Sunday, December 11, 2005

Kid's Birthday.

Wow. She's an adorable gap-toothed seven-year-old. How cool is that?!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Dinner at my house...

One of the few things that bum me out about blogging is that I "know" all these cool people but I lack
companionship in my daily life. I'd like to spend one of these frosty evenings laughing and chatting,
hot bread steaming, hot tea at the table, wine for those of us who partake and so forth. Alas.
Instead, I'm going to invite you all to "dinner" at "my house" by posting a recipe which is easy,
delicious, and infinitely adaptable (if you're vegan, use oil and if you don't drink, don't put in the wine and
the results will still be just fine).

Limburg Potato Soup (courtesy of Peter Rose)

2 lbs potatoes, peeled and washed (or not peeled, for a more rustic flavor and look)
1 med. onion
4 carrots
4 Tbsp butter or oil
1/3 cu plus 1 Tbsp flour
6 cups veggie broth
1 cu dry white wine
1/4 tsp mace
Salt and pepper
4 Tbsp minced parsley (dry works too -- maybe a Tbsp of dry)
2 Tbsp minced celery leaves
Broth or milk to thin the soup


Cut up the potatoes thin, chop the onion, cut carrots into thin coins. Melt butter (or add oil) to soup kettle,
whisk in flour and brown it slightly. Gradually add broth. Whisk vigorously to make a smooth sauce.
Stir in wine (or not -- I'd put in another cu of broth for liquid volume in that case), add potatoes, carrots,
onion and mace. Bring to a boil, then simmer about 20-25 minutes. Puree in a blender (I don't have
an immersion blender, so I dump it in the Kitchenaid). Return to kettle. Season with salt, pepper, herbs
and simmer for about another 10 minutes.

Serves 4. Can be easily doubled or tripled to serve a hungry crowd of teenagers. This a traditional
Dutch dish from the southern provinces, says food author Peter Rose. I just know that the recipe
looked good, I tried it, and found it as good as it looked on the page.

I'm also serving a wonderful spinach salad, home-baked break, and pumpkin pie with a radically
revised pie crust recipe. (Those who shared my table at Thanksgiving know that my pie crust
needed work, but thank you for being good-humored about it.)

So. Break bread with me, friends, and share the hush of candlelight on a winter's evening.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Avalanche.

No, not really. Although it feels cold enough in my house to sustain a ski slope (no insulation in this barny 1913 gem,
brrrrrr, not enough money to actually heat it this winter), I'm mainly just down under the big pile of papers and other
duties (like planning my daughter's birthday party) that are sucking all available time. I promise. The silence series will
continue with more and better reflections than this little blurt, but I'll share a quote to think about before
I go down waving for the third time:

From Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams:

"In a world of silence, all becomes sign...images of ducks above whose feathers floated to earth as a kind of hoarfrost that built up like a veining of feathers on a ship's rig."

One of the things that I find myself missing most is the space in which to contemplate the Mystery. I want to
let the signs fill me up, so that I can puzzle on them like so many treasures kept in my heart. Silence is a
pocket in a child's coat, not so much empty as filled with daily curiousities.

I hope you are having better luck than I am in getting yourself some peace.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Finding Silence

I am a rural person living in the middle of a big rude loud Northeastern city. During the clement months, I rescue myself and Kid regularly, driving out to the hinterlands for busywork trips, hikes, and tours of historical sites. Winters here preclude a lot of rambling around looking for the natural quiet I crave. It's particularly bad in December, when every store is blatting carols (fine when sung by human voices, insane when squawked by Chipmunks) and the bright displays feel like a confusing attack on my inner equilibrium.

I've decided to try to use the means at my disposal (the Internet! My brain!) to get a measure of the silence I find so vital.
It's my gift to myself.

Here's the first installment of high-quality reflections on the importance of silence, written by audio engineer and nature sound artist Gordon Hempton:

http://www.soundtracker.com/Silence.htm

Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mercy...

I've been a bad non-posting blogger. Nothing horrible, just mostly work stuff bogging me down. I also have trouble writing about life when I'm happy, preferring to reverberate with the feeling of fulfillment than analyze it. However, I realize that I am not keeping up my end of the moral contract to provide a certain amount of productivity-killing, mind-absorbing writing and so I'll endeavor to make amends.

But first, I thought I'd give everyone the giggles by highlighting some awesomely bad writing about sex:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,6000,1652812,00.html

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Not exactly random thoughts...

I'm sure these are connected, but I'm still a little too sick to figure out how, so I'll hang them out and let others connect the dots. Two "teaching begins at home" thoughts, then a broader "hmmm"

1) Don't fault a kid for being overly critical of her playmates when she's basically parroting something you said. I get frustrated about Kid's tendency to focus on the problems in relationships, the minor slights, the exhausting litany of "and then Little Boy X karate chopped me in the arm AGAIN." I listen. I advise. If I sense bullying, I discreetly observe and intervene if necessary. But I also realized last night as she launched into an extended dissection of the behavior of a kid she
swims with that I had provided her with an appalling unmerciful example of how to talk about another human being. Naturally, rather than taking responsibility, I initially tried to hold her accountable and confused her. (Yes, another wonderful
moment in my parenting history.) Now I wonder how I go about slowly repatterning my own speech (and hers) into
a less judgmental frame. God, sometimes I wish I had an "idiotic pronouncements I have made" wiper.

2) Maybe it wasn't the smartest thing I ever did to start reading Kid this very gripping story about a young ballerina
caught in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War...because we all know how that's going to turn out. Duh, Communards
getting killed by the thousands after prolonged starvation. Completely age inappropriate. Right up there with
viewing La Boheme during her asthma attack. (Yet, I must admit that the author captures the human price of
war, the way that art can be used in the worst of times to ameliorate suffering and give hope, the preciousness of
a taste of hoarded marmalade after a long hunger -- it's more thought-provoking than repeated viewings of
DragonTales, but whether those are thoughts a nearly-seven-year-old needs to be pushed toward thinking is
another matter.)

and

3) When researching the Communards (I had the Western Civ overview, allowing me to briefly explain the movement
to Kid but without the detailed knowledge to answer the questions that she'll come up with over time), I
realize that the British pop-band of the same name is far more easy to find out about than this exceptionally
significant mass-movement of workers that prefigured both the Bolshevik Revolution and Maoism. Ok, well,
the politics of the Internet isn't really all that hard to figure out... but in speaking with
a long-time friend about this, he suggested that perhaps if a million people wanted to know about the British
pop band and a thousand people wanted to know about the social movement that shaped the most important ideological
conflict of the twentieth century, maybe one could argue that the pop band is more important. I just can't accept
that. I have staked my professional livelihood on making the argument that some stuff is more worth
knowing than others (and one should pay me to teach that stuff to you expeditiously). And the Paris Communards
(1870s) are more important than the British Communards (1980s). There. I've just out and said it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

JumpShot

Tests of character are never good. Character isn't forged at amusement parks or birthday parties, but rather in emergency rooms and dark nights of the soul. I mentioned in a previous post a student who is facing a test of character and I wanted to brag a little bit about her, although she will never see this.

JumpShot is an academically underprepared student from a rough social background. A lot of drugs, violence, and death cloud her personal history before she came to our school. She's a tough girl with a lightning quick break, a low cross-over dribble, and a relentless court attack that gets her in foul trouble on the floor. (I love basketball and have watched her
play with great delight.) Perhaps because of her background, however, she curls up and goes into deep denial when
anything is going wrong around her. She withdraws and disengages at the first sign of adversity, as if she is drawing
a curtain between her real self and whatever might damage her ability to get through her life. She has a guarded relationship
with authority figures, accepting counsel only grudgingly. I've heard she's a challenge to coach. I know she's a
challenge to teach -- I'm not sure how to guide her toward learning because I haven't figured out what it is that she wants to know.

