From ear to brain to heart.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
From ear to brain to heart.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
The blank face is what allows martial artists to recognize each other in public places. They are the ones who don’t flinch when the waiter drops a tray of glasses to the floor, who brush past creepy drunk people blocking the sidewalk as though they haven’t quite noticed them, who quietly step out of the way of that guy trying to punch them in the bar, causing him to fly head-first into the wall, who return to their beer as if nothing had happened.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Imagine how each learning style would help plan a surprise party for Sarah.Synthesizer: Let’s have a pirate theme for the party.Interactor: I’ll invite all of Sarah’s friends.Analyzer: If everyone pitches in $20 we can afford enough food and drinks for 30 people.Concluder: You all need to listen to me because you are doing this all wrong.
I know the title of this post totally scared the crap out of you, but don't worry, I am not done with Smythologies. What a relief! I have just been taking a break from things like this blog, my friends and loved ones, cleaning my apartment, while I concluded my novel revision. I'm happy to be back!
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The woman on the workout site looked like a porn star.
Yeah, I think she used to be in porn, my friend Marie told me. Marie was the one who had recommended the site to me. It was a great site, filled with high-intensity exercises that I started using as kickboxing warm-ups. Its creators were a husband and wife: Freddy, a shy Canadian who did the video recording and editing, and Zuzana, a petite, extremely muscular Czech woman whose surgically-enhanced breasts could barely be contained by her skimpy sports bras.
I have no problem—or perhaps not much of a problem—with breast implants. Several people I love very much have gotten implants to replace breasts lost to cancer, which I think is a great reason for cosmetic surgery. As for women who just wanted larger breasts, I consider their decision none of my business, but I do think most women look nice with the breasts they came with.
My standards for Zuzana were a bit higher than for most women, though. I felt uneasy taking workout advice—which is a form of health advice—from a woman who had risked elective surgery and the insertion of foreign objects under her skin in order to look like a Barbie doll. Once I found out that she was a former pornographic model, however, I could forgive her unhealthy decision, since it was a career choice made before her career was being a role model for health and fitness.
The site had a community of followers who would often send in pictures of their newly fit physiques. The comments under these pictures would gush with praise and support: You look so strong, so sexy! But underlying this support, I noticed an ideology that disturbed me: Exercise is for making you look good. And when it comes to looking good, leaner is always better.
This was especially true of Zuzana’s own standards for herself. In one video journal, entitled “Stress Makes Me Fat!” she complained about the weight she had gained over the past few weeks. I can’t stop eating cashews, she said, turning her palms upwards. I could eat two big handfuls of them. In the video, she is sitting cross-legged on the floor in a sport bra and hot pants, her late six-pack reduced to a four-pack by the unsightly flab covering her toned abdomen. I don’t know much about body-fat percentages, but if her old physique was somewhere around 0% body fat, she must have increased it to at least 2%. Watching this gaunt woman, it was easy to envision her shoving two entire handfuls of cashews—that must be at least twenty of them—into her ravenous maw. Of course you can’t stop eating cashews! YOU ARE STARVING TO DEATH!
A few members of the site commented on how ridiculous it was for a woman with the physique of Bruce Lee to call herself fat, how it set a bad example for the millions of regular people following the site. Zuzana’s husband lashed out at them: How dare you invalidate the very personal feelings Zuzana is sharing with you! Here she has gone out of her way to show that she is vulnerable and struggles with her weight just like everyone else, and all you can offer is criticism.
The commenters were on to something, though. Looking at the site, it was easy to imagine that Zuzana-style skinniness was the ultimate sign of strength and fitness. As an athlete, it was difficult not to be seduced by this ideal: This was as fit as one could possibly look. I often thought of Zuzana as stronger than me, but when I saw her use weights, I realized that I was probably at least as strong as her, just with a lot more body fat. Of course, if I were as lean as her, I would be completely flat-chested, which is not a trade-off I was interested in. But with her ginormous porn-star rack, Zuzana had all bases covered. It seemed to me like cheating: starve yourself down to no body fat and then insert artificial fat where desirable.
Soon after the “Stress Makes Me Fat” post, Zuzana and Freddy got divorced, finally clarifying what type of trauma had driven her to ingest twenty cashews. She left the site and reappeared a few months later on YouTube cooking healthy recipes. She had gained at least ten pounds, moving her from Bruce Lee’s weight class to perhaps that of an Oops-I-did-It-Again-Era Brittany Spears. All the comments praised her new appearance: She looks good fat, more than one commenter noted.
