20 December 2007

Things Learned at the Archive

1. My digital camera is the single most useful, valuable, helpful and all-around awesome tool I could ever have purchased for grad school. The camera makes my research speed set permanently to “lightning.” The resolution of the document photos is flawless, like an enlarged version of the actual document, complete with authentic scribbles and highlighter marks, and I don’t have to spend the precious little time I have for archival "on-location" research actually reading through each document and scribbling down (or typing) random sentences or quotes that might be useful or pay tons of money to the copy machine gods. I can scan something, ascertain quickly enough that it may be helpful or that it likely won’t be, and then snap, snap, snap and it’s mine. I can read through everything more carefully when I’m back in my home office, rather than on the expensive travel dime. Awesome!

2. Some old men are incredibly helpful and courteous to me. Some act like I’m an idiot and assume (based on gender? Relative youth? Clothes? No idea.) that I must not be doing serious work or that I might not even know what the difference is between a Supreme Court case and a children's book. And nine times out of ten, the information they’re trying to boss me around with isn’t even accurate. Which I already knew, thanks to my law degree. Maybe I should just wear my HLS sweatshirt. But then I wouldn’t look “professional.” Maybe I should get a crimson necktie to identify my Ivy credentials and just start wearing men’s clothes to the archive in order to look professional. That’d be kind of hot.

3. I think I’ve heard before that you either love research or you don’t, and if you don’t, academia is probably not your bag. Since most of my previous research has been of the computerized variety (hello law students who can’t use a law library!) or some half-assed two-day pop-in, I wasn’t entirely sure how this would work for me. Turns out, well. Time totally stops when I’m in the archive. It’s pretty awesome, except when I leave, blinking like a mole person and suddenly realize I haven’t eaten in eight hours and I’m totally dehydrated, since you can’t bring a water bottle in the manuscript rooms. But in the moment, in the archive, I really am loving it. There’s something fantastic and fascinating about handling all these pieces of paper, letters, motions, arguments, agreements, momentous decisions and nonsensical rants – all these little slips of passion and pain and pettiness, boredom and bathos, the remnants of humanity left behind by the Big Events that swept these people along.

Among Justice Blackmun’s files, for example, were reams of hate mail for decisions on abortion and desegregation. Reading these did, for a time, solidify in me a desire to take political power out of the hands of the “people” – I’m back to being optimistic again, but it was a struggle for a while. There were also the notes, tiny 3x4 slips of paper, passed between justices while the Court was hearing oral arguments. Sports scores were well-represented on these notes, as were trivia questions on opera and U.S. geography, and several jokes and sexist comments that would make a 12-year-old’s sense of humor look mature. These solidified in me a desire to take political power out of the hands of the judiciary. I’m not sure I’m back to optimism on that score yet, though.

4. Finally, I’ve learned (through not being able to find the right sized envelopes – it’s been an ongoing, futile search for envelopes that are apparently only carried in Oregon) that I will not be sending out holiday cards this year. I usually try to be more on top of things than this, especially given my love of all things decorative and holidayesque. But between travel and research and some fun times catching up with fabulous folks not seen in many months, it just hasn’t gotten done. So the blog version will have to do. See, I did make the cards – silkscreened them my very own self. Just couldn’t get the rest of the scene together. Here they are, from me to all of you – happy holidays/break/vacation/prospectus writing/excuse to eat a lot! In my (dad's) family we eat panettone on Christmas morning, my stepmom and I do a ridiculously large jigsaw puzzle together, and the events with the extended family include a lot of drinking and Irishness and arguments about politics. Enjoy, eat, relax, rejuvenate, whatever your holiday traditions are I hope they are extra delightful and enjoyable this year, whether quiet and peaceful on your own or loud and raucous with long-lost relations. Peace and joy!

08 December 2007

Praise Be!

I am thankful for many things this week:

-- Birthdays of some of my favorite people: E, M, R, my sister-in-law. And, yes, the BCC made some delicious cakes, if I do say so myself, so I'm kind of thankful for sugar in general, because there's been a lot of it lately. Check out the cookies we made this week (thanks for the decorating help, E & M)!

-- Seeing many of my other favorite people very soon on the Atlantic side -- can't wait!

-- Passing my dissertation prospectus defense with minimal pain. The defense was fairly short and sweet, and the best part was the go-around, in which my bow-tied committee member started off with phrases about how amazing the prospectus was and important, and etc., etc., followed by two other committee members saying comparably (overly) glowy, love-festy things and not really even asking questions, or at least not hard ones. Followed, finally, by my adviser, who said "well, this is much better than the last draft I read." Ha! I love, love, love, that my adviser is not someone who will shine me on. As nice as it was to hear all the exaggerated compliments from the other faculty, I feel lucky to have an adviser that I can rely on for honesty and support, because in the end, I tend to not trust uncritically complimentary statements. And I left feeling good, proud, and also aware of how much work I have in front of me in the next two years, but super enthusiastic and excited to get to it. Which is, I think, how they probably intend students to leave the defense.

-- After the formal defense (such as it was) was over, I appreciated the beaming professors around me sending me off to do my research like they were dropping me off for my first day of college with a hamper full of new towels. Since I'm leaving Monday for a month in the archives, they were very cute and even seemed a little nostalgic about it. Like, "did you pack your laptop? did you get this program?" -- I think one of my profs was close to asking if I was packing a warm winter coat for DC. It was sweet, and I realized how much like a kid I still must be to them.* In the sense that they've been doing this all for so long, and I'm still, in their eyes, starting out. I felt a little like a toddler who'd used the potty for the first time. All the adults were proud and patting my head, but seriously, I'm still miles away from being where they are, we're on different planets in many ways. And I'm kind of OK with that, because I am in one of those rare times where I'm happy to be exactly where I am -- I'm excited to go start my research (ridiculously so, in fact), I get to see lots of friends, it's my favorite time of the year, and all my grading and other work from the fall is finally done!

-- I'm thankful for the students who work hard and truly get most, if not all, of the material and concepts we tried to communicate this quarter. Aside from that 10%, I'm thankful for the ones who are utterly entertaining in their misapplication of information. For example, one student talked about "the growth of the middle class (also known as the working class) in the 19th century." You know, the bourgeoisie, also known as the proletariat. Another discussed how Thomas Jefferson seemed Marxist, given his interest in equality. For white, land-owning farmers. Totally what Marx said. He must've stumbled across the lost copies of Marx/Engels' Yeoman Farmer's Manifesto. I also love the automatic conclusion that anyone who supports equality in any context is suspected of being a dirty commie. Hee.

*This sense was reinforced by walking to lunch with another professor this week, during which he actually said "C, don't walk through the mud, walk on the sidewalk, you'll ruin your shoes." Um, yeah. And yes, I did move to the sidewalk.

26 November 2007

Waiting for Cookie Monster

Three things:

A lovely holiday was had -- the snow was gorgeous, the hot mineral springs were amazing, the hippies were entertaining. And then, what seemed like three straight days of eating and drinking -- very yummy. Followed by the Griswold family Christmas tree adventure yesterday -- more on that next time. I need to get my quality tree time in before I depart for the East Coast on December 10th. In "yay for the department" news (a new category I think), they just checked out a laptop to me for the entire trip, which will make my life, blog, research, etc. so much easier. Hope you all enjoyed your long weekend as well!

Quote from a student paper: "Women played an important role in the revolution because without them the men would have had nothing to come home to when the war was over." And before you ask, it's from a female student. Much like an armchair, women make many important contributions by waiting around for men to get home.

On the viewing of Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving special as an adult: oh, dear. I'm not even going to get into the special on the Mayflower, but as we were watching the Thanksgiving show, J. suddenly noticed that there was something strange in the seating arrangements. I tried to find a screen shot, but couldn't, so picture this: Marcie, Sally, Peppermint Patty, and Snoopy are ALL FOUR sitting on one side of a long table, with Linus and Charlie Brown at the either end of the table. Alone on the other long side of the table, across from the FOUR on the other side, is Franklin. Remember Franklin? He's Charlie Brown's black friend. Charlie Brown's Segregated Thanksgiving Special! It's disturbingly eye-opening to watch stuff as an adult that you saw as a kid, the little things that are slipped in or normalized. It also ties in with this Sesame Street news -- the early season DVDs are apparently appropriate only for adults, only this time it's because kids today need a more gentrified, less explicitly working-class/mentally ill/obese puppet show. Because it would be wrong to reflect in any way the lives of all the children who are not white suburban upper-middle-class yuppies. We're a nation of aspiration! Kids just need to believe that if they don't have the sane, shiny celery-eating lives of TV, it's because they or their parents aren't working hard enough. Even though this recent study on economic mobility pretty much proves that it really doesn't matter, 99% of the time, because you don't get out of the class you're born into. But you can still make a very important contribution, by waiting for someone that matters more to get home.

