Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reading the News

Dear Big Shots, Pay your damned taxes. It's NOT that hard! Just keep all your pay stubs (or make a copy of the check if you need to), and put it all in an envelop. Then when you talk to your accountant, remember to mention that the company has NOT paid your social security if they haven't! And don't conveniently forget that you've had free use of a car, or done some consulting. If you're using an accountant, then s/he's not doing a good job: hire the person who audited things in your vetting process! And if you're not using an accountant (hard to believe with these folks), then get one of those tax programs; it WILL ask you if you've got consulting income or income that isn't otherwise declared (and on my program, it specifically mentions use of a car).

Dang, how do you forget enough income to owe $128,000. in back taxes? Let's imagine an unimaginable 50% tax rate: how do you forget that you earned $250,000+? I think I'd notice, you know?

And Daschle is going to be the secretary that watches over our national health issues?

I had a good deal of respect for Daschle as a legislator. He seemed like a smart guy with political opinions I agreed with, mostly. But seriously, how do you forget that much income?

The other big news I've pondered this week has to do with the woman who gave birth to octuplets. That's amazing.* And troubling for me, since I think over-population is a serious problem for our planet. And then there are the jokes about clown cars and litters,** which do make me chuckle.

Next it came out that she already had six kids.

And that's where things got interesting for me, and not so much about this woman and her offspring, but really about people's reactions (including mine).

Me, for example, my immediate internal reaction was "WTF! Who would be stupid enough not to have an elective reduction? Idiot!"

And then people started saying that the pregnancy was probably the result of fertility treatment of some sort (either drugs to make her ovulate a bunch or implantation, or whatever), and I thought, "holy cow, what sort of idiot does that when she already has six kids. And what sort of doctor enables it? (One who is making money, duh!)"

Which is to say, that I had the reaction a lot of other folks had, basically. Some went further and said that "it shouldn't be allowed."

And that got me thinking and being just a little self-critical, because I'm seriously pro-choice. I think a woman who is pregnant must be trusted to decide what's best for her. But, of course, here I was thinking sort of the opposite, because she made a choice I find pretty darned stupid. And my trust sort of went out the window there for a bit. I still think she's made a bad choice, by the way. But I wouldn't put her in jail or fine her for it.

And then there are the folks on the other side of things, the folks who think "yay babies" whenever news reports about multiple births get out. They seemed to realize more quickly than I that multiple births of more than 2 or 3 offspring involve fertility treatments, and so usually they cheer, "yay, a woman who wanted kids and couldn't have any now has many! Fertility treatments rock! Yay Babies!"

And often enough, these same folks are anti-choice in some flavor. But they have no problem with manipulating "life" when it comes to giving fertility drugs or implanting embryos? (Of course, some folks are both anti-choice and against fertility treatments of varying sorts. It's complex!)

And when the anti-choice/pro-fertility folks saw the folks like me saying "WTF," some of them were very critical and wondered, "How could we be so hypocritical as to criticize a woman for wanting babies? How dare we? Of COURSE she couldn't do a selective reduction! She couldn't kill her babies! Babies, yay!"

Then it came out that she already has six kids, and suddenly those same people are mostly taking one of two reactions.

The first is "how come 'these people' get to have undeserved babies when I want a baby and I can't have one and I DESERVE a baby? Life is unfair!"

And the second is the classic, "she's not married!*** She already has kids! How dare she drop a litter and expect ME to pay taxes to support the brats? It shouldn't be allowed!"

Now, imagine for a moment how much stronger those reactions would be if she were Black.

One last thought on this issue: how does an unmarried woman with six kids afford fertility treatment? I've had friends do different treatments, and it's EXPENSIVE! They usually have two incomes, and they still have to pinch pennies to pay for the treatments.

*I've exaggerated responses somewhat for my own amusement. Because as long as I don't have to change the diapers, a momentary amusement is all I'm going to get out of this whole thing. I hope. That and a blip in taxes, but a blip that doesn't even count as a blip compared to bailing out whatever industry is next, or to what Tom Daschle forgot to pay. And you know, I think we should support the children we have better than we do, anyway--better educational opportunities, better health care, and so forth--so I'm going to keep paying my taxes, keep sending money to the local food bank and Planned Parenthood.

**One of my undergrad TAs, now a famous prof in his/her field, had an opinion piece published quite widely about the issue. It's amusing, because every so often, I see this person's name somewhere, and I remember what a great TA s/he was.

***It occurs to me that the "she's not married" thing is also one of the ways people discriminate against lesbians who want to use something other than straight p-in-v sex to get pregnant.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Week that Was

It's 7:30pm. You know how when you're a kid, it's all about staying up late? I'm thinking about going to bed. Now.

What a week. It started off with first days of classes. My students seem like a good bunch, interested, willing to contribute in class stuff, and when they do, they say smart, interesting, engaged stuff.

I also closed on refinancing my house. It was all very smooth and pleasant, but it's still stressful signing a bazillion papers, and hoping none of them say in the small print that I want to be a sex slave to some straight guy with patriarchal tendencies. The bank owns a good portion of my house, but they never mow or vaccuum. On the other hand, they don't insist on quartering a bank clerk with me, so I think I'll just shush and mosey on.

Tuesday started with a colleague leaning on my office door jamb, venting a bit about how unfair some things are. Yes, these things are, indeed, unfair. But in the bigger picture, we're all screwed, so this minor unfairness seems minor right now. I told her I didn't have the energy to fight the fight she wants to fight. It's understandable that she wants to vent, and I'm fine with that.

Later in the day, I went to a meeting where our headmaster talked about the budget. It's not pretty, not in any way. I'm usually a cold-hearted meanie-head when it comes to administrators, but I felt sorry for the guy. It's like, he came here a couple years ago all eager to do a really good job and make this an even better school than it is, and he keeps getting pounded in new ways by a hugely metaphorical boxer.

First there's the big THING that all the campuses that wanted to get in on were supposed to get in on by sending a plan. The plan was due about three weeks after he got to campus, and no one mentioned it to him until the week before it was due. So now all the campuses that got in on the ground floor are getting some cool opportunities, and we're not, and he knows he's responsible in some peoples' minds, and he has to deal with the results even if he's not responsible.

Then there's the budget, which was bad, and over the past several years has gone from bad to worse, and now looks like it will go from worse to dismal. It's "unfair" if that has any meeting, and it's going to get worse. And we will either deal with it, and muddle through, or we'll individually decide to quit and do something else somewhere else.

So there we were at a meeting, and there's not much we can do about the budget from where we sit (as faculty members and such). What we need is an anti-Reagan movement to argue publicly and convincingly that education, roads, healthcare and such are all public goods, and that if we take good care of each other, we'll all benefit.

It was a nearly two hour meeting of bad news followed by terrible news.

On Wednesday, the governor added his bit to the bad news. He looks like he's been worked over by the same metaphorical boxer that has been hitting our headmaster. But only after I'd been worked over by my three classes. They were fine, but tiring.

