The unravelling

[Julie Morstad via Atelier]

I always struggle with what I'm trying to do in this space -- lately more than ever. I know that I'm creating a persona -- adopting the name of a fictional character is the obvious sign of that. And I worry about my writing, about my tendency toward adjectives, modifiers, beautifiers of prose -- I worry about things turning too purple.

But the greater anxiety centers on the reception of my words. I've always felt like an inhabitant of interstices -- of margins and gaps -- ill-defined spaces. I'm not an artist, not a writer, not a philosopher, not a teacher, and yet I wear all of those hats at some time or another. So, about what do I write? For whom? With what intention? Do I write to make friends or fans or admirers? I know I don't write to attack or provoke -- I'm far too cowardly in the face of anonymous opinions to do that. I don't write to impress or to inform -- mostly to share I guess, and to record, for myself, the currents and eddies of my mind.

And yet I leave things out, things that matter -- like my growing frustration with my own femininity. Two things prompted this and both came from Brian Leiter's philosophy blog. One was this comment on deciding between graduate schools:

The Sexual Predator Faculty: Are women treated as young philosophers and aspiring professionals, or do faculty regularly view them as a potential source for dates and sexual liaisons? It's a bit shocking to realize that this is still a live issue in some departments, but, sadly, it is. Are faculty-student sexual relations common in the department? What happens when the relations end? Are there repeated cases of sexual harassment complaints against faculty in the department? Do they ever result in discipline? I suppose it is possible this could be an issue for male students, but all the reports I've gotten over the years have been from women victimized by male faculty.

And then this article which Leiter's blog directed me to. The article concludes with the following statement:

Jenna Schaal-O’Connor, a 20-year-old sophomore who is majoring in cognitive science and linguistics, said philosophy had other perks. She said she found many male philosophy majors interesting and sensitive.

“That whole deep existential torment,” she said. “It’s good for getting girlfriends.”

I've never considered myself overly sensitive to the problems discussed by gender studies and feminist thought, but I know that I've been influenced and affected by them. I know that I make conscious and unconscious efforts to play up my height, my strength, my athleticism and my interest in typically male activities and topics. And I'm also wary and often apologetic for my typically feminine interests in sewing and crafts, fashion, cooking, etc.

And then there's the problem of my academic interests -- a young woman who aspires to study philosophy of art or aesthetics -- there are some days when I feel more like a cliche than anything else. I question my tendency to romanticize things, to go for the beautiful instead of the true. I wonder if I'm an amateur, a charlatan -- if I'm laughable. I'm overly-conscious of my youth and of the fact that I'm single -- perennially single. I'm younger than most of my students and all of my colleagues -- in all three of my jobs. And the longer I dwell on this the longer my list of anxieties grows.

I wonder what it is that could possible make things more certain -- or what it is that could make me more comfortable with my own mind. Maybe if I had even the slightest aptitude for math or logic -- maybe if I had been accepted to one of those prestigious PhD programs and weren't still waiting and holding on to ragged hopes -- maybe if I were better educated ... if I knew Latin, or Greek, or even German -- maybe if I were a man -- maybe if I were married -- maybe if I cared less ... about anything, everything, even something.

That goes on to absurdity and I'm left scattered and yet collected. Somehow, over the last four or five formative years I've at least learned how to ignore myself. I'll keep on reading -- snatching corners of time from my lunch hour, scribbling notes and names, planning grand research projects and constructing my ever-growing list of things to learn more about. And I'll keep on writing -- even if it's just to record and recollect.