*By the way, I'm not actually attached to keeping Cookie Monster old-school either, given that he was originally designed as a marketing device for cookie and snack companies and then incorporated into a show for kids. Whatever, CM -- go talk to the Marlboro Man about karma.

20 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am a bad blog updater lately, but this weekend it was due to an annoying virus that laid me up for three days. You know how your body saves up whatever sicknesses it's been collecting for a while and then, when whatever stressful task(s) that have been weighing you down are finally completed and the adrenalin at last clears out, wham, it hits you? Yeah, I turned in my latest draft, finished teaching for the week, finally didn't have any encyclopedia articles or fellowship applications due the following Monday and my body clearly took all that as a sign that this was the ideal time to get sick. Which I can't exactly disagree with, but it would have also been a great weekend to get to have fun and talk to people (since my colds tend to invade my throat and render me mute). So not so much fun, but I did get to enjoy some fine sick movies, such as the ever-classic Neverending Story. I thought briefly that perhaps a new name would cure me of my illness in the same way it apparently cured the child-like empress in that story, but nobody shouted any out any windows at me. It's kind of hard to imagine yourself with another name, actually, I didn't get far in my musings. Also, I would like to affirm that the Lemony Snicket movie is just as good on second viewing as it was in the theater, I like that story quite a lot.

Finally, a few random points of order that never found their way into blog entries of late. This list of events is from one 4-hour period last week, in which I was reminded anew of what an ivory-tower bubble I live in.

You might be a nerd if:

1) The students who work the counter at the library recognize you as the girl who checks out more books at once than "anyone they've ever seen" and every time you approach you have to say "no, it's only a few this time!" Even then, they don't trust you until they've checked the hold shelf themselves.

2) The night of one of the biggest football games (apparently) for your school, like, ever, you are not only unaware it's happening until it's almost over (at which point you still don't really care), you are instead just bummed that you are missing the Ursula LeGuin reading in order to teach formal logic in a test prep course.

3) In trying to "engage" with your students about a letter from Jefferson to William Henry Harrison regarding Indian policy, you use the phrase "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" from the 1840 election campaign to explain who Harrison is/was, thinking they will surely have heard that before, since you had heard of it when you were a teenager. Um, no. More successful -- Thanksgiving cartoons from today's lecture. Also, based on the reaction in the room, any images of pumpkin pie elicit strongly positive student feelings. Declaration of Independence -- meh. Pie -- yeah!

I have lots more fondness for Thanksgiving after the lecture today, I must admit. I leave tomorrow for a day and night at a hot springs before driving back on Thursday to an already-prepared meal (menfolk are doing all the cooking this year), so the holiday seems extra good this year. I wish you all feasting, relaxation and no stress! Enjoy your "inoculation against Christmas consumerism!"

13 November 2007

We Eat a Lot of Cheese and Wear a Lot of Costumes

That might be the conclusion from the last several weeks of events and/or photos. This weekend we had a little get-together for Erin's birthday, involving magical creature costumes, fondue (again!), and a trip to a redneckety bowling alley where we caused, shall we say, a splash among the toothless locals. I haven't even uploaded the Halloween party pictures yet, but then I noticed my flickr account is also packed with photos of costumed square dancing and fondue. OK, let's be real: cheese + costumes = awesome time. Add publicly bowling in those costumes, followed by "boozy cake" = extra awesome. The black forest cake was yet again a hit, doused in liberal amounts of kirsch. We may have reached a BCC consensus that all future birthday parties will be celebrated with some sort of costuming theme involved.

This week my goal is to finish draft three of the neverending prospectus. My other goal is not to get infected with the yucky that is spreading like wildfire all of a sudden. Vitamin C & I are BFFs right now. Finally, I aspire to make my students think in complicated ways about slavery, freedom, founding fathers, ideas of progress, and the justification of self-interest. Ha! OK, not all my goals will be accomplished. As long as I can stop myself from flattening the LSAT student who keeps challenging me on irrelevant crap, it will be a successful week.

Addendum: 9 out of 11 encyclopedia articles finished and submitted as of yesterday. Woo-hoo! And -- never again!

05 November 2007

I Smell Turkey!

Random: Last night being E's bro's birthday, and because he has lacked that little joy called sleep for several weeks, we made a full-on Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner with all the trimmings. All the better to knock him out with tryptophan -- which appears to have worked, as he's still sleeping. Ah, the magic of tryptophan. You might ask about two vegetarians buying and cooking a big slab of flesh, and there was definitely some whinging involved, as my stepmom would say. We didn't buy a complete turkey, because it was just for B. & of course J., who could not have been happier about the situation. So we got some largish "part" -- I have no idea what -- at Trader Joe's and threw it on a broiling pan with some butter. Apparently, according to the menfolk, it was the best turkey they'd ever eaten, melty and moist, which makes me suspect that turkey is perhaps not best cooked in a giant entire bird all at once format. Whatever -- that information is unlikely to do me a whole lot of good in life. Here's the point: I woke up this morning to the realization that turkey smell, like fish or curry or garlic, permeates everything. My clothing smells like Thanksgiving dinner. The entire house reeks of dead bird avec buerre. I'm about to go to a meeting and I sense that everyone afterward will be craving a leftovers sandwich with cranberry sauce. I'm not exactly complaining, it's just really an odd sensation for me to smell roasted meat in my house or on my clothes.

Since I have been remiss for weeks in posting, I promise to have better things to say in future -- including a story about a student that I will unfortunately have to wait until winter quarter to fully tell, because if there's anyone who could track me down online and identify my blog at 3 am on a friday night, it's this kid. Oh the glamorous life of a teaching assistant! Also, photos of our Halloween party and my final -- sniff -- work in the silkscreen studio. I'm buying a slab of plywood and setting up my own studio in the garage, I swear.

22 October 2007

Get Yourself to the Square Dance, Daisy!

Went to a costumed square dance this weekend (more pictures by E), and it was unnatural kinds of fun. I'm now fascinated by all forms of square dancing -- from Scottish to Irish ceili dancing to the Appalachian sort we all learned in grade school to the hippie contra dancing kind. So much fun and silliness! It's the peasant version of the snooty rich folk dances of the English and French. Plus, in traditional square dancing costumes, there are things called pettipants. Seriously. With cowboy boots and fiddles. Good times!

Here are some of the things I silkscreened last week in the class I'm taking -- it's making me a crazy person who keeps a list in my notebook of possible T-shirt screening ideas. I see potentially transferable images everywhere. And then I grabbed a handful of $2 T-shirts at Ye Olde Navy this weekend, giving my addiction even more fodder. Oh, the dangers of a new craft hobby.

15 October 2007

Blog Action Day

I was going to post on the awesomeness of the roller derby Event I attended this weekend (check out the Emerald City Roller Girls -- we got to see their inaugural bout!). Then I logged on and saw that it is Blog Action Day, so I feel the impulse to say something environmental, as that is the theme. Except what is there left to say? My Cynicism with a capital C has overwhelmed the once-wide-eyed 7th grader who read Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth and wept over the horrors of plastic six-pack rings and promptly became a vegetarian. My Marxism (such as it ever was) has overwhelmed the naive impulse to believe that because someone is an environmentalist/activist/baby seal lover/whatever, it means they give a damn about workers, poor people, or, in fact, that they aren't more than willing to participate in the oppression of others if it helps prop up their inflated sense of personal piety and purity. If this sounds like I'm all anti-environment, far from it. But the stuff that pained me most in An Inconvenient Truth wasn't so much about losing pretty postcard scenery -- though I am spoiled living here in that regard -- it was the impact of rising sea levels on millions of potential future refugees. So here are a few of my favorite things:

The scene in the episode of the Simpsons where Homer changes his name to Max Power and meets Ed Begley, Jr. EBJ drives away slowly in a wee car that he describes as "powered entirely by my own sense of self-satisfaction." I think many people's potentially positive environmental impulses have been coopted by corporations (shocking!) looking to provide momentary bursts of good feeling for the guilty consumer, often at the expense of those less fortunate. For example, carbon offset schemes.

Which brings me to my second favorite environmental thing: Vandana Shiva. She is just a rockstar. We heard her speak on campus last year, and one thing she discussed was the hidden detrimental impact of carbon offset schemes in industrialized countries on farmers in India losing their land, for example.

I'm not sure where that leaves me on the environment, except to say this: I am not going to attempt to justify my Western capitalist consumption lifestyle by saying I compost, or recycle, or whatever. Ultimately, I think it's just better to acknowledge that there is no way to justify it. There is no magic practice or product (100-mile diet! hybrid car!) that will absolve you or me or any of us of our impact. And that's when maybe we can tie the environmental impact of our society in with the human impact and the intellectual impact. And then, you know, the revolution will be right around the corner. Sigh. I'm exhausted today.

