Archive for May, 2009

Abstract is Whack

I am going to disappear from posting anything for another 2 weeks. I have my master’s thesis due June 1st, and, well, basically I’m living and breathing the thesis writing process right now. This is in no way enjoyable, but eventually it will be done…and that’s enjoyable.

When I tell people I’m working on my thesis, they always ask what it is about. This question is inevitable, but seriously people, the only thing I’ve been thinking about for the past week is this damn thesis, so the last thing I want to do is try to explain it in a few sentences to someone. It just gets complicated and starts to feel overwhelming. But, I’m sure you’re curious. So here’s my abstract.

Enjoy.

And a lady loves some feedback.

Bipolar Bodies:
Trauma, Healing, and The Performance of Crazy

By Chelsey Clammer

This project begins by looking at how feminists have viewed madness in women as a site of resistance. I first show how a patriarchal society is quick to label a woman who defies the social construction of femininity as insane, and then move to how feminists, in turn, have celebrated the “madwoman” as an exemplary figure of social rebellion. But, I question, what are the oppressing affects of using madness as a metaphor for female resistance? And, is it really the madness that is being celebrated, or is it the resistance to social norms? Following Marta Caminero-Santangelo’s thoughts in her text The Madwoman Can’t Speak, I believe that madness is not something to be celebrated, but rather it is the ways in which women have survived misogynist societies that should be honored.

Part of this survival is performance. The second portion of my thesis looks at the ways in which women have performed their own emotions in order to survive in a society that constantly degrades them. I believe there is something to this performance of “crazy” that have helped women to survive misogynist cultures. Furthermore, and for the final part of my thesis, I am interested in not just the conscious performance of madness, but the subtle ways in which our bodies perform our emotions. Using the Alexander Technique, a theory based in Performance Studies, I look at how the body holds the trauma of a mental illness diagnosis, and how we need to learn how to listen to our bodies in different ways in order to more fully understand our emotions.

My project, therefore, has three main points that overlap and inform each other. First of all, I examine how women’s mental illness has been celebrated as a source of rebellion, and point to the ways in which by celebrating madness the voices of the mentally ill are lost. Secondly, I look at how madness—specifically Bipolar Disorder—has become a sort of performance in our society. I look at how madness is performed through diagnosis, how society constructs women’s madness through misogyny, and how madness is both celebrated and shunned in the academia. Finally, and in order to bring these two sections of my project together, I introduce new ways of listening to the body in order to fully understand our mental states. By doing so, I hope to re-conceive the function of the madwoman in our society not as a site of rebellion, but as bodied subject that points to how society treats women. Through different types of bodywork, and by understanding the ways in which the body holds trauma, I conclude my project by presenting different ways to listen to the “mentally ill.” If we can begin to listen to and witness the physicality of mental illness, then we can see that it’s not the actual madness that is the rebellion, but it’s the survival of an unlivable situation—a misogynist society in particular—that is the site of rebellion to be celebrated.

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Keep Moving

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I could try to state why I haven’t written or posted anything in awhile, and the reasons for it would look similar to most reasons why we don’t do something: busy, distracted, tired. But even through the busy-distracted-tired-and-feeling-of-overwhelmedness that has been my life lately, I have still created and made the space to run. It’s just that important and I would never give it up. Like therapy. So other than a set of reasons, the real issue behind my lack of blogging and creating words is that I just wasn’t feeling it. Nothing was being inspired in my head for a need to create this kind of space.

But here I am now.

I feel like the past month or so of running has been more about performance for me than actually about what I love: the feeling of running. Amount of miles per week, tempo, pace, distance, hill workouts–all of it with a goal of going further, faster, stronger. If felt icky. And while I did run a 4 mile race last weekend in which I both PRed and won it (26:49…that’s a 6:43 minute per mile pace. Damn.), I didn’t ever really enjoy myself. I mean, the winning and the finishing was fun, but when it comes down to it I don’t like the feeling of my body running that fast. I’d rather run at an even tempo for 8 hours, than an uncomfortable sprint for 25 minutes.

I did my second 50 mile race Saturday. It was so amazing. Two days before the race I spent a huge chunk of my night in the emergency room. My throat was burned raw from puking, which made it impossible to swallow water. Any fluids I did get down was accompanied by a horrible gag reflex from the burnt throat–which means that most of what went down came right back up. I basically had no fluids in my body. My muscles were in spasms and shaking because of this. I know an I.V. should not be my way of staying hydrated, but it was absolutely necessary Wednesday night.

All of my friends were worried about me. None of them thought I would run on Saturday. The idea of not running my race never even crossed my mind. In fact, for me, I needed those 50 miles more than ever. For the past 6 weeks I have just barely been “functioning”–living outside of my body. I needed to get back in. And running 50 miles is my way of getting back into my body. That sort of distance is an open door to a different type of mental and physical space for me that is so completely necessary, and I have yet to find another way to get into it.

So it worked.

