Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Full Spectrum

I read a fascinating article in the New York Times last week: In a Novel Theory of Mental Disorders, Parents' Genes Are in Competition. The theory describes an "evolutionary tug of war" between maternal and paternal genes that determines, basically, where a child falls on a  spectrum, with autism and schizophrenia being at opposite ends.  

According to the article, while many of the researchers' details are likely to be wrong, the broad idea provides a new framework for thinking about mental illness:

Emotional problems like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, seen through this lens, appear on Mom's side of the teeter-totter, with schizophrenia, while Asperger's syndrome and other social deficits are on Dad's.

It was Dr. Badcock who noticed that some problems associated with autism, like a failure to meet another's gaze, are direct contrasts to those found in people with schizophrenia, who often believe they are being watched. Where children with autism appear blind to others' thinking and intentions, people with schizophrenia see intention and meaning everywhere, in their delusions. The idea expands on the ''extreme male brain'' theory of autism proposed by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge.

I think we all fall on this spectrum. If we're lucky, we fall somewhere in the middle: stable, adaptable, and emotionally competent. But I love the idea that sane/insane, balanced/imbalanced, etc. are false binaries (flashback to freshman english class, deconstructing the three sisters from King Lear!) Just like my politics, I'm slightly left-of-center: Socially awkward, better at analyzing than reacting emotionally in the present. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

The important stuff

I picked up a pair of pants from a consignment shop last week. They were brand name, still had the tags, and fit very well. (And they were cheap). I was quite proud of my purchase.

I wore them today for the first time.

Student #1: Those are some shiny pants!

Student #2: Are those Hannah Montana pants?

I laughed, but I probably won't wear them again to class.

(My newest addiction is Politico's post-election site, Politico44. It's all things Obama. I feel slightly fangirl-ish although, to my credit, I finally removed my "Obamarama" car air freshner.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

First day of class

I wear a few different hats. In addition to my library work, I also teach English Composition to nursing students.  I begin each new quarter with a true story. Because I know it so well, I've always ad-libbed.  But this quarter, since my roster of students doubled, I finally thought to write the story (names are changed):

I went to high school downtown at George Washington School. Because it was downtown, we didn’t get the yellow buses to school; instead, we paid to take and ride the city metros. I lived in Pleasant Place at the time, and each morning my friend and I ran across four lanes of traffic to catch the 38 right in front of Maple Ridge Cemetery.  (Cars didn’t stop for metros; they didn’t have those red stop signs that swing out).

One morning, I was later told, I hesitated in the middle of the street; when I finally decided to run to the other side, I was struck by a police car.

I spent all of December and half of January at Children’s Hospital recovering from head injuries. While doctors came in and out of my room, briefing my parents about this and that, the nurses remained a source of comfort and consistency to me and my family. They were there in the morning and the middle of the night, on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Years later, I remember their faces and their kindness more than any of the doctors who worked on me.

I relate this to you for a few reasons:

First, I want you to know that whatever your reasons, you’re going into a great profession. You will each have the opportunity to have a positive impact on many people.

Second, I want you to think about your own story.  You each have experiences that helped shape the person you are and the choices you’ve made. On Friday I’ll give you the assignment sheet for your first paper, a reflective piece.

And third, I just love stories. They’re easier to grasp than “essays.” One of the most important concepts we’ll talk about this quarter is the idea of “subject, audience, and purpose” – considering and thinking about these before you start drafting each of your papers.  I’ll ask you to write compare/contrast essays, cause/effect essays, and persuasive essays, and before you write each essay, you’ll consider the subject, audience, and purpose.  

It might seem kind of abstract right now. Subject. Audience. Purpose. But think about the stories you tell. The stories you tell your young daughter before she goes to bed. The stories you tell your friends when you catch up over the phone. The stories you tell your coworkers or classmates or distant cousins.  You don’t use the same words, the same language for these different audiences.  You know how to shape your stories for different purposes.

As we go forward this quarter, we'll spend time on thesis statements, bias evidence, and logical fallacies. We'll spend time on the pieces that will help you write successfully at the college level. But I want you to keep in the back of your mind that idea of story and the bigger picture.

I'm not sure I communicate exactly what I want, here. But I think I get a little closer each quarter.  I tell my students to look for better words, words that are closer to what they mean. Part of their challenge is discovering what they mean to say, and that's a challenge we all face.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I just got back from voting.

I was in line when the precinct opened at 6:30am, and it took me about 45 minutes to go through the line and finish voting.

This election will be historic. My dad, living in Kenya, tells me the excitement there is palpable. The front page of every newspaper in East Africa is about Obama and this election.