Final note: I just read an article from the Atlantic Monthly that says multitasking is making us stupider. Like, scientifically. I was annoyed with the author (anyone who drops that they now or at any time owned a Land Rover pretty much guarantees my loathing), but the message feels intuitively true, and depressing. And, unfortunately, since the expectation in most jobs now is that we will be rabid little multitaskers (and thus have an accordingly impossible weight of tasks), there's not much to be done about it.

Um, OK, I call today Blog Pessimist Day. Celebrate, all!

08 October 2007

Did You Know?

The First Amendment was in effect once the Puritans landed?

Grasshoppers are poisonous?

Childrens do learn?

Misinformation brought to you by my five-year-old nephew, a college student's paper, and our president. I think you can probably guess who goes with what.

03 October 2007

Lazy Blog Post = List

1) Beach + rain + fondue = good times. Oh, plus outlet mall shopping = hours of entertainment. Annual Ladies of September Birthdays beach weekend was another smashing success.

2) How can it possibly be Wednesday? I think there's a time thief doing some mischief somewhere.

3) I'm starting to wonder if I have entirely too much fun for a graduate student. Is this the secret life of ABDs (as Esperanza Rossi has hinted)? Or am I just a total slacker? I feel that I should not be having enjoyable weekend excursions or entertaining fabulous out-of-town guests or attending evening silkscreening and dance classes or plotting cooking and crafting experiments. It all just seems decadent. Not that I'm stopping anytime soon. And I'm totally meditating on the prospectus. Totally. Right now, in fact.

4) I now cannot look at an image of any kind without wanting to silkscreen it onto notecards, posters, t-shirts, whatever. Complete sensory overload. Images! Everywhere!

5) Halloween decorations are out of the garage but not out in the world yet. I am plotting a trip to the farm this weekend. Pumpkins, gourds, dried corn stalks, hay bales, here I come! Hot cider and caramel corn might need to be concocted for the occasion. Possibly some maple leaf shaped handheld pot pies. Have I mentioned that I love Halloween?

6) I adore my freshmen. More on that later. I'm a sucker for teaching, and I think they might actually be my preferred group to teach.

25 September 2007

Just Ask

Yesterday I learned a valuable lesson in asking for what you want or what you deserve. Let's just say you never want your boss to call you up and demand to give you a big raise. I mean, you do, of course, but when it happens and when said boss actually says "I'm appalled at your pay rate -- why haven't you said anything before?", well, you tend to feel like a dumbass. The new manager at Giant Test Prep Company, Inc. called me to say just that, and while at this point in my life getting a four dollar an hour raise for the few hours I work there a week will sadly be a noticeable improvement in my finances, my reaction was also an equal mixture of kicking myself for not bringing up the subject myself sooner. Anyway, that is my lesson for everyone for the week: think you're underpaid? Ask for more. If you're a grad student, at least you'll all get a good laugh out of it. Want some help on a project? Ask. Want to pick the brain of someone wiser and more experienced than yourself, as I did yesterday with the incomparable V.? Ask. Other advice for the week: enjoy the full harvest moon tomorrow night. Go pick some squash. Or eat some squash. Or read about the Columbian exchange and the importance of squash in New World diets.

20 September 2007

So, To Explain

I've crossed the two-week not-blogging line, but my reason was very good -- much fun, many awesome guests, fabulous food and shoes! Obviously, shoes. I uploaded lots of photos, but I thought I should probably explain them as well. R. and S., of The Law School fame, visited for the last week and half (and sadly left today) and for R.'s early b-day we took them both horseback riding. On the beach. As one of our guides said when we explained that neither had ever ridden a horse before and that this was R.'s birthday treat: "And you're doing this to her?" It was actually a lot of fun for all of us. I had only ridden horses a handful of times as a teenager, usually bareback, so it was a mostly new experience for me as well. Photos are clickable and the most entertaining ones might be of S. and R. comforting each other in relief after they were finally freed of their steeds.

In other news, I turned thirty-two yesterday! I just realized when I typed it that it's like a double sweet sixteen, except that I felt approximately sixty all day since we were sore and bruised from the aforementioned horses and since we hadn't really slept in a week due to many overdue late night talks. And, you know, since I'm freaking thirty-two and the warranty on this model seems to be running down fast. I'm embracing my inner snarky Golden Girl now, it's never too early. I was spoiled with lots of yummy food, a pedicure, a stop off at the discount shop for some $10 shoes that are oh-so-fabulous, cocktails and Thai food and fun conversation with lots of good friends. And as if that wasn't enough, candlelit cake and fun gifts after we came home. E. outdid herself on the cake front once again with a beautiful caramel butterscotch cake with dark chocolate initials and leaves (Which she made by painting chocolate on leaves, of course. Probably camellia leaves. I didn't ask, but that's kind of how she rolls. Amazing.) Again, photos are flickr-able. I'm just sorry the cake isn't!

And now, unto the breach. Today was the first day back at school that it really felt like being back. Vacation officially feels very very over. I'm looking forward to teaching this fall, since I get to teach one of the all-freshman sections (I'm not being sarcastic, I really do like them). Classes don't start until Monday, but we had meetings and greetings, and meet-and-greets all day, and for the first time all summer there were Other People in my office wing. It was kind of a shock, I'll admit.

04 September 2007

Nicer Bigger Teflon Rellenos

I have learned several valuable lessons and/or pieces of information in the past week and a half, both in British Columbia and in the past few days back at home.

1) Canadians are just nicer than Americans. More polite, all of it, the stereotypes really are true. The buses in Vancouver actually flash two line messages saying "Sorry...Not in Service" instead of just "Not in Service." Now all our buses look rude and abrupt to me. Also, many Canadians really will apologize to you when you step on their toes. I actually tested this out repeatedly and, let's assume, unintentionally.

2) My snotty attitude toward nature on the East Coast (i.e., "you call that a tree? how cute," or "that puny hill is Mt. Such and Such?") being from the West Coast correlates almost exactly to the assumed attitude someone from BC could have to the Pacific Northwest, were they not so damned polite. It was just like the natural environment here. Except bigger. Everything was way bigger. Plus, fewer billboards, which just emphasized how freaking big everything was. It was an incredible week -- mostly we did a lot of hiking and oohing and aahing. We're definitely going back to Vancouver for a city fix, it's super-Euro and cool and we didn't get to spend much time there.

3) Lesson learned by our entire household upon our return: don't put a Teflon wok on the burner, turn it onto a relatively high heat with a little oil in it, and then answer the phone (roomie was making popcorn for our movie night). Let's just say, the fire was small and localized, but the fumes were unbelievably profuse. We all, plus kitty, literally locked ourselves in my room as the least-fumigated place in the house and watched Dreamgirls. Which was great. Or that could be the Teflon poisoning talking, who knows. I think it was great. Seriously, that stuff kills birds -- if my dissertation is poor quality now, I'm totally blaming the wok. It took two full days with the doors wide open to air the house out.

4) Screw Labor Day barbecues. The food to have in celebration of working people is definitely homemade chiles rellenos with beans and rice, fried plaintain chips and mango slices. Sadly, we eschewed the mojitos because the Teflon had already killed all of our brain cell quota for the week. But the rellenos, they were so good.

24 August 2007

On Pleasure Bent Again...

I depart today for the rainy woods of British Columbia for the next week...I'm looking forward to a week of trees and lakes and wind and magic and a complete and total respite from academia and the petty to-do lists of daily life. It feels ridiculously indulgent to be able to take an entire week's break from my life. I will post pictures when I get back, in the meantime, I hope everyone else gets some sort of mental August vacation, however short or long, before the back-to-reality crunch arrives in September.

21 August 2007


Well, my class finished last week and I am now returning to the land of not writing lectures every day. It's kind of weird to be back. Suddenly organizing my desktop files holds tremendous appeal. The last day of class did, as predicted, bring on a lot of nostalgia. I am reminded of one of kungfuramone's post from a few weeks ago about the constant obsolescence of things, places, people in our wacky modern lives. I know so many intimate details of my students' lives after this class -- it may have been the nature of the subject matter, or my discussion style, but the range of personal experiences shared by the students with me and the rest of the class was amazing, and humbling as well. From abortions, to lynchings, to custody battles, to racial profiling by cops, to child abuse, to military experiences around the world, it was present in our little class and our conversations were richer and deeper for it. And now I find myself a) hating to grade them, hating it, hating it, hating it, I'm way too much of a mother hen for this part of the gig; and b) a little weirded out that I'll likely never see or hear from any of them again. We spent two hours a day every day having intense political, historical and personal conversations (I didn't really share personally, but they did hear a few stories from law school, including that of the infamous Texas party, and they certainly have a good idea of my political positions), and now it is done. It's just the nature of teaching, of course, but I've never had my own class before, so it takes an added adjustment to just saying goodbye at the end of a discussion section. Also, on the last day of class several of them actually asked if we could have a bonus class -- an extra class the next day despite the fact that it was their "dead week" day. They wanted to finish some of the topics we hadn't gotten to on my lecture outlines. It was very sweet, and I was tempted for a split second but my "you'll kick yourself later" sense jumped in and deferred. Always leave them wanting more, right?

