Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Another jack o' lantern from Dave

This one needs no introduction:



(And BTW, I think I may actually be voting for this guy. Am I crazy?)

Oh.My.God.

Ends up one of our family friends has a wicked talent for pumpkin carving. As he is a state Republican operative, though, even his jack o' lanterns lean to the right. I wanted to share the latest:



This photo arrived in my inbox with this message from Dave Kline, the pumpkin's illustrious creator:

For those who aren't political junkies, the subject this year is Tom McClintock, who is running for lieutenant governor. (I strongly urge you to vote for him, but if you need more convincing -- or if you just want to see if I came close to making his face look right -- go to www.tommcclintock.com and read up on why you should support him on Nov. 7.)

Happy Halloween!


Thanks, Dave, but I'm still not voting for McClintock. :)

Another mini rant

I also like it when universities advertise for a "tenure track position in American history" but then require the candidate to have "demonstrated expertise" in, and the ability to teach, non-western history.

Seriously, do they think we've been in grad school for 20 years? I'm not going to develop expertise in both American and non-western history in the time it takes me to get a Ph.D. Remember, there's that little dissertation thingy I was busy writing, so I didn't have time to learn the entire history of the world.

Kudos to those of you who did.

Seriously, people.

[BEGIN bitterness]

Is there some kind of job ad template that gets distributed to all women's studies departments? Because apparently they're ALL hiring people with the exact same specialty. I swear, every ad has been eerily similar to this one (I've gone ahead and highlighted the buzzwords for those of you playing along):

[Your university name here] invites applications for a full-time, permanent, tenure-track Assistant Professor position, beginning Fall 2007. Required qualifications: Ph.D. in relevant field in hand by August 16, 2007; demonstrated ability to teach core courses in Women's Studies (or closely related fields); an intersectional and interdisciplinary approach to teaching and research on gender, race, class, and sexuality; and evidence of a strong research program. Desired qualifications: Research specialty in one or more of the following or related fields: LGBTQ Studies (particularly concentrating on Queers of Color and/or transnational sexualities), transnational labor, social justice movements; demonstrated ability to teach graduate courses in Women's Studies or related field; demonstrated ability to link university and grassroots initiatives; and cultural competencies in communities of color.

Seriously, people. Can't we get some new vocabulary (and specialties!) circulating in the Chronicle of Higher Ed ads this year? Those of us who jumped on the popular women-in-science bandwagon of a few years ago would appreciate it.

Also, to that one university's women studies department that is hiring a specialist in pre-19th century Africa: Thank you, but good luck finding person with a women's studies Ph.D. who researches that period in Africa. I know they must out there, but I haven't met any. Wanna know why? It's because they're all busy working on contemporary QLGBTI transnational grassroots social competency studies in communities of color. Your discipline has made its bed--now lie in it.

And good luck 6-10 years from now, when all those grad students will be exiting their programs with shiny new dissertations on transnationalism. . . and oh, look, there are no jobs because you've already filled all your transnational positions with their dissertation advisers.

[END bitterness]

FWIW, I really do think QLGBTI transnational grassroots social competency studies in communities of color are worthy pursuits. (Throw "pop culture" into that mix and that's largely what my own Ph.D. discipline is supposed to do.) I just don't think everyone should be channeled into this field because hey, there are lots of other worthy specialties out there that--judging by course offerings in many of the departments advertising for these positions--seem to be getting overlooked.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Trillwing Social Report

- A couple weeks back, Mr. Trillwing and I went to see John Prine in concert. Much recommended, as is his latest CD. My favorite composition of the evening? "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You into Heaven Anymore."

- My parents are in high dither to see their grandson, so Luke and I are flying down to Long Beach this weekend. I'm looking forward to the break.

- Last night we went to a potluck for families with babies and toddlers. The group began shortly after Lucas arrived on the scene and was originally intended for babies born in August or September 2005, but it has expanded considerably from there. By the time we left (6 p.m., Mr. Trillwing's bedtime), there were maybe 25 parents and 15 or 16 babies and toddlers, with most of the kids wearing Halloween costumes. (The tiny bald one-year-old in a teeny Raiderettes outfit and matching Raiders jacket? Very cute.)

Luke was the only one his age not walking. In fact, there were younger babies toddling around. Still, although he is once again behind the curve on gross motor skills, he remains adorable. Ever seen a giant 14-year-old crawl really fast, tiny butt wagging enthusiastically?

Luke also took about an hour to warm up to the other kids, which is understandable considering the toddlers were busy bulldozing one another. He would rather play with adults. I'm thinking we need to get him out of the house and socializing more frequently. It kind of sucks that all the local playgroups meet when I'm teaching. Perhaps I need to get a weekend playgroup going.

- Just when I think Lucas can't get any cuter, he does. And considering he's still a lousy sleeper, that's a very, very good thing.

A little morning pick-me-up

Here's a screen test of a young actor auditioning for Stanley Kubrick when Kubrick was casting for Full Metal Jacket. It's truly a sight to behold.




(As seen at Panopticist, and brought to my attention by Fang)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's about time for a meme

As seen at Seeking Solace's place.

Explain what ended your last relationship?
Um. . . Mr. Trillwing was my first boyfriend. He's more embarrassed by this fact than I am, but I don't usually advertise it. I was a late bloomer. :)

When was the last time you shaved?
Last night.