Freddy found a new girlfriend, Lisa, who became the site’s new host. She was rail-thin with rippling muscles, like Zuzana had been. But her breasts were smaller, a natural size for someone with no body fat. Her tomboyish figure looked cute in the little shorts and bras that were the site’s signature workout gear. She gave lots of advice about exercise, about motivation and positive attitude, about healthy eating and lifestyle. It only took her three months on the site before she checked herself into the hospital to get her new, fake boobs.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
During high school, my parents told me not to worry about my grades. “Take the most advanced classes you can,” my father said. “Colleges like to see that you’ve challenged yourself.”
I wanted to challenge myself, too. I took every honors and advanced placement course that would fit in my schedule: American history, calculus, chemistry, physics, music theory, English. They were hard classes, and I was a stress-case of a student, staying up all night to study, writing endless sheets of notes. It was miserable a lot of the time, but I loved taking the most rigorous possible schedule, testing myself to see if I could hack it.
At the beginning of my senior year, I met with our high school’s college-placement counselor, which was the recommended thing to do. She greeted my mother and I with a grim face as she opened the folder containing my files.
“Your grade point average is only 3.6,” was the first thing she said. “When colleges see that, they will wonder why your grades are so low compared to your standardized test scores.”
I was puzzled. A 3.6 meant roughly half A’s and half B’s, with a few more A’s. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I figured it was okay. The B’s were in my most difficult classes, math, science, classes in which maintaining a B had been hard work. Or sometimes they were in physical education, where I never suited up properly and usually snuck out halfway through class. I wasn’t exactly a model student, sure, but in my academic classes at least, you couldn’t accuse me of not working.
“It’s fine if school isn’t your priority,” the counselor said. “I can respect that. But the colleges will think you’re not living up to your potential.”
School isn’t my priority? I was dumbfounded. Had she ever been in an AP calculus class? If school wasn’t your priority, “B” would not describe how things would go for you.
I knew the counselor was crazy, but her accusation still haunted me: Colleges will think you’re not living up to your potential. Each time I got a rejection letter from a college, it was easy to blame my mediocre GPA. “I guess you should have taken easier classes that you could get A’s in,” my father said, disappointed that I had not been accepted to any of the Ivy League schools that we couldn’t afford anyway. I did get interviews for some of those schools, and looking back, I think the problem was more likely my teenaged understanding of “professional attire” (the thrift-store sweater and skirt without the holes) or my professed (and short-lived) love for Camille Paglia’s book Sexual Personae. But at the time, I was sure my horrendous grades had held me back, indicators of laziness and indifference.
Once I set my sights on graduate school, I learned not to take any college class that I thought I couldn’t get an A in. I avoided history, science, foreign languages, knowing how bad I am at memorizing lots of little separate facts. English was my major, but I knew that I couldn’t get A’s in English classes if I took too many at once. I padded my schedule with courses in linguistics, a subject that suits my brain so perfectly that I could get an A+ without studying for any of the exams. Then I found that I could really impress my English professors by incorporating ideas from linguistics, which I understood far better than they did, into my English essays. It was a cheap trick, but it turned getting an A into a guarantee instead of a gamble.
I knew that the top English PhD programs would only accept students with very high GPAs, not necessarily straight-A’s only, but close. Often, in fits of anxiety, I would calculate my average by hand during a lecture, running different scenarios: if I were to get one B next semester, what would that do? What if I take one class pass/fail?
It makes me sad to think of having spent college this way, trying to construct a marketable transcript to sell to the highest bidder. Of course I learned an amazing amount there, but that learning was always tinged with terror, the desperate need to do well enough, the unacceptability of failure. I think of all the classes I might have taken if I wasn’t worried about my grades—history, science, languages—and how much I might have learned in those classes, even if it happened not to be A learning but B or even C learning.
Grading does some good things for students. It gives them something to aim for, shows them how they are doing in comparison with other students, affords a sense of accomplishment. But the bad thing it does is turn education, and the educated student, into a commodity. Students don’t generally strive to get good grades just for their own sense of self-worth (if you don’t believe me, check out a spring-semester senior transcript). Good grades are worth something, and they can buy advantages like a job or college admission.
My kung fu teacher often says that students are acquisitive about learning kung fu forms (choreographed routines). Instead of learning a few forms well, we want to learn as many as possible, more than we can possibly practice on a regular basis, so we can have more than everyone else. That’s also how grading students teaches them to be—acquisitive. They earn the grade, and they can stash that grade away like an arcade ticket until they have enough of them to win a prize.
Sometimes I wish I could teach my English students the way my kickboxing teachers have taught me. In a combined-levels class, everyone learns the same lessons again and again, until they aren’t even lessons anymore but parts of our own minds and bodies. Some students are naturals and they come in throwing an A roundhouse kick without any experience. Most students struggle to learn, and work harder in their first year than they will ever work again, harder than the experienced students whose bodies could do the moves as they sleep. A grade is a score relative to others, but in this class, it doesn’t matter how you are doing in relation to others; it matters that you are trying your hardest. If you aren’t trying your hardest, you won’t learn, which means you have wasted your time and money. That’s what I wish school could be about: earning knowledge, information, and ability, not a grade.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
“Galaxy Glue, Galaxy Glue,
Life would go to pieces without Galaxy Glue.”
—The Incredible Shrinking Woman
The hives popped up on my toe first, a perfect circle of blisters. You’re allergic to tape, my doctor friend told me, which made sense. The toe had a large cut on the bottom of it, making it uncomfortable to walk and more uncomfortable to kickbox. I’d been taping it every day, with athletic tape, with band-aids, with scotch tape wrapped around the band-aids to hold them in place. Now my body was rebelling against the mystery adhesives I’d been casually strapping against my skin as though I had any idea what they were made of and whether it was bad for me.
I was relieved to hear it was an allergy. Easy, just stop taping it, I told myself. But avoiding tape didn’t seem to help. The hives spread, first to my hands, which they covered entirely so that I looked like I’d been burned. Then all over both of my feet. They were creeping up to my knees and elbows by the time I went to the doctor, who beat them back with two rounds of strong steroid pills.
Make a list of things you have been in contact with during the last forty-eight hours, the medical websites told me. Medicines, clothing, pets, foods. I remember Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, the housewife steeped in a cocktail of household chemical products—who could say which had caused her body to shrink away into nothing?
“It’s spreading internally,” the allergist told me. “And once your system is sensitized, anything will set it off. It’s like your body is set on a hair trigger.” And so anything did set it off: detergents, wool, leather, anything scratchy, the friction of a jujitsu gi against my hands. I became one of those allergic people who is scared of everything, who feels like the world is attacking her, though really it’s her own body that is staging the attack.
On good days, the hives lie low, waiting but not acting. They’re like the physical version of panic attacks—always there, threatening to flare up at any moment and ruin everything. Once my skin gets dry, I can feel them hiding on the palms of my hands, agitated little pores looking for a fight. And if I rub them the wrong way, if I touch something they don’t like, they jump to attention, rising up, daring me, just daring me to scratch them.
Scratching them is the worst thing you can do. That’s what allows them to reproduce, sending their little hivey spores through your entire body. Scratching the bumps on my feet will instantly raise the ones on my hands, the chemicals moving through my body at a speed that seems completely disconnected from anything I’ve ever learned about a bloodstream.
Once you start scratching them it’s impossible to stop—or rather, you don’t care if you stop, you don’t want to stop, because the scratching is like heroin and you don’t care who you have to rob or kill to get more. It’s that kind of itch that makes you remember why itch is a euphemism for horniness. Scratching it the best feeling in the world and horrible burning pain all at the same time.
One good thing I’ve learned about hives is that they can kill you, which makes it really easy to get a doctor’s appointment. Every time I told the appointment nurse what was wrong, her first question was, Is your throat swelling shut? Are you having trouble breathing? I learned to cut her off to save time.
“What is this appointment for?”
“I have hives.”
“Okay, ma’am, I need to ask you…”
“My throat isn’t swelling. I’m not having trouble breathing.”
“Contact dermatitis is serious stuff,” my doctor told me, shaking her head in sympathy over my mangled hands. “You need some pretty aggressive treatment to stop it.”
I wondered what would happen to me if I didn’t have medicine. Would I die of a something as seemingly benign as a skin rash? Or just live the rest of my life looking ever more like Freddy Krueger? What did people do hundreds of years ago, before they had steroids and cortisone? The answer of course, is that they mostly didn’t need them, because they didn’t go around strapping laboratory chemicals against their skin as though they had any idea what they were made from and whether it was bad for them. But when they did need laboratory chemicals, when the chemicals were the only thing that could save them from a deathly allergic reaction, they were out of luck.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I know a woman who had it for six weeks.
Six weeks! It could happen
To anyone, ripped as if by cancer and broken bones
From life and normal things. We pretend to be immune but,
Like cancer and broken bones, it calls us all in time.
Each day she rode the train from Livermore
To Oakland, my home. For her, it was going somewhere
She would not normally go. Quarantined in the county seat, she
And eleven of her peers called a man a murderer
Then went for beers. So it turns out
Their shared trial formed a bond, and they remain
Best friends to this day. Talk about
A positive attitude. "It could happen
To you," she says. But we all know,
Just like there's no such thing as true love
Or true justice or learning from suffering,
It wouldn't happen to you.
Like reasonable people, I live in terror
Of my summons. I always defer
To the twenty-third of December, which is not
A holiday. If you must come for me,
O Judge, come then. I'll be waiting, limbs
Stretched, bones ready for breaking.