[Blank]

It feels like writing is all I have left, but at the same time, I don’t know what to write anymore. I haven’t properly expressed myself in so long. It’s been quite a year.

The experience of studying abroad was not what I had expected, yet looking back, I wonder what kind of experience I had expected in the first place. Knowing myself, the fact that I am only able to select a few concrete moments out of the blur that has characterized the last five months should come as no surprise. But I do think this experience was necessary. If anything, I’ve learned a lot more by needlessly pushing myself to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion in solitude overseas than I would have, had I not decided to leave. It’s taught me that I really know nothing. And that my priorities are entirely out of whack.

I think I’ve struggled a lot, trying to determine what kind of person I am. [A fruitless struggle, obviously.] I think on some level, everyone wants to think of themselves as special, significant, but most of us are merely ordinary, and it’s hard not to have qualms about that. Obviously we have some impact on the lives of those around us, even if only in passing, but if a select few are able to achieve recognition then we’re forced to grapple with our own insignificance within this larger network of happenings. Yet at the same time, in no way can anyone’s existence be insignificant, as the coming together of all these lives makes for organic encounters that would not be possible outside of the precise circumstances of their unfolding, and one’s existence (living, breathing) is integral to that process. But with that in mind, it’s hard to determine what to make of “life” in general. It’s so short, really. And while no one’s experience is the same and it’s susceptible to innumerable changes, you have to work with the cards you’re dealt, to some degree. If we’re insignificant beyond a limited network of interactions, is there any point in living for anyone but the self? Perhaps not, but sometimes it’s hard to do otherwise. Being able to contemplate life from a distanced perspective is one gifted to those who are able to live, not to those who must survive.

Some people may argue that I’ve wasted my time here. Now that we’re nearing the end, I’m forced to reckon with that fact. I did little to venture outside of myself, but that is not necessarily a flaw. Due to my penchant for introspection it’s what was likely to happen, and I think it’s useful for it to have happened now, when I can afford to dawdle and think aimlessly about stupid things, with no real purpose and no honest responsibilities. Being a student has its luxuries.

The health complications I developed due to my reckless lack of self-care while overseas have also forced me to confront the fact that I am afraid of death, and that I take a lot for granted. I had always believed that upon acknowledging that death was inevitable, and holding it with me, I would be prepared should it come, even unexpectedly. What a load of shit. In the moment, when confronted with the unknown, I was terrified.

52-Book Challenge

I think I’d like to try and complete this challenge in 2019. Last year I managed about 25 books, but I honestly felt that – seeing as reading is one of my only hobbies – I should have made more time for myself. Time spent doing something I truly enjoy. It’s hard to read for pleasure when you have to read approx. 400 pages of research every week for your courses, but I think ultimately it’s about weighing the importance of one over the other. Obviously I don’t intend to fall too behind in my coursework, but if I do have to sacrifice some time devoted to school for the sake of my own mental well-being and satisfaction, missing out on a close-reading (as opposed to a skim) of papers for class that I probably wouldn’t have remembered anyway seems fair.

I’m not going to hold myself strictly to the number fifty-two, but that’s the ultimate goal, I guess. If it becomes too much to juggle, so be it. (And if some of those books end up being rather short, that’s ok, too.) Also, incidentally, if I have to read a novel in its entirety for a course I’m going to include it as part of this challenge as well, seeing as it’s still a complete body of work.

So far this year, I’ve read three. I think what I’ll do is write up a list of those I’ve read and those I intend to read, and update as I progress throughout the weeks.

Right now, this is where we stand: 14/52.

Continue reading “52-Book Challenge”

Anthropology 412: Collu

It’s hard to say how much of what I’ve learned in post-secondary education thus far might actually be applicable to my life. I know a liberal arts degree isn’t exactly where students fall if they’re “career-oriented”, which explains part of the irrelevance, but I think the objective of education should be to teach thought…and I feel like that objective hasn’t been met for me in any class but one. It’s strange to think that without that seminar, I might not have taken anything of value from my experience at university other than the “experience” itself, and I’m forever indebted to my professor in that regard. I’m not sure he realizes how much of an impact his unconventional teaching methods make on the contemporary student. If he does, he’s not cocky enough about it.

He taught me a big lesson when it came to evaluations, too. No matter how frequently I had a breakdown while writing one of his papers – because I desperately did not want to let him down with a trashy, surface piece – I always ended up getting a higher grade on essays I thought were absolute shit, and doing worse on the ones I thought would meet his expectations. Go figure. (The opposite, naturally, applied to my other courses.)

That course taught me to re-examine my life, my desires, and who I’d become as a human being – as a student, a lover, a friend, and a daughter (and whatever other labels might apply at present). It showed me that as long as you’re able to recognize whatever is controlling you, shaping your actions and thoughts – it’s that recognition that gives you the power to change something. Not that we can necessarily master what controls us, nor free ourselves from its oppression, but within these relations, acknowledging what’s taking place opens up so many possibilities for action that change the way we’re affected. It’s getting the hang of such recognition that’s the hard part.

A Brief Escape

Waking up early in the countryside is arguably one of the nicest feelings in the world.

Sitting outside, feeling the breeze, but with the sun not fully out yet…listening to the sounds of the birds, animals, and trees rustling in the wind…I can’t imagine anyone that wouldn’t find this calming. It certainly helps one do a bit of a mental reset.

