31 December 2009

A New Year's Non-Post

I'm having a brief break from the frantic house-tidying to write this. I have friends coming to stay overnight and see the fireworks, etc, and I have been a lump on the couch with a bad cold ever since Boxing Day. Consequently, the current state of my flat leaves something to be desired.

Anyhow, the point of this non-post is to say Happy New Year, one and all. I have no rational reason to hope that it will be better than this one but I can be sure that things will change. Some of the changes will be good, and I hope that the good will outweigh the bad. Happy New Year!

24 December 2009

Hodie Christus Natus Est


I hope that everyone is having a happy or at least relatively calm festive period. I'll be off to midnight mass here myself in just a little bit. I can hardly wait - candle lit midnight birthday parties with singing and mulled wine are the best. (I am deeply uncool for saying that, I know...) I spent today tidying up, hunting for a new pair of pajamas and I made two trips to the grocery store because I forgot the bourbon the first time around. I had a crafting sort of afternoon and made this to go on top of my tree:

There are very few craft supplies in my flat but there's always plenty of newspaper.

Merry Christmas!

23 December 2009

Continentalist Blithering - Feel Free to Practice Your Textual Hermeneutics

I feel obliged* to warn you all that this post has a high content of continental philosophy, pseudo-structuralism and a dash of queer theory tossed in for "funsies".

After the last post, I have Foucault's Madness and Civilisation on the brain. The question I keep returning to is how one might live out one's madness as a valid instantiation of being in the world whilst also not doing so in a manner that is alienating.

My reading of Foucault comes through the filter of the bias footnoted below and I make no claim as to it's being particularly the best reading. Because of this, I intend to stick to the ideas that reading Foucault has given me rather than trying to elucidate the text. Here endeth the disclaimer.

Rights talk is more than a little incoherent philosophically but it is a very useful way of talking about the privileged space that should be accorded the individual within a society. Because of the way human rights play into the way in which the mad are treated, it is perhaps the most appropriate way for me to approach this question of how to live out madness validly.

Oh God: It has just become stunningly clear and perspicuous to me that this is going to take much longer to write than I intended and it's late. I'm copping out.

I will stop with a question. Might the mad have a human right to be mad insofar as it is subjectively desirable and does not lead to harming others? If so, how would this work? The axiom I take for this is that madnesses are unique, that they are not total and as such are a valuable, non-fungible individual experience. Our current ways of treating madness implicitly devalue madness and deny that the content of madness has in it anything relevant to the human experience. Is this right? Does this infringe on the right to self-expression?

No, this is not going to be an anti-psychiatry rant. Psychiatry has done great things for me. But it's not perfect and it's worth using new ways to analyse it as a whole.

More soon and in the meantime, I welcome everyone's thoughts on the matter.


*I am obliged by my increasing Anglo-American Analytic Philosophy bias - the LSE tends to entrench any such tendencies. In real life, these distinctions matter less and less but they do persist in that we study the philosophers who wrote when the distinction was more real.

21 December 2009

Sleep, Or the Lack Thereof

I'm exhausted, yawning and cold and yet I do not want to go to bed. This happens all the time. Why? Any ideas/similar experiences? It would be a great boon to figure this out.

20 December 2009


It's a Sunday and I have therefore been thinking over what I'm doing in my life; not that I don't think about it on other days but Sunday is a particular prompt. Over the past three days I've had my semi-annual semi-collapse, something that seems to happen irregardless of my general health, in wet weather years and in fine. For a few days to a week, I hibernate, skip bathing (embarrassing but true), eat unhealthy food and avoid talking to people. It's exhaustion and nerves and while it feels like a waste of time, it seems to be an inexpungible part of my constitution.

The result of this is that I have come to the conclusion that I have been failing to take myself seriously. I have not given myself much credit for anything, I have doubted my own agency, I have abrogated to others my opinions of what is good and of what I ought to do. This has not been a total state - I have got myself off to grad school despite other people's best, well-meaning and insidious advice, after all. However, I can see that I have often done things by half-measures and deliberately obscured myself in order to avoid seeming to think too much of myself when I ought to have let myself try my talents and tested myself by truer measures rather than let the expectations of others dictate how far I should pursue success and enjoyment.

I know where this started. It was when I started school here in London at the beginning of tenth grade. My parents enrolled my sister and myself at a school that follows the American curriculum. All my life before, I had gone to public schools, which is American for state schools but the school I went to here was independent, which in American would be called private, and private schools have a tendency to look down on the quality of education available in a state school. I had all my life been in honors classes and moved up grade levels in maths and English. However, this new school automatically placed me in mainstream track classes and when I queried this, they informed me that it was because this school had very strenuous high standards and they knew that I would not be prepared for their honors classes. This happened during orientation; they held it in the library and I remember quite clearly sitting on the round table in the front of the library where I later spent much time studying with my friends after school, and thinking that perhaps they were right. After all, I had never done well in school before. No one, neither I nor my parents nor my teachers, had ever thought this was because the work was too hard for me: on the contrary, I was always told that I was more than smart enough to be attempting the classes I was in.

I never had been able to complete more than half the homework I was assigned, much to the confusion of myself and all the relevant adults. I still struggle to make myself do all such things in vaguely timely fashion. I now think that this is part due to the strain of mental illness and part due to the fact that it's just not interesting to do - I have much less trouble when the assignment is at all substantial or challenging - and largely due to bad habits. I think that the first two led eventually to the last: as a child, I rarely had recourse to any defense but withdrawal and refusal. But at the time I didn't know why I found it so hard to be like everyone else, I only knew that I had never been able to do it.

By the time I reached tenth grade I was, as you might imagine, very discouraged over the whole school situation. So, when it was suggested to me that the honors classes I was used to might be too hard I was ready to take this advice - it was a new idea about why I did not do well and I wanted an explanation and I wanted a release from the constant strife with teachers and with my parents. Perhaps I had been setting my sights too high and perhaps I wasn't as smart as I thought. Apart from pressing them into putting me in French 3 (I had already completed French 2 and languages have always come easily to me - French was one of the two classes I could usually actually do my work for), I gave up the battle and accepted their judgement that I wasn't good enough for their honors classes - disregarding entirely the fact that I started school a year early, that I had always been above grade level hitherto and my consistently high standardised test scores.

I'm afraid that that sounds quite snotty but it is the plain truth of the situation. Besides, pretending that I am less than I am is what has gotten me in to this particular mess in the first place. I may as well stop doing it now as at any other time. Why ought I to be modest to the point of feeling ashamed about having the abilities I am lucky enough to have? I am very smart and quite good looking and I have a nice dry wit in conversation and I know it. I don't think it makes me better or more worthwhile than other people - it's an accident of birth and as such has nothing to do with whether I'm a good person or not. It doesn't cancel out my less desirable qualities, such as being very untidy and a mediocre cook and lazy about schoolwork and turning library books in on time. Nor does it cancel out my slatternly tendency to digress when I'm writing. . ..

My point is that I have believed other people who tell me I cannot do things that I reasonably think I am able to do. Since that initial concession at the start of tenth grade, I have given in on innumerable things, large and small and let myself be guided by other people's expectations. There are several important instances where I have not given in but plenty where I have and still more where I have equivocated. I am obedient when I ought to be stubborn. The worst of it is that I moderate my ambition - instead of aiming to do well, I aim not to fail. Sometimes not failing is the best I can do but I apply the same remit to situations where I could do much better. I ought not to do this. I especially ought not to give up without trying; I especially ought not to just fail to do anything at all.

All this is by now compounded with my mental ill health and what various people think I ought to do or refrain from doing in order to protect it. Foucault, I must admit, was largely right in his assessment of the effects of the moral management of mental illness - that the unique experience of madness was denied and devalued and with it, the agency and personhood of the mad, that it creates an internal police state within the individual (he didn't put it quite like that but that is how I take it) that makes the mad individual her own oppressor, her own restraint and a restraint ultimately more insidious and cruel than chains because it disintegrates the individual and makes all herself, her feelings and attitudes and actions, invalid. He argues this more strongly than I would personally but I do concede his point in the main and I'm digressing again.

O for brevity! O for clarity! O for the ability to be succinct and to use fewer parentheses!

This is where doubt strikes me, whence fear springs forth. If I want to do anything with my life and if I want make it through without being bored half to death, I must stop listening to others at the expense of listening to myself.

18 December 2009

Where Am I?

It used to be that when I moved away, I moved away. Now, through the miracle of facebook, I have live updates and photos on just how much it's snowing back in Asheville (reports of 6-9 inches from various friends). Not only am I envious of the fun that is a large snowfall - I'm beginning to think I should just give in and move to Scotland where it will snow and I can have holes in my jumpers, switch the heating off and use a single 35 watt light bulb to light the living room in peace - but I'm also actively worried about various marginally housed friends who are still there, facing at least a day or two without electricity, heat or passable roads.

I have liked the way that facebook allows one to keep up with people in a flowing, daily way but now I don't feel so sure about it. I would rather not be worried; not because I don't care but because there is bugger all I can do. I wonder, really, whether it wouldn't be better not to be able to keep as much track of my old life as I am able to do via facebook. There are a lot of things, after all, that I would just rather not know.

Dolce Fa Niente

I have been sleeping hours upon hours each day since term ended. Usually nine hours at night and a few more during the day. I haven't been able to sleep like this since I was a teenager/very early twenties. It's lovely but I keep wondering whether I haven't taken on an illness of some kind.

