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.

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


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 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 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...