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?