy disrespect for authority. He comes from an interesting place, which includes, but is not limited, to being his daughters’ soccer coach. I like that. I gave up a long time ago on the dream of having a woman on my committee. In some ways it was tokenistic, but in other ways, still important. But I’ll settle for three out of three being parents, and two of those with kids young enough that they’re still involved.

Rick and I talked for over an hour in our first meeting, and his endless stream of information (about socialism, modernity, enlightenment, social change. But wait, there’s more!) was literally music to my ears. By the end of our meeting, we had my list sorted out; by the end of the day, I emailed him my revised version. I feel like I can finally begin this process in earnest.

Searching for sanity

Friday, October 6th, 2006

I went to yoga the other night, for the first time in almost three years. Back then, I was a recent Ontario transplant (I’d been living in Kits, my “starter” hood, for a few months) and yoga was as foreign to me as moonwalking. I remember my mum doing yoga in the 70s when I was a kid, and my dad not liking it, thinking it was some sort of cult. Now my mother wasn’t by any means a hippie, or part of the countercultural revolution, but she did wear a poncho, and took up yoga for a bit there.

Aside from Kerry Anne, before she did a Yoga for Geeks class, I was probably the only woman on the west coast who hadn’t at least tried yoga. But I was pregnant and unemployed, and thought prenatal yoga would be a good thing. And it was, but I never went back. Who has the time, what with an infant and a two-year-old, and then later full time grad studies plus part time teaching assistant job?

Now, I’m more in the west coast groove – I drink fair trade organic coffee (but not Starbucks), and I sometimes visit nature. (I still don’t own a raincoat and I refuse to succomb to the seemingly dominant MEC fashion trend – I consider these to be endearing quirks. You know what they say – you can take the girl out of Southwestern Ontario…) And, more importantly, I have the time! My kids go to sleep fairly easily, and stay asleep. Combine this with a yoga studio, Unity Yoga Tea House, opening up at the top of my street, and I can nip out for an 8pm class without much fuss.

OK, so, the logistics of possibility aside, why yoga, why now, you might ask? It’s that balance thing I’ve been carping about. I work out on a regular basis and am fairly fit. This keeps my body healthy, and able to fight the illnesses that typically come with stress. I rarely get sick. But it’s a fast paced, high energy, unreflexive process; the physical stress dissipates but the mental/emotional stress remains. Sometimes I feel like it’s too much, that something has to give. But I’m stubborn, and will get this damn PhD if it kills me.

That said, I don’t want to be an absent (or crazy) mother, be a crappy teacher, or produce sub par work. It’s been obvious for a while I need some (more) tools to deal. I’ve been thinking one yoga class a week will allow me a peaceful, quiet time to focus, to contemplate my physical self. I think practicing yoga will help me achieve emotional and mental balance through close attention to my body, identifying where I’m holding tension and releasing it through stretching and strength training.

Unity Yoga is lovely – warm, calm and welcoming. I sat on one of the mats, which were arranged in a star shape, painfully aware of my lack of Lululemon attire. One of the women already seated chatted me up as we waited for the instructor. She asked me where I “practiced”. I had to laugh; if you knew me, you’d understand. I admitted I didn’t practice at all, that I was just here to try it out. The class was led by Sue, one of the owners. It was Vinyasa yoga, which meant nothing to me at the time. All I knew was that it was hard – lots of deep stretches and balancing and legs in the air. But it was great; afterward, I felt uplifted, calm, at peace with my body. I think this will be a good thing. I’m going to buy a membership.

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Ruckus Society and me

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

Cruising the web, I found this link to my Web of Change blog, and my post about Adrienne Maree Brown’s (director of Ruckus Society) entertaining keynote. Check it out here. It was good times.

Gettin’ on down

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Andrew Feenberg hosted a party the other night. His pad is in an old apartment building, built circa 1920s or so, but totally retrofitted in the way that Vancouverites have. Sort of moderne + contemporary inflected with appeals to nature and nice things. There was a yummy spread by Anne-Marie, who is one cool French lady, with a pasison for the novel, and dancing. I totally dig her – she’s so warm and funny, but totally hardcore sma-art. She asks me things like: So what’s going on with feminism and young women today? She calls Andrew “Andy” which freaks all us students out. Imagine! Once I asked Darryl Cressman, in jest of course, if les ACTants called him Feenie (I was sort of thinking it would be a natural shortening, plus there’s Vancouver’s Feenie’s). Darryl responded with his usual quick wit, no, we just call him F-Dawg. That was funny.

Anyway, we drank wine from 1.5 litre bottles, Heineken out of cans, or for the sophisticated and worldly, there was scotch. I went with My Friend who had never met Feenberg before, yet in a weird coincidence, had seen him at a talk at SFU Harbour Centre that very afternoon! Director Michael Goldberg discussed his new documentary film A Zen Life – DT Suzuki, screening in the Vancouver International Film Festival. I guess Andrew is into that stuff – Zen, I mean; My Friend, too. But, really, who doesn’t need, wouldn’t like, couldn’t benefit from a little balance in their life? That’s my thing lately too – the work/school-home/family-me/sanity balance. I have one word to describe it: elusive.

Anyhoo, it was a nice gathering, and the only one hosted by one of my prof’s since my time here at SFU – that’s telling, no? Andrew’s a cool cat and I’m glad I’m working with him.