Throughout the 8 and a half hours I ran, I constantly stayed present and aware in how my body felt. I made sure to eat early on–to concentrate on my physical and nutritional needs, (this is something I failed to do during my first 50 miler. In that race, it wasn’t until mile 30 that I realized I would have to actually eat something other than Gu in order to finish, and by then it was almost too late). The focusing on nutritional needs totally worked for me this time around. Not once in the entire race did I hit a wall. I never thought, No, I can’t do this. Or, Stop, please. I just kept moving–even up the rocky, muddy hills that had started to make my legs burn at mile 10.

These are the facts of it all, but there’s something deeper I want to get to.

These past few weeks there has been one thing I’ve thought about and experienced while running that I have wanted to write about. “Keep moving.” At the corner of Greenview and Devon every weekday morning from about 7-9am, there’s this crossing guard that is stationed at that intersection. I imagine her name to be Mary, but that’s probably because the only other crossing guard I know is named Mary (this unnamed one really does look like she could be a Mary, though). I usually refer to her as that Crazy Crossing Guard, and my friends who get up early know who I’m talking about.

She shouts. She shouts to herself. She shouts to herself about the crossing situation at Greenview and Devon.

When I first ran into her, I thought she was shouting into some hidden walkie-talkie, trying to communicate what the crossing situation at Greenview and Devon was like to her fellow crossing guard stationed down the street at Greenview and Granville. Nope. No walkie-talkies. No one that she’s shouting to. And it’s not just that she shouts that is amazing–it’s that the whole morning her shouting is about the events of that intersection.

“Keep moving! If there’s no one in your way then move!”

“Wait your turn then go!”

And my favorite:

“We got a runner crossing! Runner coming! If it’s your turn than move!”

“Keep moving, people! Keep moving!”

I’ve never actually seen this woman help anyone cross the street, but her voice is there, dominating the morning air. I imagine none of the drivers can actually hear her–their rolled up windows and music muffling her commentating.

At first, once I realized she wasn’t actually talking to anyone in particular, I thought she was insane.

Then, as I ran by her every chilly winter morning–all wrapped up in her neon orange ankle-length coat with matching hat and mittens–I realized that maybe this was just what she did to help her get through the morning. To help her to keep moving.

And now, I absolutely love this woman. I look forward to her crackly voice telling the world “We got a runner coming through! If it’s your turn, then go!”

“Come on people! Keep moving!”

I thought about this crossing guard a lot during the Ice Age 50 miler on Saturday. She’s got a good philosophy for ultrarunners: just keep moving. When you have so much distance to cover, it’s true that all you have to do is to keep moving, and eventually you’ll get there.

So I kept moving. Tired, sore, aching ab muscles from keeping my balance on the steep, rocky, muddy downhills–I just kept thinking about how to just keep moving.

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Feeling in my body with a post-race kombucha.

 

This keep-movingness brought be back into my body. It helped me to fill up the space of my body, to breath her in and to go forward with her. I had friends at this race who mostly came so someone could drive me home afterwards, and so they could get out of the city for a second. Of course they were there to support me, but they weren’t there to be my crew–checking in with me every 5 miles to see how I was doing and what I needed. In fact, I didn’t even see them until mile 40–a full ten miles sooner than I expected. It was so amazing to have them there, to have them be present with and witness this part of my life. I could feel their love and excitement (and loving concern) for me in the air that surrounded them.

 

Rose--one third of my "crew". Awake and alive at 5:30am, Saturday, May 9, 2009.

Rose was one third of my "crew." Awake and alive at 5:30am, Saturday, May 9, 2009.

 

 

But it was so different to run this race with essentially no crew. It was perfect, actually. Something that I needed without even knowing it. I felt like I was on a therapeutic adventure with myself. Because I didn’t have anyone to check in with me at each aid station, I was totally responsible and dependent on myself. It felt so beautiful.

I was both constantly aware of what I needed–how I was doing, preparing for what I needed for myself at the next aid station–AND I was able to zone out and into myself–to get lost in my own thoughts, and not really have to talk to anyone unless I wanted to. It felt really different to not have anyone to check in with but myself. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to be in that situation again, but for this race–this race where my sole purpose was to stay in tune with my body, to listen to her for every step, and to reconnect with her–it was absolutely perfect.

And so I became my own crew, and that crew kept telling me to keep moving. It felt so full and so right.

But at mile 45 I got really sad. I got sad because I realized how silent the world was in this space, how beautiful the trail and forest were, how good I felt in that silence/stillness/alone time, and how I didn’t want it to end. I wanted it to continue forever. I was sad to be finishing. At mile 48 I considered running more once I finished. Maybe just a few more miles in the forest to continue to soak it all in. And then I finished, and I was like, “fuck that, I’m done,” but I could feel that there was more in my body. I feel like I’m a (somewhat) good judge of my body’s limits (although my friends and therapists might disagree with this), but I’m an especially good judge when it comes to running. I feel like in relation to running I know what my body can do, and what it’s capable of. And when I finished, I felt like I could easily do another 20 miles, but that 30 miles would make me die from exhaustion. So maybe one day there will be more to come.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep moving.

 

Thanks to Pidge for the amazing photos.

Thanks to Pidge for the amazing photos.

Check out other photos by my awesome roomate, Pidge.

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