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.

22 February 2007

Reports from the Grading Front

Highlights from the pile of midterms I've been burrowed under for the last few days (done -- yay!). Their assignment was to go "back in time" to 19th century Rosista Argentina and view it from the perspective of a character of their choice:

1. One student quoted a fictitious character named "Ima Whiteman." This is what I get for referring to certain Supreme Court Justices as Whitey McWhiterson and Straighty McNotASodomite in one particular law school exam (I really hated the teacher giving that test). It was cute, though, and really, I'm the last person to mark someone down for that kind of attitude.

2. Another student stated twice on the first page of the paper that: "I am independent, I am violent, I am a gaucho!" Then she used the word "violent" about twelve more times in the course of a four-page paper. After the lecture the professor gave complicating the typical stereotypes of gauchos, it's nice to know the students paid attention.

3. Finally, many many many of them decided to become the late-teen sons or daughters of powerful landowners. So, basically, they decided to play themselves, only in Argentina. Sigh.

I actually find these creative assignments painful to grade -- if they get too creative and get really into character and tell a whopper of a story packed with dialogue and description but without the key historical facts from the text...well, the point of the assignment isn't really that. It sounds like a creative task, but really, like any other undergrad lecture course, the point is just for them to prove they did the reading. So I always feel kind of underhanded when the assignment seems to be giving them creative license but the grading is still about whether or not they can regurgitate the information effectively. I wish we could just flat-out tell them -- for a B, prove you did the reading, for an A, prove you understood it.

Congratulations to F. on his awesome funding! And welcome to J., bringing an ancient history perspective to our little blog circle. With V.'s good news, it looks like we will have two UO alums in Southern California. Slowly taking over...

20 February 2007

Fish, Wine, Fake Parents

My brother and sister-in-law plied me with fish tacos and wine last night and my nephew entertained me with stories of Star Wars characters. It was stellar. I'm still a little hungover and I still have 84 midterms to grade by Thursday, but I needed a night of relaxation. This is partly because I've been busily telling myself (and anyone around me -- S., E., roomies -- sorry!) for several weeks that I'm a failure and a fraud and all kinds of other neurotic insecurities/fill in the blank with your own anti-Stuart Smalleyism. Then I finally met with my advisor yesterday. All the things I thought she was going to tell me were poorly-thought-out she actually liked, and all my utterly type-A perfectionist neuroses calmed down when she just said straightforward, supportive things and exuded confidence that everything would be just fine (including her health, which is better). This is what I imagine having good parents is like. I tried not to show her my crazy, she just managed to be soothing in her calmness. I know it's completely pathetic that I'm apparently so desperate for my advisor's time and approval, especially given how much she's been dealing with the last few years, but it is true that when I go long periods without meeting with her, like the last several months, I spiral into a self-doubt that is really not very productive. I secretly suspect most grad students start to depend on their advisors as fake parents, except for the rare individual who is actually totally mature and self-disciplined. OK, it's probably just me. Maybe someday I'll have a neurotic grad student fake son or daughter of my very own.

18 February 2007

Law Day

Well, it's actually the Chinese New Year today (Happy New Year!). But in my meandering readings for my major field syllabus I came across Leon Fink's discussion of a new holiday proclaimed by Eisenhower in 1958 in response to "a spirited campaign by the American Bar Association" (I guess they squeezed this in between not admitting black people and creating committees to expel communists). He proclaimed "Law Day" -- but it wasn't just any day. He made May Day, the traditional workers' holiday, into "Law Day." In the speech, he acknowledged that the two holidays and suggested that it was appropriate because law is the friend of the working class.

Excuse me, I just blacked out from typing that. Anyway, the proclamation also cited Edmund Burke in linking workers' welfare to law: "The poorest man may, in his cottage, bid defiance to all the forces of the crown...The storms may enter; the rains may enter -- but the King of England cannot enter: all his forces dare not cross the threshold of that ruined tenement!" To be fair, Ike did follow that with the comment that it's not really great for people to be living in ruined tenements at all, but as I spent my weekend writing a syllabus delineating the history of the rights in U.S. law, I remain cynical. Property rights equally serve rich and poor! Isn't it wonderful how equal we all are? I tend to agree with Marx (shocker) that rights are mostly just smoke and mirrors -- hence the theme of my syllabus: Rights are Crap (as a subtheme of my dissertation: Law is Crap).

I know, the response of 95% of the population is that we have to protect property rights because any day now they're going to become millionaires. Or they think their toothbrush and CD collection are the first things that will be appropriated after the revolution. That reminds me of a story one of my NYU professors told once, of an election in Jamaica in the late forties, when the JLP, in order to defeat the socialists who were gaining support in the countryside, hired the most well-known local "layabout" in each town. They hired these guys, not to shill for their party, but to go knock on the doors of various houses, pretending to work for the socialist party and holding a clipboard to do an inventory of the possessions in each house. Needless to say, the JLP won (that time, anyway).

