Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"That kind of girl" Reprise

After my contemplation of what kind of girl blogs, the exhibitionistic possibilities, and the shaping of a blogger in this post, I have a new take on the subject.

Via Pharyngula (a recent addition to my blog roll), this post from EvolutionBlog (who has now joined the rapidly expanding ranks of blogs attempting to take over my reader), which quotes from this article from Scientific American,* which examines "the explosion of blogs" in the light of neurological explanations for the rewards of blogging.

There are well documented rewards for expressive writing:

Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

According to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a “placebo for getting satisfied,” Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly.

Flaherty, who studies conditions such as hypergraphia (an uncontrollable urge to write) and writer’s block, also looks to disease models to explain the drive behind this mode of communication. For example, people with mania often talk too much. “We believe something in the brain’s limbic system is boosting their desire to communicate,” Flaherty explains. Located mainly in the midbrain, the limbic system controls our drives, whether they are related to food, sex, appetite, or problem solving. “You know that drives are involved [in blogging] because a lot of people do it compulsively,” Flaherty notes. Also, blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art. (Emphasis mine.)

All of this is terribly interesting, I admit. And there must be a reason why those of us who blog do so. Self medication for a host of reasons is not out of the question. But it is the final paragraph of the article that I find most relevant, especially in light of the previous post:
Some hospitals have started hosting patient-authored blogs on their Web sites as clinicians begin to recognize the therapeutic value. Unlike a bedside journal, blogging offers the added benefit of receptive readers in similar situations, Morgan explains: “Individuals are connecting to one another and witnessing each other’s expressions—the basis for forming a community.”

Ha! Community. And the most interesting aspect of my experience of the blogasphere is that people with vastly different backgrounds, cultural contexts, genders, sexual identities, areas of interest and expertise have given me a window into their lives, and thereby enriching my own. How each of the blogs on my blog role have changed my world view is food for thought and a post for another day.

* When one is blogging about things which science bloggers are blogging about, it is important to cite attributions correctly. Well, this is important in general, actually. But specifically in this case, lest I look like a big plagiarizing idiot. **

** Speaking of big academic idiots: Do not, as you value the respect of your professors, EVER turn in a reading response to an article which the professor neglected to hand out in class. Making things up at length to cover the fact that you did not read the assignment that was not given out is a new level of pretentious stupidity.

Monday, May 19, 2008

By reader request feminism, and cleaning the kitchen

The endless battle to keep the kitchen clean was on my mind, the other day as I once again found myself up to my elbows in hot soapy water. Entropy is rampant in my kitchen. The kitchen is currently housing four people's cookware and three peoples messes (one roommate is slowly moving out), and this means that things build up very quickly.

Distribution of Labor: Well, we all clean. Some of the chores are divided between Paradox and I: I mop, clean the bathroom, and sweep. Paradox takes the trash out, vacuums, and does the lawn. Are we enacting gendered divisions of labor, since I'm cleaning the bathroom, and he is doing the lawn?

Well, I'm 5' 6", and he is 6'4". I clean the bathroom because I fit better. He takes the trash out because in the past it has been difficult, physically, for me to do so. He likes doing the lawn, and I hate it. Sweeping is almost fun for me.

We both cook, do the dishes, the laundry. We keep house well together. This is a skill not to be underestimated: keeping house well together.

Nothing can ruin a friendship faster or with more acrimony than cohabitating with someone who does not share one's thoughts on maintaining the house. Little things, like how often the bathroom gets cleaned, or weather it is alright to leave dishes in the sink, and who takes out the trash can quickly turn into a vicious war, guerrilla sniping, and "Mutually Assured Destruction" pacts consummated at midnight to the sounds of breaking glass.

So Paradox and I keep house, with an assorted cast of roommates. We each have our chosen sphere of cleaning, and it all gets done. More or less.

I need to mop again, actually.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blog Blather

I was internet chatting with the lovely and talented Keathwick of Familiar Magic the other night, and she, in passing, remarked: "You seriously make me want to blog, too. And I'm just not that kind of girl, normally."

Now, what precisely is "that kind of girl", if I am one, and she is not? It cannot be ability, for I am in awe of Keathwick's writing skills. And she has already taken the first step of putting work of her own out for the great masses of the internet to look at. But.

It is easier to be an exhibitionist in some things than others. We have both acted, both submitted to, and won, poetry contests, both wallowed in academia, both written: and yet, I am, apparently the kind of girl that blogs, and, in her mind, she is not.

My poetry, for example. It hides. Now that I am no longer taking workshops and classes, it rarely makes it out of my computer into the rest of the world. I blame this on the pushy "poets" that my high school was overstocked with. One girl, in particular, would come up to me, and ask for my opion on her poems. They were wreached. I was polite, but horrified. I did not wish to be that person. And so my poetry hides away.

But somehow I reached the point where prose, which is hardly the medium I am most comfortable in, is what I have committed to write, at least once a week here on Books, Blogs, and Blather.

I asked Paradox if blogging is inherently an exhibitionistic endeavor. "Yes." He replied, and promptly turned over and went to sleep. But is it as simple as that? I suspect that it is also a desire for community. A specific, constructed community, built on a shared network of ongoing work, informed heavily by other members of said community. An intentional community of ideas, if you will. I admit that a feeling of desire for membership into this "community" helped motivate me.

But to return to my initial pondering: what does "that kind of girl" signify? Exhibitionism, yes. Self chosen invitation to a "community" of ideas, yes. Ahhh... one must invite one's self. "That kind of girl" is a pushy party crasher.

Alright. I realize that this is not entirely correct. After all, no one is obliged to read one's blog, and the "community" of bloggers is, in my limited experience, a welcoming group. But the fear of going where one is not invited lingers in the corners.

And yet, here I am. "That kind of girl," writing a post on her blog.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Reaffirming the mission statement.

From my very first blog post, lo, a whole four posts ago:

"I'm going to talk about what I read, and what I write, and about feminism, and geekery, library science and lust, politics and polyamory, kink and the endless battle to keep my kitchen clean."

Well, let us see how I am doing. Reading, yes. Writing... not so much. Feminism... not so much. Geekery... nope. Well, besides the general book-ness, which I have already covered. Library science ... also, not yet. Lust? Hum. Still no. Politics... not at all. Polyamory: well, besides mentioning that I am... not so much. Kink: yes! And as for the endless battle to keep my kitchen clean? No.

Well. It is early days yet, here at Books, Blogs and Blather. I'm going to think of this list as inspiration, and see what comes of it.

In the mean time I shall try to knock out one of these topics a week. Which shall it be?
Library Science?
The Endless Battle to Keep my Kitchen Clean?

Let me know in the comments, o loyal readers. (All two of you. Hi there!)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The perverse bibliophile is useful.

I have been told that I am an emotionally intelligent person, or something to this effect on more than one occasion. My sister, R. , is fascinated with the way I behave, and think about things. I tend to take this with a smidge of salt, as she is tremendously more intelligent and motivated than me in just about every way. Luckily, we went into different fields. I went the literature route, and she went the hard science route. Seldom do the two meet, although we share fiction tastes. Perhaps this is even the root of the difference: my academic endeavors were focused on the analysis of fictional characters. How they acted, why they said the things they said, and what this all means was my whole focus for several years. R., on the other hand, observes insects.

This was going somewhere. . . ah, yes.

A friend of mine called the other day, looking for my life partner, Paradox. He was not around, and she decided to ask me, instead. What her query boiled down to was weather or not it is dishonest for someone to elicit the admission of emotional vulnerabilities, if they don't really care about either you, or the vulnerabilities.

My answer would have been "No!" regardless, I think. But fresh off of a re-read of Jay Wiseman's SM 101: An Introduction, I had a reasoning and justification on tap. Namely, that it is ethically questionable, if not downright wrong to open a person's armor more than you are willing to help them put it back together.

After all, we all have a layer of armor, or skin, or manner, or something that keeps us from blurting out our troubles to the supermarket clerk when they ask us how we are doing. Intimacy, especially emotional intimacy, is, in my opinion, a reciprocal relationship. One does not offer intimacy without the expectation of intimacy in return. The exception might be in certain professional relationships, such as therapists. Even then, it seems to me, there is a commitment to working through any issues that are raise in therapy.

In Wiseman's book, this is explicated slightly differently. As I recall, his phrasing is along the lines of "Don't do anything to a person which is beyond their ability to self-heal." He, of course, is coming at this from the perspective of both physical and mental harm in the context of consensual power play, where as in this case I was using it to apply to everyday emotional exposure and intimacy.

Nevertheless, it worked. My friend felt that this concept was very helpful to her, and her situation. Then, she praised me for, what was to her, a revelation.

I took the praise as it was intended, graciously. But in the back of my head, I was jumping up and down, saying "I told you all that perverse literature you've been reading was useful! See?"