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Posts from the ‘Personal’ Category


Yesterday I made a trip to my local Goodwill, which I do semi-regularly.  I worked through the racks, examining the degree of wear, looking for stains and holes, checking the brand names.  It got me thinking about going to Village Thrift at Broad and Olney in Philadelphia after school – I went to Girls’ High right across the street.  I didn’t really like to go.  The store always smelled.  I was never very good at finding good pieces.  My older sister on the other hand was a thrift store force.  She was patient.  And she was very discerning.  I’d run out of energy about a half hour in and want to leave and she’d say ok, and then start looking through another rack that she hadn’t worked through yet.  She’d pull out everything that could possibly be worth wearing and then we’d have a cart purge at the back of the store when we were done.  Even though I could only stand about a half hour to her hour and a half, there was always such joy in the good find. Read more

Day 2: The Best of the Worst of Years

People seem generally agreed that 2016 was a crap year.  The best people died and the worst people won.  In the face of this crappiness, I sat down to think about the happy things of this past year. I made this list before Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died and before a colleague was harassed by white supremacists for mocking their racist concepts and now I don’t have much enthusiasm for sharing it. I’m concerned about focusing on my individual successes in the face of collective adversity. I know that the political losses of this year and the emboldening of the agents of injustice will require vigilance and thoughtfulness for the sake of creating a new and better world. I recall the good things of the year then in the spirit of possibility for doing that work. 

  • It was my first year as a tenured professor.
  • I’m on my first sabbatical.
  • We bought a house!  img_0950
  • We moved to a big(gish) city.
  • I turned 40.
  • Some really great people came to visit.

    Leigh Johnson made her way to Indianapolis for a weekend-long jam session.


    Villanova in Indiana


    Jay Blossom sighting


    The Johnsons stopped in all the way from Sharyland, TX.


    Happy birthday to me with nieces and nephew who visited us in Indiana for my birthday.

  • I had a gloriously sunny Cape May vacation with the nieces and nephews and sisters.

    The Nabors kids in Cape May.

  • I gave some good talks and got some good feedback on the book project I’m working on.
  • I went to the Eastern APA, philoSophia, Ancient Philosophy Society, Wonder and the Natural World, Feminist Ethics, Methodologies, Metaphysics and Science Studies, SPEP, Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy, IPA conferences this year. 
  • I reconnected with old friends in Philadelphia and New York City.
  • I attended a dear friend’s wedding.
  • I found a running group in Indianapolis.
  • I’ve been doing a reading group on some stuff I’ve been thinking about in the background for awhile and am glad to get into deeper.
  • I made some new friends in Indianapolis.

I’ve been in close contact with alum from the last three institutions I’ve taught at (Wabash, UTPA, and Bryn Mawr).


Wabash in Broad Ripple

Lunch with Wes Chamblee in South Bend

Lunch with Wes Chamblee in South Bend

The celebrity deaths, the lack of indictments for police shootings of Black people, emboldened racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny, Brexit, the political situation in Turkey, the surprising election all made it a year of possibilities foreclosed.  At the same time, it was for me a year that established new possibilities- a new house, a new city, the tenured life, sabbatical. I’m not entirely sure how to hold these things together. I’m working to make my own new possibilities a place from which to address and resist the foreclosed ones. 

The featured image is of the lighthouse at Cape May, NJ, lit by the sun.  I leave it here as a metaphorical demand for lighthouses.


    Day 1: 31 Days of Blogging

    Last January, inspired by Jill Stauffer and looking to blog more regularly, I decided to blog every day of January. It was hard, but it was good for me. It was an opportunity to think through some things that had been rattling around in my head, to write up some reviews of books, and to better articulate my thoughts on what was happening in the world. No doubt there were days that were hard, but it broke through some of my blogging anxieties making it easier for me to drop a post without too much concern over whether my contribution really was a contribution.

    Now a year later, those anxieties have not remained at bay. This is partly due to my efforts to address multiple audiences at once and partly due to my conflicted feelings about the philosophy blogosphere. Instead of getting into that here, I am going to start with my positive account of how I would like to think about blogging, my community of bloggers and my audience.

    1. I would like to be writing for a community of philosophers and non philosophers alike. This means a whole bunch of things that I think should lower the stakes of regular blogging. For one, it means writing plainly without trying to prove philosophy credentials. That means writing from a place of my expertise, but without the formal structures that demand that expertise be proven at every turn.
    2. For another, it means writing things because I think about them and am interested in sharing them.  I know some things, I know the world in which these things are discussed. I have specific investments and concerns about how we think about political life, about nature, about gender, about reading certain texts that I am interested in writing about. I’m going to actively strive to overcome my resistance to posting when I am unsure whether what I write has been said before. A, I don’t think it has and B, this is not a formal academic project that depends on the principles of academic research. Unfortunately, this sense that it is is often enforced on women bloggers while many allowances are made for men bloggers.
    3. I would like to have a community around blogging that responds graciously and thoughtfully, reading with a hermeneutics of sympathy, giving the author the benefit of the doubt, respecting her authority on those things in which she is an authority. This is a principle that often leads to false equivalences, something I hope to write about in the days to come.  I’ll just say that recognizing social and disciplinary positioning and responding thoughtfully in light of those positions would make this a better blog world.

    One reason I have an uneasy relationship to blogging is that I want to treat it as a kind of public note-taking of my thinking about the world, much as Chris Long writes about using Twitter. By being public I am compelled to work things out that might otherwise be left inchoate. But also by being public I find myself internalizing possible criticisms and concerns from comers on all sides. This Big O Other, law of the father, this gaze, whatever you want to call it is a view I’d like to better ignore. So this month I’d like to blog more consciously for myself. If that’s something you’re interested in following, I hope you do.  I’ll let you know at month’s end how we fare.

    Buying a House: Good Enough

    Since I last posted on the house, I have not had a spare moment to blog because I was painting every day but two and on those days, I was celebrating retiring colleagues or attending graduation.  So phew.  Last night, after 79 hours of work on the house (yes, I’m counting), we finished the painting project.  Just in time for the floor guy to come this morning at 7:30 AM.  I’m exhausted.  My hands hurt.  I’m glad that part is over.  We know we’re still going to have to do some touching up after the floor guy leaves.  But in all, we tried to have high standards.  We tried to do better than good enough.

    When we first move to Indiana, a friend gave me a book: Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana.  The author, James H. Madison, points to how Hoosiers have a general mentality of “good enough.”  I think there’s a legend that settlers moving westward stopped in Indiana instead of continuing westward, because, you know, “good enough.”  Since we learned about the “good enough” mentality, we see it everywhere.  We vowed that in our home, things would be otherwise.

    Then we got to work.  We did two coats of paint in the living and dining room, and maybe you can still see a little bit of blue.We pulled painting tape off the ceiling and some paint came off with it.  We painted the wooden joiners in the corners and then wondered if we should have left them bare wood.   We got a little trim paint on the wall in certain places. We decided not to do a second coat in closets because we didn’t have time.  We discovered one closet is wall-papered and so we just let it be altogether.  We realized another wall is wallpapered and covered with paint over the wallpaper.  We painted over it anyway.  We don’t want to have an unfinished closet.  We don’t want to paint over wallpaper.  But we didn’t have the time to do otherwise — we needed the job to be done by this morning.  We started to understand why people settle for good enough. Read more

    Buying a House: Don’t Force It

    Today I primed the living room and the dining room at our new house.  I had to do a bit of prep first: spackle some holes including the very big ones left by the television mount the previous owners left (that they left it baffles me, I think I could get a good chunk of change for this ginormous piece of equipment), take off an odd bit of baseboard that was nailed to the mantel and then scrape and sand down the paint on the mantel, and clean the walls and baseboards.  Then I very carefully laid down drop cloths, and tried very carefully not to spill paint even though I had the drop cloths down.  Two things kept running through my head.  First, do better than good enough — but I’ll get to that in another post.  Second, don’t force it.   Read more

    Buying a House: Manual Labor and Material Conditions

    Today was my first full day of working on the new house.  At day’s end, my finger pads are sore, my arm is bloody, and I’m exhausted.  Turns out, this is what all that weight lifting this semester has been in preparation for.  The day we closed, we went over to the house and pulled the carpets up and discovered beautiful wooden floors beneath them.  The project of today was to pull up the tack boards that the carpet had been nailed into.  That didn’t sound like that much work to me.  But it took me five and a half hours to do two rooms (I had planned on doing three, but cut out from exhaustion after two — this would seem to be one of the rules of DIY home improvement projects: the project will always take at least one and a half times as long as you estimate it will take).  Part of the problem is that I had to figure out how to do it first.  I was using the back end of a hammer which was practically impossible because the boards are too close to the wall so I couldn’t get any leverage, so I googled how to do it and someone said, get a pry bar, so off to Lowe’s.  I found a tool that pried on one end and pulled nails on the other.  (Another rule of DIY home improvement projects: the right tool is key). Read more

    Buying a House: The Rule of Law is a Bit of a Fiction

    In the Politics, Aristotle stages a debate between those who think the rule of law is best and those who think the rule of human beings best.  The case to be made for the rule of law is that it is unbiased and equal.  The case to be made for human beings is that humans can judge singular situations that the law cannot foresee.  Moreover, the law needs human beings to be put to work.  Humans decide which law in which case should be applied.  And the law cannot work unless the citizens have developed a habit of following the law.

    I enjoy teaching this section of Aristotle.  Students invested in a story we tell about the law recognize in this passage a sense that the law is more arbitrary and given to human whim than we tend to suppose.  Not only that, this arbitrariness is an essential element of the rule of law.  There’s no automated mechanism of law: we need human beings to enforce it, to make decisions about which law matters in which case and to follow it for it to have any force.

    So I knew this, but I didn’t know this until I encountered people who appeared to consider themselves not in any way bound by a legal contract to which I was a party.  What’s the point of a contract?!  I have a friend who practices probate and real estate law in Texas and I remember her once telling me that a will only has legal significance if you can find a judge who is willing to enforce it.  (This same friend asked me if I had learned nothing from living in Texas when I posted on Facebook my newfound understanding that the law is a fiction.)  I remember when she said that to me I was flummoxed–“But it’s a will!  Aren’t you just supposed to do what it says?”  I guess she has a job because so many people don’t think so.  When you’re dead, you can’t enforce it, so you really want to think it has some binding power while you are alive.  But if no judge thinks it is legitimate, your will has no effect.

    It turns out this is true for every contract every written.  I don’t know if this makes me more or less nervous about signing a contract.  The contract is binding because you treat it as binding. The law is binding because we all think it is.  What I take this to mean is that the rule of law is really for those who can afford it.  If you cannot afford a lawyer, and you really want your contract to be upheld, you might consider not signing the contract.  Or not expecting it to have any force other than the trust you have in the other person (see previous post).  If you have the money and the circumstances that permit you to fight the contract and you don’t want to meet the terms of the contract and the other person doesn’t have the money, then you can walk away pretty easily.

    This is why a contract needs to be between not just formally legal equals but also economic equals in order for it to work as a contract, because only then do both parties have equal means to enforce the contract.  This state of affairs would seem to further support the arguments made by Carole Pateman and Charles W. Mills about how the social contract when asserted between men and women and whites and non-whites is a pseudo-contract, only binding to the extent that it can be enforced, and the only ones with the power to enforce it are the ones who refuse to be bound by its terms.  Or rather, the contract on its face is about equality, but the contract in fact binds those who are unequal to a situation whose terms they cannot negotiate or challenge because they cannot afford to.

    My insight about the extent to which the law is a fiction also confirmed for me the sense that law enforcement is about protecting property.  We tend to think that criminal law, the law that the police enforce, is one code (and well it is), and the civil law, the law that lawyers enforce, is another.  But recognizing that the law that the lawyers enforce is backed by those who can afford them, made me see more clearly why people say that law enforcement is for the sake of protecting property by those who have it.  The property owners who see themselves as the truest members of the community need protection from the property-less, the not-quite-so-fully-fledged members of the community.  The property owners want police cars patrolling their streets.  The people who own feel safer when they see law enforcement.  The people who own put their money to work to give the law force, either in property taxes or in hiring a lawyer.

    I was discussing this on social media, this idea that the law is a fiction, and a friend commented that it was time to resort to force.  But, it became very clear to me in that moment, it’s all force. This is the reason that money should not count as speech in political life, because really, it’s the mechanism of force behind the law.  If only some have it, then only those with money can put the law to work.  That’s why inequality in a community that considers itself to follow the rule of law is a threat to the rule of law in fact.  Now I find myself seeing the fiction of the rule of law everywhere I look.  I also understand better why we are a litigious society because in some sense, we all recognize it’s a bit of a fiction.  And I think we’re all a little pissed off about it.

    Buying a House: Learning Not to Trust

    I wrote the quoted part of this the week after we learned that the sellers were trying to back out, before inspections, and the second part about five days after the inspections, when we learned that the sellers had been in touch with their real estate agent and were now planning to go through with the sale.

