Twitter Walk-Out of Aug 4

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This editorial by Caitlin Moran both informed me about the idea of a Twitter walk-out tomorrow, and convinced me to participate. It’s obviously a complex issue, which I plan to delve into more tomorrow, and I’ve heard good arguments for and against the twitter silence. Moran says “I’m pro the mooted 24-hour walk-out on 4th of August, because not only is it a symbolic act of solidarity – which are my favourite kinds of symbolic acts – but because it will also focus minds at Twitter to come up with their own solution to the abuses of their private company.” I really like this second point, and I’m going to get back to it later.

The argument against the Twitter walk-out that’s most meaningful to me revolves around the concept of silencing people/being silenced. The way I feel about that is twofold: one, I am choosing to be silent to send a message, and two, I am moving the discussion to other platforms (not just shutting up). I like Twitter for a lot of reasons, and understand its importance in social and political movements. But. I have a hard time expressing myself adequately through Twitter, and enjoy more in-depth discussions than Twitter lends itself to. Here, I can explain myself fully and respond at length to comments. There, I end up implying things I don’t mean and not thinking before I reply. I don’t feel that abstaining from Twitter necessarily makes me more silent. In this case I think it will effectively make me louder.

The part that sealed the deal for me to walk out is Moran’s point that “Criado-Perez, and anyone else like her, shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of thing on their own.” Even with Twitter feminists rallied around her, she is fighting alone in a way. She may have rightness and the law on her side, but she doesn’t have any enforcement on her side. (Excepting the police, who made one arrest, which is amazing but just a drop in the bucket.) Twitter has said, “You’re on your own. Block anyone you don’t like.” Twitter has made the choice to be a platform where anyone can do anything, which is their decision to make. But I think it’s a shitty one. I’d rather have a platform with respectful discussions that blocks hateful spam. Maybe this walk-out will make Twitter execs think about their policies and consider disallowing spam. Or maybe we’ll find a less spammy platform. At the very least, we’re all talking about it.

Losing weight and getting fit: it’s my body and I do what I want

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I’ve been doing something lately that I’ve wanted to talk about, but not known how to approach. I’m trying to lose some weight. I’m also training for a 5K*, which has been helping with the losing weight thing, because it turns out that running burns a lot more calories than walking the dog. What I haven’t been doing is talking about it much, which is unusual for me. I talk a lot.

To me it has always felt somehow subversive to want to lose weight. I don’t define myself by what I look like, and I’ve always believed that it’s what’s on the inside that matters, and that there’s nothing wrong with being fat. It felt like I would get booted out of the feminist positive body image club if I admitted (even to myself) that I wanted to be thinner. I didn’t see a middle ground between being the stereotype of the intellectual (geek) who doesn’t care what she looks like, and having my appearance be an all-consuming concern.

So in high school I became a vegetarian because I “thought it was healthier.” If I lost weight, that’s maybe a nice side benefit, right? During college, I occasionally thought to myself “I should get healthier” without really defining that or acting on it. I wanted to be thinner, but I didn’t want to be (what I saw as) the sort of person who wants to be thinner. In the meantime, I was unfairly associating being fat with being unhealthy (I was pretty healthy overall).

Sometime in the last year my outlook on my body has changed. I’ve never hated it, but never admitted to liking it. I was more concerned with my brains, right? But my body isn’t just a brain-transportation system. It’s how I experience the world. My legs take me where I want to go, my hands make things and show affection and bring food to my mouth, my skin absorbs the delicious rays of the sun. My body is part of me, and I like myself. I like my body.

I like my body, I just want it to be a little bit different. I want it to be able to function in a sort-of different way (running 5K without stopping), and I want it to look in a sort-of different way (thinner). I’ve already decided that I want it to have a few tattoos, and varied hair color, and short hair again. What make this decision so different? I have seized my bodily autonomy, and I am making my body the way I want it to be. Of course, getting in shape and losing weight are ongoing processes that take a lot longer than getting a haircut or a tattoo.

Recognizing that it’s essentially, ideologically, the same kind of choice has freed me from the shame I had associated with trying to lose weight. It has allowed me to really think about the process and consider things like “do I really want to eat all of this cake more than I want to keep losing weight steadily?” Sometimes, the answer is yes–I do want all of that cake. But sometimes it’s no, I’ll have some of the cake, because I’m proud of the progress I’m making and want to stay on track.