So we reached an impasse. She did poorly on one exam, didn't take another one because she lost confidence in herself and didn't get in touch with me directly to arrange something else. At this pace, she'll fail the class. Now I know that she's financially unable to pay for extra semesters beyond her full scholarship -- to flunk this class means, in essence, that
she'll not graduate from college. So I proposed that she stay in the class, do a compensatory assignment, and hang in there to pass the class with a D. I offer the same deal to any other student who comes to me in such a situation, but
most people who are failing drift away and never ask for the help that they are entitled to or that I could (at my option)
provide to them. Her grades everywhere else have been ok and she's not in danger of losing
her NCAA eligibility, so I really didn't know if she would take me up on the offer -- some student-athletes don't care
much about their education per se. To my great surprise (and to her coach's amazement), she has not
disengaged but has battled back, working harder than ever for the "privilege" of getting a barely acceptable
grade because she understands that her graduation is on the line.

There's no pep squad to cheer her on, no band to play a fight song, and no one's going to write her up in the
school newspaper for this victory. In fact, no one else will ever know that in her room late at night, after all the practicing
and the press conferences and the bus travel and the game itself, she's playing a little one-on-one with Benjamin Franklin. And she's taking him to school.

The bright side and how to look on it...

I'm in the middle (well, I hope, toward the end) of a bout with flu. As deathly illnesses go, this one wasn't bad. A night of upchucking and other assorted unpleasantness followed by a lot of dozing. Today, I have fatigue, muscle soreness, and stomach cramps, but nothing dramatic or particularly sympathy-attracting. I feel well enough to write, so I guess I'm going to make it.

Having an unscheduled intermission in the busiest month of the school calendar makes some things clear that I lose sight of, and for that I am grateful.

1) I'm very responsible. Even when I knew (around noon) that I was getting sick, I quickly drew together a plan for
my Monday afternoon classes that would convey the concepts in half the time, ran out to get groceries, and otherwise
had the foresight to batten down the hatches. I often feel that I lack forethought, that I'm disorganized, that I'm
not as committed as some of my colleagues. I think I'm being too hard on myself.

2) My students will survive, and it's even good for them, to be less dependent on me. Of course, everyone would like
immediate feedback on everything they do. That's what moms are for. But I am not a mom to 100 people simultaneously.
So if they must wait until Monday for exam results -- even if it means that they are inconvenienced by coming to
a regularly scheduled class before Thanksgiving break that they would otherwise cut -- that is ok.

3) I do a hell of a lot of work around the house every day. Boy, does that become clear when I completely stop doing
stuff for a day. Dishes pile up. Beds unmade. Clothing unwashed. Toys scattered everywhere. The house today
looks like it received a direct hit from a crap bomb.

4) Kid is a pretty wonderful child. I couldn't drive yesterday (the local school district won't transport her to the Montessori, which is in another district), so she had to stay home "to take care of Mom." She filled water glasses, played dolls,
painted a gazillion Christmas ornaments, and amused herself for the whole day doing math problems and reading
books to be quiet so that I could sleep this one off. It's true that only children are often pressured to grow up
quickly and I think that I've been guilty of asking her to take on some responsibilities that other children
her age don't have to manage -- she cleans her room, she takes care of the catbox, she sets the table and
cleans her place at the table, she sorts the laundry and helps fold and store her clothes, she sweeps the kitchen
floor with a broom and dustpan while I do the dishes, and so forth. At a time of
petit crisis, however, she was able to help out in a way that many children her age could not have done. And for
that I am very grateful. (Of course, some of the things like toy pick-up that she does only grudgingly and
under direct supervision slipped entirely. So what.)

This unexpected gift of time has given me a chance to do some task organizing (I'm also a listmaker!) and
I'm feeling more confident about how I'm going to manage the bulk of work looming before me in the
next month. I've got a brief window after the immediate grading round is done in which to do my own
work and I've committed myself to try to finish this article that I'm working on and get it off to a
journal before the end of the year. It's harder for me to let go of work, I think, because I have been
a scholarly journal editor and thus I know the standard of writing that will cut it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Second-guessing.

As an addendum to the recent posts on plagiarism, I thought it was interesting that all five of my departmental colleagues
believed I blew it by not crucifying the guy immediately. I must explain that I love my colleagues. They are devoted teachers, talented researchers, generally great human beings. We share a commitment to progressive politics and action. I genuinely look forward to going places with them socially. I guess that is why it surprises me so much that we could be so far
apart on this issue. Now I feel like I've let the side down by not lowering the boom for knowing dishonesty. I'll really have to give this one more thought.

And while I'm thinking, I have to come up with a way to make amends to the whole school for flunking the only bright spot in one of our college's many struggling sports programs. JumpShot faltered, I have tried to help, the coach has been completely supportive of getting her to extra study sessions and so forth, but JumpShot didn't show up for the test or the make-up. That's the sound of the buzzer -- game over. I hate it that she may have lost her only opportunity to go to college. I hate that we live in a world in which young women like JumpShot arrive at mediocre schools which will use them to draw the crowds for a year or two. Coaches will run them ragged with 6 am practices, withhold study time from them in the form of weekend "team retreats," hold drill until the athletes can barely stay awake in class, and then send these academically challenged students packing when they can't make NCAA grade requirements. If they came in with great study skills -- and to be fair, her teammates have come and gone through my class and have been fine -- that would be one thing. Recruiting kids not ready for college academics and then putting them through a regimen seemingly designed to guarantee their
failure...well, that's just the system in which we're all trapped here. (The real joke is that we're not a Div I school. The glory of the game is about all these kids play for...)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Appointment with a plagiarist

Blame it on my mother, who always tried to make the discipline instructive. I didn't send the kid Deanward but
kept him under my thumb and made him rewrite the paper. We didn't have an extensive conversation. I told him
that I needed to speak with him privately after he turned in his exam; he had about five minutes to sweat it out
while others filed out of the room. I told him that I'd caught him plagiarizing and he said "Uh....un-huh." And I
told him that he had two choices: he could proceed to the Dean's office or he could show up at my office prepared
to outline a wholly original paper Thursday at 1:30. Unsurprisingly, he chose the latter. Our meeting today went
smoothly. He confessed that he knew what he had done was wrong and knew why it was unacceptable; he led
with an apology, which demonstrates that he's smarter than his actions had indicated. And we quickly laid
out a perfectly satisfactory paper, studded with evidence that he gathered from the book he hadn't read before
last night, and he's got a Writing Center appointment for tomorrow afternoon. He's agreed to turn in the
paper on Saturday and thanked me again as he left. So he might be a total bullshitter. He might know what's
expected in such situations and switched to default groveling mode. But...I don't
have to be his moral compass. I have to teach him to write and analyze documents. To do that, he's got
to actually do some work -- something that would not be accomplished by a trip to the Dean.

So maybe I'm a big wuss for not nailing his head to the wall as was my first inclination. On reconsideration,
though, I've begun to think that cheating students sometimes just need to be made
to face their fears of writing failure and realize that they can succeed on their own steam.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Hammer of Death.

I'm an easy-going teacher. Not an easy-going person -- my partner reads this and he'd know I was lying if I claimed that -- but a relaxed and generally happy teacher. There's only one thing that makes my eyes cross and steam shoot out my ears and relentless hell-hounding ensues: plagiarism. Intentional blatant plagiarism, the kind that suggests "she doesn't know what she's doing and she'll never figure out that this is downloaded directly from Wikipedia." I go mental and it really ruins a part of my day. Today I got such a paper -- and remember, the other 40-odd were maybe not fabulous, but were honest attempts to do the work -- and I flipped. When a first-year student starts telling me detailed ethnographic information that was not in the class materials, stuff that I would have to look up, well, naturally I do. And nearly always, I discover a badly paraphrased download. This one would have been a crappy paper even if it had not been lifted from the unattributed work of other scholars. The kid confused an army forming in England with one forming in the British colonies -- you would have thought that the lack of a monarch in Boston might have been a clue here -- and misindentified the winner and loser of the military engagement we'd spent all week discussing. Where does one start? With the fear of doing poorly that drives nearly all these episodes? With the lack of honesty and willingness to gain an undue advantage over one's classmates? With the cluelessness about how a good cheat might actually look?

