Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Boy or Cat?

Lucas has once again fallen asleep in his playgym. Periodically he wakes up, bats silently at one of the dangling pieces, and then promptly falls back to sleep.

I've been using much the same method to write my dissertation.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Motor skills ahoy

Suddenly we don't have a newborn anymore. This week Lucas learned to hold his head up, grab onto objects with greater accuracy and shove them into his mouth, roll over from his back to his front, and enunciate different monosyllables. He's also crying in pain periodically, we think because he's going to start teething, as one of his favorite things to do these days is gnaw on whatever is at hand (including our hands and his). Wheeeeee!

He also took part in opening some of his own presents. I wrapped our gifts to him in tissue paper so he could participate. (He doesn't like the sound of stiff paper crinkling.)

More to come. Right now I have to entertain the little guy, who's up late because he slept most of the 400-mile drive today.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Blessed be

Too much time between postings. . . Sorry about that.

I've been visiting my parents with my new little family in tow. Pete is recovering from a mini-meltdown earlier in the week—he hadn't had enough alone time—but he's mostly recovered now. Lucas has formed a mutual admiration society with my parents and sister, and he's getting used to all the sounds of the old house in which I grew up. It's a bit strange to breastfeed my son in the home office that was my childhood bedroom, but I'm coming to terms with these life changes.

We've been staying in a motel for several days so that Pete could have some privacy and time to himself. It's been OK, one of those discount executive suite/extended stay places with limited services. (Grad student budget, grad student accommodations. . .) But the place has a definite stench to it, stale cigarettes (even though we requested a non-smoking room) masked by a perfumed sponge shoved into the room's fan. I don't know which is worse, the stale smell or the perfume, but now all my clothes smell like both. Yay. Tonight we return to sleeping at my parents' house, which will be nice because we'll wake up on Christmas morning to the traditional family bustle in this house before we walk down the block to my grandmother's place, to be joined by a couple pairs of aunts and uncles and a cousin.

I'm so fortunate to have such a terrific and generous family. I hope wherever I land next year, I'm within considerably closer driving distance of them. Four hundred-plus miles is too far to travel to see them.

I'll resume my regular blogging schedule after Christmas.

Until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and Blessed Solstice.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Latest addiction

Besides reading academic blogs: Google's Book Search.

Controversy aside, it's a terrific tool for conducting research in books, and one that even my students probably won't shy away from once I introduce them to it. I especially like that they don't need to go through an authentication process to access it, as they do to use the university's library databases—a process that, I think, confuses a lot of students and keeps the lazier ones from using the library website, even though they can access it from home.

I've been using Google Book Search as a citation database. Type in your favorite author or cultural critic, and you can see who cites them and in what context. Of course, this means that the amount of money I spend buying books online is about to skyrocket, as I keep discovering great new books outside my usual disciplines. . .

Teaching Carnival IV

New Kid has posted the latest Teaching Carnival, and as always, it's wonderful. Be sure to check out the appendix.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

My recent silence

My lack of posts this week can be blamed on one thing: GradeFest 2005. I have 600 individual papers or assignments (including 100 8-10 pagers) sitting in my home office at the moment. 450 of these have been graded in the last 10 days; 150 of them will be graded within the next 12 hours.


I am sooo thankful that my days as a TA are coming to an end. Next quarter will be my last TAship, and it's for a class I've TA'ed for twice and taught once, so it should be a relative walk in the park.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Strange obsession

I've become obsessed with my Amazon.com recommendations list even though I rarely buy books from it. For reasons I don't fully comprehend, I get peevish when books in which I have no interest show up in the top 45.

Usually my list comprises erudite tomes on material culture, American studies, and history, and I like to keep it that way by carefully checking the "not interested" boxes by all unworthy candidates on The List.

Why can't Amazon understand, then, that just because I buy one children's book, it doesn't mean I want my list suddenly packed with such titles as Where is Baby's Belly Button? And that when I say I own That's Not My Puppy and That's Not My Dinosaur but indicate that I'm not interested in That's Not My Tractor, That's Not My Kitty, and That's Not My Monster, it probably means I also have very little interest in That's Not My Car and That's Not My Dolly?

