Tag Archives: Life

Learning As I Go…

It all began with a simple “Yes” I typed in response to an email from the chair of the Philosophy Department.

I was in the throes of massive coffee consumption, grading exams, and preparing to give a talk at a conference in Chicago, and so, I admit, I didn’t entirely grasp what I was saying “Yes” to.

It turns out, I had agreed to take on another professor’s class: Philosophy of Sex. Well, okay then. I requested the same textbook to be ordered for the syllabus. No, I hadn’t read it.

My background is in Existentialism and Moral Theory. My course load is comprised of classes in that framework. To say Philosophy of Sex was outside of my comfort zone and area of expertise would be woefully understated.

Including my graduate years, I’ve been teaching for about…never mind. Let’s just say Friends was still running and we were in suspense about Ross and Rachel.

In all of my years of teaching I’ve entered the classroom with the echo of something my high school math teacher once stated: “It’s my job to make sure you know more when you leave this room than when you entered.” I’ve held myself to this standard every day I am with my students.

Until…

Taking on this Philosophy of Sex course had me stumbling, blushing, and a type of tired no amount of caffeine could fix. Some topics covered in the textbook were things I had no desire to discuss, like defining the language/terms of sex as opposed to oral sex, are there sexual duties, sodomy laws, BDSM, and all things Freud, like penis envy (that absurd-only-a-man-would-think-that-idea).

I finished every class with a heavy heart as I walked to my car feeling that I hadn’t ensured my students an education or, as my math teacher had put it, knowing more when they exited my classroom. And, for the first time, a student left a scathing review of me online calling me “awful.” I know I shouldn’t have cared about that, but I did.

I was literally going over the chapters of the textbook at the same pace as the students, coming into class to discuss what we’d all just read for the first time. It was a humbling experience, and one that reminded me of a truth I’ve always known but only felt now in a profound way; namely, to teach, in part, is to embrace also being a student. That is, teaching does not the mark the end of one’s education, it’s couched in the continuing process of it.

Fortunately, I recruited my friend, the fabulous writer Stephen Elliott, to give a guest lecture on his piece from The New York Times “Three Men and a Woman.” Class lecture on kink covered!

I also managed to get the incredibly interesting writer Antonia Crane (author of Spent: A Memoir) to speak on the politics of sex work. She was engaging and brought a great energy to the class (for which I am oh so grateful!).  I got to be present, take a seat, and learn right along with my students.

It is with little irony that throughout the academic term I was also starting a writing project, a book all about the dynamics of teaching. I’ve been toiling with an outline framing the various angles of what teaching means and how we learn. For this project I’ve been conducting interviews to include in this book.

So, for the last few weeks I’ve either been in the classroom wondering how to manage actual teaching conundrums or running about meeting people to gather their wisdom on teaching. I’ve kept coffee shops around me in business.

With every meeting, much to my delight, I was reminded of how to view my own plight in teaching a class I found challenging.

Here are some nuggets of wisdom from my interviews:

I traveled to Chicago to meet with two of my friends from grad school, Dan Hutmacher and Dr. Drew Dalton. Both are brilliant and my meetings with them not only gave me food for thought, but had the added bonus of transporting me to memories of our grad school days in Leuven. Dan has undergone quite a journey from academic studies, to the corporate world, to recovering with and dealing with Crohn’s. He’s devoted much time to teaching others about this disease. He told me he’d been teased in the corporate world for spending his studies in Philosophy. But, he said, when your body is trying to kill you and you’re in the hospital, philosophy is what saves you. He reminisced on the writings of Levinas. After much surgery and recovery, he’s devoted time to creating a blog teaching others about Crohn’s.

Drew spoke much about his love of being in the classroom as we walked all over downtown Chicago.  In the throes of conversation he’d point to this place and that offering a brief history.  He’s Yelp personified.  He proposed that the subject “philosophy of teaching” be inverted to “teaching as an act of philosophy.” He said, “In the classroom that’s where philosophy is happening.”

At a café in Atwater Village I met my friend Chris McKenna, a charming actor with an infectious smile. Seriously, one can’t help but smile around him. Or look up. He’s six foot three. I asked him how he continues to learn his craft. He told me he reviews his performances, studies them, and thinks of how to improve. In other words, Chris learns, in part, by self-reflection and a desire to be better.

In my hometown Pasadena, my friend Patil, a teacher at an Armenian high school, smiled as we spoke over coffee when she talked about her love for her students. She cares for them and invests in them. As a mother, she explained, I treat them how I’d want teachers to be for my daughters. This reminded me that teaching is not merely a job, it’s a relation to others.

One evening in Orange County, while enjoying sushi with my friend and roommate from college, Jennifer Arnoldt, I asked her what people should know about going into corporate America. She answered, that no one knows what they’re doing. But, she continued, you go to work and figure it out. Well, I certainly needed to hear that!

On Melrose in West Hollywood, and a bottle of wine into the interview, I asked my friend Mike Racanelli (a man of several creative feats: producing, writing, acting), what inspires you? He leaned back, folded his arms and said, that’s a good question. Thank you, I replied. Hmmm…what inspires me?, he halfway mumbled. Everyone I meet, he said. You’re welcome, I said. Mike clued me in on the importance of finding the interesting and the possibilities to flourish with every encounter.

