Tags: anthropology

Books (carriage steps)

Things I Think About When I Should Be Writing

-Where did I put that page of notes on Victorian madness and insane asylums? REALLY. It's been days since I started looking for it.

-Is it necessary to point out random connections when I talk to people on the phone? "Hey, my name is Merrie, too!" or (today, on the phone with an ILL staff member at Northern Illinois University) "Do you know rarelylynne? Because I do!"

-Am I overdrying my skin by taking too hot showers, or is it okay because I used that stinky, oily body scrub from Aveda that was in my Christmas stocking?

-Don't put that stinky, oily body rub in your Christmas stocking next year.

-Possibly also, stuffing your own stocking isn't really that fun, but I don't want to miss out on the cool Sharpies I buy for everyone else. Conundrum!

-Here's a page of notes on what constitutes a "proper English education": dress, conversational subjects, musical instruments, singing, dancing, speaking French. Possibly also: needlework, the getting up of fine linen and ironing. In addition to that, Jane Eyre was able to teach history, geography, and the use of a globe, plus grammar and writing. On my notescrap, I have also written "maybe arithmetic" but I don't know where I got that from. Most of the rest of the information came from Understanding Jane Eyre: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources and Historical Documents. Which I need to check out from the library again. Because I did not take adequate enough notes on insane asylums.

-The Herbalist's Apprentice, as a spoken phrase, is occasionally too easy to trip over. You have to jump in, and elide the sibilants or die trying.

-I am rereading some of Anne McCaffrey's romances with a more critical eye to the gender politics. And I wanted to wash myself. And I was actually doing the re-reading in the bathtub, so you see how bad that is. (FOR EXAMPLE: "He clipped one warm, strong-fingered hand under my elbow, and I have never been omre conscious of a square inch of my own flesh than that moment. As if he sensed my reaction, he removed his hand and gave me a quick searching look. 'It's a cup of coffee, Miss Dunn, not an invitation to rape!'" UHM, DUDE, DID YOU JUST CASUALLY BRING UP RAPE (as in you-and-me-time) WHILE TRYING TO INVITE ME FOR COFFEE? This conversation is OVER.)

-On the other hand, I thought this book was just lovely when I was younger, and thus I have faith that The Kids These Days are going to come through the Twilight-era just fine.

-I *seriously* could not love Cougar Town and Community more. Cougar Town *is* Scrubs, reborn without daydreams and internal monologue. The cast interactions have gelled so fantastically that it reads like a sitcom that's been on the air for years. Community is a bit more self-aware and absurd, but it's very emotionally truthful. Between those two shows and Castle, I could get by with watching only shows that start with the letter C, if I had to. (But I would be sad to miss Tabatha's Salon Takeover, which is mine and Kayla's new thing, because we love competent women who make people cry.)

-HEY! I just found my old collection of fortune cookies. (My current ones are: "Adventure can be real happiness" and "Use your instincts now." My old collection includes "Education is the movement from darkness to light." (I wrote beneath that one: "So is phototropism."))

-And THAT is a picture of the Bronte parsonage in snow. *grab* Need that for my Jane Elliott collage.

-I purchased STORY by Robert McKee on audible.com, and started listening to it today. And promptly turned it off, after screaming obscenities at it. Mr. McKee says that because we are all horrible, cynical people with eroded values who live and breathe by the code of relativism, that there has been an erosion of story. We can't get good stories from Hollywood because we don't have the morals to appreciate story. We can't tell good stories because we can't impart the values that people need to know.


Did I mention I was SCREAMING obscenities at my radio after this? Because, between Unitarian Universalism, anthropology, and a particular preference for the protection of civil liberties, I am, yes, deeply relativist in my moral world view. Cultural relativism, mainly--as long as it doesn't impede on individual human rights. Informed consent, mutual consent, and consent in general--as long as there's that, people should be allowed do what they need to do, and I should not be allowed to stop them. To me, that is the core of my value system, and my ethics system. (I think library-ness comes in there, too--the ALA Code of Ethics comes in there, too; I haven't worked in libraries for 15 years without that stuff seeping in.)

I promise you, my being what I believe to be a reasonable human being does NOT impede my ability to deal in story. Either to hear it or to tell it.


-Anger aside, I am going to a) start cleaning the basement tomorrow; b) buy a new heat register at the hardware store so we can stop baking our plants on the plant stand; c) schedule a massage.