For some reason, my first year writing class students seem especially anxious. It's like they don't trust professors, and don't have confidence in the system, and so they want to ask questions that seem unnecessary to me. But I'm trying to answer them well. I don't trust some folks (administrators, for example) easily, because I've learned not to, and I'm guessing my students are feeling that they've learned not to trust professors. So I have to earn at least their respect, and if I'm lucky, I'll earn a degree of trust. But the process is tiring.

Thursday was my dream day. My friend and I went skiing in the afternoon; it was sunny, and not too cold, and we went out to a part of the bike trail just outside of town. It had snowed a little, maybe an inch, so there was freshness to the bike trail's packed snow. We worried in the car about snow-mobiles coming out of nowhere to smack us, but quickly realized that we'd hear a snow-mobile a long ways off. It was beautiful, near one of the rivers and a small lake thingy covered in snow. And quiet, and my friend is such good company. When I get cranky about the snow and the cold, I need to remember what a good day this was.

We skied for an hour solid. Out the trail and then back. And it was good. And it was tiring. (I think a good skier who's in skiing shape can probably go an hour like I do on a bike, at a nice clip but not racing or anything, without it being exhausting, but I'm still such a beginner and not in good skiing shape, that it's tiring.)

Then I stayed up late prepping for this morning's classes. I'm just not as comfy and at ease teaching REALLY old dead Greek guys as I am with my not quite as really old dead English guys, so it takes a lot more focused preparation. Thank goodness I took good teaching notes and planned well last time.

And today. Two hours of meetings scheduled, which turned into more like three. Early in the week, I really tried to get out of the first meeting, but there I was, slogging through it. We talked about subject A, which isn't really anything I have much to add to. I was asked to be there about subjects B and C, which will soon involve project D, a project I'd estimate will take 20 or so solid hours of hard work, and which I'm not really focused on or committed to (and which, in fact, I think is a problem).

And at the end, having not at all really talked about B and C, the chair of the meeting wound things up, offering to summarize two or three points, and then turned to me and asked if I'd do project D.

"No," I said. And there was silence. We don't often say "no" to an open request around here.

I explained that I'm teaching a class I haven't taught in nearly ten years, and that I'm overwhelmed with other committee work, and I just don't have the time or energy.

The chair thanked me for my "candor," but I'm sure she was shocked and frustrated.

Later, one of the other people in the meeting told me that he was totally shocked that I said no, and that the silence was, well, very loud. I'm sure there will be a downside, but more relieved that I didn't accept this extra project.

The final meeting was okay. There are four of us on the committee, but one is just too effing important to come and actually do any work. He turned up an hour and fifteen minutes late, and then played with his electronic phone toy thingy. The other person we needed to consult kept coming in and going back to his office to consult his schedule. I just wanted to say, either put it on your effing computer and print it out, or just get a little book and bring it in here, or get a phone toy thingy and put it on there. But if keep having to go check for every single time we might possibly ask you to do your job about this task, it's going to make me crazy!

[Liveblogging: my friend called! Hold on a sec.

Okay, I'm back.]

And yet the nadir of the day came when I'd asked my writing students if they had any questions about what we did at our last meetings (none of them did), and then asked them to get out a paper for a quiz. Immediately, a couple complained that I didn't put a reading on the syllabus! So I tried to explain that I wasn't trying to trick them, and that they'd had an opportunity to ask about things from the meeting before, and that the quiz wasn't on some hidden reading. It was on two basic definitions we'd talked about in our last meeting, two definitions so important to a writing class that they need to know them in their bones (and the quiz was open notes, so if they paid attention and took notes, they should do great!). But boy, did that distrust come out in a big way.

On the other hand, the high point of the day was starting to teach scansion and poetry reading. We played with scanning names, which is always fun, and the students were willing to get up and write their scansions on the board to share.

Now it's after 8pm, and I'm going to bed. Tomorrow is a new week, right? The meetings will all be positive, useful, and productive! My anxious students will get some successful quizzes back and relax a little! My poetry students will continue to participate actively, as will my drama students! No one will want to vent at me!

And the weather just MAY get above 30F for the first time in a MONTH!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Considering Updike*

John Updike is, according to the news reports, dead. One of my colleagues sent out an email to everyone in the department to update us about the news today, as soon as s/he'd heard.

It was a good thing I was alone, because I confess to some mumbled cussing, probably inappropriate for news of anyone's death. My cussing really had little to do with Updike as a person; for all I know, he was the best and kindest human that ever trampled the earth. Given his work, I'd have a hard time believing it, but it's possible.

No, my cussing had to do with Updike's works. Admittedly, I don't read much Updike. I don't think we read anything by him in my high school, maybe "A&P," but I don't remember. I'm 400 years behind, and haven't focused much attention on Updike. I will readily confess this, so if there's an Updike scholar out there who'd like to explain what I'm missing, go for it.

My first encounter with Updike's work came when I returned to school and started in on a program at the local public, regional university; the deal was that I'd basically do a year of English classes only at the upper undergraduate level, and succeed enough to be qualified for and get accepted to the school's MA program. It was my first term back as a budding 20th century novels student. I loved novels! I read novels up the wazoo. Prose, yay! I'd never read a poem with anything but misery, and had failed pretty much every Shakespeare quiz in high school. But novels, I read nothing but novels in those days.

I enrolled in the following courses:
20th century American Novel,
20th century British Novel,
Criticism, and
something else.

The something else I don't remember because I was informed that I REALLY needed to take Chaucer right then, or there was no way I'd be qualifed for the MA program in a year. So I changed my schedule the first week of classes, and don't remember what I switched out of. You can probably guess which classes really provoked my engagement with a quick glance at the sidebar. (I was also taking 2 classes at the community college, one in art history, and one in history.)

In the 20th century American Novel course, we started with Faulkner, and Hemingway, and so forth. Faulkner was a revelation, and really, just an amazing prose writer. Hemingway was Hemingway, and after the 5th time he told me it rained on the first two pages of the novel, well, he was still Hemingway, and I was never to be a Hemingway scholar. Eventually we got to Updike and read one of the Rabbit novels. The professor waxed nearly ecstatic. "Look," he implored us, "See and appreciate the liberation of Updike's language! Cunt! It's a liberating thing to be able to use "cunt" in a book. Updike speaks the truth! This is human experience at it's most literarily wonderful."

I was in my mid-twenties, and had been called "cunt" and far worse on more than one occasion, and, hard as you may find it to believe, I didn't find "cunt" the least bit liberating.

Unfortunately, I had the poor judgment to tell the professor as much, in class, even. More on that in a moment.

Here's the thing: Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the really dead folks I love to teach are incredibly sexist. Chaucer, for example, was apparently accused of rape. And yet, I can love Chaucer's and Shakespeare's works, love to teach them and read them with endless fascination.