I have finally updated my flickr account with photos from the fabulous tour of the east side of the mountains by Trust in Steel (sadly I didn't take enough, dumb battery) and photos from our month-long tour of county fairs, which is ultimately all about the adorable animals. And, this weekend, photos from J's graduation and celebration. Cupcakes were had. Pinatas were beaten down with baseball bats. Good times.

14 August 2007

Next Summer: History of TV, Wine & The Rock and Roll Music 108*

The last day of my summer class is tomorrow, and while I am in some way (as predicted by Erin) melancholy because I always get all nostalgic and mushy at the end of things, I am also, you know, kind of looking forward to it. If by looking forward to it you mean desperately waiting for that glorious day to finally be here. If you can't tell from my (lack of) blog activity for the past three-plus weeks, I've been teaching a two-hour class daily for the past...three-plus weeks. It was a great experience, I do really enjoy the students, amazing opportunity, tons of intense discussions, learned a lot...blah blah blah! Let's face it, folks, I'll say the nice stuff about it later, right now I'm just really looking forward to not spending every single afternoon and evening (and the following morning before class) writing lectures. I would like to do the 80s dancing, watch the crappy television, and drink the nectar of the grape. I'm through being ProfessorLawyerMommy at least until school starts in the fall, and even then, I'm gleefully looking forward to having someone else lecture for a while.

This is all by way of reality-check, because in about two days (let alone two weeks) I will be all sad and missing my students and fondly reminiscing about our fascinating discussions. And that's fine, I know myself well enough to know that. I'm a softy, and I carry rose-colored glasses right next to my radical-feminist-Marxist red pair. But I will suggest for any of my fine friends who have the opportunity to teach a course on their own during PhD-getting-fun -- maybe don't try to teach the entire stretch of US history along with ten different major categories of law in a four week class. It may be a tad ambitious. Although I do feel like I have gone through my own version of law-school re-boot camp. Relearning the nitty-gritty details of contract law, corporations, family law, criminal law, constitutional law, property law, civil procedure and Indian law in the context of the whole history of the U.S. and then teaching it to non-lawyers and non-historians was definitely...educational. And it made me feel, for the first time since starting to read for comps, as though there may someday be an end point to this path that actually does involve running my own classes and doing my own research and reading. And that's a very, very good thing.

Now I am off to show off some mad LSAT skills. In future posts there will be pictures of the fabulous trip to the eastern side of the mountains as well as many, many photos from my tasting menu of local county fairs. Goats. They're cute.

*101 is just so obvious.

19 July 2007

Off to PDX

Highlights from this week:

1) I've learned to love reading again. I actually started reading one of the books that was on my comps list and that I therefore barely "read" (Wilderness and the American Mind, by Roderick Nash). I had some vague ideas of the books' points before, based on the hard-earned comps skill of skimming, summing up and book reviewing. But then this week some other demanding person requested it, and as I brought it to campus to return, I opened it and rediscovered that I actually do enjoy reading the written word for sheer enjoyment. Wow! Ideas, words, thoughts for their own sake. I feel like I'm back from a long, weird trip.

2) Good people were in town! Kungfuramone and Beetlegirl swung through for some food, some catching up and some Hell's Kitchen. I still need to know how that ended.

3) I am currently addicted to the Gilmore Girls. It's all cute and snarky. I enjoy.

4) I compiled a coursepack for my class that begins next week. It's long. My students are almost all white male poli-sci majors (cough-pre-law-cough). Did I mention the coursepack is long? Why didn't I teach a class on pop culture and TV-watching? Or wine-tasting 101?

Now it's off to P-town for some family stuff, a Patty Griffin concert at the zoo, and the Columbia County fair, where I hope and expect to run into any number of my high school classmates, most likely with their three to six children in tow. Woo-hoo!

12 July 2007


One year's worth of library fines for 450 assorted monographs on US history and theory: $300. No joke.

Coffee. More coffee. Even more coffee. Frankly, I don't want to think about how much I spend in a year on this. Let's just call it a bajillion dollars.

Replacement pens during the last two months in which I frequently drained the ink from a pen a day on my notes: $30.

Passing my oral comps and never EVER having to go through that rite of passage again: You know what it is.

Yay! Took the comps, passed the comps, even felt good about my answers on the comps. It was actually, dare I say it, verging on fun (minus the nausea) to get to talk about things I find interesting with thoughtful, intelligent colleagues for a few hours. I got to talk about Foucault and Judith Butler as well as the US as a simultaneously postcolonial and colonial nation and, of course, race and class and gender. No one tried to nail me in any way, and the one professor I was afraid of seemed to like my answers the most and was the biggest pussycat of them all. It still hasn't completely sunk in that I'm done with this hurdle, but I'm getting there. I'm just glad I didn't, you know, freak out unnecessarily or anything. Ahem.

I cannot thank everyone enough for the love, support, understanding (especially those who had to deal with me at my most neurotic or talk me off ledges a time or two or twenty), coffee cards, singing cards, gifts, flowers, emails, phone calls, and for those in town yesterday, drinks and food and more drinks and more food. (At last! A chocolate butterscotch martini at the Excelsior for the Little Match Girl!) Pretty much, when I felt like throwing up for the 24 hours prior to the exam, I just thought about my awesome friends and felt better. I really don't think I've been this relaxed in about a year, so I'm going to enjoy it for a while longer before thinking about things like...what do you call them? Ah, yes, dissertations. Thanks again for the support! And for those who still have something like this to look forward to in their future: all will be well.

Here is the dazed, goofy smile that was plastered onto my face for about two hours straight after the exam:

03 July 2007

State of the Field

1. Practice session yesterday with adviser went well. Despite the fact that she didn't ask me a single question from the subjects she was assigned and instead asked all kinds of outside things, I still managed to answer it all to both of our satisfaction. After forty minutes, she said "well, this is an interesting conversation, but I can't drag this out for you any longer -- you're ready." I have not had a single vision of my potentially-homeless self with the monograph-and-propaganda-lined shopping cart since. So, basically, I'm a much much much less crazy person today than I was three days ago. But of course it's all relative.

2. Ratatouille is an exxxcellent movie. Sneak in a wedge of artisanal cheese and a hunk of crusty bread if you can, because popcorn does not really cut it. If you like good food, you will like this movie.

3. Vote for Oregon. Do it. This state made Matt Groening what he was, it was our broken-down nuclear power plants (cough-Trojan-cough), our bumbling public officials, our crappy schools and depressed economy that led to the genius that is the Simpsons. We don't have all the fancy-pants "population levels" of say, a state like Illinois, but I'm hopeful we can get some West Coast solidarity and snag the California vote. So basically, Y. & S., we're relying on you. I don't count my former Oregon cronies now in California as people I need to recruit because once you've lived here, you're loyal FOREVER.

4. I'm not hiding completely as per KFR's suggestion for the Fourth, but there will be some white-trash junk food consumption, some unmitigated bitching about this country's leadership, and attendance at "Sicko" during the hottest part of the day. I feel that being difficult and ornery and non-patriotic (and also kind of trashy) is kind of the most patriotic thing one can do. For those in hiding, may the neighbor kids not torture you too much with loud bangs. For those at barbecues, check how long that macaroni salad has been sitting out. I'm just sayin'.

28 June 2007

Calculus of Comps

Here's an average day right now:

7 am: Coffee, coffee, coffee. BBC.

7:30: Run along river, normally just a walk but currently too much excess nervous energy to burn. I enjoy the new Mandy Moore song. Shut. Up.

9:00: Read notes. Reread notes. Wonder why my brain cannot hold the same quantity of information as say, a competitive eating champion's stomach can hold in hot dogs. Spend some time overthinking the metaphor. Search in vain for distractions from work. Pay bills! Do laundry! Blog! Email! Done. Back to notes.

11:30: Coffee, coffee. Fifteen minutes of staring into space and lamenting choice of academic career. Second wind in which I immediately feel that I will not only take and pass the comps this summer but write the entire dissertation as well as teach a class, open a cupcake bakery, start the revolution and publish groundbreaking articles. This lasts 30 seconds, at which point stark fear takes over again aaaaaand it's back to rereading notes.

