Learning Hierogylphics and Academic Mentors

learning hieroglyphics

I started asking myself the other morning if I could remember when I really felt like I was going to become an academic. I was a precocious child – I was passionate from a young age about reading and learning, about conducting my own research into specialized subjects that interested me. But I found myself thinking just now about when exactly the point of no return might have been.

I am the son of a (now semi-retired) professional academic. When I was growing up, I would often visit my Dad’s office in the English Department at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban, South Africa. My Dad worked for many decades as a professor there, and the university looms large in the city and my snap-shot memories of it. It is a tall, tan building that looks down somewhat imperiously onto the city from atop a small hill. Pushing up from the folds of land surrounding it, it exudes a quiet constancy. Yet despite its classic monastic-fortress on the hill feel, any firmness it might manage is ultimately lost to Durban’s humid haze, and the city’s trademark red sand has coated the building’s stonework altogether too thoroughly for it to maintain any illusion of celestial stateliness – ruddy-cheeked and dusty, the university’s brand of monasticism is less regal abbot, and more older, disheveled but dignified bachelor – tall, skinny and off to one side, a friend of the hosts at the mixer, pulling nervously at his collar. Continue reading

How my Dad got Worms: Academic Karma, and Wondering what Anthropology is even good for

worms and anthropology post

When I was about 12 years old my Dad got worms. He got a lot of them, and it ended up being quite awkward. He didn’t get them in his guts, though, but in a washing machine.

I had forgotten all about this episode in my Dad’s and mine own life until just now, when I was talking to a friend of mine on Facebook, Austin Coppock, about animism and the difference between Continue reading

Bathtub Seances, Delayed News of Passing, and Facebook as a Mausoleum

sammy bath tub

I just found out through a chance appearance on my Facebook feed that another friend and lover of mine in Denver passed away six months ago (it wasn’t that long ago that I learned that another friend and lover of mine in Denver, John, passed away as well – you can see my memorial to him and my conflicted reflections on public mourning and Facebook here). Somehow I missed this news entirely, no doubt because I’ve been away abroad doing other things. A friend of Sammy’s just posted on his wall saying that she had dreamed of him appearing in the back of a car. She’d asked him how it was he could be there, and he’d replied, “I’m everywhere”. I went to his page, realizing I’d not seen sign of him in ages, only to discover that he had taken his own life in July of last year at the age of 31.

Sammy came up in conversation only a day or two ago, while I was talking with my friend Ella who’s my current travelling partner in Rajasthan. I told Ella a story about an unusual experience that I once shared with Sammy that has always stuck with me. When I told it to her I made a mental note to reach out to Sammy to find out how he was, and to ask him if he’d mind recounting his version of events to me for comparison. I now realize this won’t be possible in the way that I had hoped.

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On Gay Cowboys, Pirates, and Going Fishing

blue pirate.jpg

I just read Annie Proulx’s ‘gay Western’ “Brokeback Mountain” for the first time. I saw the film adaptation with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal just after it and I, came out ten or more years ago, but had never read the story until now. I’m amazed at how faithful the film is to the story. In both the original and the adaptation, Alma, Ennis/Heath Ledger’s character’s now ex-wife (played by Michelle Williams), confronts Ennis one Thanksgiving in the kitchen about the real purpose of his intermittent fishing trips with his old buddy/secret-not-so-secret-lover Jack Twist/Jake Gyllenhaal. In one of the most poignant parts of the film, Alma says Continue reading

Facebook, Public Mourning, and Virtual Graveyards

john.jpg

Yesterday I found out that one of my friends and ex-lovers in Denver, John passed away. What a strange thing it is to be able to publicly tag a dead person on Facebook. I have mixed feelings about doing so, and about discussing John’s death at all. John wasn’t always a big talker. I doubt I wrote as much to him on here in the time we were friends and while he was alive as I am now. I don’t know what to think about virtual mourning. The whole narcissistic architecture of Facebook seems kind of gross in the face of death. The platform has none of the intimacy of a quiet, fleshy memorial, and I’m not sure yet what the social-ritual function of likes may be when it comes to honoring the departed. But John’s Facebook page has already become a space of commemoration Continue reading