Finally had a bit of a breakthrough on my dissertation proposal — hallelujah! Working now on getting a dissertation committee Chair, and figuring out all the astonishing amounts of paperwork that must be filed as well. Gah! The Chair is harder than it sounds — this person must be a professor at my school and should be familiar with the niche subject I'm interested in researching, in the niche field which is my corner of the Philosophy & Religion department. Another gah.

So this means I'm frequently kind of out of brain juice, so I'm taking this moment to try and help out a sister scholar who is doing some research for a personal project on menstruation. If you're willing to answer a few interesting questions regarding menstruation, would you head on over to her site and check it out, please? :)

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I have great friends. ;)

8 Sep 2014 In: Random, Year of 50 new things

My friends are a delight — which is a huge relief when I'm cranky due to being ill or tired! I'm very lucky they all still put up with me. ;)

One dear on-line friend of many years accepted my recent google+ contact request, then sent me a message: "You literally just gave me the ability to IM you at any moment. I can't fathom why you thought this was a good idea. It is all cat GIFs from here."

Another "face to face" friend is always good for fun commentary: "It's amazing how much sweet potatoes look like Jabba the Hutt." A pause to consider for a moment, then: "No wonder they're so bad tempered!"

The same friend some time after helping me move some things: "Of course I'm fine — I've got an ice pack down my pants!" He'd wrenched his back earlier. :)

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Grumpy mutterings

7 Sep 2014 In: Random

I hate being sick. Hatehatehate it with the fiery passion of coughing exhaustion coupled with the urge to rasp out: "just kill me now!" I really despise having no energy to even get out of bed… and I loathe having that groggy-foggy-headed case of the stupids. Memory check says: yes, I am smarter than this, dammit!

I had my tonsils removed when I was 5 or so – no biggie, as far as I remember. So why do the stupid things have to partially grow back, and then get infected now?! Swallowing should not feel like ground glass on the back of your throat!

To be fair – a mental state I consider highly overrated when I'm in pain – I should mention this is partly my own fault. A few nights of way too little sleep, coupled with enthusiastically overdoing it physically, coupled with not taking my vitamins for almost a week… and I'm not really surprised I'm ill. I'm not wild about my Trader Joes's Women's multivitamins, though – especially having to take five of them a day. Admittedly, they noticeably perk me up when I take them religiously, but I don't enjoy having to take them scattered throughout the day – I want to take them all at once and have it over with, you know? But if I do that, they make me nauseous. I'm totally open for suggestions on better vitamins to take, audience!

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As some who read my blog may know already, I'm currently struggling with the process of writing my dissertation proposal. Despite writing being one of the things I do best and most easily, and for various reasons that aren't important right now, I've had some nervous procrastination issues with writing this proposal. Thus my adviser suggested I take a moment and consider carefully: why do I want to write about the subject I've chosen for my dissertation? So I've been engaging in some self-reflection.

At about the same time I was thinking about this, a family member emailed me, talking about something she'd heard recently: that there is a need for all peoples — not just the indigenous — to de-colonize themselves. As I was dashing off a quick reply to her I was first distracted and slowed, then thoughtfully intrigued by a number of associated questions which occurred to me, which were all wound up with these issues. I realized my relative had indirectly asked me some very interesting and critical questions which (also indirectly but importantly) affect my attitudes about the work I'm engaged in currently — questions such as: how do I define feminism? Why am I a feminist — and a spiritual one, at that? What is Women's Spirituality? Why Women's Spirituality instead of mainstream religion, or even "mainstream" paganism?

Perhaps the easiest question for me to answer is what I think feminism is. I no longer believe feminism is the old "equality with men" argument — although I used to. Currently I agree with bell hooks' marvelously clear definition of feminism: "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression" (Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, p viii). The reason I agree with hooks, rather than still believing that feminism is the struggle of women to be equal to men, is because I understand that this old definition misses a trick. Consider what it means if feminism is indeed no more than a movement wherein women aspire to equality with men: doesn't that imply that being female or feminine is somehow… lacking?