I've studied earlier lit with some pretty overtly sexist instructors, too, but even then, none has turned me off one iota as much as the sexist instructors in those novels classes. Heck, the Chaucer instructor there was pretty much a good old boy who identified with Panderus more than Troilus OR Cressida, and basically taught the poem as if it were really Panderus's story.

Is it because these writers are so very dead that I can deal with them?

Is it because no one I've studied with really celebrates the sexism as a wonderfully liberating aspect of their works? Everyone pretty much analyzes and tries to understand how the sexism works if they talk about it.

So, my lovely experience with Updike's novel. I've also read his "A&P" more than once in classes, but it doesn't work well for me. I think I have a fundamental problem in that the title is just supposed to tell you so much, to give you an immediate feel for the place it's happening because (to paraphrase a common teaching attitude) "everyone knows the A&P and has been there a million times and this is a quintessential American experience." Except, I've never been to or seen an A&P, and if it weren't for someone telling me that it's some sort of early chain store, I wouldn't even know that much. So, it speaks to me of an upper class-ish, north-eastern masculinist attitude that thinks it's the center of the world, and I just can't be bothered to care beyond a blog post.

Now, I mentioned that I had the poor judgment to tell the prof that I didn't find "cunt" liberating and wonderful. Here's the story. I did well enough at that school that some earlier lit folks encouraged me to go on for a PhD without bothering to finish my MA there, and I enrolled at an R1, and eventually finished my PhD.

And when I was finishing or had finished, there on the job list was a listing for my beloved regional public university, for a Shakespeare job! I applied of course. And they gave me an MLA interview, which was probably more an act of kindness than anything else. The interview committee was headed not by one of the other Shakespeare or early lit folks, but by Professor 20th Century American Novel himself.

In reality, they hired someone from a quite ritzy and upscale private R1 (and generally acknowledged through book acknowledgments and such to be the lover of one of the good old boys there), so I'm sure I wasn't ever really in the competition. But I can't think that having mouthed off my feminist position to Professor 20th Century American Novel could possibly have helped my candidacy.

Still, it's hard not to wonder how different things might have been. I could be in a land of perfect weather and unimaginably expensive housing instead of a land of unimaginably cold weather and fairly reasonably housing. I'm sure I would have found the same departmental and budget frustrations there as anywhere, but I fantasize that the overall community would be better. And a really cold winter day might get into the 40s! (I promise you right now that if we hit the 40s on a school day, my students will be wearing shorts, and if we hit the 40s on a weekend, I will be wearing shorts.)

*I almost titled this "Cuntsidering Updike." I couldn't quite do it, though. I'm really not happy or comfortable with the word, and it doesn't come into my mouth with anything but unease.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Day One

I taught the first session of each of my courses today, and they went pretty well. The drama class students got up and working on a scene bit right off, and seemed to be doing well with it. It seems like a good mix of students.

The writing students talked in the first session, and seemed on top of things and smart.

And the poetry students gave me some funny looks when I started having them read the text aloud a bunch of times, but started getting into it, and had lots to say when I asked them to draw the imagery and had a couple put their drawings on the board. They were good drawings, too!

I got a lot done today, the usual beginning of the semester stuff setting up the course web materials, but also drafted a letter of recommendation and worked on a difficult advising problem.

And then I went and signed all the papers to refinance my house. I always find those sorts of things a little stressful, but this went smoothly, and should mean I save pretty significant money over the term of the mortgage.

I returned my rental ski kit, too, a day early because I have my own kit to use now.

Can today count as the first day of spring? I'm so ready!


I dreamt last night that an English department colleague came to give a guest lecture in the chemistry course I'm teaching. But he was having trouble being heard, so the TAs rigged up a seat which they raised into the air along with a microphone; the seat was pretty minimal, along the lines of a little teeter-totter seat with a pole for my colleague to hold onto. I had taken a seat in the first row of student seats, and then wondered how he was going to write on the board from way up there, and if I should get up and offer to write on the board.

Happy first day of classes!

And, can I just share, that I'm glad I get to teach comp, poetry, and drama this semester, each of which I'm more familiar with than chemistry these days!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Voting off the Academic Island

We're going through a process to help decide which programs get to survive the budget cuts, and which don't. It's a huge process, and everyone has some part to play.

One of my parts is about reading a report and responding with recommendations. This afternoon, I started to read the report, on a handsomely designed special Island letterhead.

Given the budget cuts and all, I can't help but wonder how much the special letterhead cost. Everything from the Big Marble Hall building these days comes out on special, handsomely designed letterhead, each unique to whatever cost cutting office it's representing. We're not talking about the English department letterhead, which says in a very basic print, "English Department" and then our address. Nope. We're talking special graphics, flowing letters designed around an Island design.

I'm guessing the design folks over in the Big Marble Hall building are making themselves invaluable, and can't possibly be cut.

State Slogan

Every so often, a state decides it needs an advertising campaign to bring in tourists, attract business, and just try to make all the other states jealous. And so it happens that up in the Northwoods, there's a movement afoot to try to pull ourselves out of the recession by attracting money from across the country, nay, from around the world, to our economy. Sure, makes sense, right?

But as an outsider (since I've only been here about 8 or 9 years), I have to say, I'm a little unconvinced by the popular favorite so far. Somehow, I don't think "Winter: it keeps out the rifraf" has quite the ring that "Virginia is for lovers" had.

I mean, it's accurate and honest, but is this a time for honesty? Did Virginia really have a better environment for lovers than Massachusetts?

I'm thinking something more along the lines of "Winter: an excuse for staying in bed for six months." At least that has some attraction, right?

Other ideas?

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I need to learn how to turn. I got started down a hill, and near the end there's a turn, and I was going and then my skis were all moving apart and I did a full frontal into the snow. Happily, the snow was soft and I wasn't going very fast (because it's more of a pimple than a hill).

Still, I wish I'd gotten film of it, because I bet I really looked silly. You know that Buster Keaton film where he's walking along and a house wall falls down around him, and the window opening ends up precisely where he is? I sometimes feel like I go through life like that: I fall, then I get up, dust off and start off again, wondering how I ended up in the window space of life.

I came home after stupidly stopping at a store on the way home, stupidly getting chilled, and got into a hot bath. I love the way a hot bath just gets me all warm. There's a lot to be said for a hot bath, except now I really want to take a nap.

Score: day one:

Time's around the easy creek park trail: 2
Falls: 2
Broken bones: 0 (that I'm aware of, and I'm a whuss, so I think I'd notice)
Fun: getting there!

I feel about these skis sort of the way I feel about my bike; even as beginner skis, they're WAY better at all this than I am. If they had personality, they'd need all the patience in the world with my slowness and awkwardness. The new skis are slidier than the rentals; I think I'll learn to have fun with them!

