Saturday, March 31, 2012

Think/act: Poetry and home

Even in Kyoto--
hearing the cuckoo's cry--
I long for Kyoto.

I've been mulling over this haiku for a while, having stumbled across it via a book I was reading for class. To me, this poem symbolizes a certain sweetness of loss. It reminds me of longing for a place that no longer exists, except in remembered pieces -- an idealized or former version of a place you are currently in.

This haiku struck me because, when I go back to my hometown, I often feel homesick, even when I'm there. I miss what home was for me at a time in my life that I'll never have back. But I don't entirely want it back, either -- the nostalgia is bittersweet and impractical.

But, like the haiku says, even when I am home, I long for home.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Move/make: Getting started

First, the number:

My roommate's scale says I am 184.8 pounds.

When I weighed myself this afternoon, that number startled me. I gave up meat and diet soda, and have been running off-and-on since before the new year. Why isn't it lower? Is the scale broken?

I truly believe that your appearance and weight doesn't define you -- and yet, given that number, it's easier said than done. But I want to be honest. What's the point of lying to myself? I'm almost 185 pounds, yes, and at 5'7", that number is probably higher than it should be. But I'm still the same person as I was 10 or 20 pounds ago. I survived my comprehensive exams -- the hardest thing I've had to do in my academic career. I have a great roommate, amazing friends, and a wonderful family. I'm otherwise physically healthy, and I'm proud of how strong my legs are after running for the last few months.

I have to remember: It's just a number.

So, why bother? I want a baseline. I'm training for a 5K this April, and hope to continue running longer races throughout the summer. I know that I can't put too much stock in what the scale reads. I'll be building a lot of muscle, so I'll have to go primarily on how I feel and how my clothes fit. But at least I know where I'm starting from.

And now you do, too. Which might be the most difficult thing -- putting that number out there. But maybe the less I hide it from myself and others, the less shameful it will be.

Look/hear: Heartless Bastards

A couple of weeks ago, I got the Heartless Bastards' new album, "Arrow." I can't stop listening to it. It's Midwestern, a little country, and a lot of rock 'n' roll. I've been running to it a lot. It's also good driving-through-cornfields-at-night music.

If only they'd tour somewhere near me.

Think/act: Intersectionality and feminism

I haven't decided how to respond to this, but it's been bothering me.

I'm presenting at a conference this month, giving a paper on a British-Pakistani poet. I'm frustrated because the conference organizers have put me on a panel called "Modern Ethnic Literature," whatever that means. Why wouldn't my paper be included in one of the several British literature panels at the conference?

I'm especially upset because my paper is on how multi-faceted identity is, how it's constantly changing and how one thing -- race, gender or sex -- cannot define a person. This panel, in other words, is the exact opposite of the thing I'm talking about. At the very least, it shows that no one bothered to read the abstract.

More than that, though, I'm frustrated because this isn't a problem specific to my university, as my roommate reminded me. I'm tired of the "ethnics" getting shucked into a neglected, undervalued corner of literature. I'm tired of that label in the first place. I'm tired of non-white, non-Western writers being labeled as the "Other." I'm tired of the fact that, in 2012, in the humanities, we're still using Western whiteness as the yardstick by which all other work is measured. I'm tired of the canon. I'm tired of exclusion.

As a white, middle-class woman, I know I'm speaking from a position of extreme privilege. But this conference has angered me especially at this moment, because I've been struggling with the failings of mainstream feminism to be inclusive and intersectional. I know I, as a feminist, can and must do better. I believe the onus absolutely falls on privileged groups to interrogate power structures, to actively challenge and oppose the same kind of binary thinking that we say we're against. The more I learn about feminisms, the more I see what work needs to be done. Mainstream feminism is still very much white, very much able-bodied, very much cis-gendered, very much straight. It's more exclusion.

Labels like "other" or, in the case above, "ethnic," then, are especially problematic. I'm upset about a minor paper at a tiny conference, yes, but it represents the larger, very real issues above. Separating literature in such an arbitrary, meaningless way hurts everyone. It denies the possibility of dialogue, of understanding how identity might really work. It denies the possibility of growth and inclusion. How can we become more inclusive if we can't even let everyone sit at the same table?