12:00: Lunch break. Fail to fix dishwasher. Recruit Jake. Ignore gender implications as brain is too full right now. Consider letting Paola take my comps, as she's spending all her time studying with me currently. She's quite snuggly these days, apparently she has a renewed sense of her own mortality since recent events. Become irate over Supremes' decision today to basically resegregate public schools, which relies on the precedent of Brown. Shameful moment of feeling a tiny bit vindicated that it proves my thesis accurate. Spend fifteen minutes or so hating white people who claim to be victims of "racism" because they couldn't get their brat into their first-choice kindergarten. Return to work renewed by some good old-fashioned righteous indignation.

12:30: Read journal articles. This is probably the most valuable comps-related thing to do, and now I wish I'd been doing it all along, but hey. Reading books -- psshhh, useless! I sincerely doubt anyone would care to know my article recommendations, but for those few of you who are in my field (who've undoubtedly already read it, since you are in my field) -- I just reread Steigerwald's article on consumer history for the third time and now feel like I didn't get it at all the first two times because it suddenly makes lots more sense than ever before. This horrifies me in light of the fact that I will not in any way have time to read other articles (or books or whatever) three times in order to finally clue in. Crap.

3:00: Pop tylenol. Initiate midday moratorium on coffee. Torture self with the thought, borrowed from Saru, that somewhere, some pasty guy at Yale who wears a bow-tie and suspenders at the age of 25 (hey, they were in my medieval legal history class at the big H -- I'm not making these critters up!) is also about to take his comps and is mainly concerned that he may not get that tenure-track job at Princeton. Whereas I only seem able to worry about the eternally-realistic-seeming possibility of winding up homeless in Washington Square Park, muttering something about Pennoyer v. Neff and lining my shopping cart with socialist propaganda. Place limit on neurotic breakdowns to fifteen minutes at a time in order to increase productivity.

5:30: Look over notes on answers to potential questions. Momentary concern that many of my subfields have suspiciously similar answers. Look, I didn't invent agency/structure or consumerism or race/class/gender or cultural history or transnationalism, OK? Fine, I'll be more specific. Longer moment of concern over the mention by Trust in Steel's adviser at a dinner last weekend, when I told him my committee membership, that I should "watch out for Professor X, he can be unpredictable." If you know my committee, I doubt you need further clarification. Crap. Console self that it could be worse. Right? I could think of a few other members of the faculty that I would not want to have on my committee. Reflect for the 571st time that I wish this was a written exam and not an oral evisceration. Back to answers.

7:00: Erin makes dinner. Pierogis, etc. Then I sit and "think" for a while (read: space out), then some berry picking. We get three or four cups of raspberries off our bushes every day right now. It's absurd. Not to mention the strawberry patch. I could always be a berry farmer. Return to notes refreshed by berry sojourn. Erin vows to make jam tomorrow. Appreciate the roommates and friends who have tolerated my neurotic ways for the last...let's call it months.

9:30: Freak out for the ten thousandth time that I don't know who was governor of New York colony in mid-1700s. This is like my warm blanky of freak out topics this week, since I stolidly refuse to look it up, because then what would I freak out about? It's comforting! OK, it was George Clinton. I now officially need a new blanky. Look, I'm not a colonialist, OK? Moment of fear that I will lapse into Valley-girl speak in the middle of exam? Consider that I might, you know, punctuate all my answers with question marks? Contemplate that actually, um, my life is not that hard? Like, I could have to scrub toilets or mine diamonds so maybe I should stop complaining? And I should stop this post, because now I'm just using it to get out of work.

Rinse, repeat, for two more weeks. The sick thing is, at times I'm even enjoying the -- you know, what they call it? -- learning. Thinking. Clarifying thoughts and ideas. It's the examining process that feels like just flat-out meanness. But ultimately, as I remembered last week and forgot in the intervening period, thus far I have defied what most sociological models would predict I would do with my life (in a good way), so even if I screw up now and for the next sixty years straight, it's all just gravy. Yeah, that was more comforting last week.

22 June 2007

Fun With Flickr, Fun Without

Somehow I can't type the word Flickr without thinking of Flicka the horse. Um, anyway. I finally remembered that I have an account and even managed to conjure up the password, so there are now many pics of Thursday's goodness on my little badge thingey, specifically Trust in Steel's farewell to certain local hotspots before his move next week. My favorite sequence may be the finger portraits of E., J., and I, just because they are so reflective of our personalities. He is clearly primed to destroy all governments with his finger of doom, while I am playing double-finger-pointing cheerleader at some sort of quiz team semifinal competition and E. is metaphysically questioning the deeper meaning of the finger. And then there was dancing, which was most necessary.

In other news of fun over the last few weeks:

--The Fabulous Miss Saru turned 30 in a beach weekend extravaganza two weeks ago. There was drinking at 3:00 in the afternoon, a huge house full of lawyers and academics and other supercool people and gossip magazines and girly movies. This house was so close to the water we saw multiple whales multiple times -- the photo above shows the view from our hot tub/deck. There was also some "Proud Mary" karaoke (including the dance, Tina Turner version of course) by three of us at the diviest dive in Lincoln City. So basically, just a bar in Lincoln City with karaoke. The only thing missing from the weekend, actually, was my camera, so those of you who weren't there will have to live without pictures of the giant tissue paper pom-pom flowers we suspended from the ceiling and the molten chocolate cakes and the deadly serious game of Apples to Apples that was played over mojitos. Board games with a team of attorneys is Serious Business. It was amazing to see all these ladies -- definitely one of those reunions where you just slip right back in like it's been three days instead of three years. Can't wait for the 2008 birthday reunions!

--We got to see Rachel briefly yesterday before her intrepid travelling takes her to Singapore in a few days. She has promised to keep us updated on all things Singapore while there. I think that level of whirlwind world touring is best done in ones' twenties. I am simply too sleepy now that I'm in my thirties, I'd probably curl up for a nap and miss the train. (Or, as Saru would say, I'd be in the Piazza of the Dead Babies missing the train.) Good luck and safe travels Rachel!

--Numerous awesome people graduated last weekend: Erin, Jeff, Austin, Nina, Kimi...graduates all. For many, they are now official Masters of Stuff. There was elaborate barbecuing at the gorgeous rose garden in town (sans alcohol, sadly), leaving such a large amount of food we still have some in our refrigerator. Our superstar friend Jessica did a bang-up job keeping all of us sane throughout the weekend, especially as she was the one we abandoned at the train station while we killed our cat -- with her help we still managed to get through the many barbecues and ceremonies of the weekend intact. And I was the only one that tripped, despite not even being one of the graduates, a hit I am willing to take to maintain the grace of the rest of the team. Here is one of Elizabeth's finest portraits:

18 June 2007

Goodbye Pan

I've been dreading this post, so I have to get it done. On Friday we had to put our new kitty, Pan, to sleep. He got very sick on Tuesday, we hospitalized him for three days with acute kidney failure (apparently very common in boy cats, and they often can bounce back, but his was pretty advanced) and went in to the vet to visit him on Friday afternoon thinking he was getting better. Then they put us in a windowless little room, at which point we began to suspect the worst. Basically, his kidneys never resumed functioning, his bladder had also ceased to work, and he would have had to be in an emergency hospital for the two or three months he could have continued to live, in pain and catheterized. It was a horrible, horrible decision to have to make, and when they brought him in to us it was even worse, because he just purred the whole time and snuggled us until the very end. He actually stopped purring when the first injection went in to sedate him, and then started purring again when the final injection of barbituates went in. Thanks to E. & J. & K. & I. for helping us bury him when we got home and for providing music and catmint and catnip plants for his grave and making sure we all ate something eventually and generally looking after us that night. A lot has happened in the last week and a half, much of it wonderful, but I will have to do catch up posts later in the week on that because I really just can't do it right now.

Goodbye Pan, Pancake, Panini, Pantalaimon, Pancetta, Panettone. You were the sweetest boycat I ever met and you were in our family, you were in the BCC, even if it was only for a brief time. We'll miss you kittybaby.

08 June 2007


Thanks to Elizabeth's infinite knowledge of how to plug things in and select an item from a menu, I am finally able to download my photos, so I can at last show off our new guy, Pan. Here he is in what we have come to call his stoner mode (which is 95% of the time).

Here is his cute Pan-face (he doesn't actually have the cool two-different-colored eyes, that is solely a reflection on my "skill" with a camera):

Here is E. hard at work in our kitchen, as per usual. Action shot!

Finally, with a freshly cleared out camera and a passel of goodies, we embark today on a coastal adventure in honor of a dear friend's 30th birthday. To the celebration-mobile! Seven lawyers in a house, and their three innocent bystander victims. There will be many tort-related jokes. And much chortling at Scalia.