I've been very scholastically useless so far. This will change, probably tomorrow, because it has to if I want to do well and I do want to do well. I have essays for conferences to be written and a big presentation at 10.00am on the first day of term and so must crack on a little now or end up having to work on Christmas Day, which I refuse to let happen.

I have been socially very useful so far. I have been to three Christmas parties (two involving the dread 'networking' - but with think tank people, at least, so not as bad), a birthday party, afternoon al fresco mulled wine consumption, a Progress event featuring a speech given by Tessa Jowell in Westminster (my first time inside the Houses of Parliament - so exciting I could hardly keep from bouncing up and down like a small child) and a surprisingly non-awkward and contentedly uneventful night at the pub with that girl I (possibly stupidly) kissed.

That has been my life of the past week: reading the whole paper and drinking the entire pot of coffee in my pyjamas, desultory tidying up, novel consumption hour, possibly an errand but nothing too strenuous, novel consumption extended afternoon edition, bath, get dressed, sit on the uncrowded tube for an hour to get to the other side of town and reading and listening to music, four hours' good conversation and the trip home, here by night bus, there by miraculous catching of the last train. At home, the hot water bottle and some tea and back to sleep.

It's blissful, really. Such a nice contrast to the chronically recurring insomnia of mine.

Time to be more active now though. Take the work back up and add in the Christmas baking, hurray! Advent Lessons and Carols on Tuesday and I can hardly wait for midnight mass. I hope I'll get to take the night bus home in the snow and sit up top and stare out at it. Either way, it's procession time and lots of singing.

At home, no one ever wants to go to Christmas mass on Christmas Day except for me, so I think I'll go this year and indulge myself. I'm a happy person to feel that going to mass is an indulgence...that's a desire that sits easy on the conscience and is easily indulged, unlike so many of my other ones that nearly always trouble on the latter score if not the former.

So this post isn't about much but I haven't done much but drink and talk and read my way through Orlando, All Passion Spent and Madame Bovary. But I'm happy right now and that seems worth recording.


It's snowing in London - so pretty. We might have a white Christmas. Probably not but it's nice to contemplate.

10 December 2009

(Possibly Stupid) End of Term Fun

So apparently getting a bit tipsy at the departmental Christmas party and kissing (possibly inappropriately) a girl on whom you have a non-crush cures fear. Who knew?

All right, cure is probably too strong a term. It's more likely that the fear has just been temporarily over-ridden. Or it could be that the fearfulness was more connected to this summer's epic rejection than I realised and that evidence that I am not entirely undesirable has made me feel better about myself. In which case, hurray, because that's something I know I can and will get over.

Okay, so that's probably not it, or at least not most of it. I'll take part.

Whatever will come of this (probably an) indiscretion, I don't know and at the moment, I don't really care. I don't have any particular expectations and it's not likely to descend into irretrievable awkwardness. It was fun. That was enough.

Ah, nice day today and my essay is almost done and I'm not even up late yet and once it is done, that's it for the term and I can get myself a Christmas tree.

08 December 2009


First off, thank you everyone for the supportive comments on the last post. I have been woefully slow to respond to them. I must now beg your forgiveness for that and also for the prolix tone that I fear has arrived as a result of my having taken a sleeping pill tonight with the aim of curing the sleep pattern brutally disrupted on Saturday night.

That Saturday night was a very good Saturday night. Weeks 7, 8 and 9 were bearish weeks and I had been swept into a stress dumb-striking. My mind deserted conversations in the common room and at the pub to creep into a squelched, folded place nearer the occipital lobe, leaving my mouth empty and eyes blank; my forehead wincing enough to be repeatedly commented on - in concern - by the conversational group. One of those times when the sternum makes a press for the heart.

Sweaty and vaguely asthmatic I would force my clothes upon myself in the morning and march - no, that is a lie, it was much closer to swirling than marching, this swirling of picking up books and the phone and the wallet and the keys and my shoes off the floor - swirl my way out of the door, into the newsagent's for the paper, out again for the bus, wherein I would perch and clutch my knees together and try to keep my eyes on the floor, which is hard when one is sitting straight up and sucked in. Off the bus and along the pavement to the station, heels clipping along briskly and my head up, oyster card at the ready, clipping down the stairs, around dawdlers and straight the way down the end of the platform for the Underground. Once there, things would fall apart. The wind would takeover my hair and my paper, I would put my paper away and turn this way and that to keep the wind in a more favourable relation to my hair and with my hand on top of my head, grope out my mp3 player and clutch it to my chest over my heart and shake out the long cord of headphones.

Into the cramped Central line train permeated by stockbroker Tudorbethan commuter air that the train exhales on its short passage through shabbier abodes, refreshed by a new infusion at Liverpool Street and becoming crisp with our arrival at Bank and sanctified and sanctimonious at St. Paul's and Chancery Lane and all this time myself crushed and crushed again and damp with the rain that drizzles East London, wound into myself with my music - Advent carols, the relevant parts of the Messiah, Magnificat this time of year - trying to stop myself breaking away in clammy globs under the feet of my fellows. Always with cold hands and feet, cold hands that would squirm at the heat of my coffee cup and fumble my cigarettes out, feet that would give way on cobblestones.

I was a choke heart wretch by the time I made my way from Holborn station to the door of the Lakatos building. Then an hour and a half's seminar that I would wrench my mind along to follow up with dumbness of spirit during the group coffee break that follows. Trenchant opinions on Kant's teleology are hard to summon in the most level-headed of times and my mind contained on these mornings only a penny or two, dusty lint and hesitance. That is what I have been dredging essays from these last turgid few weeks.

Deterioration was complete each night after the train journey home with my arms clutched across my chest, bent over, to climb the stairs and form a lump on the couch in front of the telly and the laptop and eat or fail to eat, depending.

It was not a promising state from which to set out early on a Saturday to spend the day here and there with a friend and the exhaustion of changing to the Waterloo and City line was enormous, only to be followed by the disorientation of trying to remember my way, mapless, around the Southbank Centre after a six years' absence during which they removed all of the little brass pointers that direct one from the sure landmark of the Festival Hall to the hidden and unforeseeable entrances to the rest of Britain's cultural showcases.

After two much needed black coffees and with student day tickets for the National in hand, I began to be able to act as a human. Then came an extended perusal of the bookstalls, conversational literary criticism in tow and brunch in Borough Market and more coffee. An adjournment and I took the long, tops of buses way home and tidied up the house with Women's Hour Weekend on Radio Four on in the background and dragged myself less heavily back into town for dinner and mulled wine and theatre in front row seats where we were covered in stray chicken feather particulate by the time the interval came round. It was a Brecht play and long. By the time it ended and the male members of our evening's party drifted away to pursue their own ends, we two went for drinks at a jazz bar and by the time I realised that I would indeed miss the last train, I had relaxed and even become a little careless and daring in conversation. A journey on the night bus is a small price to pay for that.

This was the pleasant origin of my broken sleep that I am lazily remedying by means of pills instead of daytime constitutionals. Only two more seminars, a departmental party and an essay between me and the Christmas holidays when I can work and work and bake and go to church.

What has been bothering me, though? I've spent the day ruminating half-assedly instead of writing my essay and in the bath I concluded that it was fear. It would be easy and incidentally true to say it was a mild depressive episode following a mild manic episode. This was, however, an episode full of content and the content is real enough whatever the underlying physiology might be. This is not always the case for me - mostly these things just come upon me with a moth eaten jumble of bog standard thoughts that do not feel internal. And it is the case that I am afraid.

Whence this fear? I imagine it has something to do with the heartbreak of this summer; rejection, longing, hopelessness, abrupt interruption and eruption of dreams and anger. I imagine it has something to do with the now ingrained cautiousness over my health. I imagine it has something to do with the way none of my clothes fit me at the moment and money and debt and missing the people who used to spend acres of time sitting on my porch.

What is it I fear? Failure, for one. The external part of my life hangs fairly heavily on what I do this year and the knowledge of that makes it hard for me to write essays because I become anxious. I fear rejection, which makes it hard to venture anything - friends, essays, clothing, talking, dating, saying no, saying yes, declarative sentences - because it feels as though everyone is waiting for me to make a tiny slip so that they can criticise me in a devastating way. I fear, in a way that is unfamiliar to me, my own sexuality. In some ways it is a fear of vulnerability and obviously connected to fear of rejection but it is not solely that, and the other part is the part that is unfamiliar. What the other part is I am not sure I know how to say. It, along with the difficulty I am having with writing essays, what preoccupies me the most at the moment. I am not having difficulty with writing in general, which I don't quite understand because usually if I am confident about my writing, which I usually am, then I am fully confident of all my writing. I need the space of the Christmas holidays to investigate my essay problems but the weirdness of this sexuality fear is more invasive and more complex and more unknown and thus more obsessing.

Part of it is the voracious character it has lately taken on. I have not previously experienced it so directly and so immediately. I have looked at other women before but never like this - unremitting distraction - and never before has lust so quickly and constantly followed on. I'm distressed by it: it is pleasant and enjoyable and yet simultaneously it suggests parts to myself that I didn't know were there and which I'm not sure I like, entirely. It seems that being gay is more deeply seated in me than I realised and I hope that the reason I am partly uncomfortable with it is because it is new and not because I have struck upon a new seam of self-loathing. I feel that I have lost some measure of control over it.