It’s my body, and my life. I wanted to change something, I realized it was within my power to make that change, and I’m doing it. I feel empowered.

(*This was originally posted some weeks back on my defunct cooking blog, because I don’t know how to Internet sometimes. I ran that 5K in under 45 minutes, which was my goal, & though I did stop a few times I feel good about it. It was a hilly course.)

Back to the Blog

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I’ve been getting bloggier lately, because I have all these thinks I’m thinking and they demand to be expressed. I thought I would make due with tumblr, because I have friends there and am already managing the fandom/politics divide over there, but recently I’ve realized that won’t work.

Tumblr is great and all, but it’s too easy to be detached from the content I’m experiencing. I don’t know (or care) why I have this problem with tumblr and not with traditional blogging platforms, but I can’t think meaningful thoughts while I’m scrolling through my dashboard. I can see something and have an emotional response, but it’s too easy to just scroll past or click ‘reblog.’ My personal tumblr is a representation of who I am through things other people have created.

There’s nothing wrong with defining or representing yourself in the context of others and their creations; none of us exists in a void, after all. But I am a creative person. I make things, and I have complex thoughts, and I like to talk about everything (practically). A collection of other people’s stuff doesn’t do me justice.

(I tried to write & post this to tumblr, but it didn’t work. My mind went completely blank. I reblogged a picture of Sir Patrick Stewart with a mustache made of cotton candy, instead.)

Elizabeth Gilbert: TED Talk on creativity

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Gilbert talks about ancient ways of viewing creativity, and how they might be healthier for a creative individual than the modern idea of genius residing within a person. Inspiration for reluctant creatives, and reassurance for all creative people.

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke

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Book: Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke. Translated from German by Anthea Bell. Scholastic, 2003.
Genre: Fantasy
Intended readership: Middle grades
Read: June 2012

Premise: Twelve-year-old Meggie’s father Mo is a bookbinder with a secret ability: when he reads aloud, things come out of their stories. Sometimes they’re people, like the villains Capricorn and Basta, and sometimes they’re things, like the treasure from Treasure Island. The catch is that something always disappears to balance out whatever appeared, as Mo finds out when he reads Capricorn, Basta, and Dustfinger (who’s not a villain but occasionally works with the other two) out of Inkheart and his wife vanishes into the story. Most of the plot of the novel revolves around Capricorn trying to get Mo to read other things out of various books for his nefarious purposes. By the end, Meggie discovers that she shares this ability and uses it to save the day.

Reactions: How meta: a book about books, where you read about reading. I really enjoyed reading it, though afterward I couldn’t figure out why it was so long. At times the narration seems to drag, and there are some scenes that could just as easily have been summarized when a character reappeared. All the same, I did enjoy it and would recommend it people who like a little bit of fantasy and a lot of book obsession in their YA lit.

There are daring adventures, but no sword fights. There’s magic, but no sorcerers or wizards (there are fairies, though). It’s all sort of halfway between being a metaphor for the power of reading and an actual story of unexplained magic. Meggie is a voracious reader, but rarely reads aloud. Mo never reads aloud, knowing what danger there is in the act, but he makes up stories to tell Meggie. Overall, I’d say the story was enjoyable but not as gripping or meaningful as I’d hoped. I’m not altogether too interested in reading the other two in the trilogy, though if they came my way I don’t think I’d pass them up. I quite liked most of the characters.

Favorite character: Dustfinger. Definitely Dustfinger. I spent a lot of the book being mad at him, but he’s sort of a sad character really, and not actually as malicious as he sometimes seems. He’s a long way from home, and everything is different in our world. There are no fairies or giants or trolls, and fire is less responsive even to his expert fingers. He makes a living as a fire eater, in circuses and busking in town squares, but he really wants to find a way home. Capricorn promises to send him home, so Dustfinger does the villain’s bidding and leads Mo to him. When he’s betrayed (gasp! by a villain!), he helps Meggie and Mo and Elinor (Meggie’s great-aunt) escape. He’s a conflicted soul, torn between his futile desire to return home and his guilty conscience for betraying Meggie.

Practice what you preach, they say

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This is one of the things that impresses me about President Obama:

“Under the President’s own tax proposals, … he would pay more in taxes while ensuring we cut taxes for the middle class and those trying to get in it.”