Somehow I went from Law Day to a socialist rant. Oh, I can't pretend to be surprised. I've been rereading all of the most horrific cases from my years in law school for several days straight in order to write this syllabus. Law school supposedly makes some people more conservative -- it just made me more convinced that we are all deeply, deeply implicated in oppression and if there were a righteous rebellion a la Nat Turner by, say, the global enslaved population, there would be no injustice in us all being killed in our beds. Really, Law Day is every day. Wherever there's a four-year-old child with permanent brain damage from constant abuse, the law will be there to say the state had no affirmative duty to protect him. Wherever there's a white man who can't get his wife to pay him alimony, the law will be there to say that, finally, there's a real reason to have heightened scrutiny of gender classifications. And wherever there's an enslaved eight-year-old girl who was raped, the law will be there to say that there's no such crime as the rape of a black woman, of any age.

16 February 2007

Stuff Made This Week

Friends with Cat, by E. She actually sought out a lap and snuggled on it more than once. Animals have impeccable timing.

Cake for Jake's birthday celebration. Carrot, with cream cheese frosting and a message carved out of carrots by the inimitable E. (who else says Huzzah!?) and carrot flowers carved with apple peel stems by me. It reminds me of the Neutral Milk Hotel song, King of Carrot Flowers. Such a good song. Sigh. Such a good band.

Metalsmithing, item 1. My two E.'s both got matching brushed silver earrings -- yes, I realized at some point they were like little silver Scrabble tiles. Whatever, I think that makes them cuter.

Yes, I was playing with metal stamps. I also made my arms ache holding a torch above my head for so long. Badass! Of course, the other part of that story is that the reason I was holding it there for so long is that I wasn't using the hottest part of the flame, which is actually close to the tip, not close to the torch. Then things went much faster. Nobody said badasses were smart.

And a matching necklace. The "R" stamp was the toughest in this set, so I blame it, not me. Whatever, the revolution will not be perfect, it may even start off a little abstract...

13 February 2007

Until the Violence Stops

It's been a while since my last political rant, so here you go. The blog is red again in honor of V-Day. This is the only "holiday" I recognize today, since in my experience the heteronormative script sold everywhere we turn is far better at trapping women and children in violence than it is in producing true human connection, empathy and intimacy.

I will offer one fairly well-known U.S. statistic -- though the global picture is even more horrifying, this is directly related to where many of us are spending our time. One in four young women will be raped during the four years she spends in college. You can call me jaded, because, frankly, I was surprised it wasn't higher. Last year I was helping my roommate, who does sexual wellness/sexual assault prevention trainings on campus, compile workshop questionnaires. They were from a "what is sexual assault?" training for freshmen, and the last question asked them how they would support a friend who was a survivor. One student (he actually wrote his name on this) scrawled "rape 'em again and again" as his answer. These are the kids in our classes. The kids in my all-freshman section who looked like babies to me. They are raping each other and being raped on an ongoing basis even as they come to our classes the next day. And I was still told a few weeks ago by a male professor that "gender" doesn't enter into the subject matter of the classes he teaches at all. He is by no means an anomaly in that sentiment. Where is our social responsibility if we are teaching in a world of violence based in race, in gender, in capitalism, but in the courses we teach we pretend none of those things exist, or else give them five minutes lip service before moving on to focus our energies on a sycophantic obsession with the perpetrators of violence and oppression? I'm not going to go any further because A.'s last few posts have done the subject of social responsibility in teaching far better justice than I could, especially with regard to the problematic levels of privilege displayed by the students and the disturbing futility of the institution of the university today.

My handing out stories of violence instead of valentines doesn't mean I'm not a fan of love and expressing love -- I love my friends, my chosen family, animals, the whole damn world (with the exception of rapists, racists and rich people) very much. But further propping up of the heteronormative narrative in support of capitalism today is like supporting fundamentalist religious policies on war because Jesus was such a nice guy (or, as we all know, a total socialist pacifist). Right story, wrong interpretation. If love was really a core value of our culture, the number one cause of death for pregnant women would not be intimate partner violence.

Special love to Jess and the roomie today for the work they do in this field. Their jobs are not easy. And props to Saru for teaching radical feminism to undergrads fulfilling a requirement several days a week and not losing it completely.

12 February 2007

Coffee is the New Water

Mmmmmm, delicious coffee. It makes all things seem possible, even the mountain of work I need to finish this week.