Jeez. I know having a child changes everything, but must it mess with The List, too?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Surprise, surprise

As seen at Professor Bastard's:

You scored 60 masculinity and 56 femininity!
You scored high on both masculinity and femininity. You have a strong personality exhibiting characteristics of both traditional sex roles.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 45% on masculinity
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 39% on femininity
Link: The Bem Sex Role Inventory Test written by weirdscience on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Of course, I felt righteous indignation at the implied gendering of some of the questions and responses. But hey, if it takes me away from grading for a little while, I'll take just about any quiz. . .

Saturday, December 10, 2005

War on Christmas?

Really, guys, come on.

I am soooo sick of hearing fundamentalist Christians and their media supporters claim they're being persecuted and victimized. And of course, since JC's birthday is rolling around once again, the lamentations have hit fever pitch.

Among the most egregious ululators is Fox's Bill O'Reilly. (My husband watches his show out of pure amusement, and I catch myself eavesdropping.) O'Reilly has complained about the limited observance of Christian holidays in public schools and other institutions run by the government. I disagree with him that Christmas should be celebrated unquestioningly in the public sphere, however I do think some schools and other institutions have gone too far in quashing Christmas solely to keep from offending non-Christians.

That said, O'Reilly's biggest complaining this year has been reserved for retailers. He claims many of them are perpetuating the "war on Christmas" by not mentioning the holiday by name in their advertisements and stores. I don't have any problem with retailers mentioning Christmas in their promotional materials; I mean, it's actually to their advantage to promote Christmas sales, right?

But O'Reilly is missing the boat when he focuses on retailers' failure to mention the big holiday by name as the greatest transgression. In my view, the retailers' (and O'Reilly's) spectacular promotion of consumerism at the holiday season is what really detracts from "the true meaning" of Christmas. For O'Reilly to fret over the name of the holiday is irresponsible when (a) the most meaningful aspects of Christmas are being trampled by an orgy of consumption and (b) this consumption is certainly driving many of his viewers into considerable debt (which supposedly is against Republicans' traditionally conservative financial platform).

What would Jesus do? Certainly not watch O'Reilly or shop at Wal-Mart.

On meanings of Christmas, I like the sentiments expressed here.

Friday, December 09, 2005


Every time, I think the papers will grade themselves.

They never do.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rough draft, rough road

Hear that? Those are my teeth grinding.

All quarter, while learning to be a mom, TA'ing for two classes, and sending out job packets about which no one apparently gives a damn, I've been working on the third chapter of my dissertation. My goal was to finish said chapter this quarter, which would mean I was more than halfway finished with The Project. Unfortunately, life (i.e. exhaustion and its accompanying depression) intervened, and I wrote only 30 pages of the chapter (which now, BTW, looks like it will be long enough to be two chapters, but I don't know how to divide them). I handed this chunk to my adviser on Friday.

My adviser has been incredibly helpful, a good mentor. She's given me tips on how to best conduct archival research, how to freewrite, how to write cover letters for jobs, etc. She's friendly, sympathetic, honest, and firm. And I appreciate that--especially the honesty. I don't want my dissertation to be rubber-stamped by my committee. If I'm going to spend this much time on it, I want it to be a decent piece of scholarship.

That said, I was blindsided when I received my adviser's comments today.

Backing up: I like to fancy myself a writer, an idea bolstered by one of those Master's degrees in creative writing that schools apparently hand out like candy these days, as well as by positive feedback on my writing from professors across many disciplines.

But reading through my adviser's comments, it becomes clear that while I may be a writer, apparently I am not a thinker. I can't organize my way out of a paper bag.

Her criticism on this chapter is for the most part constructive, and I agree with much of it, but damn, I feel low right now. I thought I had made an organizational breakthrough in this chapter, laying out the sections in advance--whereas usually I freewrite my way through a chapter, then revise once some kind of structure emerges--and carefully (I thought) plotting my argument.

Ends up the chapter exhibits no such clarity, and is in need of a complete reorganization. And I don't mean merely moving paragraphs and sections around: There's little to be salvaged here.

Ten weeks gone.


Worse, my committee needs to be reconstituted, and I'm casting about for a new reader. I met with a candidate a couple days ago, but nothing really came of it. And the clock is ticking.

This is my eighth year in grad school, the fifth year in this particular program. I just want this damn thing to be finished. By June. I'm sick of being poor. I'm sick of being a student.