Jay Carney, “President Obama and Vice President Biden’s 2011 Tax Returns” on the White House Blog

Thoughts on class discussion

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Today I observed a 10th-grade Honors English class at a reasonably affluent local high school, as part of an assignment for the course I’m taking in Differentiated Instruction. This class functioned a lot like the ones I was in in high school; the teacher led a class discussion, pointing out connections students may not have noticed (between a description of night and Milton’s description of Hell, for example) at appropriate times, and encouraging students to think and formulate their own analyses. There were some really insightful comments from some students, and about half of the class contributed to the discussion, with a few students leading the way. Thinking back on it, that’s about how my hs classes were; I was usually one of the kids monopolizing the conversation. I was one of the ones who spoke up when that silence of nonparticipation grew. In this class, the students were well-behaved, and the teacher told me that this is “a good class.” It sure seems like it, right? Everyone listened quietly when one of their peers spoke, and half of the 20 students were actively contributing to the conversation. But half of them weren’t.

This teacher told me, after the class, that the whole-group discussion is his go-to model, because he wants all the students to be exposed to the same material and ideas, and he wants to make sure certain ideas are included*. Fair enough. But is being exposed to these important ideas enough? If they’re trying to, as a group, form an intelligent and thoughtful analysis of The Things They Carried, with everyone coming to more or less the same understanding, great. This class structure works, more or less, to create that analysis. But I don’t think that should be the goal, I really don’t. The literature is not the alpha and the omega; the literature is there to teach you how to think about it. An essential part of the Reader Response idea as I understand it, and Barthes’ “Death of the Author,” is that the art is made within the individual. Everyone has a different background, a different perspective from which they approach a piece of literature. This teacher didn’t by any measure deny that–he supported students’ interpretations and opinions–but I think he could have done more to encourage it. In this scenario, only the students who wanted to had to think about the text and what it meant**.

In small groups, the silent half of the class would have had no choice but to speak up. I think there is great value in talking through one’s thoughts***, especially with other people. I know that this process helps me formulate and expand my thoughts, and I think a lot of people function similarly. With fewer people involved in the conversation, each participant would have more of an opportunity to work with their own ideas and those of their peers, instead of hearing the opinions of a few (and possibly letting them pass right on out of their minds).

This school’s English department doesn’t have set classrooms, and the day has shorter, 45-minute class periods, which can impede grouping. But the classroom I observed in had tables of two, allowing for pair work. And in a discussion, how important are desks, anyway? It could work to have the students at a front desk flip around and talk to the folks behind them.

To sum up, and record in my brain for the days when I am teaching English: the kids who were involved made great points, but there’s no way to know what was going on in the minds of the students who just sat there. If they’re not engaged, are they really learning?****

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*This could be accomplished in other ways, I’m sure. An introduction to the whole class with the Milton connection; a wrap-up at the end hitting key points.
**This wasn’t the only means of assessing student analysis this teacher planned for, of course. Every student has to write an essay, and this school’s English curriculum is set up such that students write first drafts, conference with the teacher about it, and then submit a revision.
***That is, essentially, the point of this blog post, after all.
****Before the discussion, the class had 10 minutes of silent reading. Every single person in the classroom was fully engaged in their reading for at least 9 of those minutes, except for me. I did join in, but I also took some time to gauge participation, and figure out what the kids were reading. Answer: everything from the day’s homework assignment to textbooks to Grisham novels.

The view from the top

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Sunset over St. Louis

The top of the year,  the top of the Arch. I started 2012 getting a cold, and then getting a migraine, which sucked (and hasn’t gone away yet). But in and amongst feeling poorly, I went to the top of the Arch with my family. Monday the 2nd we all had the day off. I’d gotten to go to the top of the Arch after dark as part of my college’s freshman orientation and suggested that the family go do it, because it’s really incredible to look out over the city at night from 630 feet up. It only took us 4 years to get around to it. The Arch closes at 6, so the last tram to the top is at 5ish, and they hurry you out of there pretty quickly. Even less than 2 weeks after the solstice, our window of opportunity was fairly short, and the only way to see this view in the summer is to rent the Arch. It’s no wonder it took us four years and a very concrete plan to make this happen.

The Old Courthouse

It’s totally worth it.