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Being a student on a very tight budget, I am particularly fond of restaurants with cards that give you a free meal after a certain amount of purchases. My local Armadillo Willy's is very good about this, and I treated myself to a free lunch there today. As I finished ordering, a song I knew was playing on the speakers. I like singing, so I was singing quietly along with it while heading to a table; while doing so I passed a somewhat surprised-looking older woman. I smiled politely at her and got a startled smile in return, and continued singing as I seated myself.

Later in my meal, just before she was about to leave, she leaned over and politely informed me that she'd really enjoyed my little bit of singing. She found it so nice that someone still knew the words to "Sweet Emotion" by the Stones! I laughed and thanked her, and she smiled and departed.

I didn't have the heart to tell her that the version of Sweet Emotion we'd been listening to was sung by Aerosmith… ;) Read the rest of this entry »

My dissertation proposal research continues apace – sometimes stutteringly slowly, other times with a swiftness and surety which reassures me that I'm on the right path and doing the right thing. I need those moments, believe me!

This is one of those moments. I've just gotten off the phone with the CIIS librarian who's also gone through the same program I have: Women's Spirituality. She is such a marvelously helpful librarian! I had a class with her in my very first semester at CIIS, and she was tall, spare, short-haired, with a very direct way of meeting your eyes. Her voice over the phone is the same: firm and steady as she makes sure she's clearly and slowly explained something to you step by step, then checks for understanding. I feel rather as if I'm working with some Platonic ideal of the Librarian as perfectly conceptually suited to my needs! Best of all, when I had the nerdy squeal of glee at finally learning how to access tempting but previously inaccessible on-line research databases (I'm looking at you, JSTOR — you intellectual tease, you! ;-) ), she laughed and completely understood.

So, to record the wonderful information shared with me! I don't know if this is directly applicable if you're not attending CIIS also, but I suspect the basics will hold true – research librarian strikes me as one of those jobs you just don't get unless you love it, you know? So: always always always, the first step is to connect with your research librarian. Don't be shy, or embarrassed about what you want to research, or chagrined at not having reached out at the beginning of the semester, or believe you know it all already. There's always at least one new little trick that makes my life easier, every time I chat with a librarian. In fact, this time around my librarian's name, email, and phone numbers are in my cell phone database. I certainly hope I won't ever need to call for research assistance quite that precipitously, but that's not the point for me – the point is that I've spoken to her and know her now, she knows me and my subject, and I know how to reach her for any necessary follow-up – on her emphatic urging! — and that is very reassuring!

Next: when trying to find a particular book, article, or whatever, always try first to check it out from the CIIS library's on-line database. They have a simply enormous amount of access to on-line journals and databases! Articles can be received as PDFs or JPGs via email, or as physical scanned printouts via regular mail — though the latter sometimes have a cost attached. Also, from what I've seen, they are only B&W, and are sometimes extremely blurry. If I can, I shall always hold out for PDFs. I should also be sure to have the full citation information as well, since even if they don't have the article in question, the CIIS library has interlibrary loan available from its website. As a useful side-note, San Jose Public — my local library — also has an excellent website, including interlibrary loan. For books I shall go through them, since there's no shipping costs associated.

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There's an odd and disturbing trend I've noticed recently in my preferred form of brain candy; e.g.: smart female protagonists within the genre of urban fantasy. From what I can tell, when the author wishes to demonstrate via emotional shorthand just how repugnant a villainous group is, or needs to hastily add a bit of tension in the background for the protagonist… a generalized and sneering misogyny is added.

Invariably this is not a genteelly over-protective patronization, either – no, this is misogyny so pointlessly widespread, so two-dimensionally vile, as to be worthy of a group of mustachio-twirling Snidely Whiplashs. I find this disturbing because I do not like my social group becoming not only the accepted victim du jour in modern fiction of this type, but also the preferred group – rather like the Russians were in all the early James Bond movies.