04 June 2007

New Boy in Town

So there's been an addition to the BCC the last week and a half. E. & J. were walking by the river one night and came across a stray cat who was very friendly. After petting him for a minute or two he promptly followed them the mile and a half down the bike path back to our house. Like a dog. Also, he's a black cat -- when we added together the black cat following them back to the Black Cat Commune, it was kind of a done deal. Our new boy is named Pan, originally meant to be short for the Italian for panther (Italian to go with Paola) -- pantera. Also because he's very metal. Also because he totally looks like a panther. Then we realized that he looks a lot like a feline version of Pan from Pan's Labyrinth (so...good...so...sad...so...pretty) with the flattened nose and large face. Then we realized that Pan lends itself well to numerous overly cutesy food nicknames such as Panini, Panettone, Pancake, etc. Also it is the nickname of the daemon in the excellent Golden Compass series of books -- read them if you haven't yet -- by Philip Pullman: Pantalaimon. Pictures will be forthcoming as soon as I figure out my camera and manage to upload them (it's taken me this long to blog about it, so I finally gave up today when I didn't bring the right cord. I suck at technology).

Initially there was a comedy of errors for several days in which we were all convinced (based on E.'s brothers' detailed inspection) that he was an unfixed kitty. Therefore, as per a phone call to our local animal rights activist cat shelter/catnapping enablers, we really needed to keep him for ourselves because his previous owners were bad non-neutering people. Then J. took him to the vet to discover that he in fact IS fixed, and is five years old, and just happens to be very well-endowed. Apparently "swelling can occur." So we posted things on craigslist and in lost animals books at vet clinics, but we're hoping no one calls. The shelter folks also said that sadly, down by the river is a prime pet-dumping location. He definitely was someone's pet at one point -- he's litter-trained and he purrs the second you touch him, he's very people-friendly. But legally, possession inheres in an animal after 24 hours! I just really hope there's no little kid out there crying their eyes out over him. If there is, they should be looking for him though, and no one seems to be.

So, as the catnapping fiends we are, we're really hoping that it was a pet dump, as awful as that is, and that no one tracks him down, because we're all in love now, and even Paola seems willing to limit hissy fits to one a day, while otherwise coexisting peaceably. I think it helps that they both fit into neatly proscribed cat gender boxes -- he makes her look dainty and feminine because he is very big and very boy-looking. Not really a competition. Jake is enjoying having another boy in the house, at long last. I am plotting the doubled adorability of dressing up two black kitties for holiday photos. I am such an old lady.

28 May 2007

Movie Reviews/Exam News

My weekend was spent at community college dance recitals (very good!), buying huckleberry plants at a local farm, barbecues with the history crowd, and big-budget movies at the mall. I needed a brain break, and it was good to have a non-working weekend for once. Shrek the Third: good stuff. Pretty much, if you liked the first two, you'll like this one. Not as much Puss in Boots as I would've liked, but I hear there's a whole PiB movie coming out in a few years, so I can be patient.

Shrek viewing pleasure was also assisted by the comparison to the third Pirates movie, seen the night before. Shrek = 1 1/2 hours long. Pirates = 3 hours long. Also full of stupid and offensive stereotypes. Also, not nearly enough Johnny Depp. There's a whole mini surrealist movie of just him being totally hilarious toward the beginning that's actually worth sitting through the entire 3 hours, but I wish there had been more. More of that, less of the hours of tedious special effects.

In comps news, for the first time in weeks (since my first practice session), I don't feel like I'm counting down to my execution. I had another practice session on Friday that was actually like an enjoyable conversation about theory and ideas and historical trends in the 20th century (imagine!). The professor even ended it by hinting that it shouldn't be a hazing ritual and she will try to "interrupt" that if it starts to happen. Given that one of my other committee members clearly does view it as a hazing session, that made me feel a lot better. I'm aiming to take them the first week of July, before I have to start teaching my summer course. Today, it's back to work, but substantially refreshed and feeling a lot lighter than in a long time. I see the light at the end of the tunnel of books, finally.

16 May 2007

I Heart Bright Eyes

I don't know what it is about the last few days, I've just been listening to that album a lot. Especially Road to Joy. I think it's just that I really love political music. Somehow it goes with my teaching style, which, based on today's class on Brown, is approximately 70% leftist political rant (%40 race, 20% class, 10% antiwar, 'cause there's always room for that), 20% legal theory, and 10% random mentions of Republicans doing something awesome or Democrats being sinister (easy enough to find examples of that), just because I like to confuse them. Hey, when did I stop talking about gender? The irony! I guess I have next week's lesson plan done now.

I would also like to officially thank E. for turning me on to Feist, the official musical sponsor of my grading last weekend.

14 May 2007

I Can't Compete with Bush

Here is how one of my students' midterms discussing McCarthyism during the Cold War concludes:

"Personally I don't see anything wrong with restricting what people say about their government publicly. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but since no one has all the facts, each person should be allowed to decide for themselves what is right, without outside influence."

Apparently the only "outside influence" this student approves of are the government propaganda videos I showed them endlessly in section. Also, these two statements don't even logically get along with one another. Unless you're only entitled to your own opinion if it's government-sanctioned and you keep your mouth shut otherwise. Hey, we'll let you think it really hard! How awesomely freedom-loving are we? I guess all W.'s "work" the last few years has paid off. The kids today really get his message!

I also enjoyed the exam that discussed the need to fight communist Japan during WWII. That was, as we all know, the reason for the emergence of anti-communist internment camps. Oy. Of course, then I read a few that apparently wrote down and memorized every random thing I ever said about racism in Disney movies, read the text cover to cover, and are so ticked off about injustice that they draw all these unprovoked connections to 9/11 and inequalities today. Those make it all worth it.

11 May 2007

I Need A Montage!

Even Rocky had a montage! I've been a bad blogstress of late (thanks for the kick in the pants, KFR), largely because of comps preparation, and I've realized that I would like to just film a montage of the next few months until comps and wake up after they're over. I'm envisioning scenes of me making hundreds of thousands of factual flashcards, sketching vast and overcomplicated timelines on a piece of paper that stretches the length of my house, and of course, falling asleep with my montage glasses askew atop a precarious pile of books upon which I've taken copious and well-informed notes. In between there would be the requisite punching bag scene, some grading of midterms, and some intense computer typing as I finally get around to updating my blog and responding to emails. I haven't decided what the most appropriate song would be -- I'm leaning toward something classic, like Little Miss Can't Be Wrong by the Spin Doctors, or possibly Overkill by Colin Hay. OK, so actually, my "real-life" montage lasts a lot longer than three minutes and so far is set 90% of the time to Philip Glass. I think that might just be making this process more depressing. And let me add for the record that I attempted, as the Good Girl that I am, to follow my adviser's advice from last week and use bourbon as stress relief. (Yes, PP said that. With a straight face. That was her "stress relief" of choice in grad school.) Naturally, it did not work out so well for me, which might be related to following it with whiskey, and then tequila. Mistakes were made. Yet another way in which I am no PP. I fear this will become very apparent during the exam itself.

On a side note: according to my students' midterms, William Jennings Bryan was a conciliatory African American political leader at the turn of the century and the Army-McCarthy hearings were about the resignation of army General McCarthy who led our troops to victory in the Pacific in WWII and later headed up the Korean War. Yeah. They even had a choice of IDs to write about -- and yet. Of course, I couldn't remember the geographical distinctions between the Mid-Atlantic states, New England and the Chesapeake last week, and I lived in the major cities of all three areas for the majority of my adult life. So whatever. Exams suck.

26 April 2007

Partially Useful Life Lessons

1. Do not watch WWII propaganda movies right before going to bed. (I showed my students clips from the "Why We Fight" series yesterday. And had freaky dreams the night before.)

2. Don't agree to give your time away two months from now unless you really, really have to do so. When the two months are up, you will hate your two-months-ago self for your bad decisionmaking. (I started teaching Kaplan again this week. Back in February when I agreed to do it, I needed the money -- now I just need the time. Oh, well.)

3. Don't have unprotected sex on mysterious desert islands. (According to last night's episode of "Lost," men's sperm count quintuples and creates a fetus of DEATH that kills the woman. Yeah, I don't really get it either. Nor do I get why no one can just suggest abortion as an alternative to the killer sperm/deadly fetus problem, but whatev.)

15 April 2007

Squirrel Rap

My friend Quincy sent me this link with a note of righteous fury at the appropriation (he's a poet-historian, not like us dull-ass regular historians). The Lakes District of England is celebrating the bicentenary of Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud" with a video rap rendition of the poem. I appreciate Q's much more refined poetic sensibilities, but I sort of enjoy the rap version, and I think with a more serious video it could be cool. As it is, though, you could not make this shit up. A giant squirrel/soccer mascot for the Ullswater Steamers prancing around the lake, breakdancing, sniffing daffodils and drinking champagne while Wordsworth gets rapped. This has made my entire day. I bet they get a tourism boost from this, solely for the kitschy enjoyment factor. It also makes me wonder what Thursday Next would say if she were assigned to the case. (PS -- read that book, if you haven't already.)