To make things worse, I've learned to be very explicit about the eligible sources one can use on my papers. I also carefully explain what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, and what happens when one is caught doing it. (Fail the paper, sent to the Dean, etc.) And I note that I'm a professional researcher by trade -- if they can find it, I can find it. So students have ample warning. Why why why?

I will be talking to him on Wednesday, after he finishes another exam. (Don't want to freak him out before his exam. Is that being kind or stupid?) These conversations usually go badly and I dread them. Students here deny deny deny even when you've got the print-out from the site they've used. Downloading from the internet, you see, is just using "facts" floating freely in the ether, like Melville's loose fish. The idea that someone creates those entries, orders details into narrative, and that this is no more acceptable than lightly rewriting an encyclopedia article...that seems lost on desperate belligerent students who see their semester spiraling down the drain. I lose all patience quickly and pack them off to the Dean. In an ideal world, I'd have the time to insist that they do the work correctly, themselves, again. But I'm lucky to be getting 4 hours of sleep a night these days and redeeming the lost lambs has to be someone else's work. I've got 48 others in my flock that deserve all I can give them and that's who I'm got to concentrate on serving.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Turquoise blue with spangles....

Kid and I went to see some Chinese acrobats today. I don't use the word "wow" much, but I must have said "wow" thirty times during the performance. The human body, properly trained, can do such incredible things. And as I've mentioned before, it's a lot of fun to take Kid places because everything interests her. She has an extensive set of pint-sized acquaintances (the Montessori mob was out in force at this event) with whom she can compare lost teeth and
shoe styles, she has the imagination to easily turn the red velvet stage curtains into a sumptuous dress with which
to dine with a prince, and she makes lucid observations about small stuff that I might otherwise miss. The show was geared toward entertaining children -- very fast-paced, lots of humorous interludes, and costumes in vivid hues.

As I sat there watching (and had the double pleasure of watching Kid's enjoyment), I thought about what a changed world we live in from when I was a child. I remember Nixon going to China, the first sustained glimpses of Maoist crowds thronging through the streets on bicycles in their drab jackets. I so clearly recall the Wide World of Sports broadcasting the acrobats as a major TV event, which I watched in rapt amazement. The children, so serious. The adults, so restrained and precise. I can see it in my mind in Kodakchrome colors, hear the tinny jangle of unfamiliar Chinese music blared at martial volumes
in the theatre where the cameras rolled. The thought that I would be able to drive down the street and see such a troupe --
or a Russian circus, or have my bagel served to me by a Vietnamese man only a few years younger than me -- well, it's amazing to me because at the time, the Cold War seemed like just the way things were and were always going to be. As I look at the delight on the faces of all the children in the audience, I am struck by a sense of hopefulness and a measure of change. Ok, so the world right now is bleak and our current administration at the federal and state level drives me nuts. But something wonderful happened within my lifetime to connect (at least in a tiny way) two groups of people who would never have gotten to see each other face to face thirty years ago. Maybe by the time Kid is old enough to really dance, we'll even
start allowing Cuban dance bands back into the country.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Home and Work. (That really should read "Work and Work")

Today is a soup day. Today is a baking bread day. Today is laundry and vacuuming and dusting and preparing for the weekend day. Today is a raking day. Today is a sorting day. Today is a bill-paying, where did all the money go, robbing Peter to pay Paul and Sam and Bob day. Today is a mopping and getting the dust-collecters out of Kid's room day, which means that it's also a "figure out where to put this stuff and I don't mean dump it on the front porch" day.

But, today is also a grading day. And a planning day. And a meeting day. And a teaching/tutoring day (the better to forestall more meetings with crying students later next week). And a writing lecture day. In other words, a more than full day
at the office before anything gets touched in the house.

And finally, today is a take Kid to the library day. And go swimming with her day. And maybe try to get in one more walk in the leaves before it gets cold and laugh about her awful Friday because Fridays are always for some reason more
socially difficult (maybe all the kids are tired). And finally it will be a "watch a movie in a clean house with the candles lit and their glow making a dull reflection on the surface beneath them" night.

I know that I won't get it all done, and even if I do, there will be no brass band and Congressional commission to award me my "most excellent mother/scholar" medal. But it would be nice, on these last gold days of fall, to be a little less obligated.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Dear Christian Neighbor...

I think you meant well. After all, you are firmly convinced that a sincere conversion to Christ guarantees eternal paradise and that everyone who has not made an overt commitment within your church is damned to eternal torment. You feel compassion and urgency to gather the lambs. I know this, you see, because I've read the Bible too. In fact, my kid and I attend church regularly -- just not your church -- so I can understand the impulse. So I'm sure you acted in good faith when you dressed your four small children up as archangels and handed them all lightsabers to guard the portals of your home on Halloween. And I believe and hope that you didn't mean to inflict any pain on my child as you instructed your kids to pass out scary Christian-themed comic books to her instead of candy.

After all, you had no way of knowing that our family has experienced more than its share of death and suffering this year. Well, you could have known, had you bothered to come over, or even said hello. But you are busy being a good Christian and I know that it takes a lot of time to live out one's witness so I don't really expect you to take that part about loving thy neighbor too seriously. And you had no way of knowing (well, you might have) that my kid is currently struggling with health issues that she doesn't fully understand and that all the lights on in the house at all hours of the night indicates that maybe none of us are doing too well over here. And I really don't hold you responsible for the fact that we just watched La Boheme; that was my thoughtless bad, to watch an opera about a frail tubercular heroine who dies
at the end of the show in the same week that my child is learning all about what it feels like when her lungs quit working well. So you aren't at all to blame for the fact that now every time Kid's hands are cold, she assumes she's about to die and begs for a muff.

However, you might have paused for a moment, just for a tiny unself-righteous moment, before you decided to fob off "The Little Princess" onto my impressionable six-year-old. In which a little girl with an unspecified lung disorder dies, but not before coming to Christ and bringing her whole family to a due understanding of Christ's awesome smiting power. I would call you up for some support when she has screaming terrors in the night, but you haven't exactly been so available except in the judging and condemning department.

We welcome your prayers. But from here on out, you can keep your pamphlets to yourself.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Cough. Cough Cough. Cough Cough Cough.

Kid is sick, with the additional complication of the maybe-asthma but definitely wheezy lungs that ratchet up my
motherly concern. I don't want her to have asthma. I don't want her to be sick. I don't want to make a big deal
about her illness -- she's eager to have a special illness all her own, wants to talk constantly about the state of
her health ("Is this a really big cold, Mom? Is it the biggest cold ever?"). I, on the other hand, am torn. I want to
give her effective medical care, but I don't want to encourage her to think of herself as having a limiting illness.
I worry that my hangups about bodily illness (bust through it, avoid medical practitioners, illness is a fact of
life to be dealt with but not talked about) are ultimately going to leave her feeling confused and ashamed
of what might be a lifetime condition.

The diagnosis was so sketchy. The follow-up was so nonchalant. I wish I knew what the hell was up.
What's the prognosis? Should I worry? Will it get worse? Will it go away? Will it repeat? How can I prevent recurring attacks?
I asked all the right questions at the time, but it didn't seem like they had much specific to tell me.

Now she's sleeping well, eating well, but she does have really clogged breathing. She's only worried
that she'll be too sick to go out on Halloween night. I've promised that we'll find a way to 'ween, remembering well
every Halloween experience of my own. There's something wonderful about being out at night with a flashlight and
a hundred other excited children, getting candy from any grown-up that one asks. I told her she might wake up tomorrow feeling like a tiger. She rejoined that she was probably going to feel like a squashed raccoon.

But before she got sick, we enjoyed a long visit from Grandma -- ice skating show! Irish step-dancing show! Art museum! Planetarium! Baking pies! Playing dolls! Hiking! -- who really is wonderful company. And she can clean the hell out of
a dirty stove without giving her daughter (much) guff about the woeful lack of housewifery going on around here.

