je pleure

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been working on an abstract for a conference. It’s supposed to be about technology, music cognition, and society. So I decided that now was the time to explore the puzzle piece of the cochlear implant in the story of the deaf musical experience.

I have written so many drafts of this abstract, each trying to get at the cognitive and cultural nuances of the experience. I met with a professor this afternoon to help me talk through it, and before i knew it, i was sitting there sobbing in his office talking about how I took Ellis to his first concert last Friday night, and how he hated it. (Nevermind the practical considerations: it was after 8pm; he’s 6.5 yo; and it was a recital for violin, soprano, and piano.) Part of me felt crushed, that I wasn’t going to be able to share music with him–that the CI wasn’t going to mediate that experience for him. It wasn’t the right music to listen with the balloon we brought.

This professor is very good at asking questions that break down personal barriers that I confront in the deaf music project. I cry. He offers me a napkin and some dried fruit. Then I get back to work, learning how to negotiate the personal and the researcher.

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Is feminism still alive?

Maybe this seems like an odd question in light of my post a few days ago.

Recently I was sitting in a seminar, and the topic of feminism came up. Students (women, I might add) said that it was kind of an old topic, and really, we’ve moved on, and nobody wants to be belabored anymore by whether or not to use “he” or “she” as a general personal pronoun. The general consensus among the students was that we’ve moved on and talk about it any more seemed forced.

I didn’t let the comment slide. I did call into question such blanket dismissal. First, it seemed to come from a place of privilege. Here we were a room full of graduate seminar, with the percentage of students greatly favoring women. Women are in the academy, at long last (really?). Second, the women making these comments were young and in the privileged position of selfishness–that is, they only have themselves to worry about. (I do love my colleagues, don’t get me wrong.)

I found it interesting, then, that one colleague sent out this article to our class, “Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research.”

I actually happen to kind of “know” the author of the article; I’ve been following her blog for eight or nine years. Academic research is only for people with connection to academic libraries. Databases like JSTOR have subscription fees so high that only academic libraries can afford them.

One of the academic people groups who understands this reality acutely are mothers. Mothers with PhDs (or with grad experience) who are home with kids and without access. They can’t advance their careers, because they can’t do research. They fade out of research, out of academic careers, some willingly, some wistfully, some both. As if the balance isn’t difficult enough, barriers to access exacerbate a system already difficult to maneuver.

Maybe feminism is irrelevant to a woman who can live like a man, but when the woman has start to dividing her time and make normal and good life decisions, then greater issues come into play. Maybe the advocacy position needs to be tweaked, which, to me, is kind of old news, but apparently, it’s still a relevant question if a room full of my dear colleagues thinks it’s irrelevant.

on vulnerability

A couple of weeks ago I uploaded a paper to dropbox. This paper is part of a seminar session at an upcoming national conference. We will all read each other’s papers, prepare responses, and, at the conference, spend the time discussing more than presenting. I’m excited about this kind of conference format. I think I will be able to learn more in this kind of a environment. Since I’m at an early stage in my research, I think it will be greatly beneficial.

What I didn’t expect is the sick feeling that’s been sitting in my core ever since. Vulnerability. I’m in a new field, offering somewhat new perspectives. I don’t know how the paper will be received. Perhaps I shouldn’t worry about that too much. It’s just that, for the first time, I’m personally connected to my research material. I wouldn’t be in disability studies or deaf music at all if my son hadn’t been born deaf. I spend a good chunk of my research time crying. Not because I’m sad, because I’m overwhelmed by so much. I’m overcome. My work feels raw. I believe in my topic like I’ve never believed in a topic before.

It’s been two weeks now since I sent it off. I’m starting to feel better. The bundle of nerves is starting to soothe. It is such a strange sensation to me, to feel so personally connected to my work.

Feeling Beethoven

In Susan McClary’s controversial book, Feminine Endings (1991), she semiotically inscribes sex onto musical events. When I read the bit about the violence a certain Beethoven recapitulation wrought on the virtuous ears of his listeners, I snorted. No, Susan. You may have got Madonna right, but not Beethoven. When I got to a certain “violent” part, I heard a deaf man pounding the floor for our attention. I know the gesture. I have done it a hundred times on a hundred floors, to see my little boy’s eyes turn to meet mine.

I have to be careful with the terra sancta of Beethoven. I haven’t delved yet into the literature on Beethoven’s deafness, of which, I’m told, there is quite a lot. I’m almost afraid to. Will they get it right? Will they understand that hearing loss in general is so much more complex than one man’s hearing loss?

I haven’t overcome my reluctance yet, because right now I’m enjoying my private exploration. One thing I’ve been working on is describing a deaf experience of music. There’s a physiological aspect and a cognitive aspect. The former is a bit easier to describe–it’s a matter of noting that as sound waves hit our ear drums, sound waves hit our bodies, and a deaf person is so much more tuned in to that experience without the distraction of auditory hearing. A deaf experience of music is fundamentally embodied hearing. But what is the next step, the cognitive aspect, where our brains make sense of musical sound? That is harder.

I recently taught Beethoven in the music history survey that I’m teaching. I indulged a little and talked about deafness. Since I’ve been concentrating on deafness and music recently for a conference paper, it seemed a pity not to use some of that work in the classroom. I had the students place their hands on their desks, palms open facing down on the desk. I played the opening exposition of Beethoven’s Fifth, loudly. I hadn’t planned on this exercise, it kind of came to me in the moment, and I went with it. So I did the same thing, not knowing what really would happen. The sensation I was left with was the short-short-short-long motive. You know, the germinal motive that ties the whole symphony together? It was always placed in a position of maximum vibration. When I tuned into the vibrations, albeit, in a rudimentary manner, what I felt was short-short-short-long. I don’t want to make critical mistakes of semiotically inscribing deafness into Beethoven’s music, but I did find the experience curious and a little thought-provoking. At some point, I will have to come to terms with the scholarship on Beethoven’s deafness, but for now, I will just feel Beethoven.

“I have measured my life in coffee spoons”

Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea.

~T. S. Eliot

I have been a blogger for nine and a half years. In blogger years, I’m pretty sure that’s nearly a hundred.

But the last few years have been so slow. Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and all the other candy of social networking, the reasons for me to blog slowed. I only blogged to share my kids’ art projects and the fun places we went to. Now all I have to do is check-in from my smart-phone.

When I started blogging, it fulfilled a need for me as a newly-married 20-something living in a new city with few friends starting off a new life. I needed someone to talk to, a way to connect with my old friends and to have the familiar conversations with them. I started grad school. I welcomed my first child. I learned to sew. Then my second child. I learned to knit. We all joined Facebook. More kids and less sleep makes Facebook an attractive option. And I didn’t have the same need anymore to talk to someone.

Now I do. I’m back in grad school. I started my PhD program in musicology last fall (2011). I moved my husband, my 6yo, my 3yo, and my sister to make it happen. I’m exhausted. I’m in love. Thrilled, tired, and terrified, all at once. Falling back in love with the black dots on the white page after a six year hiatus. A hiatus in which I not only did nothing academic, I barely even listened to music. I, who breathed music, set it aside. In many ways this year is the year of reacquaintance. Remembering all those things I’ve forgotten in the sleep deprivation and physical toll of babies, combined with life’s difficulties which need not be elaborated here, but they were difficult, and I needed to survive them. I’m back now. And I need someone to talk to.

Just a note: I could use this fresh start to blog anonymously, but that’s not really me. I won’t flaunt my identity, but I won’t hide it either.