“My chair told me I should start dressing more like a professor,” said the grandmaster of my martial arts dojeng. In addition to being an 8th dan in both hapkido and tae kwan do (“Only 7th in hapkido,” he corrected me, “but either one is a can of whoop ass”), he was also a full professor in the law faculty at the university and had written a couple of textbooks. His response to his department chair, “Well, I’m a professor, and this is the way I dress, so professors must dress this way.”
Let’s hear it for syllogisms.
We’re supposed to look a certain way (dress for the occasion) or act a certain way (your age, to name one). When I used to be heavily into academia and would talk about “performing the self,” I got a lot of eye-rolls. “That sounds like bullshit,” was the intimation. Academic gobbledigook.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of academic gobbledigook. A LOT. We are a veritable gobbledigook machine.
The idea of performing the self was sketched out by a Russian named Evreinoff and detailed by an American named Goffman (among others). We have an idea of who we are, and that idea is what we perform. If you’ve ever seen me in a suit, you’ve seen me out of my element. I don’t know how to wear a suit , and you can tell. I am comfortable in jeans and t-shirts with a Leatherman on my belt (for the record: Leatherman vs. Gerber, I don’t care). “People can change,” we hear, and are treated to a conversion story about how the person became someone else – typically a better person. Yes, people can change, but mostly we don’t. Because we rehearse our performances every day of our lives and changing requires a new directorial vision.
RadioLab (a show some folks hate, I grant – I’m not one of them) did a show (it might have been Who Am I?) I podcast while driving out to teach at a suburban university last year about personality. One of the stories was from a woman talking about her mother changed after a stroke, and a neuroscientist they spoke with said, roughly, “Yep, we’re all just a bump on the head away from being someone else.” I was listening to RadioLab again yesterday on my now daily 90 minute commute (it won’t last, I’m happy to say), Numbers, and how we, people, naturally think “logarithmically,” and we learn to count by integers only between 3 and 4, by which they meant, we can repeat the words that stand for numbers, but we only really learn what they mean by 3 or so.
One of the things that came up while I was in graduate school was “aphasia,” which is the process by which people lose language. Linguists interested in language acquisition look at the reverse process for insight, and it turns out that there is a generalized, actual reversal. The hardest sounds to make, for example, are theorized as the ones we learn last. The ones we learn last tend to be the ones we lose first.
I wonder how aphasia plays out with performing yourself. What parts of ourselves go away? To hear Hana talk about her, Lucka never lost anything of herself in her last days. Anthony, meanwhile, between the actual brain tumor and all of the meds he’s stuck on, has what his battery of doctors calls “low affect.” It’s not that his personality isn’t there, but he’s not showing it as much. When does a lack of practice mean a bad performance?
After one surgery a few years ago, Anthony woke up inviting people to call him Tony and interested in football. Neither of those things is “Anthony,” and neither of those things lasted. Where did they come from and where did they go?
For the record, the grandmaster of my martial arts school still occasionally wonders if everything he’s experiencing isn’t actually a delusion and if he’s still lying injured in the mud in Viet Nam.
I don’t really have a bright side. It’s what I’m looking for.
We’re having a grand old time watching the World Cup. We generally don’t choose a team until partway through the first half. We may be inclined to root for one team or another, but instances of diving (Italy, Portugal 2006, anyone?) or dirty play will turn us against a team we might be otherwise inclined to pull for. Serbia 2006 played mean. This year not so much – but our friend Nebi was up in arms against his countrymen when he discovered that they rolled up to the game in Hummers with rims. “That’s why we lost, you arrogant bastards!” And having Ghana win? Really, we were going to be happy with either team. We missed seeing Brazil over North Korea today, but were delighted to hear about the goal that made the game interesting. World Cup = good.
The animals continue to be ridiculous. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood watching a dog roll ecstatically around on the grass. Good. The cats engage in fights over who is dirtier. Clash-of-the-titans style wrestling has punctuated holds in which the cats grip one another in a lock, and clean the loser’s head, ear, neck, etc. ferociously. Rinse and repeat. Good.
We moved stuff down to the new apartment today and imagined where Things Would Go. New chapter = good.
We’re taking a couple of days to ourselves. Good.
I’m heading up to the Cities, from whence Anthony and I will do a video tour of places from high school and college. My goal is to have him laugh on tape with some frequency, even if it takes a little profanity every now and then. This will also be good.
There really isn’t a bright side, per se. It’s just that not everything is bad. Time to go google-image search kittens.