Wednesday, June 15, 2005

thoughts on stonewall jackson, my stomach, and the concept of 'race'

Hypochondria is a strange thing. I read last night that Stonewall Jackson ( a civil war general or some such ) refused to eat black pepper because he thought it would make his right leg go numb. Was he right? or just batty?
I went to the hospital today to have my blood test early, because my stomach has seemed strange lately and it makes me worry. I really don't want to lose my second ovary or worse. But I can't remember what a normal stomach felt like before, and I don't even know when before was.
The doctor kind of laughed when I said my stomach felt strange and sick if I didn't eat, and bloated if I did. I pointed out that those were the symptoms of ovarian cancer, and he said yes, but everyone feels like that. I would think I was just being paranoid if it wasn't for the fact that I had these exact same mental conversations last year, and concluded I was just being paranoid, and then it turned out I did have ovarian cancer. So. I guess I'm entitled to be a bit paranoid.

Its odd thinking about what normal is. We were friends with this family when I was a kid whose daughter seemed fairly normal, if a bit hyper and bossy. Then she went to the hospital for a routine checkup of some kind and they realized she had a huge hole in her heart, and her body had been operating as if she'd been running all the time. She got a lot calmer after the operation. Things that affect your personality are especially weird. Like I heard about someone once who was always irritable, then when they were told to eat more broccoli they totally chilled out.
I think this can be related back to my thoughts a few days ago about in between things and places in a certain way.
That is, the blur between self and environment, or put another way, just the indefiniteness of self, of what it is to be a human. We think of it as so clear - this is me, that's a tree, this is me, this is air, this is me, that's a frog. But, really, its nothing like that at all. Everything is always blurring together, turning into other things - being is becoming - as some philosopher said ( Sartre? Kierkegaard?) I can't remember - terrible with this B.A. in philosophy and all... and that entails the problem of defining in any solid way what a person is, or what they are not, what's normal, what's abnormal - nothing can ever be clear cut, its always a matter of trends...
but people are obsessed with categorization. I suppose our minds work like that, categorizing allows us to make distinctions and establish patterns. It makes us uneasy if we cannot clearly differentiate between what makes one thing, and what makes another. One interesting place in which that human tendency to categorize arises is in regards to race. Scientists have stated quite clearly, that there are no definite racial characteristics which can be assigned to any given race. That is, that though there are trends within a ' racial' group, thats all they are - tendencies within a group which are by no means definitive. Having been in Japan so long, I've noticed how my perception of Asian people has changed. When I first came, and maybe last year, my very first impression of any Japanese person was their ' Asianess' not that I even thought about it, but that was very clear to me when someone was Asian, and when they weren't. But now, after 3 years of looking at almost all Asian faces every day, I don't really notice it. Japanese people just look like people. Its difficult to explain, but I realize that what makes up ' Asianness' is simply a bunch of similar characteristics - a certain kind of eyes, a certain shape of face - its not really any different than the differences between anyone's faces - its only because ' Asian' faces have certain things in common, and certain things not in common with other people, that we classify them into a big group. But there are no real lines between an 'Asian' and a white person ( for example) not really - There is no strict basis for race. But it seems to drive people crazy when they cannot categorize. And some people out there want to keep the ' bloodlines' ' pure' - it just doesn't make any sense, because there is nothing to establish ' whiteness' or ' asianness' in the first place. Its nothing but trends in facial and physical characteristics. Isn't it? someone please tell me if I am wrong about this.
How about the idea of having 6 toes or fingers ( a la The Chrysilids ) ? Its not wrong to have 6 fingers or toes, its just that most people have only 5, and so that's become the standard 'human' amount. But if people started all developing 6 digits on their hand and feet, would that become standard?
Its weird to think about absolutes and unabsolutes I think. People are always trying to establish solid ground, a basis on which to make judgements about things - but life is a shifting sand of meaning and reality. Even the established analytical truths of science and mathematics are beginning to be challenged by quantum physics ( see the movie 'what the bleep do we know' for an interesting, if bizarrely presented introduction ) I wonder if one day, as of now untouchable mathematical proofs will be showed to be different in different situations.

And back to how to deal with, be in, comprehend a constantly shifting world. An in-between place, neither here nor there. Its something to do with trying not to intellectually categorize, but instead follow currents, trends, possibilities, and hunches I guess. Unsatisfactory in the case of deciding if I am being paranoid or not, because there is no way to know for sure - I guess its just that old fumbling along, keep your ears and eyes open.

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