It just reminds me that I need to spend more time in nature, I feel the happiest and the least anxious here. And also to check my priorities…

Discrepancies Between Speech & Thought

Feeling a disconnect between thoughts and speech is probably one of the most frustrating things I’ve experienced over the past year or two of personal growth. It often feels like I’m battling between what I should say and what I want to say, while fully acknowledging that what slips out isn’t what I truly believe, but riding it anyway. The problem is that it’s become so habitual to choose normalcy over honesty in my life that even if I consciously make the distinction between my actual thoughts on a topic and an appropriate response, I almost always choose the “appropriate response” for the sake of two things: avoiding confrontation/self-justification, and simplicity.

In its earlier stages, this habit became so pervasive throughout my daily life that I often couldn’t even consolidate my thoughts on a topic if asked. This still pertains to some areas of knowledge, but my people-pleasing behaviour urged me to seek out another’s opinion upon which to base my own, in order to facilitate smooth interactions in social situations that made me feel uncomfortable. I’ve certainly come a long way since then, but it’s still difficult for me to, let’s say, “stand my ground” if my actual opinion differs from that of someone I am either trying to please, or remain close to. I think a lot of it boils down to the fact that I don’t have the confidence to justify my own beliefs. Maybe it’s because I feel ill-informed, because I have a much more difficult time articulating thoughts in speech rather than in writing, or purely because I tend to avoid conflict at all costs…either way, silence is harmful, and choosing what is “right” over what is “true” doesn’t come without repercussions, both socially and mentally.

The Self/Other Divide

In lecture today one of my colleagues started a debate that we didn’t get the chance to finish, and I wanted to try and work through my own thoughts on the subject.

Her general question was whether or not it was possible to move away from the binary of self-other, within the context of Anthropology or otherwise. She believed that it was naïve of the scholars we’ve read to even consider that another perspective exists. She also questioned whether this relationship of “self” to “other” implies a natural hierarchy or relationship of relative power, merely through the instantiation of this divide.

Treating the first question, I’m not sure if she sought to generalize, implying that nowhere in this world can a human being conceive of an independent self, without putting themselves in a position of privilege relative to those around them, but I certainly think that this phenomenon – even the phenomena of binaries themselves – is characterized by a Western ideological framework. This notion of binaries is a systemic divide that goes back to the influence of Descartes’ mind-body split, or perhaps even further, so by no means should cultures that are absent of Western philosophical influence follow the same logic. Perhaps if we could break away from this perspective we could reevaluate the self-other binary – and perhaps in doing so there would be no place left for Anthropology, if it was created to occupy, in Trouillot’s terms, the Savage Slot, merely as a product of colonial interests and a Western exoticization of anything beyond its self-imposed borders.

Surely there are cultures that have a more holistic approach to the self. Is this idealistic? Obviously our perspective is going to be perpetually skewed, since we are really only able to see the truth from within our own minds/social contexts, but I think this hyper-awareness of individuality is only established and reinforced here in the West – or at the very least, in the First World. We’re taught to look at ourselves as independent subjects of will, with agency, self-discipline…we need to see ourselves this way in order to be productive members of a capitalist society. All of the institutions that make up the foundation of the First World are dependent on this characterization. As such, I don’t think the kind of “self” we are treating here even existed prior to, say, the 18th or 19th century and the inception of such isms.

To sort of “bite back” at my colleague’s statement in a different way, I think it’s naïve to assume that this logic of binaries is universal. Perhaps the “culture” of the West has tainted the various “cultures” of the world – so much so that none were spared the influence of capitalism or colonialism (two of the structures that necessarily support a binary existence) even slightly – but I don’t believe, by any means, that it is natural for us to think within the logic of binaries, least of all the self-other divide. Why should binaries be inevitable cross-culturally if they are merely a Western construct that just…stuck?

Moving onto the second question, even if we consider it only within the context of the West, I don’t think the relationship of “self” to “other” necessitates a power divide, biased in favour of the individual. Although I do acknowledge that throughout history this relationship has been riddled with uneven power dynamics, and that this doubtlessly has an impact on our use of these terms in the 21st century, if we look at it from the perspective of a single person rather than a larger, abstract societal unit like the “West vs. Rest” trope, does thinking about yourself as an individual naturally urge you to place yourself in a position of power relative to others? I don’t understand how it’s possible to make such a vast generalization. Sure, the concept of the individual “self” that we’ve adopted is rooted in a position of privilege, but I don’t agree that using the term “self” places one in a natural position of power or hierarchy. Perhaps it’s the terminology I don’t agree with. I don’t know.

I don’t think this helped…at all. Eh, well. Just an idea.

Stasis

I’d say that this period of my life could be characterized by feelings of stasis in the midst of change – if that’s not too paradoxical for you. Even though things are steadily changing around me, at times it feels like I’m not moving forward. It often feels like I’m just standing at the sidelines, watching everyone else progress and attract exciting opportunities whilst I sort of dawdle and remain stagnant in the background. Perhaps it’s because we have different priorities. Or perhaps it’s simply because I’m not the sort of person to make reckless decisions. Or perhaps it’s something else entirely. All I know is that it produces frequent cycles of anxiety and contentment that I am tired of experiencing.

Sometimes I’m happy with where I’m at. I can reassure myself that things will work out, and that everyone’s path is different. And then sometimes I feel this crippling anxiety. I worry that I’m not doing enough (what ever “enough” is supposed to be), that opportunities will never present themselves to me, and that I ultimately won’t succeed at whatever I’m striving for, down the line. This anxiety bubble produces useless, cyclical “what if” thinking that I usually just need to talk myself out of, but whenever it returns it’s still deeply frustrating.