And before that, Detroit for the weekend for a meet-up with my husband. Kid and I drove through Canada, where
Tecumseh is a national hero...it's like a sane mirror-universe of my beloved Midwest. While I did not love
Detroit (not really a city person, highway system was torture, the husk of a once-prosperous place that
now is broken with poverty), I loved the chance to be with my husband and see many former grad school
classmates.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A misty day for apple-picking

At least once a week, Kid and I commit to driving out of the city to get somewhere to walk in the country, somewhere with
dirt paths or no paths, a hardwood canopy, the sound of running water that isn't channeled through a storm sewer pipe. Away from the broken glass and grafitti. Away from the honking horns and constant running of the bus up and down
our street. I hate living in the city and without these breaks, I'd be really unhappy and feel like I was doing a poor job of endowing her with an appreciation of the church not made with hands.

Today, we drove about 20 miles out to a orchard below a stunning nearby promentory. It's a wild outcrop of craggy
cliffs that makes you tighten your hold on the hand of your kid out of reflex. We often go up there to watch vultures fly into their nests (seeing them from a top view changes one's perspective) and to terrify ourselves by sitting atop a rock wall that demands no error in balance. On top, we eat sandwiches and look back at the pocket-sized city, with miles of fall foliage brightening between.

The orchard sits directly below what were, today, mist-muddled cliffs dominating land once claimed by the Mohawk. Before them, the Owasco, and so on back through the eras until reaching all the way back, there is Turtle, digging up mud and forming us all. The skies were dark grey, close, with a fine spray of rain that soaked us down to those turtle-made bones. Now there are apple trees, row upon row, planted on hills so that the cold air vents down and circulates. The only Indian is on
the logo on the half-bushel bags that we buy from the pick-ur-own guy in the red pickup truck. The trees were full of purple-red apples, ripe to hand, juicy with a hint of chalk in their crunch. Three laughing kids -- mine and two playmates from school -- filled bag after bag with Empire apples, ran up and down the rows chucking windfalls at each
other, smelled the vinegary smell of rotten apples under the trees, looked at a lichen that resembled a ruffled turkey fan, listened to the geese honking overhead, ate cider donuts, taught each other to whistle, had a chance to be kids. Before we left, we gathered bouquets of chicory, fleabane, butter and eggs, ticklegrass, and bladder campion. In my kitchen, the chicory is a startling blue.

I'll be peeling apples all weekend, but it will be worth it.

Bridgett needs...a Google found poem....

Bridgett needs to focus on her priorities…
Bridgett needs constant persuasion to work…
To take control of her situation…
To lose weight…
To get help retrieving lost objects…
To manage her finances…

Bridgett needs to realize that she already has…
Financial blessings…
Bridgett needs to remember…

To achieve clear understanding…
Bridgett needs to protect her own environment…
To let go of the past…
To come clean about her emotions…


Bridgett needs to honor herself…
To let go of the need to control others…
To apologize and accept responsibility for the harm she’s caused….
To love the world.
To find a way.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

another meme (modified from Jo(e)

Number of cats who live in my house: 1
Percentage of these cats who are female: 100
Number of pairs of snowshoes I own: 1
Time actually spent on snowshoes: less than 1 hour
Average number of times I eat every day: 5 (3 meals, 2 snacks)
Number of academic conferences I went to last year: 5
Number of conferences sessions attended at which I was not a presenter: 4
Number of students taken to conferences: 2
Number of students subsequently applying to grad school: 2
Number of years I've planned to canoe the Hudson: 3
Number of years I've actually canoed the Hudson: 0
The age of my youngest child: 6
Number of microfilm reels awaiting reshelving in my office: 4
Number of articles pending minor revision before submitting: 2
Number of months it will take me to do minor revision: 6 or more
Age of my oldest book: 228
How many Elvis Costello albums I own: at least 15
Number of pre-war 78s cluttering up the dining room: 2000 or so
Pieces of furniture actually purchased for my house: 4
Pieces of furniture donated by others: 40+
Number of maps in view as I write: 9
Number of calendars in view as I write: 3 (why????)
Number of clocks in the downstairs: 1
Number of candles lit in the living room: 14
Number of years I've been with my spouse: 14
Number of arguments lasting more than 2 hours in that time: 0
Number of words spoken per day by me, average: 10k or more
Number of words spoken per day by him, average: 1k or less
Number of words spoken per day by Kid, average: 40k or more, mostly in the interrogative
Number of cups of coffee per day consumed: 4-6
Number of people in my household who play the piano: 2
How far, in miles, I live from the nearest grocery store: .2
Pairs of shoes I own: maybe 10
Pairs of shoes I wear regularly: maybe 3
Minutes since I last ate chocolate: 35 (and I’m due for more)
Number of television shows I watch each week: usually 2
How many students in my high school class: 117, counting the three pregnant girls twice
Number of families who lived on my road as a child: 3
Number of aunts and uncles: 10 on one side, 12 on the other
Number of cousins and fictive kin at reunions: 1000s
Number of classes I teach per semester: 4
Average number of independent studies per semester: 3
Years I've lived in this house: 3
Years I've lived in this town: 3
Number of memes I've done in the past 48 hours: 2
Number of tests graded in the same time: 44

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A borrowed meme (from Did I Miss Something?)

1. Name someone with the same birthday as you.

Nostradamus. Aphra Behn. Spike Jones. Bill Buckner. (But to offset that last one, may I just point out that The Clash also released London Calling on my birthday?)

2. Where was your first kiss?

Euuuuw. In the back room of the Avon High School Library, while I was shelving Shakespeare. By a person who had read about French kissing in a book somewhere – thereby giving me my first concrete experience with the difference between theory and praxis. Memorable, but not in a good way.

3. Have you ever seriously vandalized someone else's property?

Probably. But I’ve also served as one-half of an impromptu hate-poster removal crew, getting rid of anti-Semitic crap that some skinheads had plastered up on walls in a neighborhood I liked to walk through.

4. Have you ever hit someone of the opposite sex?

Yes, but why dwell on long-distant unpleasantness?

5. Have you ever sung in front of a large number of people?

All the time. National Cathedral, St. Patrick’s in NY, etc. On TV. On the radio. I have more extensive experience in choral groups than in solo recital, but my favorite was Bach’s Magnificat that I toured around on one Advent season. I also used to make beer money singing as a soloist at weddings.

6. What's the first thing you notice about the preferred sex?

The intellect, as it manifests itself in the quickness of humor.

7. What really turns you on?

Strong arms, good smell, body warmth.

8. What do you order at Starbucks?

I only go to Starbucks when desperate for coffee after a long weak-end at my Mom’s. Then it’s cafĂ© mocha. But usually I make regular coffee at home, with organic milk. It’s cheaper and I can make it as strong as I like.

9. What is your biggest mistake?

Taking over a decade to complete my dissertation, which helped get me in debt, which in turn limited our household’s economic flexibility and led us to make some difficult choices.

10. Have you ever hurt yourself on purpose?

Yes. But again, why dwell on long-past unpleasantness?

11. Say something totally random about yourself.

I like triple-thick cherry milkshakes.

12. Has anyone ever said you looked like a celebrity?

Yes. Someone thought I looked like Billie Burke when I was in college.

13. Do you still watch kiddy movies or tv shows?

I have a kid. Ergo, I watch kid shows.

14. Did you have braces?

Yes, though I didn’t finish with them – my bottom teeth are still sort of crooked. (Family ran out of money, I ran out of patience.)

15. Are you comfortable with your height?

I’m average and that’s ok.

16. What is the most romantic thing someone of the opposite sex has done for you?

I don’t really require romantic gestures, though I’ve been lucky enough to be loved well by a number of different people.

17. When do you know it's love?

Mittens.

18. Do you speak any other languages?

French, un peu. Spanish, also not much. German -- if I'm reading it out of a book. I can sing like
a bird in any of those languages, but like to sing in Italian better (all those open vowels!).
I have what academics call reading competence in all of the languages above.