This unexpected part of my sexuality has formed a locus around a new friend of mine. I cannot sit next to her without shivering with attraction. That is not unusual in itself. What is unusual is that it is not accompanied by an at least somewhat idealising crush. It is more like a fascination. The other strange thing about it is that I still haven't made up my mind what to do about it. Even in high school when I was more shy and much, much more inexperienced I had an easier time figuring out what to do or not do. It, this fascination, this urge, has nothing to do with incipient or inchoate love, which is not to say that it feels as though that couldn't follow but just that it is not now present.

It feels more naked, somehow. What does that mean? By naked, I mean that I don't feel that I must or should become a more perfect version of myself. Surely that's meant to be a Good Thing? That I feel I need be only myself? Perhaps that's what's scaring me so badly. By naked, I mean that desire has the prominent place and for once I have no other conspicuous emotion to cloak it in nor pair it with; neither affection (though it is there) nor admiration (though it is not absent) nor anything else. Then, for various reasons of personality and shared background, there is a quality of affinity that really scares me because it is so drunken. Is that quite the word? What does it mean to feel that - to feel an affinity - and yet at the same time experience the other person as an opaque and truly and finally separate being? It is a contradiction.

The whole of this weird attraction has no surface and has no exclusivity to it. No surface? No exclusivity? Do I mean that it is immanent, rather than transcendent? It feels dangerous, dangerous and explosive. It feels like life. Again, an almost non-sentence. Feels like life? Am I sentimentalising? Or am I referencing intensity? Or salvation?

What is it? Why am I so scared? How do I move on from it, from here?

25 November 2009

A Few Changes

I'm supposed to be writing an essay, so instead I am going back and forth between this blog and facebook. Very useful of me.*

Moving and meeting up with old school friends (how is that the people I first met at fourteen have now known me more than half of my life?) has pushed me into thinking a bit more carefully about what I'm doing with my life. That's not quite accurate - I am quite happy about what I am doing this year and most of next. It's more that I have been confronted with my own and, what's stranger, other people's memories of what used to be my priorities. I'm now asking myself, and asking rather urgently, why I gave up so much that I loved.

I don't yet know whether this is just the common or garden variety of nearly thirty-ish angst that will slide back in to general content without much fuss or whether this is a prompting into a more genuine inquiry as to what exactly has happened in the past six years.

I have been worried about talking about myself too much on this blog and I have been attempting to write about what happens in my life in a generalised and universalisable manner. How well I have succeeded in that is questionable. That is really neither here nor there; my point is that I am going to stop doing it as a general rule because it feels false. I'm tired of falseness. I don't want to force myself into omission and elision. I'm not sure whether I want to continue with a pseudonym. I would never have done that in the past. I've been infected with fear of consequences and a desire for what will only ever be a rather spurious kind of respectability. After all, how respectable can one really be if one is periodically mad?

All this inner turmoil has prompted me to change things around a little here. I was planning to wait until the one year anniversary of this blog came around to make changes but I've done it now because I wanted to. I've changed my picture so that I'm now identifiable to anyone who knows me. That's as close as I'm going to come to getting rid of the pseudonym for the moment - that's as close as is comfortable right now.

I had to get rid of the green. It is my favourite colour but it needed to go. There was so much green in my old apartment and it made sense there but there is nothing green in my new one. I decided to do something different and go modern or, as I have dubbed it, 'plebian moderne'.** I had the cheap but older and pretty arts and crafts period furniture that one can so easily find down south. Here I've gone a little closer to derivative Bauhaus. This is not to imply that my blog ought to match my flat: I'm just tired of looking at green things and have been purging them.

So, yes. I am just going to go ahead and write and not be so paranoid about rogue identifying details. I'm not going to worry about being egocentric because the way I have been writing about things has come to feel very stilted and I can't keep it up. If I sound self-involved, so be it. It would be better than the didactic, sing-song tone that leaks in so often. As I tell myself frequently, there is no point in doing things other than the way in which I would do them. I've hated myself for so long that I still don't believe that doing things the way that I would do them will ever be anything but a disaster, however trivial the act in question. I still don't believe that it's ever right to do what I actually want to do. I've been trying to trick myself into thinking otherwise for more than a year now with notably uneven results. I haven't given up.***

The idea of being honest and not pretending that I have greater equanimity than I actually do and that I am not as much of a mess as I actually am scares me. Nonetheless, here I go.

*I do have a draft and two more days to finish it - I'm not always as useless as I make out.

**Yes, I am the kind of person who would come up with a name like that - unbelievable, isn't it? I am very prone to that slangy manner of talking about art, clothes and furniture. It's like a game for me. Scoring points with obscure references and that.+ Rather obnoxious, isn't it? Especially when one hasn't been drinking.

***And in writing about myself I may yet, like Charlotte Bartlett, reveal 'depths of strangeness, if not of meaning'. It is strange to worry about whether one is being selfish if one is the only person wanting to get off at one's home bus stop and to be daily relieved when somebody else rings the bell first. That's something I do, every single day.

+Speaking of which, nota bene the quotation in footnote three.

21 November 2009

The Benthamite Utility Monster is Eating My Claims About Art: Help!

Last night I went to the ROH for the first time since moving back here, which was a thrill. I have missed it! It was only to go the Linbury Studio Theatre but any disappointment I might have felt at not getting in to see the main house was more than mitigated by the fact that I was there to see an old school friend of mine who had had some of his work commissioned for the ROH Firsts 09 season. The programme was a mixed bag but that's what happens with series like that.

Unbelievably, I have not even made it to the Tate Modern (easy enough walking distance from university) nor the National Gallery (ten minutes walk, if that far) since I got back here. No art, when that was one of the things I had most looked forward to having back. I have been just a little bit busy for some reason...but still.

I feel a lot better today than I have for a couple of weeks and I blame that entirely on my theatre excursion. I have for years realised that studying ballet was what got me through all the depression I had in high school, and that singing at church and working at the gallery have been a mainstay for me over the past few years. Nevertheless, I was genuinely surprised at how much better I felt last night. Art, it seems, is actively good for me. At the moment, I would say that it helps as much as klonopin does, though I wouldn't vouch for that being true if I were really in the depths.

I have generally been against the idea that art has or ought to have a utility value on the grounds that art works are not fungible in any meaningful way and utility values function off of a notion of exchangibility, which implies price and thus that art should be wholly a means rather than an end in itself*, so I worry about making a medicinal utility claim about it. However, I don't think that such a claim harms the dignity of an individual art work if I restrict the claim to art as a species of human activity and the end to which I make a claim that art is a means is an occultly achieved human end that art can achieve as a generality. I don't know; that's still a bit Benthamite. However, I do not make this claim universally: I imagine that there are others for whom the football or foreign language study or collecting match boxes achieves much the same end when art would not do the same. Actually, though, that is Benthamite ('pushpin is equal to poetry'). Oh dear. The dangers of making any claim to utility!

I need to have a think about this, but for now I shall just say hurrah for Art and hurrah for feeling better. At least for today, that has priority to philosophy.

*This is part of the good remains of the time I spent as a devout deontologist and secular humanist.

16 November 2009

Eyargh! : Or, the Demented Battle Cry of a Lunatick Philosopher

I came home early today, nominally because this is the third week in a row when I've had some sort of a virus or other and I am very tired.

Why am I so tired? Because I stayed out far too late on Saturday night. The night bus let me off in front of my door at 3.07am. Where did I go? A rather insipid student night not at my own university but at the rival one across the road. Why would I go to such a place, I who firmly dislike not only loud music but also nights out that involve dancing? Because I have an idiotic crush on a girl that isn't even a proper crush because she's not someone I would date in real life, though I'm not tremendously sure of what real life, my real life, is at the moment because everything seems to have been upended and I've had a cold for three weeks which does not make for clarity of mind and I really thought I had broken my habit of getting crushes on younger women but I guess not and I don't know whether to be distressed, indifferent or amused about it, not that she's that young but still.

Last Wednesday night I didn't sleep but a couple of hours and yet had no trouble being awake and alert on Thursday and I have been talking back to the newspaper, out loud, while on the train in the morning and distractedly twitching at noises from the street while reading in the common room and forgetting to eat and having alternating flashes of panic and rage in the morning while trying to find the right books to take with me for the day and trying to weave through the people who meander dazedly down the tube platform in the morning when really they should be trying to get away from the crowded part and get down to the very end where there are only five or six people standing and 8.00am is really not so early as to make dazed meandering really necessary. I have been staring at people generally which I have largely explained to myself as being the result of moving to a place where there are more than 1,000 times as many people as the last place I lived, to a city whose population is almost as large as that of the entire state of North Carolina, which is almost as large in area as the entirety of England and Wales put together so that, as you can see, the people were a great deal more spread out and therefore not as easily stared at but then that falls apart when one considers the subset of all that staring which is a new-found involuntary tendency to gawk - let's not mince words - at other women, which is not very polite and has the added detraction of making me feel like I've turned into an adolescent boy: I've had 'staring issues' before but not like this.

And the real reason I came home early is that I was worried I would do something weird and aggressive because I am having the harsh tail end of a hypomanic blip and I am extremely uncomfortable and I don't quite know what to do with myself and and and...