The BBC has photos of Venice during Carnevale up at the moment, and I was surprised to notice they were all in the daytime. It was only upon viewing these photos that I realized my entire memory of Venetian Carnevale is at night, to the point that I can't even picture it happening during the day. Nearly every picture I took on that trip was at night. The one thing I do remember, however, because we had no hotel and had to sleep on the train station floor (ah, train strikes and being in your twenties), was that we didn't sleep a lot -- it was freaking cold -- and ended up walking around at sunrise to go to an early morning mass at San Marco. There were no humans out anywhere in the city because everyone was sleeping off the big party. There were just huge amounts of confetti everywhere in sight, stray cats wandering about lazily on the misty bridges, and one lone old street sweeper attempting to deal with the confetti invasion. And it was utterly silent. That was probably the most beautiful moment I've ever had in Italy, which is saying something. Wow, I'm playing quite a little game of "anywhere but here" at the moment. Back to work.

On a side note, yay! to the Dixie Chicks winning five Grammys. They deserve it. Those ladies rock. They've reclaimed country for its populist roots.

10 February 2007

Celebration and Inebriation

The boys are back in town! Matt and Fernando came back for a mini cohort-reunion this weekend and there has been ongoing celebrating since Thursday. If only we could get the whole posse back at once, I think the vortex of drunk leftist intellectuals in hip t-shirts might destroy the right-wing conspiracy in one bang. And for those who haven't heard, Jeff, Austin and Fernando will all definitely be pursuing PhDs next year in various locations -- they've all heard back positively from at least one of their schools, and no doubt more such letters are on the way. No surprise to anyone, but it's nice when brilliant future academics are recognized as such by admissions committees. Congrats guys!

There are some drawbacks to back-to-back celebrations -- the many red bull-and-vodkas I consumed last night not only interfered negatively with my pool game, they are also making me at least three times slower at thinking/writing/reading today. Unfortunately there's very little call for graduate students who are effective sleepers or sippers of water, which have been my major talents today. Maybe those job skills are only requisite for tenured professors. I'd like to believe that at some point in my academic career, I will be able to just take a guilt-free nap.

08 February 2007

I Hammered This on my Anvil

You must say the title to yourself in a Napoleon Dynamite monotone. I'm pretty much awesome at smithing.

Voila - my first pair of earrings! They're very basic, but fun, and even as I was finishing them I had twenty new ideas for more intricate things to make. An evening of metalsmithing, dapping, sinking, drilling, soldering and anvil-hammering left me so macho I actually ripped some plastic door piece off of Jeff's car afterward. Of course, his preadolescent daughter has apparently also ripped that piece off, so that lessens my machismo. We'll just call it feminismo, because, let's face it, that's even better. Feminist smithies unite!

07 February 2007

Uncomfortable Shifting

I take my entertainment where I can find it: In the 19th century Latin American class I'm grading for yesterday, the professor lectured on the Mexican-American war. While I was already aware of his general political proclivities, I'm not sure the students had really understood until then. And I'm nearly positive three-quarters of them had never thought twice about the war, and had certainly never thought about the U.S. as an invading and colonizing power. As he described the course of the war, analyzed the racist comments of U.S. officials, explained how the U.S. gained the Southwestern states (and 70% more territory than it had possessed in 1845), there was an extremely audible shifting going on in the room. I don't mean like their little minds were shifting and expanding to encompass possibilities and histories beyond what they had learned from their parents and high school teachers. I mean like physical squirming of the kind I've never seen in a class before, and I thought I'd seen every kind of white student discomfort. It was actually synchronized, he would say something about how we must examine the mission to spread democracy and U.S. exceptionalism in the doctrine of manifest destiny because it may explain things about the mentality of war today: SHIFTY SHIFT SHIFT. Or he would mention how the fact that the U.S. invaded Mexico, sent troops to Mexico City, and forced a "treaty" ceding half of its territory has left complex issues that we are still dealing with now, for example in the current debates on immigration: SHIFTY! SHIFT! SHIFTY! SHIFT! At one point he actually had to halt class to ask a pair of students if they had a question because they were having a prolonged conversation, presumably trying to debunk whatever he was saying with the kind of information one can find in fundamentalist Christian "history" books like "God's Plan for America."*

I assume this behavior was so extreme in part because, though there are many self-professed "liberal" students at this university, they weren't prepared to be implicated in this particular class. If they took the class before this on colonial Latin America, there was a lot of implication of the Spanish and Portuguese, some French and British, but the U.S. wasn't much of a player. So while they may have the politics in theory, they were unprepared to have to deal with the implications of their privilege as (mostly) U.S. citizens. And while some of this (manifest destiny, etc.) is discussed in U.S. history classes, it's different to have been immersed in Mexican and Latin American history for five weeks and look at the U.S. from that position, understanding the repercussions for the people you've been studying, rather than for those who won. The professor actually threw them a bone at one point, saying that they shouldn't feel guilty, they weren't around then, but they need to know what happened so they can have an informed discussion about today's issues. I loved the discomfort. If they're squirming and uncomfortable, it means there's at least a chance, if they're open to it, that they're actually getting the education they ostensibly came here to get. It's not comfy, but it stays with you. Those moments of discomfort are the only thing that can lead to real growth. Politicization is not an easy or comfortable process.