19. Have you ever been to a tanning salon?

No. I poke fun at people who do, though.

20. What magazines do you read?

New Yorker. Better Homes and Gardens. Esquire. Chronicle of Higher Ed. Smithsonian. A lot of professional journals.

21. Have you ever ridden in a limo?
Yes, several times. Most recently, got the rockstar treatment as a visiting scholar when a school with a ridiculous endowment sent a car to pick me up at the airport and squire me to campus, complete with sparkling water. Hilarious, considering my general lowly station in the world of academe.

22. Has anyone you were really close to passed away?

My dad. My grandmother. My husband’s grandfather and grandmother.

23. Do you watch MTV?
Not anymore. I used to watch “120 minutes” during the height of
Grunge. I also loved MTV in the mid-80s.

24. What's something that really annoys you?

Traffic honkers.

25. What's something you really like?

Candlelight and red wine.

26. What celebrity do you admire?
I don’t really follow celeb culture enough to say. Maybe Bono, for his pragmatic and committed approach to big problem-solving. But maybe also the rest of the band for putting up with him.

27. Can you dance?
Yes. Love to dance. Recently sold my tap shoes, though.

28. What's the latest you have ever stayed up?

Hmmm…a better question might be the longest period of prolonged sleep-deprivation. Kid didn’t sleep through the night until she was
15 months old and I was a full-contact breastfeeder, so those were some very fatiguing times. And the month right before turning in my dissertation, I survived on a couple hours of sleep a night.

29. Ever lied to your parents as an adult?

More misled than lied. We omitted to tell them that we were living together before we got married and for one reason or another, they never came to visit that year. They probably knew and just kept their silence.

30. Have you ever been rushed by an ambulance into the emergency room?

No, but I have driven a number of people to the emergency room at top speed, including someone who had put their arm through a plate glass window (and then took it back out, which was the bigger problem) and someone whose heartbeat was down to 20 bpm by the time I got him through the doors. I love ER staffers.

31. Do you actually read these when other people fill them out?

Of course. And I reciprocate!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Order of the Day

The problem is, see, that there's never just a single "order" to be followed. A day to clean the house and tackle the looming stack of dishes. Or a day to plant the bulbs and icicle pansies that need to get in the ground before the big rainstorm. Or a day to write that really good lecture (with visuals) that will invite my students into the past. Or a day to figure out how, where, and when to shop this behemoth of a manuscript around because it is doing me no good piled up here on the desk and it will be a long while before I have a sustained chance to revise it further. Or a day to take the Kid to see a friend's horses and wander her fields for a while to get out of the too-much-with-us of the city we live in. Nope. Today is an "all of the above" day. Plus taking back library books, arranging flowers (don't take time to smell them!), grocery shopping, and pickup/dropoff of drycleaning. It would be good if I could also get the downstairs floors mopped, but that always falls to the bottom of the list.

I'm hoping that the time in the barn sets me right. I have always loved barns and the work one does in barns. No clocks.
The cows know what to do without them, and the horses know when they are hungry without a dinnerbell. I like
a life lived by rhythm rather than by hour. (It's one of the lures of the college world; the semester has a rhythm
that pulses through it, leaving one mostly in the direction of one's time.) I also enjoy the chance to escape from the
silliness of my own concerns. As a guy I knew once said "you never see a farmer complaining about farmer's block.
He plants when it's time to plant and harvests at harvesttime." Yes. Exactly. What I'm missing in my life is fallow time.

I'm feeling better already. I'm going to go outside and plant things and let the indoor work wait until after dark.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Fair enough...

To tell you exactly what I'm working on would be to blow my anonymity bigtime. But I'm writing about sex and people talking about sex in a historical setting and today I deviated from my usual research path (highly empirical) to
start thinking about what people in this place were reading and how that might have shaped how they thought
about what was shameful or dangerous or acceptable. I devised a clever strategy for figuring out what they
read, found out that they were indeed reading racy stuff (including some orientalist classics that I never dreamed
that they'd have access to) and so now I have not only the doggerel they are writing and the parties they
attended and the sham/clandestine/handfast marriages, and the slander accusations
and the legal documents, but I have a little of their imaginative world too. And now I know that at a very early point,
these sort of titillating books moved out of the tavern (where they could have been read by anyone, or read
to an audience) and moved into a subscription library (where they could only be gotten by the better sort, with
reading becoming a private and refined pleasure).

So it all went very well indeed and I am going to get up early so I can do some more. I love this phase of the project, when ideas are all whirling around, everything seems relevant and interesting, and there's a ton of new secondary material
to read by smart people.

I find it ironic -- yes, this really is irony and not in the Alanis Morrissette usage of describing inconvenience or coincidence
as irony -- that the less I get laid (due to partner's prolonged absence in Dixie), the more my professional life is wrapped up in booty.

My day to write...

The stars have aligned and my independent study students have, for a variety of reasons probably having to do
with watching late-night baseball and drinking beer on our glorious fall afternoons, cancelled out for being unprepared.
I'm left with six hours of my own to write.

I'll report on the other side of this unexpected welcome interlude.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A Piratical disposition, arrrrrghhhhh....

Today has been a pirate-y day around the good ship Jane Explorer. (Jane Explorer is the name of our cat. No lie. She's named, quite sensibly, after a cardboard box spaceship that was also named Jane Explorer. Or maybe she's named for the procession of dolls named Jane. At one point, Kid was naming everything Jane, which made her parents' life much easier. No so many personal pronouns for all the little objects that a child holds dear...)

But I digress. Today was a pirate day. I woke up grouchy and stumped around the kitchen when Kid gave me an enormous hug. I squealed "I've been keelhauled! By coating me with girlish sweetness, you're spoilin' me piratical disposition....arrrrrrggghhh...." and a new game was born, complete with headscarves. I'm Cap'n Bluestone and Kid takes on the role of Nell, the lass determined to save me from a life of ill-temper. We played this for about five minutes too long, as these things usually go, and then we had to careen to school to get there on time.

I'm the class "book wrangler" and I had to drop off a load of harvest-related, pumpkin/apple/how do cultures around the world celebrate harvest time books. There is a real gap in the market on easy-reading books on bird migration, explanations of why leaves turn colors, and the life of ponds in the fall. I was satisfied to learn that the kid who hadn't been reading at all at least picked up one of the books and looked at the pictures. I've got a soft spot in my heart for him because he's socially out of place -- a recently adopted child who bears all the hallmarks of lack of love and care in his formative years, placed rather suddenly in a classroom full of affluent and advantaged kids who've been indulged their whole lives and aren't very tolerant of difference. Maybe he just needs someone to notice that he likes cameras and leave around a book about taking photos of autumn leaves. I bet he'll be reading by Christmas.

And yes, there was even a book about pirates. It had nothing to do with autumn or apples or harvests, but kids like pirate books. And so do I. Arrrrrgh.

A radical notion

The Togolese government has authorized state-run schools to send adolescent girls home to their parents to get their
heads shaved. The theory here is that girls continually play with their hair, resulting in sub-par academic performance.
Next week, they will be sending teenage boys home to be castrated on the same principle. (No, just kidding...sexist dimwits.)

Here's the link to the news story:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4311308.stm

And in honor of Twisty, may I just say I blame the patriarchy?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Will I go to hell for showing my kid a John Waters movie?

Ok, so it was Hairspray -- pretty mild stuff. Kid never realized that Divine was a transvestite; she was far more puzzled by segregation than the drag elements, which is just as it should be. But I get ahead of myself.

Weekend mornings belong to dance. We start dancing at breakfast, kid takes a combo ballet technique/jazz/tap class
at a local studio, and then we come back home to dance to the radio while we're doing those leftover chores that
didn't get done other times. Then we went to her school for their autumn shindig -- the bright sunshine and
cloudless sky made it very pleasant. Kid got her face painted as a bright pink glittery cat face and set a new
school jump rope record. The vendor food was all organic vegetarian, so we ate well. I had a terrific
vegetable curry (roasted veg) over basmati rice and kid had squash soup with bread. We split a vegan pumpkin
pie with gingerbread crust for dessert. There was also some homegrown chocolate, but I managed to miss out. Now I'll
never know what a difference antibiotic-free butter makes. (Yes, it's a very foodie school.)

Now the good stuff. Even after four years in this location and at this school with these same
parents, I'm still pretty much socially adrift -- but maybe the good food buzz (and not having my partner
along to entertain me) made me more sociable. Making friends here has been a tremendous difficulty for
me, but I think I might be on the way with one of the other parents with whom I share both professional
and personal interests. She and her family had visited our house once and everyone had clicked, but then
we hadn't really followed up on that "I like these people" feeling. So when I got this second chance, I
took it. If I'm going to stay in this place, I can't just exist here while the rest of my friendships exist
somewhere else. And likewise, if I'm going to leave, it would be a shame to have no one that I'd
regret leaving behind.

Oh, and then kid and I attempted to watch a flamenco movie, but there weren't enough kids in
it for her taste. Thus, we moved on to John Waters. Tomorrow we'll probably watch Fred Astaire
in Second Chorus. (One of the only FA films I haven't seen.) I also have Alice Adams out from
the library, but I don't really want to spend so much time watching when there's a whole world
out there that I can be doing things in. If I don't get around to watching it this weekend, it
will still be in the library next weekend. Around here, it seems, no one likes the kinds of films I do,
so I can be assured of always getting my first choices.

Tomorrow it's on with the grading. Euuuw. Even good essays are brutal when you'd rather
be doing something else.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Five ways I'm not like Jo(e)...and five ways that I am....

To celebrate the differences, to honor the commonalities:

Five ways I'm not like Jo(e):

1) The thought of myself bellydancing makes me giggle. Never have tried it.

2) I talk a good nature girl game, but right now I live in the middle of a thickly congested downtown.

3) My best friends live thousands of miles away and although I "meet up" with their digital incarnations
frequently, we haven't had lunch in a dog's age.

4) I've never been on a retreat. Or a white-water rafting trip. Or on a sinuous road up the Pacific coast,
carsick all the way. Or a Cubs game.

5) I've got a very small nuclear family, with one member currently off fighting the war on stupid at an undisclosed location in the U.S. South.

Five ways that I am...

1) I have a huge extended family and most of them have lived in the same small rurality and even the same small area in
the small rurality for almost two centuries. My sense of place and family is unusual and precious and like Jo(e), that gives
me a different perspective on things.

2) I notice small things, like when the poison ivy turns colors, and I like to share that with the kid. Like Jo(e),
I treasure the gifts of the day and I think they get better when I pass them around.

3) I pick up kids like the Pied Piper, possibly because I have a whimsical nature and can hold up my end of a
conversation about forest fairies.

4) I love words and I love to write.

5) It's not the teaching I like so much as the watching us all learn.

mastering the everyday magic

Today's my favorite day of the week. I teach all my independent study tutorials today -- a procession of smart, happy,
motivated students who have sought out their passion on their own and now just need an older colleague to
point them in new directions to deepen their understanding. Before they arrive, I cook soup and bake apples, I dance
barefoot in the kitchen, I cut some new flowers to put on the table, and I make lists of things to do on the upcoming weekend. And I prep. Perhaps the best thing about this kind of teaching is that I get to read and re-read outside of the groove of my usual specialties. So that's refreshing.

And because these meetings are at my house, I work a little harder than usual at making my house a welcoming place.
Our decorating style around here could best be described as "Generous Relative." We have a lot of older (but not
antique) mismatched bulky pieces -- things our aunts and parents were eager to get out of their house because
they are a little outsized. I've never really figured out how to make all this stuff work together to look like a home.
I'd say it looks more like a used furniture store showroom, in that it's ill-lit, slightly jumbled, and more than a
little dusty. So when students come over, I make a special effort to dust and vacuum, break out the smelly candles,
and so forth. They're forgiving and the coffee is strong and hot, so it makes for an intellectually engaging time.

Later, I'll work on a grant proposal. I'll decide whether I want to apply for a Fulbright summer
in China (that would involve leaving behind partner and kid for 6 weeks). I'll write a recommendation letter (difficult
to do when the student has left one with the impression that he'd a lot rather be playing soccer than taking one's
class...and the recommendation is not for playing soccer or coaching a soccer team, which is where I suspect
his heart lies...). I'll grade some exams. And I'll probably take my kid swimming.

Anyhow, it's on these days -- when the wind is singing high through the trees and the air is just a little chill --
that I manage to concentrate on the everyday magic that is mine. A little down time pulls that into perspective.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sometimes reading other blogs makes me profoundly dissatisfied with my own life.

I try to tell myself its a literary medium. That facts are selected, polished, pushed to the front. It's a representation of the real (or maybe even of the desired). It's not life in all of its stickiness.

But I just can't help myself when I observe: some of you appear to be having much richer lives than me. Going interesting places. Reading remarkable books. Creating art. Making jewelry. Taking well-timed naps. Breathing deeply and expanding your soul.

I, on the other hand, seem to wash a lot of dishes, fill out paperwork, and sit in my office playing AnswerMom for
students who haven't yet studied for their upcoming exam. The window is dirty (cannot get to the outer pane to
clean it, since it's painted shut). My office has a single lightbulb, bare, that I hate to turn on because of the
odd shadows and glare that it casts. So it's dingy, gloomy, and discouraging in my work space.

Thank god I have other people's lives to follow. My own isn't provoking my spirit to sing right now.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

waning gibbous...

Went to the planetarium today after the orchard. All that bright hot late September sunshine gathered in a bowl of a valley through which a river lazily sauntered. I would like to report that the water wore a coat of sparkles and the meadows a dress of dew, but I'd be lying. The river was nearly stoppered with tall weeds and only a monarch butterfly or two distractedly fluttered in a windless and dry field. Still, one could easily see -- setting aside the well-burdened apple trees, subtracting the cider, the peanut candy two for a whatever, the hayride, the petting zoo/corn maze and so forth, the paved road and the leaning barn, returning the ducks to their undomesticated past, and willing mechanical things to be silent -- why this land would be worth fighting for.

And then to the planetarium. The kid's been to the planetarium three times in two weeks. Steve the Star Guy showed her pictures of the Mars Rover and the pictures of Mars yesterday. We'd seen Mars on Saturday night -- if you're up late
tonight, you can look over by the moon and see Mars again. And somewhere on it, there's this teeny little three-footish
sized pair of landers doing their totally unexpected things. And we get to see it in real time, thanks to the internet. Sometimes the littlest things bring out the geek-girl in me.

Here. Look for yourself.

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Conjugal visit

Husband's coming home from Dixie tonight. Four whole days of familyhood, learning how we've changed as a result of our separation from each other, sleeping close in the cooling fall nights that he misses so much, a much-deferred lunch date,
a walk in the apple orchard with our kid. I can only compare this anticipation to childhood Christmas. Kid and I have been making up songs as we have counted down the days, singing another silly verse every night.

Many people ask me why he's in Dixie, as though professors would never need to take a job for the money. They wonder
if we're perhaps estranged and this is easier for me to say than "we're separated." I've been telling people that his
work as Grand Wizard takes him all over the country. Those that know him think that's hilarious. Those that don't know me well enough to smile at the joke. But I still think they wonder.

Oh, I forgot to say...

Lest anyone working as a shelf-stocker at a discount department store feel frustrated by the previous message (after all, I was deliberately undoing the shelf-stocker's work and perhaps even getting them in trouble), I just want to make clear that I found the person assigned to the area and told her what I wanted to do. She smiled, said she thought that was a damn good idea, and walked away with a whistle and a dramatic "nothing to see here" gait.

It's not a feminist act if it makes life harder on the women who work there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Striking a blow against the patriarchy

I just made some other feminist mother's life easier. I went to the local megastore in search of a Halloween costume for the kid. (Yes, I know. I usually sew them from scratch or help the kid assemble them as a work of domestic bricolage, but this year I'm just a little busy. So bite me, inner critic, and tell the Bad Mommy Brigade to come round my sorry ass up.) This is the kind of person I'm becoming, shopping for Halloween forty days in advance. I head down the aisle looking for the requisite costume -- a nice, gender-neutral cat, just like the kid wanted. She plans to go as "Katerina Ballerina" (employing an Angelina Ballerina mouse puppet as the unfortunate victim of her dance/hunt).

As I begin, I note that I'm in the "girl" section. The choices are rather limited. Fairies. Princesses. Fairy princesses. Slutty rock stars. Divas. Cheerleaders. Sexy witches. (Kid loves fairies, but as a worldly 6-year-old now thinks that she should branch out. Just so you don't think I'm knocking on the enchanted wee folk.)

"Ok. No cats. Hmm. Maybe they're in the other aisle," says I to myself. Maybe I didn't get the "cats are gendered male" memo. So I go to the "boy" section. Cowboys. Soldiers. Police officers, firefighters, scientists, doctors, vets (complete with dog), pirates as well as the full complement of scary monsters and gory stuff. Still no cats.

It takes me a while (and maybe it wouldn't have even struck me had I not been looking for a trans-species masquerade),
but it occurs to me that anything that I might have wanted to pretend to be after the age of 4 was not represented in
the "girl space" at all. And nothing that the kid currently wants to be is there either. No scientist. No architect. No archaeologist, explorer of wild places, no doctor, no battler of dragons and disrupter of the time-space continuum.
No cats.

So I relocated about half of the doctor, cop, firefighter, scary monster costumes to the "girl" side and hoped that the mother of a glamour-loving little boy will put some fluff over on the "boy" side. We become what we are encouraged to dream.

(Yes, I did find a kittysuit that wasn't a Frederick's of Hollywood special. I think what she really will like is the ears, though.)

My fellow Hamericans...

The kid's learning to read. Independent reading is great because the parent gets to see what the child really wants, as opposed to what they've been putting up with while you've done the selecting. What it turns out that my kid really likes is joke books. One in particular, Piggy Riddles, employs horrible swine-related groaners in the punchline. (Ex. - How can you tell when a pig likes a rollercoaster? She gives it her squeal of approval.) This sort of humor has the kid rolling on the floor. Now everything is a pig joke around the house. The latest (spinning out of a breakfast discussion of the relative
body masses of various countries) is the phrase "Hamericans." I think this is a pretty good one and urge everyone to adopt it whenever a critique of our national mania for conspicuous consumption seems in order.

What I did about it.

After some thinking it over and some talking with other teachers, I decided to ask the ratings site to delete the narrative portion of the comment only. The angry student had every right to express his or her negative opinion of my teaching; I think that's the primary purpose of those kind of sites, really. On the other hand, anonymously calling me a bitch and a racist on a published site was defamatory and libelous. I have every right to protect my teaching reputation against ungrounded assault. I guess that makes me a race-supremacist silencer, someone who uses my class and race privilege
to manipulate the "truth" and "white-out" discomforting critiques. Yeah, I read that post-colonial theory text too.

I am happy to report that the site was happy to comply. Now we've all gotten something of what we wanted, maybe the best we could do under the circumstances. The student has gotten to rat out the professor, the professor has been alerted to an intense negative reaction, and no lasting defamation of character is going to linger.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Flabbergasted.

Never let it be said that sites like ratemyprofessor have no utility...I use them all the time to get candid feedback (especially from the angry students who don't feel like they can object to my teaching methods or course content directly), which
I can then use to be a better teacher. Every once in a while, however, I get a response that just cuts me up.

I teach colonialism. A lot of what I do is looking at the ways in which indigenous peoples organize their societies prior to colonial incursion (including the power relations and trade relations in a particular region) and then looking at the ways that societies mutually change in relationship to each other in the wake of contact and pandemic collapse. Most students (mostly white, such is the composition of my school) get a little sick of hearing about Indians all the time when they think the main story should be our conquering European heroes. I work hard on balance, though, and up to now, I imagined I was doing a pretty good job of setting aside "noble savage" or "murdering barbarian" stereotypes to get at the historical experience of peoples in process. It's not a utopian wonderland before Europeans arrive and indigenous peoples are resourceful, but vary in their range of responses (from collaboration with Europeans to hostile resistance to a mix of accomodation, diplomacy, and physical resistance). The challeges they meet are multiple: ideological, physical, material, political, economic. And so, I try to be true to that complexity and I thought I was doing ok.

But not so for one exceptionally angry student. She felt personally insulted, as an American Indian, by my lecture on the Aztec empire and subsequent European domination of the Central Valley of Mexico. She calls me a bitch and a liar,
ignorant, a racist of the first order, absolutely unfit for my job, a hazard in the classroom. It was torture to have to sit there and listen to me go on. Now I am scrambling through my notes trying to figure out what it was that prompted this heartfelt outburst of cultural wounding. My take on the Central Valley is that it's a very tense place in the mid- to late-15th century. The Aztecs have been fighting a series of wars to expand and control their empire. Although they have managed to build an exceptionally complex society that is arguably more sophisticated than the big empires of classical antiquity, they've made a lot of enemies. Many of their tributary subjects are eager to collaborate with Cortes to throw off Aztec domination (military alliance being the way of doing diplomacy in the region). Montezuma is not a particularly effective leader. Pandemic collapse, rather than superior Spanish military force, throws Aztecan military efforts into confusion. Chieftains (caciques) often choose to collaborate with the Spanish rather than be killed and they continue in their position as the managerial class, directing labor and producing tribute for the new encomenderos in the immediate post-conquest period. The aftermath of conquest triggered a massive depopulation and social reorganization of the Central Valley, and the Spanish treated Indian peoples and their lands pretty horribly. And so forth. I've spent the morning checking and double-checking this lecture. It represents what historians, ethnographers, and anthropologists feel they know about the period. I use Nahuatal slides and documents in the lecture to let indigenous people speak for themselves about what was happening and the way they saw it. It's backed up with research, artifacts, Nahua and Mayan oral histories, and post-colonial indigenous writings. So what the hell did I say that angered this student so much?

In an ideal world, the student and I could sit down and we could commence a difficult dialogue about the multiple ways of knowing a people's past, about the ways in which pan-Indianism is a product of colonialism (I really doubt the student was Nahua, more likely he or she's a member of the Six Nations), and about what I don't get about what she or he is reacting to. With humility, we'd figure out a way to walk together and learning would happen all around. But this isn't an ideal world. The student by now either has dropped the class or has withdrawn into his or her shell (convinced of my utter worthlessness). And so I'm left with nothing but this blistering retort, a failed teachable moment, and a whole lot of questions.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Not my best day

I would like to hit the pause button now.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

so you wondered why I blog....

I blog for a couple of reasons. First, I told my husband that I would. He wanted me to
blog while he was gone so that he could "drop in" when I wasn't available
on the phone. He's also got a blog, so I can do the same. It's a way to
check in with myself as well. I blog as a way of clarifying what I'm thinking and feeling,
recording what I'm doing so I know that I'm doing something with my day.
(Sometimes it feels like I'm not doing anything, so it's helpful to have the big list of what
gets done and re-done.) I also blog so that in case I don't have time to write personal
letters to everyone I know (an ever-widening circle), they can still check in
on me and keep in touch. It gives me a way to continue to have those dorm
room conversations with college friend (most of whom drop by and
then write me e-mails rather than comments), so that's nice. And I am
hopeful (though not counting on it) that I'll attract a new circle of bright
and articulate minds to talk to and argue with and learn from. I like to write.
I like to think. I have family responsibilities right now that make real-time
socializing pretty difficult. So blogging is a pretty good answer for me.

Thoughts while watching the Sink Channel

I don't watch a lot of TV. I haven't seen more than about five minutes of broadcast news this month and I don't subscribe to cable. I suppose the habit came from a snooty moral high-horse a long time ago, but my love for watching televised sports eventually shot a hole in my ideological critique of mass communication. Now I just fess up to being too damn busy to spend more than an hour or so a week on my couch. I like other leisure stuff better, including growing flowers, rehabbing the house, playing with my kid, reading books, and writing my blog. So, no insightful analyses of the hurricane coverage from me, I'm afraid, unless you want the general observation that the drama of the Superdome makes for better film than the wind blowing through the rubble of Gulfport.

I do, however, do a lot of dishes...which my kid calls "watching the Sink Channel." I've been thinking lately, as I go on about my regularly scheduled life (taking my kid to the Y, teaching, doing errands, washing dishes), if maybe that's why I don't think like most of my fellow citizens. Am I just getting different information? Do I just spend more time mulling that information as I'm washing the car by hand than the guy down the street who whips his SUV through the carwash?
Is silence a civic good?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

teaching outside the classroom

I am extremely fortunate to have a teaching situation that allows me to teach in a variety of formats. I do the "stand and deliver" of lecturing, I have smaller classes that are mostly discussion, and I have a few independent studies that are
one-on-ones. Because I live close to campus -- and because I went to a college in which classes were commonly held in the professor's home -- I sometimes conduct these IS meetings at my kitchen table. When I choose to work closely with
a motivated student (and nearly all of my students are, like me, from working-class backgrounds), I want them to be able
to see themselves living this kind of life. I want them to realize that the life of the mind happens everywhere. This is the kind of teaching I like best.

The only down-side to this home-study stuff is that my students often don't realize that for me, this is work. We're not
just hanging out drinking coffee and thinking big thoughts. I prepare hard for these meetings to make our good
conversations happen. I write up my observations after each meeting. And I don't want our conferences to extend past
the point of their academic usefulness. I'm friendly, but I am not attempting to cultivate buddies. (I have buddies my own
age.) I need to work on developing clear signals about when it is time for them to pack up and go home.

natural resources porn

Just a thought...as gasoline gets more scarce and wasting gas becomes increasingly taboo, will
motorsports become a sort of porn, flaunting the forbidden?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Day at the Fair

Today was the annual county fair day in a farm town nearby. I was raised in a rural place and have never gotten the hang of urbanity or irony, so I go to county fairs because they are fun. I took the kid -- she's old enough to ride everything, young enough to want to ride with me, pleasant enough to want to take -- an ideal companion. We got wristbands and (after charging up with Dramamine) rode everything that moved. I now feel dirty and tired, a little woozy, and see-through from
greasy fair food. But we saw the pigs and the chickens and watched kids showing their horses and listened to an old bluesman tear up the stage and basically had a ball. About the only thing we didn't like (though we gave it a try for
the sake of expanding our horizons) was the tractor pull. After two or three pulls and a lot of arcane babble from the
grandstand announcer, I asked the kid "Are you getting the point of this?" And she said "No. Seems to me that they
are wasting a lot of gasoline and polluting the air. And it's loud." Yep, that was my take on it too. So we bailed and
got some chocolate candy.

It brought back many good memories of my days at the fair, which were usually just with my mother. When Dad would
show up after work, we'd eat at the Grange Hall and then take in a country show. I've seen Mel Travis, Barbara Mandrell, the Statlers, the Oaks, Ferlin Huskey, the works... the fair here isn't well-financed enough (or maybe lacks a big enough
venue) for a headliner act, though I see that they are bringing in Charlie Louvin tomorrow night. Wow. Not to be callous
or anything, but who even knew that Charlie was still alive?!

If I figure out how to post pics, I'll put in one from the fair.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Week one of single parenthood

What to say? It's hard. It's good. It's like a very delicate surgery where the stress level should be high, but instead you feel very very calm by necessity. My kid's cooperative. My colleagues have some insight into my situation and actually give a damn, but there's not much they can do. My job's flexible enough that I've been able to do it all without losing my mind or my car keys yet. So far, it's ok.

But I can already detect fray. Days 1-6 beds got made, dishes got washed, laundry got done, books got read, and classes
got taught...as well as appointments made and the car's oil got changed and the drycleaning delivered and the garbage taken
out and dolls located and cats fed and the litter changed and the dehumidifier emptied and the floors swept and the toilets scrubbed and the kid taken to parks and playgrounds and the Y and to dance class and playdates made and dinners cooked and laundry done again and the kid taken to the library and grocery shopping and students advised and boo-boos kissed and cats petted and more books read and kid taken to pediatrician and optometrist and bills paid and dentist appointment made and lots of phone calls to mother and to spouse and dolls played with and bathroom cleaned and errands ran and lunches packed and flowers arranged and clothes purchased for kid and blood donated and family correspondence sustained and lists made and items crisply processed and all this with a little bit of lipstick on usually.

Day 7, not so thorough. Not quite so on the mark. Maybe the beginning of a big slide into the fuckits. Maybe just an off day. Maybe I can be a little tired sometimes and nobody's going to come to lasting harm.

I think it's the knowing that I really can't drop a stitch that's wearing. Hell, I can't drop a sock unless I'm ready to pick it up the following day. Whatever has to be done, whenever it has to be done, has to be done by me. And I really hope nothing
goes wrong, because I'm without emotional back-up right now.

I want to make everything deeply good for my kid, just keep it all normal and clicking along -- not because I think she just won't notice that her dad's somewhere else for a month at a time, but because we both need that order to cling onto right now as a way of coping with the loneliness. But I am finding that I am inventing work to do to keep from thinking about missing my husband. Tomorrow I plan to clean the hell out of my bathroom cupboards because it will give me a reachable goal and I will know when I'm done. And right now, I need to have small projects to check off my many lists just to let me know that I'm actually finished. One problem with domestic labor is that everything one does is undone by the next use -- clean dishes are dirtied, beds unmade, laundry that is folded winds up in the basket again to be confronted the next week. At least the cupboard should remain fairly unjunky for a while.

And I have to say that the week's events in NOLA and Mississippi are putting my "problems" into perspective. On the
real scale of suffering, I have a mild case of dandruff.

Anyhow, I doubt I would be blogging this at all, but Aunt B over at Tiny Cat Pants (easily my favorite blogger) actually put me on her blogroll and now I feel like I need to get all busy and stuff...

Monday, August 15, 2005

Still here...busy summer

Between April and August, I've done the following stressful things:

Experienced the death of my father
Attended two major conferences
Completed my dissertation
Published my first article (thanks co-author for all the help and sanity-saving advice!)
Moved my spouse to his new job in Dixie
Became an involuntary (and thankfully temporary) single parent to our six-year-old (ongoing until May)


There are probably other things as well, but I think that's enough to give you a taste of what things have been like.

Next week, my school starts back up again. So much for a "restful" vacation, though it certainly has been
productive. I hope to be taking up the blog with some earnestness in the future.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Setting the Blog World on Fire....

Ok, obviously not. Shit happened. My dad died on April 15th and talking to nobody seemed a
pretty low priority. I am more or less reserving this space in case I get hit with the witty and
relevant stick in the next couple of months.

Today I went to see the Mary Wilson Dress Collection at the Albany Institute of History and Art.
I loved the Supremes as a child and it was fun to take my own daughter through the collection
of gowns. Happy Mother's Day -- I discovered I'm raising a kid that I like to be around.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Life in Motion -- with Flowers

Another crazy day in the middle of a crazy week/month. Three things compete equally and insistently for
my professional attention. Rough draft of article due to be sent to my collaborator. Big stack of exams
to grade. Final chapter of mss has to be revised and sent to the printer. All of these things must be done by Monday.

But personal life also calls. My ballerina girl is sure to want to go to the park on this very first spring weekend. My partner will hope that I can spare some time to grill. And I bought potsful of snapdragons to brighten my backyard.

Guess which set of attachments entices me more?

Monday, April 04, 2005

Fools (April's and otherwise)

For those of you who missed this, here's the real State of the Union. I wish he was kidding.

http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2005-04-01/cols_ventura.html

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Hello world

Points for anyone who can tell me where I got this title.