    Growing up in Philadelphia, I’ve met my share of con artists.  People who were down and out might stop you on the street with their sob story.  A classic was that someone was in the hospital and they needed money to get the SEPTA regional rail to the hospital in New Jersey.  Everyone was always going to the hospital in New Jersey.  Or their car broke down just down the way and they somehow forgot their wallet that day and they needed twenty bucks to get to the gas station and buy gas.  These stories worked because they could have been true.  Sometimes you would brush them off, because eventually, you knew it was just a story, and sometimes you would pay because it felt like they had done some creative work coming up with the story, and sometimes you actually thought, maybe it was true.  Because, like I said, it could have been true.  One time, I had enough money at the SEPTA terminal to pay cash for one ride, but I really needed just another quarter or something so I could buy tokens and get a round trip.  I don’t remember why I came to the station without the change, maybe I thought I had it when it turned out I didn’t.  Or the change machine was down and I only had dollars. I had to ask people for change at Fern Rock.  I was explaining why I didn’t have the money and I was thinking, I sound so full of shit.  But still, I’m a believer.

    I tend to believe.  In people.  In things working out.  In somehow, against all odds, gleams of justice and truth shining through.

    I think buying a house might have finally taught me not to believe.  Or rather, it taught me not to be sure that I could or should believe.

    The people who sold us our house said they were going to withdraw after twice refusing access to our inspector.  So as I said in the last post, we hired a lawyer, and the sellers responded directly to our lawyer, sans realtor, that there has been a misunderstanding and they are not refusing inspection.  So we’re back on right?  Now it’s this odd stage, where technically, they haven’t actually withdrawn from the purchase agreement, and the only evidence we had that they were planning to is from their realtor who told our realtor that they had decided not to sell.  Can we believe her?   We don’t know.  Our realtor keeps saying that despite all the strangeness of the sellers, that really, she’s good at her job.  Now this makes us suspicious.  Are they trying to save the realtor from a suit that we could bring if the sellers do finally renege on the sale?  At first I thought it all good because I had people.  Now I think the people just produce distance that makes me more skeptical about who should be trusted.  Now I’m wondering if they have agreed to do inspections but are going to sabotage the inspections to prevent us from wanting to buy.

    Read more

    Buying a House: Or Not

    One afternoon, about a week after we signed the purchase agreement for the house, I got a call from my real estate agent.  This is what I wrote on this blog before it became legally advisable not to publish:

    The sellers decided they don’t want to sell.  After two offers (ours is the second), and four months on the market, and lots of back and forth about little things in the house, they think they might have to move back from where they are and they want the house to be available.  I thought that this was going to be a cheery exciting process of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and now we are back to square one.

    Today we finally closed, so now I’m going back and publishing posts I wrote while we were in house-buying limbo. This post was written the day after this first paragraph.

    Read more

    What’s the Use in Being Young If You Ain’t Gonna Get Old?

    I turn 40 today.  Forget the cult of youth, I’m glad to be this old, to have the experience and the confidence of this age.  I find it insulting when people tell me I look young and then, when I object, tell me I should feel complimented–something which happens to me on the regular.  Thank you for assuming I want the things associated with youth rather than with age and for telling me how to feel that.  The youth are feminine  and the adults are men.  Men are the adults, and women are the adolescents.  Until you reach a certain age when perceived fragility leads you to be treated as a woman.  I’m less and less concerned with being good at being feminine, at being polite and accommodating and comforting and properly attractive.  Now is the hour of our gender nonconformity?  We shall see.

    I have figured some things out that make my life stable.  I take this to be a great privilege and not a matter of course.  I have tenure.  I am married.  I am about to buy a house.  I have published respectable scholarship.  I have former and current students who keep coming back.  I have visited Greece.  I have deep and satisfying friendships.  I have learned something about how and when to speak my mind, to choose my fights, to critically analyze and understand the world without being bowled over by it.  I continue to learn what my body can do: go faster and stronger.  I’m not sad about getting old.  I’m coming into my own.  Really, I feel like I am more and more myself.  This is 40.

    Last year, I was thinking about what other people had accomplished by my age and thinking that I had a lot to do.  With this milestone birthday, I’m thinking about all the people who didn’t do the things we know them for until my age or later.  At 40:

    • Julia Child was still working in advertising;
    • Samuel L. Jackson had yet to be in a movie;
    • Jane Lynch had yet to be recognized as the talent she is;
    • Kathy Bates was just gearing up to star in Misery;
    • Lucille Ball had yet to make an episode of “I Love Lucy;”
    • Stan Lee had just published his first comic book;
    • Charles Darwin published his first book;
    • Vera Wang was not yet a designer;
    • Henry Ford had not yet designed a car;
    • Rodney Dangerfield didn’t not get respect for five more years;
    • Bram Stoker wouldn’t publish Dracula for ten more years;
    • Hans-Georg Gadamer had yet to publish Truth and Method;
    • George Eliot had yet to publish a novel.

    I don’t make this list to say, give me time!  But to say I’m finding that age itself might bring more possibility than loss of potential.