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The Big Question

2004-10-18 - 7:08 a.m.

ďAre you happy?Ē

I heard that question twice last night. I rarely get asked that question by other people, although I ask it of myself a lot, and usually ask myself follow-ups regardless of my answer. In each instance, I couldnít say ďYes,Ē and I was troubled not only because I couldnít say ďYes, I am happy,Ē but because I didnít want people to think that I was miserable. See, Iím not miserable. Iím not even sad, or frustrated, or apprehensive, or anything explicitly negative. But Iím also not content, not fulfilled, not anything that would merit ďHappy.Ē I was happy in Austin, but as much as I miss it, I feel no desire to run back and live there. I want to stay here. Here feels right. But Iím not happy. And Iím not sad, or upset in any way.

So what am I?

Well, for one thing, Iím busy. I should not be writing this. I should be preparing my presentation on Saussure and Levi-Strauss. I should be reading Pearl, which is a beautiful 14th Century poem. I should be reading articles on memorializing and visualization for my rhetoric course. I should be researching medieval homiletic practices. I should be researching the reception history of Midnightís Children. I should be reading the political writings of Arundhati Roy. And thatís just what I actually have ASSIGNED to me. This doesnít even include cleaning my apartment, preparing and submitting writing for publication (thereís an encyclopedia on prostitution that just might need my input for their entry on Masoch, if I play my cards right), brushing up on my Spanish, gathering input for next yearís course schedule, organizing department social events, cooking my meals, and doing yoga. I canít even THINK about seeking out a theatre company to work with right now. And sure, I spend time hanging out with new and old friends (I just saw I Heart Huckabeeís, featuring unsung comic genius Lily Tomlin and the delicious Isabelle Huppert as part of one of the best casts ever, and I highly recommend itóitís cheesy, but in a triple-cream brie sort of way), but thatís because Iíd go nuts if I didnít. The work hangs over me, like the sword of Damocles, with every bite of movie popcorn and every sip of cocktail.

On the other hand, itís kinda sorta getting easier, in that Iím starting to understand things more. I did really well on my last paper for my intro class. My research in medieval history is beginning to chip away at my ignorance, allowing me to make comments in class that actually contribute to the general conversation. As for my rhetoric/performance studies course, I went to the professor and actually asked her if I was doing the assignments right. Her incredulous laughter, in this case, signaled to me that I was doing just fine. She even told me to call her by her first name. In my defense, this is a class where nearly everyone hands in 6 single-spaced pages when the assignment was for 3 pages, double spaced. I was worried that there was a revised syllabus that I hadnít gotten. Then, in that same class, people thought that my paper contributed a lot to thinking about things like the meaning of silence in protest and the differences between national and international process. And here I thought I was phoning a paper in! I even had my first pseudo-EGA success story, in that I got a professor to reschedule a class so it wouldnít conflict. Iíll now be able to spend my Wednesdays on Bollywood and Faulkner! Iíve gone from poverty in choices to an embarrassment of riches. Will my third class be Romanticism or 20th Century poetry? Censorship and the novel in the rhetoric department or Modernism over at Stanford? Iím even tempted to shoot for four classes next semester.

I also had my first EGA ass-kissing event yesterday. I went out with some alumni whom the English department hopes will fork over their dough, and we spent a rainy afternoon looking at poetry that had been carved into the sidewalk (in an official capacity, although there was one instance of graffiti where the word ďfuckĒ was filled in on one of the censored poems). I had my charm on extra-smarmy, and managed to get a huge bowl of pasta salad to take home with me. Fundraising has its fringe benefits.

Socially, Iíve been having a good time. Admittedly, itís weird not to be making friends through theatre. When you do a show with someone, you get to know them damn fast. Not only are you spending far too many hours with your cast or crew, but youíre all putting yourselves out there like you do in few other environments. Theatre is like ecstasy (not that I have ever, ever done illegal drugs nor do I advocate their use, understand?): you can feel a tremendous intimacy with someone whom youíve only known a short time. By this time my freshman year, I felt hugely close to NelaBella, Jeff Jeffty Jeff, K-Dog, and all my other castmates. When I moved to Austin, it was working with Anarchaspud and the folks of the Rhizome Collective on our show that made me feel so tight with them after only a month. Iím surrounded by awesome people here that I am already getting close to, but without that intense concentration of time and emotion, the getting-to-know-ya process feels pretty slow. Itís not so slow that I feel sad or lonely, itís more that Iím looking forward to the time when I have connections with people like I did in Philly and Austin. I canít describe those connections in words, but I have a feeling people will know what Iím talking about.

I think another thing that actually slows down the getting-to-know-ya process is the fact that so many things go on here all the time that itís hard to just sit down and talk. Thereís always a theatre piece or an opera or a one-showing-only movie at the Pacific Film Archive or some amazing speaker coming to campus. This past Friday there was a symposium on war featuring some of Berkeleyís most well-known celebrities. People outside of academia may not care about names like Judith Butler, Wendy Brown, or Kaja Silverman, but those within tremble with awe at the thought of getting to take a class with them.

The symposium, specifically Kaja Silvermanís speech, was a great example of everything that made me want to go to grad school and everything that made me nervous about it. On the one hand, it was some of most brilliant theorizing I have ever heard. The woman is a true genius. She spoke of the warring forces of eros and thanatos in human civilization, of the aggression turned inward by the forces of culture manifesting outward as moral sadism, violence of the mind and body disguised as punishment for sins. It made me take a good, long, hard look at myself to find the moral sadist within, the bleeding heart liberal so ready to judge the cruelty and bigotry of those I found beneath me. It was powerful thinking. It was also ruined utterly by a cutesy story about George W. Bush that allowed everyone in the room to feel superior for being well-educated, left-leaning Berkeleyans. Nearly everyone in the room was laughing about Dubyaís foolish replacement of his own father with God the father, and of his feelings of sibling rivalry with Jesus. I wasnít. Sure, I make fun of him tons on this diary, but I use this to vent, not to give guidance to those seeking out a deeper understanding of the current conflicts. I wondered if Silverman, intellectual goddess (whose altar I thoroughly intend to worship at) that she is, would ever tell such a story outside of the Berkeley Bubble

The Berkeley Bubble is actually hard to take. On the one hand, I couldnít live in a more queer-positive environment, and I love being around people who care about the same issues I do. On the other, those of us who enjoy preachingóand you know I doóeventually get tired of hanging out with the choir. Sure, theyíre good at testing your knowledge of scripture, but the passion eventually dies down because everyone knows the hymns by heart. And, worst of all, nothing ever gets done.

I use religious imagery here for a reason. Ainít no dogma like leftist dogma.

So, whatís the sum total of all this? There are things I love about this place. There are things that drive me up the wall. ďThingsĒ in this instance can stand in for institutions, people, streets, restaurants, customs, viewpoints, and prices. There are far too many great things for me to stay down for more than a day, tops, but Iíve got a ways to go before I can lay down in my bed and say, ďYes, now Iím happy.Ē I also intend to shoot for way beyond happy: I came here for ďfulfilled,Ē and intend to get there. For now, Iím going to say that Iím doing alright. Iím optimistic. Iím working. Iím tired. Iím thinking about things. Iím being challenged. Iím horny as Hell, but thatís my ground state. I've got one hand in my pocket, and the other is rubbing my temples because I've realized that my personal philosophy shares so much with an Alanis Morrisette song. Iím okay. Iím better than okay. Iím really good.

Iím not happy, yet. But I can see it from here.

ADDENDUM: GreatSirG, you have no idea how hot Newgyptian is. None. To steal shamelessly from Ladeeleroy, if you touch her, you'll burn, and don't try to soothe it with butter, because that will just make it harder to resist nibbling. Mmmmm . . . Newgyptian.

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previous - next

The End - 2005-02-11
Let's Go on With the Show - 2005-01-30
The Curse, and This Bee's a Keeper - 2005-02-01
Sisters Lolita and Matronic Explain It All for You - 2005-01-31
Cowboys and Medievalists - 2005-01-30

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