Cognitive Reconstruction

Or “My Grandmother, The Lawyer”

A little knowledge…
a) Goes a long way, or
b) is a dangerous thing

Let’s start with going a long way, because it’s a long and winding road that leads…

To academic tenure.

Fucking tenure.

And yet, what a great vocation. After all, the pursuit of knowledge is such a wonderful and curious blessing to devote oneself to. I’m essentially being paid to read a lot and learn things and run them through the prism of my own comprehension. But I’ve also been tasked with commodifying my own brain. In the case of consultancy work, I’m paid to do this by the hour. That shouldn’t be a bad thing. We are all paid for whatever capacities we have to offer, but in the midst of all these questions I have to deal with, all with their respective deadlines, there are the little strikes (strokes?) dealt by the burden of our own mortality; things that make you wonder whether it’s even worth it to bother with (and I’m quoting verbatim here) questions like:

In Ashcroft et. al. (1995), using the framework informative of strategies in colonialism/imperialism, explain the significance of (i) Figures of Resistance, and (ii) literary resistance


Borrowing Walter Benjamin’s articulation of capitalism and Boris Groys’ working theory of self-design online, we seemingly subscribe to a new religion where the Internet has become our church. Have we become devout to this new religion? Or, are we trapped in this new church?

And these are great questions to entertain, because I did not see myself talking about this for a living at 27. I thought at this age, I’d be at the same stage of Thought Catalog-flavored misery I was dealing with just the other year, but no. Here we/I are/am now, being asked about post-history and the human condition, with a word count and a format. And that’s great.

But my grandmother just had a stroke.

I know I give away a lot in this space about my own personal crises, and these things sometimes touch on family issues. I’ve written about fathers, exes, my sister, maybe a bit of my mom here and there, but I would never mean to sell a family member out for even a bit of sympathy. My problem is not knowing how else to deal with a problem without writing about it, and this is something I’ve had on the brain all day – its force contending with whatever energy I’m supposed to be devoting to those questions on post-blablabla and mechanical reproduction. I’m thinking of a different kind of post-war reconstruction. I’m thinking of something that hits closer and harder than what my tiny fucking brain can contribute to fixing the world. I mean, what is that, really?

About my grandmother: When I was little (and I truly mean little, I’m talking third grade, sixth grade, and again in 3rd year high school), she would call me up when I would go through extended periods of “I fucking hate school and I’m not going to go, fuck-you-all”. That happened every few years, and I would end up staying home for days, annoyed at all the quote-unquote bullshit I felt I was being fed, and needing to “recuperate” because I was bored and petty and selfish enough to think I actually needed a break. It never got so bad that I had to drop out altogether, but I did find my journals from these periods (I KEPT A JOURNAL IN THIRD GRADE! WTF IS THAT?!) and felt so bad about the self-entitlement that just emanated off the pages.

But it was my grandmother who would take the time to lecture me on how this was important and this would pay off eventually. Of course I resented it then, but she was onto something. (Funny thing is she also hated one of her grade school teachers and stayed home for a whole year because of that, but when she returned, she was accelerated immediately because she managed to keep up anyway.) And now, I work in a school, which is another story altogether because there’s no way she could have predicted that–but I do give credit where credit is due and she was definitely vital to this pursuit of knowledge–dangerous or otherwise.

My grandmother was a Supreme Court Justice despite her contentious credentials as a lawyer. She entered UP Law as a special student (meaning I don’t know if she was actually admitted and properly credited with a law degree…I know there’s something fucked-up [in an awesome way] about her record) and topped the bar exam that year. She was (and is) fucking brilliant, and I can draw a line directly from the example she set into my own venture into academe. She also taught me to use a sewing machine when I was in grade school.

But she was also very conservative, bordering on uptight, and I spent a lot of time (especially from my teens well into my twenties) trying to shake that off. When it comes to knowledge being a dangerous thing, it was from her that I learned (and eventually unlearned) to equate knowledge with fear or confuse it with her own beliefs. She was the type who’d watch the news (or Oprah or whatever), and her take-away would usually be how terrible the world was and how everyone was out to get you and your money and your daughters. It’s terrible to be someone’s daughter in that kind of household, but instead of even attempting to communicate my own experiences which had shaped an entirely different perspective from her beliefs, I would clam up. I did a lot of nodding.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to take back those tacit complicities about how awful the world is, but I wish I could. I don’t even know if it would help her, after all I’m a good 60 years younger than her. She lived through the fucking war. She’s sent people to jail. what the fuck would I know? But that’s the thing, I know what I know, and I had that to bring to the table to get her to believe in a kinder, softer existence, or at least know me as something better than the granddaughter who has no grey area between smiling and scowling, and mysteriously disappears from time to time and collects cats and refuses to eat meat.

I was asked a few weeks ago if I come from a family of lawyers, and for some odd reason I answered, “No, it’s just three out of four grandparents, my dad, my aunt, and my older brother.” To which the question had to be repeated, “So you come from a family of lawyers?” Yes, I do. But for someone who comes from a family of lawyers, I still have trouble gauging just how much of how the world works, and how a person should be, is grounded in the law. I’m not proud of the fact that I know very little of the constitution or my rights (as a Filipino, as a woman, etc. etc.) or all these other things that pertain to what I do. I just talk a lot. She didn’t talk a lot at home because she spoke for a living, but I know this business of talking a lot had to start somewhere and she’s definitely in that mix.

The things you hear talked about in hushed tones over hospital beds will derail you from the work you have to do. I visited her this afternoon, after class, after being told that “She can’t talk,” but “She might be able to recognize you, if she wakes up.” Although she remained asleep throughout the visit, as of now, she’s already woken up. But we’ve already been warned of the possibility that she won’t speak the same way again and the certainty that she now has minor cognitive impairment after the multiple strokes and seizures she’s endured in the past 48 hours.

And of course that–along with so many other things in the world–is just not right.

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