At the Cal Poly Pomona campus café I chat with Professor Tom Keith about his work making documentaries and how he decided to make films. He gave a humble smile and admitted that his first film, Generation M, was a project he never expected to get any traction. Really? I asked. It’s insightful and I’ve shown it on more than one occasion to my classes. For him, it was a way to reach out with the medium a lot of students use. You have to meet them where they are, he said. He’s now working on his fifth film. His disposition regarding teaching is one where he respects how the students learn and not just approaching teaching as the way in which he wants to deliver the material.

And, at this point, I’ve reached the end of the academic term. It was with genuine surprise a few students in the Philosophy of Sex class told me they enjoyed the course. My heart warmed with the news. Because, in all honesty, it’s about them and I want for them to learn.

I knocked on the chair of the Philosophy Department’s door. I confessed that I wasn’t sure how the class went, that I fumbled through the lectures, and I may have made of mess of things. It’s okay, he said with a shrug. Want to do it again in the fall?

“Yes.”

 

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We are all Mika

Make no mistake, Trump’s vile tweets about Mika were not simply an attack on her but an attack on all women.  Once again, his method of defense (or “punching back”) carried the residue of an ill-conceived tired notion that woman’s character is tethered to her appearance.

I don’t know how any male members of the GOP who supported Trump can look to their wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters without a sense of embarrassment.

Mika pointed out the fact that Trump had created a Time Magazine cover with his image and displayed this at his resorts.  In other words, he embodied the very “fake news” he so willfully condemns. She’s also been highly critical of his policies and the manner in which he conducted himself on his trips with other heads of state.  This is her work as a professional.  Thinking, researching, reporting constitute the foundation of her participation in the world of politics; yet, Trump’s idea of a response focused (and falsely) on her face.

Trump’s attacks were in no way indicative of a man interested in policy or political discourse.  Instead, they were a reminder of the way in which he views women, as something to be mocked, a body to be observed, a thing a man can do whatever he wants with.

We were all Mika in Trump’s tweet.

We are all Mika in her reply:

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Make vs Invite

Don’t try to make someone think.

Invite them.

The beauty of ideas are meant to be shared.

Add wine.


Unlearning

Sometimes education is

a process of unlearning,

disrupting a foundation

and rebuilding anew

book by book.


I Feminist

I do not hate men.

I do not wish to eclipse the achievements of men.

 

I strive to become the best version of myself.

I delight in thinking, creating, and participating.

 

I refuse to give any credibility to the belief that the female body into which I was born is evidence of a diminished capacity to thrive.

I rebuke claims regarding what characteristics and wants I ought to embody because I am woman.

 

I will not apologize for my emotions as though they are a deficiency of character rather than a healthy expression of being.

I will not classify strength as merely an exertion of might.

 

I stand with women of all economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

I stand with men who know that love and care are more important than masculine posturing, a prescription weighing down authentic enjoyment.

 

I long for a society that values contributions of heart and mind in equal measure and respects existence as such instead of determining one’s role on the basis of body.

I long for the peace, the space, the dignity to inquire about the world, reflect, and unravel my potential without the damning cultural echo: “Just a girl.”

 

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On Harassment

Harassment has everything to do with the character of the perpetrator, not the person on the receiving end.  It is an action reeking of contempt and misplaced assumption about power.

How did Trump reply when asked if his daughter were to be in such a situation? “I would like to think she’d find another career or find another company if that was the case.”

To clarify, his son, Eric Trump added, “I think what he is saying is that Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman; she wouldn’t allow herself to be.”

Allow herself to be?

This struck a nerve with me, a nerve I’d buried and forgotten.  Until now.

On two occasions in my career I’ve been caught off guard by inappropriate and sexually suggestive behavior while at work.  Both times I was alone in my office.  Both times the person was of a higher rank and older.  Both times I was paralyzed with a running loop of ICan’tBelieveThisIsHappening racing in my mind.  Both times I was embarrassed.  Both times I walked away in a daze wondering how I’d pull off getting back to work.

I did not allow this behavior.  I’m about as flirtatious as a brick and my attire is a degree less conservative than a Mormon fundamentalist.  But even if I had the appeal of a Samantha Jones or Sofia Vergara, harassment could not possibly be justified or described as relevant to the person being harassed because it does not stem from them.  The action belongs to the perpetrator.

Harassment is uninvited.  In fact, that’s pretty much the central nature to harassment.

On a rational level I know that I did nothing wrong; nevertheless I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I left my office both times feeling shame and contemplating what I had done to make the men believe that was okay.  Now, after reading about Trump Inc’s position on the subject I see why.  I’m wrapped up in a culture where the woman’s actions and credibility are called into question as a matter of course.

Deep down, I absorbed the lie of victim-blaming.  And this is the unfortunate truth despite the fact that I know better, that I’m a Ph.D., a vocal feminist, and a proud Beauvoirian.

If you’re perplexed as to why I didn’t say anything, the only response I can offer: I was in a state of complete shock.

I imagine other women, all the unreported cases, have a similar narrative: alone, no witnesses, not another career to run to, a perpetrator with a higher standing.

Note: another career wouldn’t make sense for me because

1) I love my job

2) See number 1.

So, on behalf of any person who has been bullied, harassed, or belittled for gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and/or race, I’d like to say:

Fuck you, Trump and son, for suggesting we are not strong, powerful, or should look for another career.

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History

When you deny history

you are blind in the present.


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