-And d) finish finishing my damn book

-I got more and more anxious while thinking about going back to my new doctor, the one who was so terribly dismissive of my heel pain, and on top of that, when I asked to have a pelvic exam, basically said, "Why would you want one of those?" Like, dude. You're a doctor. AREN'T YOU SUPPOSED TO BE TELLING ME TO GET ONE? And also, she didn't care about any of my other bloodwork, even though my good cholesterol is too low, and other things. All she cared about was my vitamin D. So anyway, I got a recommendation from the fabulous redmomoko, and I'm going to go see her doctor. But not until May. Because that's how far out they're scheduling her. WHATEVER. NEW DOCTOR, YAY. Old doctor? NOT A GOCTOR! (tip of the hat to porphyrin and mrissa and Robin, there.)
if I were me

I am the participant-observer in my own life

Driving home from dropping my husband to pick up his car from the shop, with a box of Tim Hortons by my side and a cup of apple cider (or apple spider, depending on if you're me and sleepy), I realized how, for me, anthropology (my major in college) and writing intersect.

1) I am the participant-observer in my own life.

Participant-observers study a society while participating in it. Obviously, writers study more than a society, but I, and many writers that I know, tend to experience things in two layers. The first is "I'm experiencing this." The second is "And how will I write this when I need to use it in a book?" The first layer is not always the first layer experienced, either.

2) Every novel is an interior ethnography.

I'm not talking about an ethnography of that alien race that the book seems to be about. I'm talking about the ethnography of one's own psyche, and the multitudes therein. Even the book that is the ethnography (yes, am most assuredly abusing this term) of one's own family is just as much about the interior life of the writer as it is about the family. You can't remove the family from the interior life, anyway, not really.

While I do not believe that a book necessarily reveals anything concrete about the author--one should never assume that a political opinion expressed by a character also belongs to the author, or that an author who writes about X has actually experienced X--every book reveals something about the author.

If you choose to spend six months to three years immersed in a world, a culture, a life, an experience not your own, it says something about you, and the choice of what you choose to be immersed in says something about you. Ninety-five percent of people might draw the wrong conclusion about what it says about you, and there's no code to figuring out everyone's interior ethnography, but still, it's there. And you, the author, know it. You are your own ethnographer.

Hm. I think there's more, but I must mull. And write.
Anthropology (Binford)

Silliness and Survival

An article by John Pfeiffer appearing back in Science '81 (what can I say? Most of my anthropological reading comes from reserves lists, as I process them) speculates that since human beings waste so much time and energy on silly pursuits, there must be some sort of evolutionary advantage to it all.

Fancy that. Instead of seeing "the impressive human ability to waste energy" as some sort of outcome of the advancement of human cultural evolution, Pfeiffer sees it as a possible catalyst.

His argument is that you don't see most carnivores wasting time or energy in vain pursuits like sky-diving (technology and opposable thumbs aside). Carnivores are either pursuing food or lazing around (e.g. lions, which sleep or drowse 20 hours a day). Never mind that human beings have culturally advanced to a place where a large percentage of the world population (at least, most of the energy-wasters) don't have to conserve all their energy for periodic massive bursts effort wherein they locate and acquire enough calories to survive. Many humans are currently swimming in an excess of calories; they have plenty of energy to waste. And while it seems especially so in this day and age, one could argue that humans have had an edge on caloric acquisition for so long, that we have probably been wasting time for many, many generations, maybe all the way back to Lucy (or Eve, if you insist).

But my point is not to prove or disprove this theory. My point is, it's a damn cool theory, and really, the only big hole in it is comparing us to full-fledged carnivores. Pfeiffer is absolutely right. We waste all kinds of energy (witness this blog), and for no good reason. Or is there a good reason? Is it encouraged, both genetically and culturally, because the energy-wasters of today are the geniuses of tomorrow? Pfeiffer says:

"[Energy-wasting] may have paid off handsomely in crisis times, for example during the settling of Oceania... about 3000 B.C. It was not mere wanderlust: People left their homelands because they had no choice, probably forced to migrate because of soaring populations. But the evidence suggests that they were prepared by the time the pressure was really on, that they had already, through 'energy-wasting' activity, learned enough to undertake voyages far out of sight of land....

"We can imagine the nature of most of those early experiments... The wild ones were having their ling with drag races and games of chicken in sailing vessels, daring one another to go farther and farther out into unknown waters... overnight and then over several nights... And they must have invented all the time, tinkering with new sails and new boat designs and various versions of outrigger gear...

"In the process, they discovered a great deal about the ways of the sea... [though] the wild ones paid a high price for their adventures. Many of them learned the hard way about whirlpools, sudden, violent storms, waters awash over treacherous reefs... [but] the crews and the boats and the experience were all at hand when long-distance voyages were no longer mad stunts but the only means of survival."

It's a fascinating portrait, and I think it helps explain some things about evolution, both technological and even biological.

"Perhaps the readiness to do or believe practically anything, to indulge in the most far-out of lunatic fringe behaviors, is a form of survival insurance," says Pfeiffer. It's just a fun thing, to think that all the times we act crazy, we're really just maintaining the flexibility to adapt, come the Apocalypse.

That appeals to my sense of humor almost as much as it does to my Inner Anthropologist.