*Sidebar: I actually saw this book once, I think it might have been a two-part series, and what stuck with me was that it had, among other things, the image of a black slave toiling in a field on the cover. God's plan for black people was apparently slavery and inequality, in the service of building "America." Lovely.

05 February 2007

Chili, Janeane, Clueless

My meat-eating compadre A. made a mean vegetarian chili yesterday for Super Bowl festivities, though it didn't help his poor beloved Bears. I had to leave after the first touchdown for a wire-twisting class, which I swear was taught by the love child of Janeane Garofalo and Laura San Giacomo. Seriously. She was very entertaining. She kept calling the wire we were using to wrap with "Sticky," like he was a little man.

I've been thinking today about what I would do if I were not in graduate school. What would I do if I just had a real, non-lawyer job (because the lawyer job negates having any free time, which is the point of this little imagination exercise)? A job that left me excess time that I did not feel guilty for filling with even necessary things like grocery shopping and laundry, let alone the utterly irresponsible internet browsing I engaged in for several hours this morning. Because I am currently living in Procrasti Nation (tm V.), I have a feeling nothing on my list would actually be appealing if I really did have free time. It's only appealing in a relative sense, as in, relative to pinning down a dissertation topic that I feel quite friggly about, these things are way more tempting.

1) Knit comfortingly soft and functionally warm scarves for every resident of the homeless shelter on my road. In my mind, I would have unlimited time in which to make these.

2) Clean the kitchen and/or garage. Usually not a temptation for me, but when I'm procrastinating I want to be clean in my guilt.

3) Make homemade gnocchi, bagels, Thai spring rolls, truffles, or anything else that is pretty much an all-day project.

4) Remind myself how to embroider and proceed to embroider elaborate hipster and retro images on jeans, jackets, pillows, tablecloths, etc.

5) Digitally photograph each and every item of clothing and footwear in my closet. Somehow concoct a computer thingy a la Clueless wherein I can mix and match via pictures (saving me the trouble of dragging everything out to try on together) and concoct many creative new ensembles. When this idea came to me as a possibly valuable way to spend the afternoon, I finally figured out what my brain was up to and told it to shut the hell up and do some real work. And so it has.

In reality, if I had more free time I would probably just waste time and drink and watch movies and bitch about politics and/or my life. So I guess it wouldn't even be that different, I'd just spend more time doing those things. Grad school: Saving me from guilt-free time since 2001.

04 February 2007

The Disturbing and the Amusing

Amusing first:

1) The movie Stranger than Fiction is highly recommended for sheer enjoyability. It helps that I love Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah and Dustin Hoffman. And it doesn't hurt that Maggie Gyllenhaal plays an anarchist who drops out of Harvard Law and starts an adorable bakery. In the end, it's a movie for writers or people who love writing and fiction. Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of a blunt, barefoot, yogurt-slurping English professor is spot-on, and his "genre test" is brilliant. There is a briefly horrifying scene in the shower room at the faculty pool, but it passes quickly. Just look away when you see old white man ass. Really, you should probably already know that rule.

2) The most disturbing thing sighted in weeks was at the WinCo yesterday. There is a new fruit in the produce department -- the Grapple. It "looks like an apple, tastes like a grape!" And it really does look exactly like a normal apple, but when you smell it, it smells like purple Kool-Aid. Freaky, people. Why do I think in a hundred years no one will even know what (remotely) normal fruit tastes like?

02 February 2007

Chosen Family

It's really the only way to go. I support it for everyone and I feel lucky to live in a community where we treat each other as family. And when it comes to a Rottweiler and her adopted baby lambs? The cute does not get any more powerful.

01 February 2007

Chick Flick

Some memorable quotes from Steel Magnolias, which I finally watched all the way through for the first time. While part of my brain wanted to critique it from the angle of women as birth-giving machines (come on, Shelby was just unwilling to adopt a non-white child!), there's no way not to appreciate Dolly Parton, Shirley McClaine, Olympia Dukakis and Sally Field sassing each other for two hours. Good stuff.

Truvy: I have a strict policy that nobody cries alone in my presence.

Truvy: There is no such thing as natural beauty.

Annelle: Miss Truvy, I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.

Clairee: Well, you know what they say: if you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me!

Clairee: Ouiser, I'd recognize this penmanship anywhere. You have the handwritin' of a serial killer!

Truvy: Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.