I just want. . .out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Memory Meme

As seen at Polyopia:

Regardless of whether or not you know me, please take a moment to share a fake memory about you and me. I don't care if we've never met--pretend we have in another life. :)

And be sure to check out the great "memories" posted in response to this meme at Polyopia, Ice Cream, and Whirled Peas.

Positive reinforcement

This quarter, in a last-minute bid for employment, I accepted two 25% TA positions. That means that I'm basically a glorified reader for each class; I grade papers but I don't hold sections. On the one hand, it's been nice not to have to plan sections. On the other, I miss the concentrated interaction with students.

Tonight I guest-taught one of the classes, on the topic of technology, pollution, and garbage. It's a 100-student class, with about 50-60 students showing up on any given week. Usually only about 10 students participate, but tonight we had some great discussions, with maybe 20-25 students contributing, and with lots of students coming up afterward to thank me for a nice session.

How energizing. And what a pleasant change from Glorified Reader. It reminded me that dammit, I'm good at this undergraduate education thing. Being raised by teachers helps.

If only the hiring committees could see me in action. I really do teach well, but I don't come across spectacularly on paper.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Elf hand

Both Pete and I are fascinated by Lucas's hands:

Can you blame us?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Grocery Griping

I may have latent anger management issues.

I love my grocery store. I do not love the people who shop at my grocery store. They seem to have an inflated sense of personal space entitlement. Leaving carts in the middle of the produce aisles, despite the steady stream of people who pass through there. Stopping to talk with neighbors, carts parked parallel to one another, in the middle of the store's main thoroughfare. Strolling slowly arm in arm through said crowded section as if it were a farmer's market on a leisurely Saturday morning.

I'm thrilled that some people have the time to slow down and savor the spectacle of broccolini and jicama, the scent of cilantro or coffee beans, or the glory of the gourmet cheese aisle. But why not do so on, say, a Tuesday morning rather than during the crush of a Saturday late afternoon? I just want to fill my cart with my weekly staples, pay, and get the hell out of there.

There needs to be some kind of driver's ed course for shopping cart operation, the establishment of some rules of right-of-way. If you're trying to decide between varieties of Frosted Mini-Wheats, kindly pull your cart over to the side so that others may pass. If I'm staring at the same shelves of marinara sauce as you are, acknowledge my presence by moving slightly to the side so that I can grab a jar of the good stuff without having to elbow you aside. If you're waiting in line at the registers, don't angle your cart in such a way as to block access to people trying to navigate the lane perpendicular to the registers. And for the love of all that is holy, look both ways before letting your cart drift slowly into an intersection as you're overwhelmed by the end-cap of lovely handmade holiday soaps.

Remember, people, I can only grit my teeth in aggravation for so long before my jaw shatters. And the student health insurance doesn't cover that kind of damage.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Chapter due

I have a dissertation chapter due tomorrow. I've been working on it all quarter, but it refuses to be packaged into something shiny that I can hand to my adviser with a pretty bow on top.

The problem is I tend toward narrative, so I just want to string together anecdotes and let the reader interpret their significance. (I blame my English major and my creative writing degree.) I keep finding more choice nuggets in the material I've photocopied from my trips to the archives, and I try to work whatever I find into the current chapter. Who cares if this section is supposed to be about women's participation in scientific associations? I want to write about Smithsonian entomologist Doris Holmes Blake's toilet-trained lizard, the one that snuggled in her lap as she worked on her beetle collection. I want to share California botanist Elizabeth's McClintock's sentiments that her era's misogynistic scientists needed to die, die, die before any real change would come about for women in science. I want to write about how herpetologist Doris Cochran carded angora fur in her spare time and spun it into thread for crocheting. Or try to capture Alice Eastwood's legendary climb up the banister of the six-story staircase California Academy of Sciences, the one destroyed in the 1906 quake, to rescue of the herbarium's type specimens before fire claimed the building. I love these details.

My left-brained adviser helps me curb this tendency toward gratuitious humanization of the scientists. She reminds me to organize my chapter around lists of three or four important items. It's damned hard for me to think logically like that, but what a mess my dissertation would be without the structure she's imposing. It makes me wonder if the women I'm studying were more right- or left-brained. I wish I could have met some of them; maybe then I would feel so anxious and, well, downright fraudulent (a humanities student among the taxonomists!) when writing about them.

Daddy has some fun

. . .with Lucas's bedhead: