Archive | September, 2012

FallenLeaf zine#1 – RISING STAR

27 Sep

I have created a zine to go with the blog – you can learn more about it on We Make Zines. I love punk DIY aesthetics, the riot grrrl movement, and zine culture, which is why I chose to make a small cut-and-paste zine that reads like a personal anarchist manifesto. I think that playfulness is an important part of zine making and blogs do not cover the tactile, material aspect of the creation process. It’s great to be able to make things without having to outsource the tools we use or the product that emerges from our efforts. If you would like to get a copy of RISING STAR, send me an email at foxandsnakezine(at)gmail(dot)com. Don’t expect a polished work of art: it’s all about gritty black and white photocopies and simple folded paper!

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Crazy Queers

20 Sep

According to the Bisexuality Report, bisexuals have poorer mental health than both hetero and gay/lesbian populations: “Of all the common sexual identity groups, bisexual people most frequently have mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, self harm and suicidality. This has been found both internationally and in the UK specifically, and has been linked to experiences of biphobia and bisexual invisibility.” When I think of the bis I know, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It looks like we’ve all been through some sort of therapy, or are currently undertaking treatment, or are badly in need of help (this is especially true for people who come to the group for the first time). I don’t think we’re queer because we’re crazy, nor that we’re crazy because we’re queer. I believe that we are queer AND crazy. It is true that when you sense that you do not belong, you are more likely to suffer, and we are often made to feel like outsiders, not only in society at large but also within the LBTIQ “community”. What is important though is that this creates opportunities for healing. I have already observed that process at the bi group, and in fact have been through it myself. Craziness and queerness may often go together, but they can also be disentangled together, and queerness can, in my view, ensure that healing – by which I do not imply getting rid of craziness, but learning to integrate it  more skillfuly – does not occur at the cost of individuality. Too often, therapy leads us towards conformity and forgetfullness. I became depressed as a teenager because there was too much pressure for me to conform to gender roles, religious prescriptions, and adults’ expectations… It is not therapy so much as queerness that eventually saved me from that, by allowing me to accept myself as I am so that I could just be.

Depression

14 Sep

I have already mentioned chronic disease and would like to say a few words about mental illness. I have recently discovered the Icarus Project, which is a brilliant website for those who aren’t afraid of “navigating the space between brilliance and madness”. They have many inspirational booklets available for download, including a guide on how to become med-free if you so wish. I really appreciate this couterpoint to medical culture, which invariably pathologizes mental illnesses and attempts to suppress them, often with minimal success and major side effects. Even psychotherapy, which is sometimes available without the support of drugs, tends to normalize the patient by first determining how and why they fail to fit in their environment and then encouraging them to adapt to social life in order to be integrated. In my experience, depression has been a painful but powerful sweeping force pushing me towards deep change. It takes time to become functional again, and even happy, but once you do you see things more clearly. And even when in the throes of panic attacks, paranoid spells, sleepless nights, or depressed states, there is something to the shift in perception, the blurred vision, which I find valuable. Should it be deemed “wrong” and dismissed, or carefully investigated, like some weird but compelling, uncharted territory? Human experience is something to be lived, not suppressed. I don’t want to become a well-adapted robot, I want to take my feelings, emotions, sensations and perceptions seriously, even when they appear scary. Isn’t there more to life than being a socially adequate person? Integrity comes at the cost of taming one’s shadows as well as one’s brilliance.

Academic freedom?

6 Sep

When I was a student at university, I idealized academe in spite of all the inconsistencies I saw. I believed that it was possible to be a free spirit within that institution and pursue vital, personal interests in a stimulating context of exchange. The idea that such a freedom exists is part of academia’s founding myths. Although it may look like tenure professors have the liberty to think and act freely, they can only be critical as long as they do not apply their ideas to the workplace, as long as they do not directly threaten the dominance hierarchy that constitutes the university. Jeff Schmidt says that “Academic freedom is given to those who will be least likely to use it”. You have it “to the extent that you can express views that your employer would not otherwise allow you to express”. But According to this definition, the few who dare challenge the institution stand out: “That’s what activists do: things that they weren’t hired to do”. Which is why some of them get fired.

The idealism I used to nurture also made me believe that I could sublimate my need for action by investing it into theory or that “ideas can change the world”. Rancourt points out that “truth and research are not threatening to power in a culture of subservience and obedience. In such a culture, radical-in-thought academics only stabilize the system by neutralizing the more action-minded youth”. In short, it is not enough to be a radical intellectual, you also need to engage in radical praxis. All too often, universities (as well as other institutions in my experience – when you’re lucky) promote discourse as a safe substitute for action. I have learned that I can express ideas if I lay them out in the appropriate format, carefully back them up with established sources, and cut myself off from the practical implications of the theories I develop. It seems that my credibility as a scholar depends on it. Now I increasingly wonder: is there a space for free thinkers? The more I examine the institution, the less I believe that university provides such an environment. Is academic freedom only a façade?

Substitute teaching

3 Sep

I am currently switching jobs, leaving a private school to become a substitute teacher at state shools. As a substitute teacher, it has been made very clear that I am expected to follow instructions without challenging them in any way. I’ve also been told that if, years from now, I decide to become a full teacher and prove to be competent enough for a school to hire me and keep me, I will have the right to start voicing my opinion and express disagreement. The way I see this is that by the time you have worked long enough and hard enough, you will be unwilling to lose the respect and influence you’ve gained. You’ve fought too hard to risk losing your job and, though you may voice your critical opinion, you are unlikely to act on it if the results are too confrontational. According to Paulo Freire, “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects”.

In my teaching job, not only am I alienated from my own inquiry and decision-making, but I must impose the same limitations on students. I have to spend our time following a method that many students consider boring, inefficient, and too easy (which is absolutely true). However, the fact that I must comply with the curriculum has been expressly stated to me by the school, and the rythm required to complete these mindless exercises leaves very little time for other endeavours. When a student told me that he would be willing to work if only the subject matter was more challenging and he knew he could learn something, I told him we had no choice but to work on this book, but I also said that we would do something different during the next lesson. This will be a small act of resistance: each week, I will prepare some extra-curricular activities and make them as participative and stimulating as possible. As things stand, although I secretly respect the ones who resist automatic obedience, the fact that the curriculum bores students forces me to be very authoritarian to maintain order in the classroom. This so-called professional attitude makes no sense to me since I want to be a radical teacher. Only, being a substitute teacher puts me at risk – I can be fired at any time and/or never hired again. I wish students resisted. I wish more established colleagues resisted. The real question is: how can I resist in the present circumstances, and how much do I risk for it?