Friday, January 23, 2009

In Which I Stimulate the European Economy

I bought skis (Fischer, Austria), boots (Salomon, French), and poles (Exel, Finland) today. That's what the basic cross country package was at the local shop recommended to me by A, who skis and bikes lots.

I went to the shop after skiing today with another friend, and feeling like I was ready. The shopkeeper explained things (in ways that made sense with what A has already explained), and got me set up with a basic package.

I hope it's not TOO cold tomorrow!

I'll be taking bets about which bone I'll break first. If you guess three bones at the same time, you could win a possible trifecta!

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I went to a not-too-far-away city today with a friend, and among other things, stopped in a local used book store. It was a really nice place, with a lot of books.

And so, I went for the drama section. When I was in grad school, I'd go to the occasional used book store, and look for the blue "Renaissance" drama editions out of U of Nebraska press. (The Restoration editions were in grey, remember?) They were great at that point, abundant enough in used editions (paper and hardcover), usually in decent shape, so that I could build a minimal early modern drama library cheaply over my grad years. But there weren't so many that you'd find more than a couple at a time, so I'd spend maybe six bucks, and feel lucky to find one.

I have a feeling that I went to grad school in a sort of golden age for finding used early modern drama texts; there'd been money in the late sixties and seventies for editions and such, and faculty were teaching lots of cool classes. And then by the time I was in grad school, folks were retiring and selling off their teaching collections, and so, I could find and afford some.

Today, of course, I found only one of my beloved Nebraska editions in the familiar blue colors, a Massinger play with heavy ink scrawling, so I passed it up. I saw one more recent edition of Behn's The Rover, but I already have several copies, so I didn't bother.

I miss the pleasure of finding those blue Nebraska editions, of feeling hopeful adding to my library.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thinking the Drama Class

I've been reading a play I ordered for my drama class. Yes, I'm like that. I ordered the play without reading it first. And now I'm sort of sorry.

I chose the play because it's the one play the campus theater folks are putting on this semester. They're also putting on a musical play, but since I'm not really qualified to teach an opera course (and honestly not interested enough to put in the time to get there), we'll read the play. I try to have my drama students go to a play, because I think it's really valuable to see a play and talk about it in the context of a drama class and because few of my students have ever been to a play.

This play is culturally fascinating. It's about three folks who are in some sort of hospice care, and with each is one or two people. One guy has his male lover and female ex-wife; another has his wife and son. The third, an elderly woman, has her daughter, but longs for a prefered dead daughter that she no longer realizes is dead.*

If you're like me, you immediately thought, "hospice care, male gay couple, so the play must have something to do with HIV/AIDS." Except that the play was first produced in 1977, and HIV/AIDS didn't start getting recognized (and then not immediately named HIV/AIDS) in the US until 1981. So it's this fascinating cultural moment when gay male existence was okay to discuss in a play without condemnation, but wasn't automatically connected to HIV/AIDS.

I'm thinking that it would be really interesting to add Angels in America to the reading for the semester, but that means I have to lose another play. Right now, I could lose, well, anything. But I'm not getting rid of Shakespeare, or Behn... maybe I should lose Lysistrata or Oedipus? Volpone or Mother Courage?**

Of course, you KNOW some students are going to complain that three plays about gay male issues is overwhelming and offensive (M. Butterfly is also on the schedule). Or will they?

Maybe not. I've taught Winterson's Oranges are not the Only Fruit, and even the more conservative students were uncomplaining and interested. Maybe I should trust my students more?

But this play, compared to any of the others I've mentioned so far, just isn't nearly as interesting, exciting, fun, challenging, whatever. It's not in the same league.

I'm consistently underwhelmed by the play choices our theater folks make. I go to the plays, and I leave thinking that the actors do a pretty good job, and the direction makes sense, but what a poor play. Time and again, and with very few exceptions, the plays just don't strike me as great choices.

*I have a friend who studies relative pronouns, and who has studied the use of "that" as a pronoun standing for a human. Some people use it comfortably (me), and some don't accept the usage. I wish I'd learned about linguistics long ago, because it's fascinating to learn even little bits about how people use and don't use language! In high school, it seemed like they just tried to teach us rule after rule, as if those rules are written in stone and standing forever, whereas linguists think about usage and change, and that's just so much more interesting!

**In the midst of writing this, I went back and revised the schedule, dumping Volpone (I know, sad!) and Everyman, and using the additional days to add in Angels in America and to make more time for The Rover. This means we'll look at mostly early modern drama for the first half (with a side of Greek and medieval plays), and twentieth century drama for the second half. It actually looks like a pretty interesting selection!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Can we just get the patriarchal sky fairy out of politics? Please?

And more Aretha! RESPECT!

John Paul Stevens! We have a new Vice President!

Oooo, good musicians! (Itzhak Perlman had a great ad against prop 8 in California during the election.) (Alas, not a great version of a wonderful hymn.)

Can we convince John Roberts to retire tomorrow?

The moment is here!

We have a new president!

Monday, January 19, 2009


I'm all emotional these days, just anticipating tomorrow, excited, hopeful. And a little scared. I hope it all goes well. I hope Obama does a great job. I hope we can all try to be a little more generous spirited towards each other.


My rental ski stuffs are due back tomorrow. I haven't decided if I'll ask to rent them for another week or not. I haven't decided if I should buy a kit.

It's great exercise. I can tell how ready to sleep I am at night after I go. But it's not fun yet. I don't look forward to going out. But I do feel pretty good after I go, mostly. I've been getting out most days when it's been above zero, so I've been trying. And I am getting a little better at trusting my legs to glide a bit.

Today I went around the golf course trail in half an hour, then went a little longer, all without my poles. I may not go very fast, but I prefer not using poles. It helps me relax my arms and shoulders and focus on keeping my knees bent.

Somehow, my little buying a ski kit or not dilemma seems especially minimal these days.


I'm finalizing my last syllabus now, and pretty happy with it. I still have to finish writing up some of the assignments, but it's coming together.

Trying to decide which plays to teach, when there are so many great plays, is tough. But what a delicious decision to get to make.

My tiny little decisions are just so small, so insignificant in the big picture.

I like starting semesters. I've always got these great hopes that my students will be wonderful and smart and have lots of great things to contribute.

Bardiac: balancing optimism and cynicism.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Movie Mystery

I got on the bike/trainer combo last night, so I turned on the TV and found a move. Hey, it's The Last Samurai, and I haven't seen that. And I've been to Japan and all, and even read up bits about 19th century Japan and stuff (but just bits).

Movies like that are a bit of a mystery to me, really. I mean, Orientalism and other works on race and western culture have pretty much helped me understand why it is that a single white male will always find a cooperative Asian (or "Oriental") female. Those works also help me understand why it is that the white male taken captive by people of color will always end up hanging around with the highest ranking person in the area.

Aside: I can't help wonder when I see that happen in films how that would work in real life. Imagine, if you will, a scenario in which some folks from, say, Mexico are caught having crossed the border illegally into Texas. Imagine with me, the authorities saying, "well, you're our prisoner now, but fortunately, the mayor of our town has an extra bedroom, so you can stay there with his [always a "his" in these films] family and learn English almost overnight while we figure out what to do with you." That would just make everything feel so much friendlier, wouldn't it?

Back to my real question, though. I'm riding along, paying semi-attention to the film (look cherry blossoms! It's hanami season!), and there's a huge battle, with men just dropping like flies. Howitzers! Gatling guns!

How is it that the white guy is the very last person on the battlefield to die? Statistically, that just seems way unlikely, especially since he's riding at the front of the bunch along with the highest ranking Japanese guy, who also, shockingly enough, survives the fight mostly (until the white guy kills him by request).

Is that even imaginable in a real battle? (I must confess, I've been no closer to a real battle than the Ring War in Everquest, which was quite the event when we first did it, but death has a whole other meaning in a game.) But didn't Nelson die pretty early in the Battle of Trafalgar? (Because, after all, the sharpshooters were always looking to kill the important/officer looking folks standing around directing things.)

I got bored/tired of riding the bike on the trainer, and turned the movie off after the white guy killed the highest ranking guy he'd been fighting with. I'm guessing he died shortly thereafter, or maybe was killed himself?

I DID like the journal bit, where he gave his journals to the photographer to use for his book. I like texts that play with their supposed sources while they do their thing.

(Today I went out and tried skiing again, and fell several times, once on my rear. Why is it that falling on my rear hurts way more than on my knees, and shakes the confidence in my legs? I tried skate skiing, and it's HARD!)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ethics Question

I've been waiting on this until the question is well past, so here goes.

Imagine you're on a search committee, and someone not on the committee wants to talk to you about one of the applicants. What do you do? Do you avoid discussing the search? Listen and keep it to yourself? Listen and share with the other members of the committee? (and why?)

Does it matter if the person who wants to talk to you is a member of the department, and so will have a chance to give feedback during campus visits?


Edited to add: I guess I thought it was an ethical question for a couple reasons.

First, there's the implication that the search committee should give one applicant special consideration. But if an applicant doesn't stand out through his/her letter (etc.), why? And if an applicant is that bad, isn't it likely that they'll do poorly at some stage so we'll know it?

Second, in my experience, this is pretty much always a good old boy network working on behalf of a junior good old boy. And those folks have plenty of advantage already.

And third, around here, it tends to happen because an applicant is from the area; we've had a tendency to hire folks from this area in excess, because, gosh, they're from here! Given our demographics, that means it works against people of color, people from different countries, people from different regions. And that works to the disadvantage of our students. They need to interact with people of color, and not just read Sula. Again, if the applicant's materials stand out, the committee will spot it.

On the other hand, if one of my friends had applied for a job one year, I would have wanted to ask the committee to take an extra good look at her materials.


Thanks to all the folks who helped me about the coat size thing. I'm going to return it.

I wanted to be all optimistic, but I think you guys are right. Even if I lose the weight, if it doesn't fit, it doesnt' fit. And, as Susan noted, you don't tend to lose a lot of weight across the shoulders, and the shoulders was one of the tight places. And as Kathy A. said, too small stuff doesn't get worn, and I don't need a coat I'm not comfortable wearing. (Speaking of clothes I don't wear, I need to go through and take some stuff to GoodWill.)

But, just this once, couldn't it have fit?

Now I have to decide what to do about the gift certificate thing. Maybe long johns? It's not as visible as a coat, but I wear them a LOT. All the time in winter, especially when I go out.

Have you noticed that LandsEnd isn't carrying much in the way of basic wool v-neck sweaters these days? I have an old one, a great bold purple, but I've worn through the elbows because I wear these things all the time, day in, day out, for everything (once it's cold). I'd buy another nice purple v-neck wool sweater in a minute. (That one's relegated to around the house and gardening and stuff.) (They have cashmere, which is nice and soft, but twice the price and not quite as warm.)

To keep my focus for the weight loss, I made myself a little chart with my weight, bmi, a waist measurement, and a couple goals (10% weight loss, an additional 10 pounds, and a final goal), and then reasonable dates for those goals (looking at about a pound a week).

I'm finally bringing my bike back in today. I had it in, and then went riding after Thanksgiving, and haven't brought it in since. I need to do something if I'm going to sign up for that spring ride in Yellowstone!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Optimism Test

The winter coat came today. I tried it on, first with only one layer, and it was a pretty good fit. Then with two layers, and it was a little tight. Three layers, too tight.

The question is, am I an optimist or not? Do I keep the coat, confident that 10 pounds off will make it quite comfortable with a couple layers? Or do I send it back and find something else?

I'm stupid at winter. Inside, unless I'm teaching or otherwise moving around, I need three layers, long john top, shirt, sweater. So, if I wear the coat anywhere, I either have to carry a sweater separately or something, or I'll be way too cold or hot when I get there.

I'm wondering if I shouldn't just get a wind-breaker for over my current fleece jacket?

In Search of...

the perfect syllabus, and some good assignments to go with it.

I'm teaching our intro drama course for the first time since about 2000; 8 years is a long time between iterations.

I'm thinking about a couple assignments; my requirements for assignments include 1) ideally, they shouldn't only measure what a student has learned, but should also be a learning experience, 2) they should differ enough that students with different learning strengths should have chances to bring their strengths to bear, 3) they should develop skills for the class, for the major, and for our whole liberal arts education thing, and 4) they should not be overly onerous to grade.

I try to start off with a performance exercise, and then a written analysis of the performance exercise. It takes a good bit of time, but it works really well to get students thinking about performance.

I try to do an explication exercise, because I think analytic and close reading skills are important in all sorts of ways.

I try to get students to see a play and write about the experience. It's not rare to have students who've never seen a play, and just doing that is cool. I have other students who've been in many plays, and they really like the assignment, too.

So, that's three short writing assignments. I THINK that's probably enough within the context of the class. But it's only, say, 10-12 pages of writing. Is that reasonable for a lower level class serving GE and majors? (There will also be quizzes and exams.)

Any ideas of great assignments for drama classes that you'd like to share?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


This morning, on NPR, someone was talking about how it was "freezing" in Washington as some military unit prepared for the inauguration, and all I could think was that "freezing" would feel plenty lovely around here. It's minus 7F now, according to the weather reading, though the campus reading shows minus 2F. That's minus 19C (thanks to the campus website for giving both).

At any rate, being a weather whuss, I find minus 2 plenty too cold to go out and play. Yes, I dug out from the snowfall, but that's necessary.

And yet, I find myself thinking that maybe it's not REALLY too cold to go out and try a little skiing today? Maybe?

It's becoming sort of a habit. And I'm very much a creature of habit.

But instead, I've got an appointment to give blood shortly, and I don't think skiing after giving blood would work really well, since I like to take it easy for the evening after giving blood. (Also, there are no calories in the cookies after blood donation. Important fact. The more you know, and all that!)

I went to give blood last week, but they turned me down for low iron. FAIL! (Life as website.) My iron was .1 below the blood donation level, perfectly within the healthy level range for women, but not in the blood donation range. And I realized, after apologizing for wasting their time, that I'd been forgetting to take my daily multivitamin (I take one for women, with extra iron), and the one time before that I was turned down for low iron, a couple years ago, I'd been taking a not extra iron multivitamin. So then I knew that the difference was the extra iron. It's weird to say, but I really felt ashamed that my iron was too low.

I usually take my multivitamin after breakfast, as I'm finishing up and about to head out the door to work, but on break, I lost track and haven't been taking it. I've been more careful about that this week, so the iron level should be fine.

Being a creature of habit is important to me; it gets me out on my bike, and after a while, my body misses being out on my bike, so I feel the need. And trying to get a sense of needing to be out skiing or whatever in winter is important.

On the other hand, I think a day or two of not skiing might help the soreness a bit. During biking season, I basically have semi-sore legs all the time, until it rains for a couple days, and then they feel all fresh and good for a ride or two. But when it's sunny and nice out, it's hard to take a day off from riding because just being out feels so darned good, and because you know the next week could be nothing but drenching rains. Lately, I've been trying to get out and practice skiing because I know it could get too cold to be fun, and school's starting soon, and all.

I went to the campus rental place yesterday and checked out the ski kit for another week. At the least, I've found it really good exercise. If only I can get comfortable enough at it to relax and make it a habit.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


You know when you do something new, you sometimes discover that you have muscles you've never much thought about before?

I'm at that point in skiing. The muscles near the hip that pull my legs forward, never much noticed them before. But now, sitting on the davenport with my laptop on my lap and my legs up on the ottoman thing, if I lift one of my legs, I notice.

I'm perfectly happy to exercise to the point of minor muscle soreness/tiredness. It makes me feel that I've put some effort in, but doesn't hurt a lot.

My lower back is tired (but not in a bad way), and my elbow. What the heck, my elbow?

My worst muscle discovery ever was after my eye surgery. I'd never much thought about the muscles that move my eye around; it's not like I'd ever gotten them pulled or sore. But then they were sore! It's like, you know those muscles exist, because you can move your eye around, and we've all seen pictures, but who thinks about them? Even now, when I'm really stressed, those muscles get a little sore.

This skiing thing is weird. I see people ski by, just flowing along, and I'm doing something absolutely non-flowing. I think I need to get my legs strong enough at being bent, and my skiing balance practiced enough that I can go on one leg and lift up the other without getting tensed up. It's tensing up that causes me problems, I think.

I'm hoping to try out the "skate" skiing, because that looks absolutely flowing and fun (but hard!).

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I just saw this report that says that 14 percent of US adults can't read. Illiteracy is higher for women, it says, too.

Friday, January 09, 2009


Or, reason #453 I should not have been born.

I hate shopping for clothing. Seriously, I'm perfectly happy to go shopping for used books, for bike stuff, for hardware stuff. I'm moderately amenable to shopping for footwear, so long at it's Tevas, sneakers, or hiking boots.

But clothing. How I loathe shopping for clothing.

But, you know, once you get to a certain age (say, six months?) and if you live in a less than hospitable climate (not rain forest), then you pretty much have to wear clothes, and I hate clothes, mostly. If I had my druthers, this time of year I'd wear long johns under grey sweats every day, all day. But I don't have my druthers.

You know when you read bloggers about how the writer went for retail therapy and bought heels or some outfit? I totally don't get that. I can't think of much worse torture than having to go shopping. (Don't tell the CIA or whomever, okay?)

My Mom's idea of clothing me when I was little was to go to a store, have me try on endless different stuff, then go to the sewing counter and search for similar patterns. She was an amazingly good seamstress, but you get the idea that I didn't learn to get a sense of immediate gratification from the activity of shopping (I should probably be grateful for that, shouldn't I?). And the whole growing up in the 60s wearing stupid dresses that I couldn't really play well in sucked. Seriously sucked. (I think I last wore a dress to an interview in 1995. I may have worn a skirt three times since. Thank dog for my job where I don't have to wear torture devices on my feet, either!)

Remember when everything was crappy polyester? It was the 70s, and during even the mild winters of my teens, my skin was incredibly dry, so that polyester stuff always hurt, like it caught on and pulled at my skin. (Cotton is MUCH better, and the soft high tech whatever stuff is also really good. But the old polyester, my dog, what nasty stuff.)

I understand that I have to wear clothing to avoid arrest or freezing, so I do. And so, by the time I was in college (and thus could wear what I wanted) I learned some shopping strategies. Jeans. 501s. You know your waist, your inseam, you go to the display grid, choose two pair, pay, go home, wash, and you're good to go. They're comfortable, wear well, good for lots and lots of activities. Two pairs of jeans, some T shirts, a couple flannel shirts for cold days, and I was good to go for the year. (I loved college.)

And then in grad school, one of my friends showed me her Land's End catalog! Did you know you can order clothing by size, without going to the store even! Over the phone!

Now, I've lived in the midwest for upwards of 12 years, and the closest I've come to a winter coat is a light fleece jacket (see skiing pictures). Only two years ago did I actually buy winter boots. (Denial, anyone?)

Some of my friends are convinced that I'd do better in winter if I would just get a good winter coat. So, a group of my friends got together and got me a gift certificate for my birthday with a strong suggestion that I get a winter coat. I have nice friends. They want me to be warm.

My birthday, by the way, is in summer.

This week, I decided to try to find a winter coat to use the gift certificate. I'm a little slow, but a winter coat, right? We have four more months of winter ahead, easy, so I'm not actually that late.

I went to the web site and looked at the coats. There are overwhelming screens of "outerwear." I found three or four coats that looked like they'd do, not too overwhelmingly hot, because I really don't need to go out and walk around for hours at minus 20. I'm much more likely to need to go out at 20.

Okay, I'm looking at four coats, and decide to try to do the "my fit" thing with the virtual model. There's this whole bit where you're supposed to choose skin tone, and eye shape, and hair style, and blah blah. Seriously? (I wanted to choose a nice green, which fits how I feel about shopping.) I found my tape measure and stood in the room taking measurements. Well, that's depressing. I entered the measurements, set up the model, and found my size. Then I got to wondering about how the fit would work over clothing, because it's not like I go out in winter nude except for a coat.

(My typical winter upper body has on a bra, long johns, shirt, sweater (light or heavy, depending), and then an outer layer. If it's really cold, I add another shirt under my shirt, or a light sweater under the heavy one.)

And what if my diet's really successful?