And too many things are happening on top of one another and sometimes simultaneously in the wrong order and I can't calm down and writing this has helped some and I thought it would but (eyargh!) why have I had colds for three weeks and why do I have to choke on the dregs of mania?

03 November 2009

How Do People Think, Generally Speaking?

I have a question for everyone. It just recently occurred to me that part of the way I think might not be common to the way most (i.e. mentally normal) people think.

The way of thinking I have in mind is the sort of quasi-epiphany manner of thinking; the kind of thinking where a whole rush of complex thoughts lands in the mind, inspiring wonder. I don't mean rapid thoughts - the quality of this is sudden but whole, and while exciting, it doesn't gallop away in all directions as the rapid thinking of mania does. It has a finality to it and a completeness to it that rapid thinking, in my experience, doesn't.

It's not the kind of epiphany thinking that goes along with delusions, either. When it happens, there's a feeling of exaltation but not anything like god-likeness, nor is it a revelation of 'the one right way of being, doing and thinking' fixation that can accompany psychosis. It's more like an immediate inductive understanding of part of the world, or a sudden intellection of the functions and forces of part of the world. That's how to put it; an immediacy of inductive comprehension.

If it only occurred while I am thinking about the nature of things, something which I, as a philosopher, I feel very fortunate to spend a lot of time doing, then I would not wonder whether it were unusual. However, it also just happens upon me while I'm trying to decide what to have for dinner. It also happens pretty often, at least once a week and sometimes more frequently, even daily.

Does this happen to anyone else? Is this something that qualifies as a mental health symptom or is typical of the human thought experience? Is it a by-product of too much philosophical reading and discussion? Whatever it is, I'm very happy to have it. It's very useful when it happens in the middle of a seminar, among other things, and very enjoyable besides. I wouldn't want to lose it. I just can't settle for myself whether it is normal or not. Any thoughts?

28 October 2009

Overwhelmed and Omphaloskeptic

There are too many things going on! I'm not sure that's really a complaint, as I quite like most of the things. However, they are myriad.

On the things I quite like side are parties; Monday night philosophy drinking; my new armchair that I lugged home in the box from Ikea over one bus route, the Overground and the Underground*, which was a rather painful thing to do but more than compensated for by having someplace to sit that isn't the floor or my bed; a new addition to my collection of favorite philosophy quips**; reading Tristram Shandy and its heroic 18th century punctuation - can't think why I haven't read it before nor why we no longer punctuate like that; all the arguments I've been able to make about infinite regress and infinites by addition; being back in London; the shocking - to me - way I've made friends so quickly and effortlessly; the general thrill of studying interesting things; seeing old friends that I haven't seen for years; reading the Guardian; my new shoes; having a clothes rail and hangers and my newsagent.

On the things that are not things that I like side very much are plumbing faults; owing medium to large amounts of money to various institutions; not having very much money to pay said institutions with and also buy food; that it takes four to six weeks for overseas cheques to clear and mine has been sitting in the bank for four weeks and still hasn't cleared; the reaction of various Anglicans to the Pope's recent announcement; the fact that somehow Rousseau's concept of the general will has gotten stuck in my head in the manner of an annoying song***; the fact that there is so much going on that I seem to miss at least half of it; that my feet hurt so much and so often and with such minimal provocation; the way this overwhelmed-ness makes my head too swimmy to concentrate and think properly; Boris Johnson; the way my hair hasn't gotten used to the hard water yet and sticks up in strange and disturbing ways in the morning; being tired all the time still and a very annoying virus/cold/cough thing that has been plaguing me for a week without actually making me properly ill or allowing me to be properly well****.

Things that I may or may not like (just not sure yet) side are the post-lecture drinking with the professors on Wednesdays because it makes me very nervous but the conversation is good; my inability to feel any emotion, positive or negative, about the ex-girlfriend which is a relief but does not bode well; the amount of Hackney Marshes closed off for development for the Olympics, which development may or may not be a good thing in the end*****; a weird crush I've developed on a new-friend girl at university that is not really a crush but something in between (and therefore not holy, see fourth footnote) that makes me uneasy and implies subtle and delicately strange things about myself and my ethical convictions; the unpredictable bursts of high-burning glittering bliss that might be the early warnings of hypomania - enjoyable when they occur but worrying afterwords and the way this post has footnotes with footnotes.

The world is all the things that are the case, and so it follows that this is the world I'm in for now******.

*I feel very boring though to be buying furniture from the Ikea. Why did I lug it home? Please see paragraph three, thing I don't like number four.
** "That's not a counter-example, it's a monster." Imre Lakatos
***I wouldn't have thought that philosophical concepts were capable of this but it seems to have happened anyway.
****This virus is a thing partway between being and not being and is therefore not holy (Please see De divina omnipotentia++, a letter written by St. Peter Damian to Pope Gregory. Peter Damian was also in charge of reforming cannon law and is responsible for the formalisation of the law concerning priestly celibacy {somehow, the Catholic Church made it through 1,000 years without actually requiring it} and the regularisation of cannon law concerning homosexual behavior {I know we think of it as identity and not act now generally but it would be inaccurate to say that Damian condemned homosexuality itself rather than homosexual acts} that has led to the modern Catholic condemnation of homosexuality via Aquinas' natural law theory and thus forward to the present day to one of the things I dislike in paragraph three. These later accomplishments and the reasons behind them are discussed in Damian's Liber Gomorrhianus, which is a very interesting read. Impressing pagans is part of the reasoning behind the celibacy dogma and the restriction of the priesthood to men and priestly duties with regard to hearing confession are behind the condemnation of homosexual acts.
*****It was a great thing for my childhood stomping ground, Atlanta, but then look at Calgary - hard to predict.
******Blatantly stolen from the beginning of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

++ De divina is found in vol. 6 of Damian's Opera Omnia, if memory serves. It's definitely in the Opera Omnia but it might not be vol. 6.

16 October 2009

Feminist Quasi-Rant With a Cheerful Postlude

It has been easy for me to forget what a male dominated academic discipline philosophy is but I can't help noticing just now. Out of all my set texts for all of my seminars, none were written or edited by a woman. Only two out of the fourteen professors in the department are women. In my philosophy of science seminar, I am the only woman. In my further logic seminar, I am one of two women. In my political philosophy seminar, I am one of three women. In my moral philosophy seminar, I am one of five women. Each of these seminars has fifteen people, so in the one with the largest number of women, we still make up only one third of the group. All of this at a university where women outnumber men when the university population is considered in its entirety (53% female, 47% male).

Added to that, there is a man in his mid-forties in philosophy of science who has gone out of his way to tell me what seminars I should be taking instead of philosophy of science and further logic. Apparently, philosophy of science is so specialised and jargon laden that it will be too hard for me to join in and it does not seem to matter how many times I explain to him that I have yet to find any jargon I am not already familiar with in the reading and that I have a prior acquaintance with several of the set texts. I am a philosopher and therefore acquainted with philosophy. Philosophy of science is a subset of philosophy and I am, therefore, sufficiently qualified to study philosophy of science. It is not as though I am trying to teach it!

During undergrad, nine of the ten people in the philosophy department in my year were women, which is unusual but is what I am used to, so all this is a bit of a shock to the system. I don't want to be unfair to my new university: the professors for philosophy of science and further logic are very clearly supportive of my being in there and two very nice PhD students (one who is in phil of sci and logic with me, the other of whom is in phil of sci and public policy) have been very encouraging and supportive, so it is not as though I am suddenly staring down the establishment all alone. Nevertheless, it has all been rather jarring.

I am having a fabulous time though, spending hours each day talking about philosophy and art and politics, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. I thought that I would enjoy being here, I just never thought that I would be quite this happy quite this soon. No objections on my part to that. I didn't think I'd make friends this easily either but lo and behold, I have a party invite for tomorrow night and a date to see the Turner Prize show at the Tate. I don't know what's happened to my life but I like it.

11 October 2009

Happy Ordinary Sunday

My newsagent just asked me whether I was a poet. Apparently, he thinks I look like one. I think that this is one of the nicest mistakes anyone has ever made about me. I like the idea that someone could mistake me for a poet. Between that, finding a good neighborhood church and the weekend newspapers, I'm having one of the nicest days I've had since I got to London.

09 October 2009

Ah, the Joy of my Very Own Pay As You Go Mobile Broadband Stick-Thing


I am now the happy possessor of a flat of my own in east London, a travelcard, a phone, an NUS card, an interesting seminar schedule, various library cards, a minimally sufficient amount of furniture, and some new friends. Now I just need a bank account (actually harder to get than a visa, believe it or not: UKBA should take lessons) and an iron and I'll be all set.

And some sleep - I can't remember the last time I was this exhausted.

22 September 2009

Where Have I Been?

I've finally manage to drag myself, bag and baggage, to London by way of Baltimore, DC, New York and Atlanta - for visa, parents, visa and a wedding, respectively. Why did I end up traveling to two different cities in order to get my visa? Ask Gordon Brown about the UK government's recent improvements to the PBS visa system.

Anyhow, I am currently holed up in a very small room in a hostel whilst I flat hunt. I really, genuinely love flat hunting, so I would be in high heaven if I weren't so knocked out by the jet lag. I am very happy, though, and happier still because rents have dropped off so sharply since 2002, which was the last time I looked for a flat here.