12 April 2007

RIP, Leon Trotsky Trout

Kurt Vonnegut died today. He was the 20th century Mark Twain, very "American" in many ways and also very willing to say whatever he damn well believed. I went through a period in high school when I read every single book he'd ever written. Slaughterhouse-Five gets the most attention, and it's extremely good, but I think I like Cat's Cradle even more, and Galapagos (with the character Leon Trotsky Trout) has always stayed with me -- mostly the ending I think...or the beginning. I think of him as one of the few white male authors in U.S. literature that could speak with the magical realism/political fury of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Jose Saramago or Milan Kundera. I wish there were more writers or public figures who were as engaged today.

"All this happened, more or less."

09 April 2007

Pearls Before Commuters

The Washington Post's story yesterday on a world-famous violinist playing a Strad in the DC Metro while people walk. on. by. is pretty interesting. I'm not sure I think you can extrapolate that much per se about these people's lack of appreciation for Bach (why should Bach be universally appreciable but not rap?), as suggested, but I do find the uniform behavior of the kids (and parents) fascinating. Also fascinating: whatever you may think of classical music or violins, as Bell said himself, he was loud, and physically taking up a lot of space with a vigorous performance, yet...everyone walked within three feet of him as though he was invisible. Interesting meditation on the meaning of expectations. The single most beautiful voice I ever heard was an operatic tenor singing in the New York subway station at 23rd Street (an otherwise wholly unimpressive station). I will remember it to this day because it changed the entire course of that day for me, just hearing something that beautiful someplace so unexpected. Beats out any opera I've attended anywhere in the world. Sometimes finding something in less-than-optimal conditions is precisely what gives it beauty.

07 April 2007

Three Weeks

I'm finally back home (in the wee hours of the morning Monday, thanks to E. for the crazy PDX airport run!), finally over the jet lag, and finally read through all the blog posts of the last almost-month. Nice to be reminded of the many other, much cooler, ways to spend the ides of March and thereafter! Both conferences went well, though the historians were far preferable to the lawyers, and the funeral provided some good closure along with a lot of drinking with my family. I have a shitload of cousins, and they're all boys, and they all make strong drinks. Plus, the two who were in Iraq got to come back for the funeral. And in between all the flying and training and bussing and (drinking and grading and) so forth, I got to see some other super-cool people. So here is a list of things I wholly enjoyed on this trip:

1) Ann, Saru, Kristin, Ramya, Jessica, Marie, Veta, Nancy...seeing old friends and meeting new ones (Megan!) was unquestionably the highlight of the insane travelling.
2) Four different Chinatowns were visited. I feel like this is an accomplishment.
3) No matter where we went, people kept feeding us hummus and macaroons on this trip. It was the hummus and macaroon tour of the Eastern seaboard. I think the vegan thing makes East Coasters nervous about what to serve. Especially because I was eating cheese, eggs and fish this month, so...perhaps I'm less than vegan.
4) Robust. Saru's new word.
5) History conferences, historians and the general enjoyment of getting to be in an intellectual community of people who all work in the same field (in this case, US history).
6) The $3 (that's right, people) book sales the publishers offer on the last morning of the conference. Crowds of grad students and super-old-guys waiting outside for them to open. Also, free books, just for signing up for e-mail lists. I came home with like, 15 books from my comps list. For super cheap!
7) Meeting famous historians and being all star-struck about it. I'm such a dork.

Here is a list of things that were found to be highly problematic:
1) Lawyers and conferences about law.
2) Conferences that talk about culture. Culture. The word. The idea. The "studies." Yes, Clifford Geertz, and all that, but at some point I'm just a throwback traditionalist who doesn't really care. Give me economics! Where's class? I know, I know.
3) The Museum of the American Indian in DC. Highly Problematic. No mention of slavery or the African American presence and excessive fetishization/exoticization. Where were the trailer parks?
4) The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. I don't know why I even went. Oh yeah, because someone else was paying. Given that this is pretty much my subject, I found myself offended by the shallow, banal, uncomplicated treatment of it. On that note, academics are FUN to bring to museums.
5) The new "folk art" wing of the Gallery of American Art. I'm not sure why tin-foil creations from the garages of crazed/religious middle-aged white guys qualify as folk art, but not the stuff everyday people -- oh, let's call them "folks" -- make. Where was the needlepoint? The quilts? Women's work gets shafted again.
6) The Met, but only because the Costume Institute was closed between exhibits when I was there. Not so much problematic as annoying because depriving me of pretty fashions throughout history.
7) The prayer of the faithful. My family's idea of a funny joke was having me read this at the funeral. Well, mainly it was to give the priest the idea that someone in the family was still a good Catholic, since he knows all my atheist, divorced aunts and uncles aren't, and I'm from far away and look the part. So I got to say a prayer for Pope Benedict and all his bishops as well as for George W. and all elected officials, "that they may pass laws protecting all human life." I mentally chanted to myself that this line was about war and not abortion in order to feel better.

Finally, you must check out this site with a free online quiz to determine if you have a calling to be a monk, nun, or priest.

14 March 2007

To the Blossoms

Almost done packing myself up for the next two weeks...I leave early tomorrow morning for DC for the funeral. My family has advised me to pack my liver. Check. And Johnny Cash's version of Danny Boy is coming with me. They go well together in mourning: the drinking and the dirge. After the wake, Philly, back to DC, NY, back to Philly, back to DC, back to Portland for an overnight turnaround to Minneapolis and then home in time for the first day of classes. I'm tired thinking about it, but at least I'm determined not to catch the plague and lose my voice on this trip. For those of you I'll see in the coming few weeks...well, I'll see you soon! Everyone else, I hope you have a relaxing break (if in school) and if you're a worker bee, I hope you get to enjoy some spring sunshine and cherry blossoms.

12 March 2007

Or Jumping Through Hoops. Or Cupcakes.

Major field syllabus successfully defended. Unnecessary stress at least leads to excessive relief after being proven unwarranted. Drinking to commence at 1700 hours. Erin and I spent the last hour working on her mediation-and-cupcakes-shop career plan. It involves an adorable apron and a menu of cake-and-crisis options. Need to intiate a breakup? Bavarian cream cupcakes might go nicely with that.

11 March 2007

Or a Cat in a Hat

"The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea."
-- Isak Dinesen

09 March 2007

Life and Death

My grandpa died Wednesday. He was a WWII vet, an Irish boy through and through, landed on D-Day and never spoke about Europe again to anyone in his life, loved a good family card game (or two, or twenty) and a whiskey or a beer, and was laid off by his factory after twenty years of service literally months before his retirement would've been vested, so he died penniless and in a nursing home. I mention that last because someone told me a long story yesterday about how the worst part for her was the fighting over the money and the "artwork" her grandfather had collected after he was gone. I really don't know what to say about that. I'm sure that's hard, and I also can't stop seeing class everywhere I look. I also can't pretend that everyone dies happy or at peace with their lives or with no regrets and having imparted all their wisdom and their stories as in Tuesdays with Morrie or something. Most older people in particular seem to die in poverty and loneliness as society's trash, hidden away in horrific circumstances. He had nine kids, all of whom spent a lot of time checking in on him, and despite that his nursing home (which was one of the better ones) let his circulatory/leg pain progress to the point that last Christmas they had to cut off his leg with two days warning. So, yes, his pain is at least over and all those other things you're supposed to say, but I guess I see politics in everything and death and old age is no exception. I'm heading back East for the funeral next Thursday. It is fittingly on St. Patrick's Day weekend and we do the full drinking and laughing and weeping (after enough drinking) multi-day Irish funeral routine in my family. Happily, the department was understanding and is sending my finals to me to grade there.

He was my last grandparent and I've also found that it brings back the loss of each of them all over again -- I talked to one other person yesterday who'd lost all four and she had the same experience. Anyway, I know this is not a very uplifting posting, but in truth it's been a roller coaster few days. There was some Guinness and Jameson's in his honor on Wednesday night courtesy of E., followed by a few hands of his (and my entire family's) favorite card game. It hadn't occurred to me until Elizabeth pointed it out, but it is somewhat fitting that my family's favorite thing to do is play solitaire together competitively. I'm moved by the outpouring of love and support from friends the last few days.

Finally, we went to see Ailey II last night as a long-planned BCC outing -- that was exactly what I needed. I just feel joyful to be alive after that. Even if you're not a modern dance fan -- and really, I have to believe that just means you've never seen good dance -- this troupe could wring tears from a stone. They were breathtaking, and deeply political, and emotional, and at some point during the third act, the Revelations series that was choreographed by Alvin Ailey himself in 1960, I had this realization that his movements, literally, the muscles and twists and embodied feelings that this man had created, lived on even after his body had succumbed to the ravages of AIDS. Another body giving life to his body's movement after it had ceased to move -- somehow I knew this intellectually about ballet and choreography, etc., but seeing it in the context of dances from 1960 set to slave spirituals in a celebration of African American culture made it real in another way entirely. Especially as yesterday (dork alert) was International Women's Day and two days before that was the 150th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott. Yes, I'm reading for comps and I find many useless facts. Celebrating the uncelebrated this week. If Ailey II or the Alvin Ailey group comes to your town, you are missing something profound if you don't see it.

OK, I promise my next post will be about cupcakes or crafts or cats. Or all three.

03 March 2007

Brits and Babies and Kennedys, Oh My!

Weekend, Wrap Up:

--E. and I attended a great set of speakers Thursday night at the keynote of the Environmental Law Conference. Vandana Shiva spoke, confirming the fact that she is even more awesome in person than anyone has a right to be. As I told E. later, I just want to follow her around and do her laundry and fetch her non-Coca-Cola water products. And I don't even necessarily agree with her on a broad local v. global scale (kind of the same concern I had with James Scott's Seeing Like a State), but I really respect what she says and how she says it. One of her more provocative arguments was a list of some of the "solutions" to global warming that have been put out there by corporations and governments recently (as she said, "we've now won the paradigm war, we have to win the political war"): in particular, she has a real problem with carbon offset schemes like the ones Al Gore touts. She refers to them as "an outsourcing of the ecological footprint of consumption by the rich" through the seizing of peasant lands in India, among other things, in order to set up more of these carbon trading setups, and so on. They sound like pyramid schemes to me.

--Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. also spoke, who could not look more like a Kennedy, and he was wholly different, but I definitely see why you would want him on your side. He speaks about environmentalism with the language of capitalism, efficiency, free market, and God. Not surprisingly, he gives the speech we heard at campuses all over the red states regularly. He also spoke with great passion about our irresponsible media and the 1988 abolition (yay Reagan!) of the 1928 Fairness in Broadcasting Act, which has pretty much allowed our radio and television news to abandon any sense of serving the public good. 80% of investigative reporters lost their jobs after 1988, most foreign news offices of U.S. stations closed down, and Rush Limbaugh opened up shop the same year (previously, the stations would have had to provide a balance of controversial views). He illustrated his argument that our society was now the best-entertained and least-informed in the world with a simple question about Britney's new haircut and Anna Nicole's death. The entire audience passed, or flunked, as the case may be.

--I finally got back to watching the 7-Up series (I finished 28-Up) after a long hiatus. It's so freaking good. I especially noted how most of the poor or working-class kids, by 28, have internalized this language about personal responsibility. Every single one of them described themselves as not getting more schooling because they are "lazy," and then talked about how they "chose" their crappy jobs, they chose it all! It was their choice! I think it has something to do with the fact that most of them now have kids at 28, and once you have kids do you really want to believe that they're going to be trapped by the same structure that funneled you into your low-income, rent-scraping life? The upper-class kids at 28 have gotten extremely good at covering the disdain they showed for the other classes at 7 and 14, and the only person who seemed to be engaging in a lot of self-reflection was the smart kid who ended up a homeless wanderer with mental illness issues. Seriously, that series is just so good. And I've already predicted who'll be divorced by the next one, the interviews were at Studs Terkel levels of letting people hang themselves.

--Finally, we had Erin's nephew staying with us all weekend, who is a leprechaun-sized little delight. He is one of those toddlers who loves snuggling, and smiles all the time, never cries, and says very astute things in his sweet little lisp. One such comment, moments after a visit with a depressed friend of ours. "John. Happy and sad." Kids are just smart.

01 March 2007

Last Days of Smithing

Last night was my last metalsmithing class (sigh!) -- but it was one of the most fun. I pulled out my silver and went to town. I did so much crafting that by the end of the night I was a little spaced-out and forgetful, which prompted a classic hippie line. Imagine this delivered with an utterly earnest and intent gaze by a goateed and behatted craft boy behind the front desk: "How would we ever know when we are found if we were not sometimes lost?" This was in response to my misplacing six inches of silver wire. I definitely think there was some smoked product wafting out of the pottery room. In fact, I had the munchies when I left...coincidence?

Finally, I thought Jeff deserved his own motto bracelet for all the nights he picked me up after class:

I wish I could take the metal casting class next quarter, and glass blowing, and lots of other things, but truthfully I'm going to need to be buried under the comps reading until May or June. It was fun while it lasted, maybe I'll go back next year.

28 February 2007

Things I Learned From Annette

Our grown-up friend Annette made E. and I dinner last night, and as always, I learned lots of good new stuff. I learned that if you add some coconut milk to the water when cooking your rice, you end up with utterly addictive coconut rice. Somehow that never occurred to me before -- it is dangerously good. I learned that the handle on the side of the rice cooker has a slot to hold the spoon that came with it. We've wondered for two years where that goes on our cooker. I learned that the nickname for the yummy Thai restaurant in town that is housed in an old IHOP (and has some charming Denny's-in-Bangkok ambience) is "Thai-HOP". And I learned that the cold water toddy process makes the Best. Coffee. Ever. Of course, it also uses a whole pound of coffee to make like, a few pots, so it's really only for the rich. And by rich, I mean borderline middle-class or above. Then I learned a bunch of stuff about knitting that I am in no way advanced enough to understand. All of these things are far more valuable than the things I have been self-taught the last few weeks from obscure monographs and scholarly articles. It's fun to come out from under the books occasionally and interact with real humans.

26 February 2007

Midler and Tomlin: Double the Fun

Having moments ago submitted the draft of the major field syllabus that I have been obsessing over for weeks, I now sit here with my two E. friends watching "Big Business" with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin and enjoying what may in fact be my second glass of wine. Life is good. Here are some quality highlights from Lily's Rose character (the country one, if that's not obvious):

"You no good belly-scraping pile of cow plop!"

"Lord, my load is heavy."

As I was researching some general history links to add that extra flair to the syllabus (Elizabeth: "Because you're an overachiever?") I came across a website on "Today in History" that had the following poem by Longfellow published today, 1841. Initially, I just thought the subject sounded hot, then Elizabeth pointed out that the poem in fact describes my new identity as Smithy:

The Village Blacksmith

Under a spreading chestnut tree,
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

However, my arms are only strong from the endless typing that also provides the fun, fun carpal tunnel. My weekend, in brief, went something like this:

--Grant application
--"Amazing Grace" viewing with E. & J. Lacked historical context, lacked agency by the enslaved, lacked even a mention of modern slavery at the end (which ticked me off) -- but it did have a beautiful love story between William Pitt the Younger and William Wilberforce. I think it's supposed to be a love story between Wilberforce and the redhead he marries, but it's so about the boys. Pitt was one of the bachelor Prime Ministers, too. I'm just sayin'.
--Walk in rain
--Poetry reading/folk music concert by friends at the only cool coffeehouse in Eugene. There was snapping for the poetry, instead of clapping. How hip are we?
--Nonsensical jabbering to roommates. They made me tea, gave me a neck rub and left me alone.
--Grant application
--Walk in sudden hailstorm. I have excellent timing when it comes to taking walks.

That brings us to now. The E.'s have just placed a pearl necklace on Paola and I have decided that blogging while slightly inebriated might be unwise.

23 February 2007

Slavery & Smithing

Let's see if I can fit both topics in without giving whiplash to anyone. Today is the 200th anniversary of the British abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. In honor of that, the movie "Amazing Grace" is premiering today as well -- I want to see it and I definitely want to critique it. I can't just enjoy something, people. To reference Saru's recent comment -- excuse me, excuse me, a white man is talking! That seems to be the point of the movie. Whitey singlehandedly saves the day! And while I'm always happy to tell people the story of the author of "Amazing Grace" being the captain of a slave ship, I wish they weren't only showing him in his later years, after he's repented and feels all bad and Jesus-y about it. The church folk seem to love that angle. Plus he's played by Albert Finney, and I've loved him since Erin Brockovich, so that makes it hard. I suppose I should go see the movie before I totally prejudge it. If any of you finance whizzes are looking for a job, Anti-Slavery International is looking for a finance manager. Fighting global slavery and getting to live in London. Nice deal. Finally, if I haven't mentioned it before, the book to read on the subject is Disposable People. Just don't expect to feel good about yourself and your "choices" ever again. And if you're not likely to read a disturbing book, Anti-Slavery International also has a quite yummy-looking Indian recipe book that raises funds for their work.

Ooookay, in totally unrelated news, I've been meaning to post my metalsmithing goodies from Wednesday for a few days now. Here is what Jake got:

A forged copper bracelet:

Earrings, just for fun:

I heart forging. It involves a lot of hammering on anvils. I am also now an old pro at the torch station, and am now working on my bracelet designs, especially for a certain man-bracelet that was discussed when Matt was visiting. Bracelets are fun to make.