At the kids’ gym today I met a very gregarious, sociable daddy who looked me straight in the eye, smiled, responded to comments, and didn’t freak out when addressed.

“So you just came to the area?” I asked.

“Yes!” he said. “Moved here from Michigan just three weeks ago. How did you guess?”

The only thing I don’t like about this region is how horrible everybody is at basic human contact.

Fragile Vessels

I hope I was as offensive as I meant to be in my response to the microaggressions survey I got at work.

Among the endless litany of microaggressions listed in the survey, my favorite is “Have you observed or experienced a professor turning the heater in their office up or down to make it uncomfortable for underrepresented professors who come to speak to them in their office.”

We don’t control heaters in our offices or anywhere. As a result, we often end up stewing in our offices or classrooms when it’s 75C outside and the heater is on full blast. I had to let students go early last week because it was so hot and stuffy in our windowless basement classroom that it was getting unsafe.

But even if we did control our heaters. People do have different temperature preferences. What kind of a sick bugger assumes that colleagues choose a different office temperature out of racism and not out of a normal human preference?

The questions on the survey produce an impression that the only correct way to treat “underrepresented faculty” is as if they were precious, fragile vessels that need to be approached with extreme care. You can’t treat them as intellectual equals or fully capable adults who are in control of their emotional responses.

The length of the questionnaire, the lack of a definition for the word “underrepresented,” and the outlandishly trivial nature of proposed offenses ensure everybody’s culpability. There is no way of proving whether, as you talk with a shivering colleague in a frigid office, you are thinking, “this is a great idea, I should ask him if he wants to work on a proposal together” or “serves you right, you underrepresented person, I wish we had more people from Norway instead of your undesirable ass.” Neither can I know if the underrepresented colleague is thinking “all women are dumb bitches and I hope she freezes to death” or “this is a great idea, I should ask her if she wants to work on a proposal together.” If I automatically assume it’s the former, all this means is that I’m a paranoid idiot.

Open Kitchens

Yes, kitchens that aren’t separated from living rooms are weird. I still can’t get used to them.

But the concept has an interesting history. Initially, such kitchen designs were considered a huge feminist advance. They allowed the person who cooked (and that was obviously almost always a woman) not to be isolated from the family while she was cooking. The sequence of “a woman goes into a kitchen => food magically emerges from said kitchen” was broken. Now everybody in the family could see how much work went into food preparation. Plus, a woman didn’t have to cook in silence (or while on the phone with another cooking woman.)

However, there was a negative side to this new design. It allowed and even promoted the brain-destroying, soul-crushing, concentration-slaughtering multi-tasking that leads so many women into anxiety and extreme exhaustion. Now that kitchen and living room were one, cooking was invariably combined with child-minding. So instead of a restorative activity based on a deep concentration, cooking became an exercise in trying to control several very different things simultaneously.

The result is that nobody wants to cook because it’s not even pleasant any more.

Radiant Idiots

Another phrase that makes me feel the desire to get violent is, “they loved you the way they knew how.” Are people saying it maliciously because they know it’s going to wound, or are they that dumb?

The Russian language is very rich in offensive slang, so it’s next to impossible to recreate this in English, but there is a great expression to refer to the folks who want to stuff their positive thinking down your throat in the most inappropriate moments. We call them radiant pussy blowers.