However, until I find a flat, I am stuck paying Vodafone through the nose for internet access, so I am putting my blog on a formal hiatus for a few weeks. Wish me luck with finding a new home and the start of term!

31 August 2009


I'm at my parents' now and spent yesterday assembling and doing the wiring for their new stereo. (I am blessed with the shelf hanging, fixing of minor plumbing problems, wiring, picture hanging kinds of abilities). They have a new blue-ray disc player (my father gets very excited over these things - it didn't rub off on my sister nor I - we both keep our very small analogue televisions in our closets - they come out during election seasons and similar). The abbreviation for blue-ray disc players used in all the manuals and on the remotes is BD. Every time I look at it, I involuntarily read it as body dysmorphia.

30 August 2009

It's a bit boring to say but I'm afraid that I am just plain slipping. Lots of disorganised thinking, the parapetetics, avoiding and avoiding and avoiding. I am tempted to just put on my sturdiest pair of shoes and walk out into the woods with a shawl over my head, and keep walking until the shoes wear out and then be a decalcite friar, but female. Then if I'm going to be a mad person, I will at least be a religious mad person in the woods. Much more interesting than a mad person hiding from her parents because she feels like an unexploded land mine and makes only brief sorties when she feels able to prop up a rational facade or needs food.

Oh, the egotism.

I have been complete rubbish at replying to comments and I apologise. I will do better tomorrow.

26 August 2009

Life Right Now is Bland, Tasteless and Rather Squishy

After two days spent not changing out of my pajamas and/or leaving the house I have had to admit to myself that I am just plain depressed. I don't seem to have any motivation to do anything besides read and knit and I can't seem to make myself stay on top of all the fun governmental paperwork I'm trying to do.

It's hard to tell whether this is 'real' depression in the DSM sense. After all, that's supposed to go on for at least two weeks (yes) with a marked change in appetite (no) and change in sleep patterns (hard to say). The main criterion, in my mind, is whether or not it interferes with your daily life (I can't tell).

I can't tell because I don't have much of a daily life at the moment, not because I'm avoiding people or too panicky to go anywhere, but because all I have to do at the moment is move and work on my visa application. I don't have to be anywhere. There is no particular reason for me to get up at any specific time, nor to get dressed and it's hard for a schedule like that to be interfered with by anything. I do feel melancholy but I think that's more to do with breaking up my home than anything else.

Everything is flat right now and that is the case for me when I'm depressed; that complete lack of desire that makes it almost impossible to choose one thing over another even when there are no particular consequences (such as picking out a book to read).

Another possibility is that I am extremely bored. I rather hope that that's it. Usually, when the semester is over and I have sixteen weeks ahead of me with no requirement to do anything, go anywhere or see anyone, I feel a huge sense of relief. This year, I woke up on that first Monday morning and thought, dammit, I have nowhere to go and no one to see: I took that to indicate that I wasn't depressed.

Right now, I feel like I have some sort of interior dimming, a grey-out of desire and interest. I have plenty of time to do some work (e.g., write a post that has actual content instead of navel-gazing) but I don't seem to be able to summon the concentration or will to do so. And time keeps folding up in strange ways so that some days feel like weeks and some weeks feel like days and two hours will pass agonisingly slowly until I look at the clock and notice that it's three hours later than I thought.

I do hope it's just boredom. I suppose I'll find out soon, when term starts.

24 August 2009

In the Papers...

I was giving the headlines a once over this morning and this story about new job support for MH people in the UK caught my eye. I was left wondering exactly what they plan to put in place and wondering, thought not through the insufficiency of detail in the article itself, whether this is a genuine or a cosmetic effort. Has anybody heard anything more substantive about this?

The Other Side of Envy

I did tell myself in my strictest tone that I was to go to bed at 10.00, no arguments. It worked last night. Here I am, however, at 1.24am. I finally got really excited about going to London. I've spent a great deal of time with boxes and back pain this week. It's about forty minutes of packing, ten of whinging followed by three hours of sitting on the couch with the hot water bottle.

I have an ink stain on my couch, annoyingly: this is the price I pay for building nest on the couch out of blankets, pillows, my journal, several pens because I can never seem to find the same one twice, books of various kinds, both reference and fiction, my knitting and one or more shawls. I think I shall be quite content to be 65 and eccentric, once I get there. There used to be a cat and a pack of biscuits in there too but those have disappeared (and no, the disappearance of the biscuits was not an easy thing for me either). Somehow, the cap seems to have come off the pen - I only use ink pens for proper writing on paper - and somehow re-attached itself in the night for when I picked it up this morning, the cap was on but the pen was entirely empty and there was this big black mark. Time to get out the rubbing alcohol and old paper and rags. This has nothing to do with anything in particular so I shall return to the subject at hand...

...renewed enthusiasm. During all this knitting, pen covered, hot water bottle couch sitting, I have been watching movies set in London. I didn't start off doing that on purpose: I just picked one and then another one. Now I'm excited and my accent is doing that shifting thing that it does. We have an Oxbridgian Classics professor at the university and whenever I talk to her I get accent shift and then turn tongue-tied because I'm worried she'll think I'm making fun of her.

It's an odd, rather moth-eaten accent that I get living in England. It sounds British to Americans and American to Brits, although I do get the occasional confused inquiry as to whether I hail from Ireland or New Zealand. That mostly happens when I'm drunk. But it shifted enough today that when my sister called, she teased me about it.

She also told me she envied me a little. She hasn't been the only one to say that recently and it feels strange to me. Many of these statements come from people whom I envy. I tend to be envious of their ability to graduate from university in a normal amount of time and to hold down jobs and to settle down and get married and, in spots, enter into the property market. This has something to do with my impending 29th birthday, I'm quite sure, but a few (well, only one out of that list, to be quite honest - going to grad school has put paid to my worry over my ability to graduate with my BA, hold down a job, since I have a good reason not to for a whole year and I have no overwhelming desire to entangle myself with real estate for the time being) still hold. I only have intermittent envy over their mental boringness since I can see two sides to being mentally interesting.

I have spent the vast part of this summer longing for that one thing, as though I were a transplant from the earlier part of the 20th century. I would rather have that than an MSc, at the moment. I've had to sit myself down and, again in my sternest tones, tell myself that if I can't have it, at least a year in London and a good degree is an excellent consolation prize; and really, it is. Still, it's funny to see that while they have what I want, I have something that they want. Even my sister, whose life to me seems so well-run and complete and perfect of its kind and whom I would envy with an ill grace if she weren't such a lovely person and good, beloved sister to me.

I miss my cat. All this taking myself aside and giving my self stern talkings-to is a bit more to the side of madness than it was when he could be involved. Then it was more like being Alice through the looking glass. She had three: a cat and two kittens. Of course, things turned out rather more oddly for her than they have for me.

I find I'm on the other side and it's a strange place to be: it is strange to have something that can be envied, especially something for which I have had an incomplete desire all this unending summer. I don't know what to do with it, nor to think of it. The world has switched sides while I was otherwise occupied and I'm disoriented. That has happened fearfully often this summer but to elaborate would need another post.

Speaking of posts, this is no way to end one but I have been on an anaxiolytic-induced shambly rambling tropos all evening so I shall just give in. Did you know that in both Latin and Greek, fearfulness is such an important and prominent emotion that there are 'fear clauses' in the grammar? They are usually followed by the subjunctive, occasionally the optative in Greek (if I remember rightly - the optative is a verb mood so alien to English that I have always had a great deal of trouble distinguishing it from the subjunctive, not least because the conjugated verbs are spelt nearly exactly the same way) and even, in Greek, make use of a different negation word than most sentences. Now whenever I use 'fear' or 'fearfully' my subconscious shouts 'fear clause!' at me. I wonder whether, by virtue of lacking a formal fear clause, English is braver or just less realistic about human nature.

21 August 2009

Final Run-in With State Run Mental Health Services in North Carolina

For those of you who live in more civilised countries, let me first explain that in the US, state run mental health services are only for the uninsured and poor. In my home state, they were disastrously privatised in 2003 with more or less exactly the results one would expect.

I have been lucky that by pitching battle with them I have managed to stay under the care of a single psychiatrist for about a year and a half. He turned out to be a good one, which is more than I can say for some of his colleagues and co-workers. You can read, if you like, about one specific case worker I had who was worse than useless and more generally about the difficulties of engaging with these people. All of my readers in the UK may feel free to laugh at me but I am really looking forward to having access to the NHS next year. However bad it might be, and it doesn't sound idyllic, I have often found myself agog with envy at various descriptions even of being in hospital (they're allowed outside? they are allowed to go to the shops? they have crisis intervention teams? they have the option to see a therapist, even with a long waiting list?)

That short list of my own incredulity should give you some idea of what it's like here. Am I now a potential target for BNP anti-immigrant attacks for expressing an interest in the NHS? Or will they hold off because I'm white and English-speaking? Oh dear. I can't imagine, though, that anyone would wonder at it if they had to deal with the state of things in this country - or maybe I don't need to imagine it, just read the papers and see what the Republicans have been up to lately. It does seem to me that as I grow saner, the world has gone a bit farther off its rocker.

Anyhow, all I need do now is swing by there to pick up a copy of my chart (that will be interesting to see) to take with me and I'll be done! No more worrying that they will drop low need patients such as myself, no more worrying that the agency I'm currently enrolled with will go bankrupt (as happened last December - it took me six weeks and repeated phone calls that I would not have been able to make had I not been more or less well to get into a new one), no more worrying that I'll get a job only to have to pay for all this myself since most health insurance policies in the US don't cover mental health at all, or, if they do, have a lifetime limit that I would get through in about six months, a year at the outside.

I'm not going to miss this part of life in the US.

17 August 2009

The Grand Mentalisms Reference Project

The Grand Mentalisms Reference Project is something I have had in mind for a while. At the moment of starting, I am stuck in omphaloskepsitis (navel-gazing-itis) and I am glad to have thought of something to offer up that's more in tune with the original purpose of this blog.

I am asking all of you who read to save up and share any and all references you come across in literature, journalism, blogs, television, magazines, movies, day to day conversation, scholarly articles, academically dubious articles and sources: in short, anything that reflects a popular conception of the nature of mental illness and especially the perceived nature or character of those who are mentally interesting, negative or positive. I would also welcome more selective contributions from older (pre-1970) psychiatric and psychological texts.

My aim is to build up a database of popular references to mental illness so that, in true pragmatist philosophy mode, I can gain a fuller idea of what exists in the minds of the living, the influences that shapes these perceptions and the historical discursive context of current understandings of mental illness in the popular social dialectic. With this understanding, I hope to be better able to address mentalisms philosophically in a more relevant way.

If you're not sure whether a reference you have come across is relevant to this project, just go ahead and stick it up anyway. I need your help and I welcome and appreciate any and all contributions.

When posting a reference, please try to give sufficient citation in whatever form. Sufficient citation for anything in print would consist of the date of publication, author, publisher, page number and title. For blogs, as much as can be gathered of the publication citation plus a link would be great. For conversational references, date, time, local and a brief description of the relationship between the participants (e.g. psychiatrist to patient, parent to child who is mentally interesting) would be appreciated. Names and personal details are not requested or necessary. If you do not have all of the information requested, don't worry, just give as much as you are able.

I am particularly interested in anything that strikes you as a recurring conception and particularly interested in anything that strikes you as unusual.

With your help, I hope to make a useful contribution to political philosophy and, eventually, public policy for the greater good of the mentally interesting and the benefit of greater understanding to the non-mentally interesting. Thank you in advance and know that I will faithfully give due credit to any aid you can afford me in this project.

16 August 2009

Maria Assumpta Est In Coelum, Angeli Gaudent

I said goodbye to my church today. It was our patronal feast day and we started down on the street corner and carried St. Mary on her litter under the canopy back into the church. For the anthem we had Arcadelt's Ave Maria and then some of my favorite hymns, including 278 (Sing we of the joys of Mary). Our last choir director wrote a descant for it specially for our choir that is very fun to sing; lots of high notes.

During announcements, our rector made me come downstairs to be bid farewell and gave me a blessing for my studies next year, which was nice but embarrassing. On top of that, our choir director asked me to sing the prayers, which is also nice and embarrassing; I sing just fine to be a choir member but my voice isn't really strong enough for me to sing by myself, at least, not in front of people. I can never quite make it, breathwise, to the end of 'Father we pray for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world'. The other versicles are easier because they are shorter.

Anyhow, it is strange to be leaving Our Lady of the Holy Smokes, as it is nicknamed. I was confirmed there and have been going to church there for five and a half years - I've been there longer than the current rector, I've been a choir member longer than anyone else who is currently in the choir, longer than our current choir director and organist, longer than any of the other 'young people'. We broke ground today for the new parish hall - I'm glad I was there to see it - but I'm sorry that I won't be around to see what happens next.

When I first started going to Our Lady of the Holy Smokes, there were five people under the age of forty, an interim priest who was doing things he ought not to have been doing*, no children and a rather paltry community life. As of today, our congregation has increased from around 100 active members to 150, we have enough children of varying ages that we have child altar servers, around twenty young people, gay, straight, single and married, and the median age of the parish has dropped from 54 to 39.

All of this is nice and it has been wonderful to participate in the growth of the parish but I'm going to miss my church most because it is where I discovered the mystery that is Christianity. When my then roommate and good friend dragged me off to church with her one Sunday morning, I was entirely unprepared by my lukewarm Presbyterian upbringing for the beauty and holiness of the liturgy. I spent the entire service in anxiety; on the one hand, I was enchanted by everything that was going on, on the other hand, I didn't know what to make of the statues and procession and the singing of the Regina Caeli at the end of the service. It seemed to be a good that I was going to church but was I not then guilty of idolatry? Church attendance felt like an occasion of sin. But I couldn't keep myself away the next Sunday, nor the Sunday after that, despite my initial quandary.

Confirmation didn't make the impression on me that I had hoped for - it seems to have been one of those rituals of life that comes here too early, there too late, as Forster puts it - but I will never forget the awe of God's presence that overcame me the first time I went to Benediction, nor the solemnity of my first Holy Week (Presbyterians don't really do Holy Week, at least not in my experience).

A building does not make a church, but those four walls are especially dear to me for having housed so much revelation and love. I'm heartsore at leaving my congregation and all the friends I have therein. And the choir! Will I ever again have the chance to sing Palestrina and Arcadelt and Tallis and Clemens non Papa and de Victoria again? (I do suspect myself of making a false idol of the music sometimes, hopefully not being in choir will help me get past it although I doubt I would ever be able to make my peace with a guitar led mass).

More than anything else that has happened so far this summer, leaving my church is the one thing that has made me feel, rather than know, that this part of my life is over, whether I want it to be or not. I'm scared, both of what might happen and what I might miss. When I was still studying ballet very seriously, it was a comfort to me that wherever I went, ballet class would always follow the same structure and that no matter what country I was in, I would be able to follow what was going on. Now, the structure of the mass gives me the same comfort. Even when I have been to mass in a country whose language I do not speak, I have been able to follow (excepting the sermon, of course) and say the prayers and creed and sanctus and so on quietly in English or in Latin. That will always be there, both in a church and in my heart, and ever my strength and shield.

Okay. My prose is getting a little out of control, so I should probably stop.

Everything here is over now.


* He was trying to switch the church from being part of the Episcopal church to being part of the Anglican Church in America - much more conservative and against the wishes of most of the congregation but not necessarily those of the vestry, two of whom were very wealthy and tried to throw their influence around that way and who scared off all of the candidates for the new rector by pretending that their viewpoint was the majority viewpoint over a two year period before the bishop intervened, dissolved the search committee, froze the vestry and more or less appointed our current rector - happily, I had no idea this was going on at the time or I wouldn't still be there - for something that almost split the congregation and did drive many people away, there was very little gossip.


I keep trying to write a new post but I think I am too mired in quotidianity to write anything sensible. My critical faculties seem to have departed and so I cannot see anything about which to write. There is a distinct lack of significant form. Everything is a sort of mush. A greyish mush.

I'm back in urban Appalachia at the moment, trying to finish the packing. I have hurt my back, however, and have been lying on the couch with the hot water bottle all afternoon instead of getting anything done. I'm finding it very hard to keep still; there are too many anxiety provoking things to think about.

One thing that causes me great difficulty when I'm depressed is not being able to look forward to anything. I should be looking forward to grad school: it's something I have wanted and planned to do for almost five years. I don't seem to be able to muster much enthusiasm for it, nor for any other plan. This has bothered me not a little.

Then, last Sunday, I talked to my sister on the phone. She had just been to the beach, some friends of mine have just been to the beach, others have just gone camping. I have not had what I would consider a proper holiday in many years and I was shot through with discontent and envy on hearing that my sister had been out to the beach. I haven't done anything like that because I haven't been able to afford it or I couldn't get anyone to go with me or there wasn't time or I was too depressed or there was school; or, or, or.

However, I am now in a different position. I have a little money from graduation gifts, I have some time and I'm not depressed. After I get to London, I will have two weeks before term starts and I am going to take myself out to St. Ive's for a few days. I have found a B&B for L30 a night, the train ticket won't be too much if I book it in advance and it doesn't cost much to feed me. I'm going to have three days of walking and thinking and reading and looking at art and just being somewhere that isn't full of associations and sorrow where I won't have to talk to anyone if I don't want to. Three days of time entirely for myself.

This, I cannot wait to do. Of course, to do it, I will have to pack up my belongings, arrange my visa, move and so on. I am very glad to have found something to pin my thoughts on! Now if I could just get my back to stop hurting...

09 August 2009

Greetings From Our Nation's Capital

I am up in DC where it will be around 37C tomorrow (100ish F) and humid as only a city built on a drained swamp can be. What can they have been thinking? Philadelphia (the original capital) has much nicer weather, if you ask me.

So far, I have not done much but drag myself out on walks in the heat, ducked into the National Gallery for the sculpture garden, gotten gravel in my shoes and blisters marching around the National Mall and made thick clouds of smoke in the guest room where I sit and worry for most of the day. The pleasant side effect of all this worrying is that it has driven me to reading novels with a speed and concentration I thought I had lost years ago. I'm glad to find I can still read like that, with total absorption.

So far I have made it through 'Mariana' (Monica Dickens), 'Someone At a Distance' (Dorothy Whipple), 'No Fond Return of Love' (Barbara Pym), something else too light for me to name without embarrassment - snobby of me, I acknowledge - and most of 'Persuasion' (Jane Austen). Next in the pile is 'Cheerful Weather for the Wedding', which I bought on the strength of the fact that Virginia Woolf compared the author, Julia Strachey, to Katherine Mansfield.

I have been here four days.

Unfortunately, spending time with the parents has made me more muddled than less about what I ought to do with myself. They are very sweetly concerned about my health but with the result that I am more confused about what course I should follow in the immediate future. Between that and the long wait to hear about what funding I will have for next year, my anxiety, never very well moderated, is assuming operatic proportions. I wish, in my cowardice, that someone more competent could take over my life for the next few weeks, sort everything out and then hand it back over. However, I must do as E.M. Forster has recommended and face both the external and the internal situation bravely. I aim to do better than Lucy Honeychurch; I should like to do as well as Margaret Schlegel.

Tomorrow is church, which always makes me feel better. Sunday is my favorite day of the week. I do wish, though, that my mother's church's new organist would not play everything so slowly. I don't have the breath control to make whole notes (semibreves) last that long. 'Joy to the World' sounded like a dirge at Christmas midnight mass this last year and became slower and more grandiose with each verse. I was gasping by the end of it.

I never meant for this blog to become so personal but I cannot get my mind un-mired from from the Slough of Despond that has made up so much of this summer. We are past Midsummer Night now and it is a relief to think how soon it will be autumn, my favorite season, full of the smell of rotting leaves and gloomy skies.

02 August 2009

Logically, I Know That The Packing Fairy Will Arrive Because I Have To Get Out of Here Somehow

I'm waiting for the packing and moving fairy to show up. I said this to a friend of mine who, to his infinite credit, did not skip a beat in replying that as far as he knew, all the fairies were on strike. Apparently the laundry fairy had failed to show up at his house; I know that the paper writing fairy never left any pleasant surprises on my desktop at the end of the last semester (or any other semester, alas...) and another friend has told me that the lesson-planning and paper-grading fairies are long-term no-shows at her house. If the packing and moving fairy doesn't come to my aid, then I have no idea how I'll get out of here.

I'm really having one of those can't cope/won't cope kinds of months.

Just to point out how weird logic can be, here is a demonstration of modus tollens in action:

1) If the packing and moving fairy doesn't come to my aid, then I have no idea how I'll get out of here.

2) I do not have no idea how I will get out of here.

Therefore, the packing and moving fairy will not come to my aid.

And here is a modus ponens:

1) If the packing and moving fairy doesn't come to my aid, then I have no idea how I'll get out of here.

2) The packing and moving fairy did not come to my aid.

Therefore, I have no idea how I'll get out of here.

If I (a) can figure out how to get out of here, then I can know logically that the packing fairy will not come to my aid. If (b) the packing fairy does not come to my aid, then I will know logically that I will have no idea how to get out of here.

Statements such as these are the reason they invented modal logic.

31 July 2009

Don't Found a Church That Will Be Headed By Committee

Or do, perhaps. It seems still to be working for the Presbyterians.

I'm not sure if anyone who reads this has been paying attention to the state of the Anglican Church since the Episcopal Church in the US had General Convention recently but it is a sorry state of affairs. You can read about it here, our Presiding Bishop's letter is here, Rowan Williams' response is here and reflections from the Anglican communion institute are here.

Now, I have infinitely more patience with the Church trying to figure out what to do with non-heterosexual people than I do with the government (Barack Obama, what is the matter with you?) but I do not have much patience for wrongheaded arguments from anyone. My problem with the arguments coming out of Canterbury is that they frame the debate about opening ordination to non-celibate queer people and giving blessing on same-sex partnerships in terms of sex. It is not about sex, it is about love. Secondly, these arguments tend to implicitly assume that queer people exist outside of the community and are somehow intruding on the Church. This is not the case. Every single queer person on earth has parents, often siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends - they are not a discrete group of individuals but rooted deeply into society. To deny the full humanity of queer people affects not only any individual queer person, nor even merely those who fall into that category but also anyone who is a parent, child, relative or friend of someone who is queer.

Thirdly, to close up ranks by brandishing church tradition in the faces of those who want change and making threats of schism and rival communions is not Christian behavior. Nor, indeed, is doing so philosophically consistent with the origins of the Anglican church. To me, the great miracle of the Anglican church is that from its very beginning it managed to unite anti-monarchical Puritans with those who might have preferred to remain Catholic through having a single Book of Common Prayer. There is no clear reason, it seems to me, to think that it cannot hold us in communion now.

Blegh, such a frustrating mess. And all it will lead to is another report and then a conference and then an advisory and so on into darkness. It never will be resolved if the argument cannot be framed in proper terms because, until then, we will all be talking at cross purposes and waffling all the while. Nothing was ever solved by informal fallacies!

25 July 2009

This Post Has No Concluding Paragraph

Well, amici mei, I am feeling much better these days. I'm through the worst of the finding money for school, a form for this whole visa application process that I thought would be scary turned out not to be at all bad and will take me about five minutes to fill out and my personal life is no longer in tatters. Hurrah!

I know that this is going to sound obscure and specific simultaneously but I'm just going to say that I'm a lot happier having my third choice than my last choice with respect to my personal life. I don't know that it's really my third choice because I haven't actually undertaken a quantitative ranking but you get the idea. Things being what they are now, it is the best outcome anyone could expect, so I suppose it's my pragmatic first choice.

[I have tried three times now to write a concluding paragraph to this post but it has come out trite and/psycho-babbley each time. I give up! I'm just going to stop here and hope that my writing skills return to me for the next post...]

23 July 2009

John Donne Sonnets XIV

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend,
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearly'I love you,'and would be loved faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

20 July 2009

Logical Craft

Here are the fruits of my Victorian frailty. I took Kate's advice and made a sampler - not of a slogan, admittedly, but still something I can believe in. It made a very nice pair of afternoons - I sat out on my porch in the sunshine and our nice cool, 27C weather and had a pretend Victorian convalescence.

The sampler shows a formal way of writing a kind of logical operation known as modus tollens, followed by its proof by truth table. The embroidery is not quite finished; I'm going to sew in 'modus tollens' at the bottom but I made too many mistakes trying to write it out with the erasable fabric pen so I had to wash the fabric and let it dry before I could try again, but you get the main idea.

The little sideways horseshoe indicates a conditional statement and means 'if...then'. The tilda means 'not'. The three dots in the form of a triangle mean 'therefore'. So the top part reads '1. If P then Q; 2. not Q; therefore not P'. Then the truth table lines up all the possible truth values for the whole thing. In non-modal logic, statements can be only true or false but not both and not undertermined. Anyhow, it shows that a conditional is false when the antecedent (in this case P) is true and the consequent (in this case Q) is false.

So now I have my own embroidered version of a fundamental logical truth about the world. That makes me happy. I plan to make one for modus ponens next. Thanks, Kate, for the suggestion!

18 July 2009

Like Creeping Damp

As the day when I'll move to my parents and away from dear old urban Appalachia approaches I find that I am losing my mind. I wish I were saying that in the colloquial sense but I am not. Somehow, ending an important relationship, giving up my cat, the prospect of double moving (first to DC, then to London) and dealing with the federal student loan system has frayed my sanity around the edges. Fancy that.

It's rather disappointing. I've been doing so well. Now around 11am and 4pm every day, I find I have to stop whatever I'm doing and lie down for a bit. I'm not much of one for tears but I find myself weeping a little with the slightest provocation - like an emotional incontinence. I feel like a specimen of Victorian female frailty. Perhaps I should go somewhere for my nerves and take a rest-cure...

My mother is going to come down and give me a hand next week. I was hoping not to have to ask her and it worries me a little to ask her (after all, won't that make her secretly hate me?) but something has to give and I'd rather it not be my mind. I need the help. I keep saying out loud - to myself alone and not the cat, alas - 'Yes, if your mother comes to help you she will secretly hate you and take it out of you in other ways.' Put that way, it is risible. My mother never takes anything out on anyone, not even the mean-spirited, gossip-mongering faction of the hospitality committee at her church. If she can forbear them - I can't, it's not even my church and I still almost lost my temper with them - then she can easily bear with me.

It'll be all right once I get up to my parents. I'm just pretty thoroughly uncomfortable, for now.

14 July 2009

Radioland Visits Broadmoor

I am a regular listener to This American Life on the public radio here in the US. Their last show, titled Pro Se after the legal term for representing oneself in court, really caught my attention. The first long story in it is about a man, here given the pseudonym Tony, who faked mental illness to avoid prison for committing grievous bodily harm. He ended up in one of the highest security units at Broadmoor and has been there for twelve years.

The story goes into detail about the difficulty of shaking a psychiatric diagnosis, especially within the context of a psychiatric hospital. There was a well known study done about the 'stickiness' of psychiatric diagnoses back in the 70's; I can't remember who just now but there is a copy of it somewhere in my research folder and I will find it. The story also includes something new to me - perhaps I've been under a rock and this isn't news to anyone else - which is the Scientologists' campaign against psychiatry. Now that I know about it, I wonder whether that might be behind some of the comments I've seen.

Anyhow, I can't write a proper post about this just now because I am off to my parents' today and I won't have the necessary books with me to write what I want to about it. The reason I have gone ahead and put this up is that This American Life will let you download their shows for free for one week so I thought I'd give anyone interested the chance to do so. If you're reading this after Saturday, you can always listen to any of their shows for free by streaming.

"Brian says Tony's story demonstrates that no two psychiatrists can agree on anything and they basically just make it up as they go along. I think his story demonstrates that it is a huge mistake to screw with psychiatrists and you should be careful not to tell people you're crazy, because you might turn out to be way too convincing about it."

Tony's story is told by Jon Ronson.

13 July 2009

Memorial to My Cat - Further Evidence That I Am Indeed a Single Lesbian in Urban Appalachia

Tomorrow my cat goes off to his new home - in rural, rather than urban, Appalachia. He has been adopted by one of those classicist friends of mine. I know he shall be quite happy with her but I am going to miss him rather a lot. He is, after all, the best cat that ever was.

The cat is named after Vaslav Nijinski, a ballet dancer with the Ballets Russes in the early 20th century who was famous for his ability to jump and later went mad in Zurich. I saw him be born in a house 2 blocks away from my current apartment back in 2004 and I've had him at home since July 4, 2004. He's the only pet I have ever had apart from some very short term goldfish in elementary school.

Vaslav is an excellent catcher of bugs, which has been very useful since my across the hall neighbors moved away and their cockroach infestation tried to move over to my kitchen (keep in mind that these are Southern cockroaches - 1 to 2 inches long with big black wings that will chase you - not the measlier varieties that I have seen in more northern climes). He has successfully kept them at bay. He likes more than anything else to steal bits of lettuce out of my salads so he gets some as a treat for Sundays. His favorite thing to play with is bamboo stalks, preferably with the leaves still on. He plays fetch, too, with his toy mice and comes running up to the door when I come home. He watches me out of the window when I'm waiting at the bus stop, which is really very cute.

He sheds like nobody's business, though, and that's not so very cute.

He is only a pet, not a child or a friend or a loved one, but I'll still miss him. I just can't afford to bring him with me. I don't know how I'm going to be able to pretend that I'm not talking to myself without Vaslav around. He has been very patient with my ramblings over the years and truly a prince among cats.

10 July 2009

Goodbye House

Well, I've finally reached the point where my household is truly breaking up. I've taken three boxes of books out to sell, my kitchen is half empty and my desk is about to make its way to Knoxville. On Monday, my cat will go to his new home and on Tuesday I will be driving half of the things I plan to keep up to my parent's house. Nearly everything else in the house is promised to someone - oddly, no one seems to want any of my 'good' furniture, such as it is. (By good I mean the furniture that I have that did not come flat-packed). If I can't sell it, I will probably end up giving it to the arts non-profit that I volunteer for or donating it to Habitat for Humanity.

I'm going to miss this apartment. I've been really happy here. I've also been spoiled by its size. I've had, for two years, two enormous closets, a bedroom, a study, a good-sized sitting room, a large bathroom and a too-small kitchen all to myself. There are so many windows - six in the sitting room alone - and each of the rooms is painted a different color. I dread the thought of being forced back into living in a flat with magnolia-painted walls. All that white and blankness - it suits truly modern buildings but to my eye is rather dismal in a converted Victorian or Georgian terrace. Those buildings were not meant to have all-white interiors.

I think, though, that London will be sufficient compensation for living in a studio flat with white walls. Perhaps I'll finally do what I've often thought of and go to Brick Lane or Berwick Street and buy enough fabric to cover at least one of the walls.

But for now, who will help me pretend that I'm not talking to myself once my cat is gone?

08 July 2009

Final Fourth of July

I seem to have lost the thread that leads from one post to the next post but I feel pretty sure that if I just keep writing them, I'll find it again.

This last weekend was Independence Day for us former colonials. I hope that it will be my last one whilst living here - I don't plan to move back to the states after grad school; I didn't want to move back in the first place and I get on better with my parents when I live on a different continent. Anyhow, because I'm off to London and two of my friends are off to Oxbridge and my very lovely ex-girlfriend but one is off to Missouri, all for grad school, we all four got together to watch the city fireworks from my back porch and discuss moving issues, house hunting and the fear of failure.

We've been friends as a group for three and some years now. The two going off to Oxbridge just got married last week; she's a classicist and he's literature with a classics minor. My ex-girlfriend but one - really now just a very, very good friend - is also a classicist and is going to study some very offbeat and interesting things about the classical tradition and classical urbanisation patterns. The Oxbridge classicist is going to work primarily on Greek paleography - she promised to take me to see the Oxyrhynchus papyri and I am unendingly excited. We are all a bunch of happy dorky people headed off to the promised land of graduate study. We've spent a lot of time together as a group, especially when N (ex-girlfriend who will henceforth be abbreviated because this descriptive reference thing is too clunky to be accommodated further) and I were still dating.

The Oxbridgers have been well known for hosting parties named after grammatical constructions in Greek and Latin. (Did I mention that we are all dorks? Is it necessary even to mention that?) There is a certain kind of construction for descriptive paraphrasis called an Absolute, so there was the Ablative Absolute party, the Dative Absolute party, the Genetive Absolute...recently we found out that there is a rarely used Accusative Absolute but we haven't managed to have that one yet. It could still happen.

Oxbridge boy and N have been best friends for years, since before either I or Oxbridge girl knew either of them. But it was at the time of the first Ablative Absolute that the Oxbridge people began dating each other and that N and I first got to know each other. She and I started dating near the time of the Genetive Absolute. Then at the Oxbridge people's wedding last weekend, N was Oxbridge boy's best man, which led to a fun discussion between me and one of the professor's small daughter who never has been quite sure whether N was a boy or a girl, which N gets a big kick out of. She finally decided that N was the best girl-man, on account of being a girl but the wedding program saying man and because she was standing with all the other boys up front instead of the other girls. That child is going to be very comfortable with gender queerness when she's an adult - it's great and it'll be an advantage if she goes into classics.

I do have a point to all this anecdote and it is this: between last weekend at the wedding with all those people who know what the intervocalic sigma is and this weekend on my porch, I noticed that I have a lovely group of friends. They have all done what they could to help me over the past few weeks, especially N, and I don't feel abandoned and rejected as I often have at the end of a relationship. (N actually sat there and listened to all the gory details - she has always been an above average ex but that really goes above and beyond). It hasn't been just these three either; it's been my Georgia friends and my across the hall neighbors and the rector at my church and some of the professors and even some of the people and the rector at my mother's church who've helped me.

Two years ago, when I had just got out of hospital and had the worst and most acrimonious break-up ever of my life, all of these same people were my friends. But two years ago, I felt completely abandoned. The difference this time is that I'm well.

I never did like the idea of borderline personality disorder and I still don't, nor do I think that I actually have it. But I looked it up a month or so ago and read what seems to me to be the calmest description of it I have ever seen, though it could just be that I was calmer, and something caught my eye. The 'borderline' in the name refers to being in a state of borderline psychosis. That much makes sense to me. It would explain the deep disjunct between my experience then and my experience now. Two years ago, everything and everyone felt hostile; I couldn't let anyone help me, especially with moving, because then they'd find things out about me and use them against me and come to hate me secretly if they didn't already hate me secretly. Every thing that anyone said was full of too much meaning, as though all words and phrases were talismans too inscrutable to understand but suggestive of grave consequences from the heavens to the depths for any reply in word or by deed. I couldn't understand what anyone meant when they talked to me and I was tongue-tied by the need to load my words with the right meaning, convinced that I needed to strike on exactly the right phrase, like a spell or incantation, that would tell them what they were asking so that they would stop interrogating me like that. I would be happy to take the suggestion that all of this was the result of a state of borderline psychosis; in fact, that does explain it much better than bipolar disorder alone. There would be no moral content in saying that I had bipolar II with concomitant psychotic tendencies - it would be a bit scary sounding, but it wouldn't have any moral content. Borderline personality disorder does, however, have moral content; it's in the idea of a disordered personality, a disordered self, which implies culpability and carelessness.

I was so much more ill than I knew. It's only since I've been feeling better that I've been able to see how far from well I was and for so long. It has only been nine months since I began to feel well, and only five that I have felt really well and I still feel better every month compared to the last. I have no memory of ever feeling well before, at least not in a longer-term, continuous, dependable way. It is a new feeling. I remember having the same trouble with talismanic sentences when I was seven.

It has definitely taken too long to find an adequate treatment and/or diagnosis but in a lot of ways it doesn't matter anymore, now that I have one. It's too late to do anything about the past now, and though I do wish it had been different, it is different now. Much like finally getting the bachelor's degree: it bothered me no end that I hadn't finished yet and so many years had gone by but now I have it and it doesn't matter to me that I got it this year instead of last because I have it forever from now on.

It's the same with my friends. I wish I had been able to understand that they were trying to help me and that I had been better able to accept that help two years ago. But it's there now and I still need it now and I can accept it and understand it now. Thank God.

So instead of spending this Fourth of July alone watching the fireworks from my back porch, we had a proper party with moderate drunken carousing and barbecue and I made my little pecan deadlies and there was bourbon and beer. It was a proper Southern celebration and the last any of us will see for years. There was even an illegal fireworks show that some people let off in the parking lot of the church across the street, which was better than the licit, city-sponsored fireworks. This time next year, it'll be time to stand in line at the Texas Embassy, which is a restaurant in London that's the hotspot for all the American expats who aren't invited to the party at Winfield House - it's a little cheesy but I have had some bizarre discussions about American foreign policy there over the years with junior VP's of various corporations so I still look forward to going. I'll be taking the Oxbridge friends with me.