I first noticed this "effect" in a movie, oddly enough: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Set in an alternate world in about 1900, where characters from our literary classics are real people, we see Mina Harker treated repeatedly like crap because she's a woman… but despite the world ostensibly being in the Victorian age, men of color are treated as peers of white men. What a great message: all men should have the right to treat women like dirty laundry! Read the rest of this entry »

Some years ago a friend asked me why I didn't like pulp — why, in fact, I pretty much loathed it.

It gets stuck in your teeth, and makes the orange juice too thick, I replied. Admittedly, I can now confess my sense of humor still needed work at that time. What can I say… I was younger then.

Haha, very funny; you know I mean pulp fiction, my friend said. Why do you despise the genre so?

At the time I simply said it was because there were no good action roles for women, and the fortuitous events which occurred to the protagonist went well beyond coincidence, instead being more a cruel destruction of one's suspension of disbelief. As an example of this stupidity (which, alas, was not unique), in the book I'd just read the protagonist just happened to arrive at the unpassable mountain pass on the one single day per year that it was even remotely passable. Further, upon learning that special suits would still be required to forge through the pass, the protagonist was delighted to discover just enough suits waiting there for he and his small group of companions — and look! What a coincidence — they all fit perfectly too!

Okay, my friend said, that does push the boundaries a bit. But was there anything else that was bothering me about pulp fiction?

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Blurred Millenium Falcon

A very blurred shot of the Millenium Falcon — as it flies by at warp speed… :)

In exchange for a huge honkin' load of electronics recycling, my household received four free tickets to the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation's current exhibit: "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination." So we invited a friend and went to see it last weekend. It will still be around until March 23rd, so catch it while you can if it interests you. Honestly, after wandering through the very nice series of displays, I'd have to conclude there wasn't really much in the way of science in Star Wars… but then that's not why we went to see the movies either. :)

There were several of the ship models there, which were fascinating to compare and contrast. Shape gave clues as to whose side each ship belonged to. Also, because the camera would be traveling quite close to the models in some cases, the detail on those was amazing. Interestingly, there was no correlation between model size in this world, and the comparable size of the ships in the movie world. For example, the Millennium Falcon's model was much larger than those of the triangular Imperial Star Destroyers — and was much more battered and weather-beaten in appearance… if you can call a space ship weather-beaten.

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Today has been an extremely fruitful day so far! Not only did I tremendously enjoy my first American Tribal System belly dancing class with a new teacher, but she's willing to barter with me for the training! That means I can actually take the class, thank goodness — especially considering my tightly budgeted finances as a doctoral student. Further, during the class I had a small mental revelation which explains a few things I'd wondered about for a while now. Any day where I have a fun, lightning-bolt mental moment is a good day!

I'd actually taken one ATS class years ago, which was quite interesting, but not as fun as this class. There were a couple of reasons why, which I realized after the class when I had a moment to think about it. For one, the class this time was smaller, which allowed for more personal attention and encouragement from the instructor. Unsurprisingly, I consequently also never felt lost or left behind — a big win! For another, I have no idea what quality of dancers the two instructors were… but without question, for a rank beginner like me, this teacher today was far more helpful, friendly, personable, encouraging, and… well, instructive.

As class was ending, the instructor said something which really clicked for me: she mentioned that she'd been an air force brat for a while, and thus knew what it felt like to be the new kid. That was why she made an effort to welcome newcomers and make sure they were comfortable: she understood how unpleasant it can be to be the outsider.

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Bestiaries depict mythical, moralizing animals, but are also potential allegorical sparks that can bloom into brilliant mental bonfires. My bestiary is this mythologizing animal's fascinated exploration of beauty & meaning in the wonder of existence -- in the hopes of inspiring yet more joyous flares of intellectual passion.

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Collie’s Bestiary