I finally gave up worrying about the over clothing question, acknowledged that in the unlikely case that my diet's super successful, I'll wear my coat a little big, and started to look at colors. I have my choice (available in my size) of beige (except it's not called that, it's got a fancy name I can't remember), light pink, baby blue, blah blah. Because, really, I want to walk around in pastels. NOT. Where are the bright, bold colors? (Or grey?) Where are the "I'm visible, don't mistake me for a deer and shoot me!" colors? Where are the bright colors so cars will see me if I go for a walk? But, of course, women aren't supposed to actually go outdoors to do anything!

And, now, of course, you know what I did. I clicked over to the men's side, found the exact same coat, except it's in a nice bright blue, maroon/red, sunny yellow, in addition to the beige and yes, grey. Okay then.

So I clicked on the my model part, and... my model is apparently not allowed to try on men's clothing. No doubt they're worried about dykes showing up trying on their clothes. Because this upper midwest place the retailer is from doesn't have dykes around. Or lesbians. They might have the occasional spinster aunt, but really, they don't talk about her. (One of my queer dinner group friends told me to try the my fit virtual model thing. You know there are executives at this retail outfit who would squirm in their suits at the thought.)

A male model avatar showed up, instead. I tried in various ways to get the thing I'd already set up to work, but no luck. So I entered the measurements for my male avatar (but there's no skin tone, eye shape, hair style crap to go through for the male avatar!). But, of course, with my hips, the men's jacket thing isn't really going to work. (Even though I buy men's sweaters and pants aplenty, and they fit okay.)

By this time, I was almost in tears. I could choose a blah colored coat that probably fits okay, or a bold, nicely colored coat that probably doesn't. On the women's side, one coat I like otherwise has elastic wrists. Another coat I like otherwise has no hand pockets. But they all have pockets for your mp3 player.

I really just want a basic coat, you know, in a nice color that will stand out against the snow and not look like a baby's room, that's reasonably comfortable without 22 pockets to put all this stuff in I don't want.

I stopped to take a break. Another benefit of shopping at home. I ate breakfast, showered, had another cup of coffee. Breakfast helped a lot. I should never go even virtual shopping without proper nutrition.

And so, I went back and clicked.

Fortunately, my dinner group is having dinner tonight, so I can kvetch with my friends about the avatar situation, and I know they'll understand and laugh with me, and help me feel better.

Maybe I need to go out and try this skiing thing again if it gets a bit warmer?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Day Three

A couple of weeks ago, I saw one of the women from my biking group in a store, and we talked shortly about missing biking and cross-country skiing. I told her I'd been thinking of trying out cross-country, and she encouraged me to call her, because she loves to ski and loves company. So I did. And today, I went out with her.

I've biked with A in a group for a while, and she's my hero. Seriously, she's in her 70s, and she bikes pretty much every day in the summer, and skis and such all the time in winter. She's in great shape, and lots of fun to be around.

What I learned today is that she's also a great teacher. It turns out she's a retired phys ed teacher, and still teaches skiing and stuff in winters. And she's really good at it.

What fun! She helped me get my knees bent better, and showed me all sorts of things, introducing one at a time, giving me time to practice, and reinforcing with lots of encouragement.

My favorite was skiing without the poles. It was weirdly easier; I think I had less to focus on, and so I could focus better on bending my knees, moving my hips, keeping my arms bent, and so forth.

Now I'm thinking of buying myself a ski kit.

Pros: I can imagine it being fun were I to get even a little better. Already it's fun, but I need more fun to want to get out in the cold and go.

It's great exercise. Even at my low level, going for little more than an hour, I can feel the goodness.

Getting out just makes me lots happier.

Cons: The economy sucks, and I'm worried about that.

School is starting soon, and I wonder if I'll have time?

I'm worried that I won't enjoy it enough to make getting my own stuff really worth while.

When I think about ways to spend my money (A says I can probably get a beginner set of skis, boots, and poles for about $300; that's a fairly big purchase for me), there are lots of other ways to spend that money. But you only live once, and I'm not getting younger, so if I want to get through winters here, getting good enough at skiing to really enjoy it makes a lot of sense. It seems like a really good life-sport, like biking. You don't need a lot of people, just the skis and stuff, snow, and trails. The snow and trails are pretty common around here in winter.

Yeah, I know I'm really lucky to have this sort of dilemma.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Self-Portrait, Skiing

Sometimes, I just get in a goofy mood. I went out skiing again with my friend today, and thought I'd play a little with my camera. (It could be a new Olympic biathalon, cross-country skiing and photo-shooting!) The fun thing is, with a digital camera, you can goof off, and laugh for a moment about the picture, and it really doesn't cost much at all, even if you get it printed off.

This is supposed to be an action shot, but it's really not. You can tell because my knees aren't bent enough.

Bending my knees enough seems to be a problem for me cross-country skiing. Odd, because they bend just fine on my bike. There were a few moments today when I actually got into a rhythm for a few steps, but then I'd think about it and lose the rhythm, and that was that.

MSILF oops, StyleyGeek (sorry, you two) suggested ice skating a couple posts ago, when I was asking for winter sport suggestions. I ice skated perhaps three times as a high schooler, and every time my knees ached afterwards because I fell on them all the time, over and over again. (Somehow falling on ice seems more painful than falling on snow, too.)

My friend, though, loves ice skating; she remembers growing up ice skating during winters, when parks around here tend to fill up an area with water and it becomes a skating rink. Where I'm from, those areas would be ponds for a few days and then dry spots. I've never skated outside, and think of it as a purely indoor sport; my friend couldn't remember that she'd ever skated inside.

Such conversations make me think about how very different it is to grow up in a snow area compared to a non-snow area. Folks from here learn to deal really well with winter, and I need to learn more of those skills.

So, the weight thing

I appreciate the kind comments about the picture. Thank you.

The weight thing... I have a less than great body image, and I recognize that as a feminist issue. I tend to handle it by putting myself down a bit, pre-emptively, even though I recognize that's not especially helpful. I learned the habit in my family, where putting myself down before someone else got to it (especially about my weight) helped quiet some sorts of criticism. But I've slowly learned that other adults outside my parents don't actually put me down, so it's really not helpful at all to try to pre-emptively do it. Right? Logically, I understand that, but I still catch myself doing it. (And it's great not to be in junior high anymore!)

(I don't mean to imply that my parents were abusive. Yeah, they made comments sometimes. And it wasn't great, but mostly they were and are supportive. When I think back, I recognize that the comments were largely my Mom's attempts to negotiate systemic sexism herself.)

But the weight thing for me is more than that.

First, my Dad died pretty young, as a result of long term weight, resultant heart problems, and so forth.

Second, when I was in grad school, I was carrying a big box of books and fell hard. I think that caused my retinal detachment. The result was 2 months of not being able to read after surgery that was scary as hell (hold still for two hours while they pull your eye forward and put a "rubber band" pillow thing around it; don't talk, move, sneeze, or cough or your eye might lose all sight. fun times. not.), and since I felt like a marginal grad student in my program, I worried about being kicked out or becoming homeless (since I couldn't work for those months, and reading is how grad student TAs make their living). It was scary, and unpleasant (though my department was amazingly wonderful to me). I got as close as I ever have to commiting suicide during those two months.

Through grad school and beyond, I'd been slowly gaining weight, and after my Dad died, I took a look at my life and decided that I didn't want the health problems he'd had, and that I was on my way to having those health problems. In addition, whenever I'd slip on ice or something, I'd worry that I could detach my other retina, and that was scary, and got scarier as I gained more weight and fell harder when I fell. So I went on a diet, and successfully lost about 30 pounds.

I had some benefits I'd expected: I found moving around easier, for example.

And some I hadn't expected: Before I'd lost weight, I sometimes had indigestion. When I lost weight, that pretty much ended. (I've since read that losing weight can help with that, so I think the change is related.)

Also, it being easier to move around made me more willing to get out and exercise, and just getting out and exercising tends to make me happier all around.

All my life, I had an ideal image of being someone who has adventures, who goes out and tries new things, who enjoys life in all sorts of ways, who's engaged intellectually and physically. I never wanted to be the princess who got rescued by the prince; I wanted to be the one out having the adventures myself.

Feeling better helped me be my idea a bit more. (Yeah, so really, if I could be Indiana Jones and Jane Goodall combined, that's the idea.)

But, as happens, I've been slowly regaining the weight, and before I regain all of it, I decided to go back on the diet. I've got a goal and it's about enjoying my biking more, feeling better all around, and yes, hoping still to prevent the health problems that my Dad had. It's also about feeling more ready for adventures and fun (which are easier if I'm more fit and active).

Thanks again for your kind words about the last post. I think I hear the rental skis calling from the garage, so I'll have to go check on them!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Out of Exile

EEBO is back!

I emailed the librarian (not the one in the show, but all librarians have secret informational super-powers, so just about) when I found out on Saturday. He emailed back, and said he'd check into it, and he did, and now it's back. It was just a glitch! Yay!

So what did I look for first, just for kicks? Herbert's Temple, image 22, "Easter Wings."

It made for a good morning.

And I turned in the conference stuff I was working with, so that's done.

And all that meant I was free to try something new, so, I actually rented a kit and tried my legs at cross-country skiing (with a friend for guidance). We had a lovely day for it, bright sunshine, a gorgeous trail out among trees, near one of my favorite biking roads, and enough warmth so that we were comfy moving very quickly.

I was very awkward at it. And slow. I almost fell over and over, but only got really close once (when I got my legs crossed, as I was trying to get out of my skis at the very end). I can see how it's great exercise, but I'm not sure it's my exercise. I rented the kit for a week, so I'll give it a try a couple more times (if the weather cooperates) and see if I get more comfortable about it.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed spending time with my friend and it felt great to get outside into the sunshine and get some exercise.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Imaginary Academics

I've been listening to a book on tape, as usual. This one's Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book, a novel about a bibliographer who curates rare manuscripts. She's called to Sarajevo to work on a medieval Haggadah, the Sarajevo Haggadah (hey, this one actually exists!). During her work, she discovers wine stains, a Venetian censor inscription, salt, a bit of insect, and a hair (and maybe more, I haven't finished). And then as she looks into each other these, there's a narrative that tells the story of the Haggadah and how the stains or whatever came to be where they now are. All that's very interesting, but I do find the lack of finish to the mini-narratives a bit frustrating. What happens to Ruti in trying to escape Spain during the expulsion? How does she escape, and where does she go?

(There's also the really irritating lisp the CD reader gives one of the Spanish characters; I think she's trying to give a sense of a Barcelona accent, but it's just irritating.)

But, the other part of the novel follows the narrator as she deals with her famous mom and learns that her dad, too, was famous; he was a famous artist. And she galavants around continents, across Europe, to the US east coast, and so forth.

And that's the part of the book I find sort of irritating. Because, really, how many people have famous moms and dads? There are no worries about money, no student loans to worry about, no nothing. It's sort of like watching Indiana Jones, and thinking his is anything like an academic's life. It takes an effort in disbelief. In the case of Indiana Jones movies, at least they're amusing and laughing at themselves along the way.

Have you ever noticed how depressing most of the books about the midwest are? I suppose Moo isn't, totally. I lived in a town with an annual Prime Beef festival, including a Prime Beef Princess. It's pretty hard not to be depressing when high school girls in town aspire to be the Prime Beef Princess.

I feel like I'm in EEBO-less exile.

I want to be able to go outside without being miserably cold, and to call up old college friends or one of my relatives and go out to dinner.

I hate winter.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Outside Looking In

I tried to get on EEBO this morning, only to find that our institutional subscription has run out. I hadn't heard anything about it, and surely if the library decided to cancel the subscription, one of the librarians would have emailed about it, no? Because in reality, libraries don't make decisions, librarians do, and ours seem to be thoughtful, smart people.

But we have a budget crunch around here and it's pretty overwhelming looking at the numbers. So maybe someone decided that a few folks in the English department don't really need that database? (No one in the history department does England much.)

I'm hoping it's just an end of the year glitch about re-subscribing.

So in my panic, I screwed around on the web, reading some blogs, and ran across a blog I haven't read previously. It's one of those blogs that clearly has its own world going, and its commenters are part of that world; they seem to know each other in non-web ways.

So this blog is just a totally different world, a world of luxury, easy travel, time to travel, drinking tea here and there, chatting about the stuff this or that important person owns.

It's a totally different world.

And it's a grad student blog, a lit grad student, a lit grad student whose undergrad place apparently gives hir free access for life to things such as EEBO. There's discussion of the lattes at fine institutions of research.

It's a far cry from wondering if my institution can afford the c. $4-5K a year subscription fee.

Growing up, I was never really aware that there were people like this student. I mean, I read books about princesses and stuff, but they weren't real. Reading a blog though, makes me think about their reality, though. And it's a totally different reality, though we're nominally in the same line of work.

I wonder if out there, somewhere, is someone reading my blog and looking at my level of privilege with the same sort of alienation? It's easy to imagine.


It's nasty and cloudy out. The computer thing says it's 18F, which is warmer than yesterday, but it looks far less inviting out there.

I really need to get outside, though, just get outside and do something to move around and soak up a little of what counts for winter sunshine around here.

I have a bunch of stuff on the list for today, starting with cleaning out the bluebird nestbox. But it looks so nasty cold out there.

The thing is, if I huddle inside, then it'll be harder not to huddle inside tomorrow, and to huddle inside the next day, and so on, and then the break will be over and I'll have been miserable. Warm, but miserable.

I need a really fun winter thing to do, something that I will get up looking forward to doing. I'm going to rent some cross-country skis when the rental place re-opens next week, and a friend or two have offered to teach me to cross-country ski, so maybe that's the ticket.

Because dog knows I can't see myself taking up curling.