What were you doing this morning at 8 a.m.?
Wishing I could nap. I had already been to the grocery store and washed the car.

What were you doing 15 minutes ago?
Being a slave to Bloglines.

Are you any good at math?
I do not know this "math" you speak of.

Your prom night, what do you remember about it?
I didn't go to prom. Just not my thing. (See response to first question.) I seem to remember hanging out with a couple of friends and doing dorky crafts or something. But that may be a completely inaccurate account of the evening.

Do you have any famous ancestors?
Locally famous, yes. Anyone you'd know, nope.

Have you had to take a loan out for school?
Who hasn't? I've got a LOT of student loan debt.

Do you know the words to the song on your MySpace profile?
MyWhat? ;)

Last thing received in the mail?
The Chronicle of Higher Education

How many different beverages have you had today?
Five. Orange juice, apple cider, water, Pepsi, soy milk. That's an unusually high number--as well as an insane number of calories to be taking in through liquids. Oops.

Do you ever leave messages on people's answering machine?
Yes. And I am officially declaring this an asinine question.

Who did you lose your CONCERT virginity to?
Can't remember because I don't care. It also depends on how you define "concert."

Do you draw your name in the sand when you go to the beach?
Sometimes.

What's the most painful dental procedure you've had?
Ohhh. . . I don't know. Eight years of braces? Or the two oral surgeries, each of which removed four molars? Probably the braces, since I had anesthetic for the surgeries.

But seriously, Mr. Trillwing beats us all in this category.

What is out your back door?
I don't have a back door because I live in an apartment. What kind of classist question is that? ;)

Any plans for Friday night?
I'll be visiting my parents.

Do you like what the ocean does to your hair?
Salt-encrusted tresses? Not so much.

Have you ever received one of those big tins of 3 different popcorns?
Yes. I prefer the caramelized variety.

Have you ever been to a planetarium?
Yes, as a child.

Do you re-use towels after you shower?.
Yes. A little trick I've learned from all those California droughts.

Some things you are excited about?
Moving on to the next stage of my professional life, whatever it may be.

What is your favorite flavor of JELL-O?
I don't eat Jell-O. I'm vegetarian.

Describe your keychain(s)?
Nothing but a couple of rings with too many keys. I used to have a pewter Tyrannosaurus Sue, but it fell off.

Where do you keep your change?
My wallet.

When was the last time you spoke in front of a large group of people?
When was the last time I spoke in front of a group of people that wasn't large? I teach at a research university, for goodness' sake. In many ways, some of our departments are like accredited diploma mills. (Oops. Did I just say that aloud?)

The biggest group of people in front of whom I've spoken was several thousand, a capacity crowd at my high school graduation at a municipal football stadium. And no, for those of you keeping track, I wasn't a valedictorian. (See "math" question above.)

What kind of winter coat do you own?
The one I actually wear? It's a black wool peacoat. In storage are my heavy-duty Midwestern parkas.

What was the weather like on your graduation day?
Gorgeous every time.

Do you sleep with the door to your room open or closed?
Open, unless I'm napping.

Advice

If you are procrastinating by cleaning your keyboard, do not--I repeat, NOT--by any means snap off the enter/return key on your iBook.

You will regret this accident, as even once you find detailed directions on how to reattach the key, you will spend at least an hour conducting sweaty surgery with tweezers under a blazingly hot halogen desk lamp. You also will probably end up bending the key's plastic or metal parts, and therefore there will always be a chance that your return key will once again pop off unexpectedly.

Heed my warning, oh readers. Do not fuck with the return key!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

School violence: what's your solution?

(cross-posted at BlogHer)



Using textbooks as shields. Teachers packing heat. Making students defend their own classrooms.

These are just a few of the ideas being floated in the wake of the murder of Amish girls at a Pennsylvania schoolhouse.

As a mother, teacher, and longtime student, I'm a major stakeholder in these proposals.

I think they're all asinine.

Lest you think I'm merely some suburban-educated, middle-class white girl who doesn't understand the reality of violence in our schools, allow me to flash some street cred. Snoop Dogg graduated from my high school--you can now imagine the urban environment, perhaps? The school closed down during the Los Angeles riots because buildings in the neighborhood were burning. On Wednesday nights, I'd hear gunshots during orchestra practice. My senior year, I was responsible for the obituary page in the yearbook. Students at my school--members of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (Army JROTC)--were tried for murder. (And ours wasn't the only school in the district with such trials: mostly students murdering other youth, but also a teacher murdering a student.) There were bullet holes in bungalow classroom windows. Razor wire topped the fences, and there was a heavy, rolling iron gate that clanged shut at the beginning of each school day under an arch bearing the school's motto--"Home of scholars and champions." The year after I left, they instituted locker and backpack checks, brought in search dogs, and by now I'm sure they have metal detectors.

We were told this security was not so much to keep us securely inside the school as to keep the bad elements securely out.

Living in the United States, whether you're a student in a school with a gang problem or a television viewer watching the war in Iraq, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that violence begets violence. Yet many Americans want to up the violence ante in our schools. When some right-wing white men from the rural or suburban U.S. declare that what my urban high school needs is more guns, I clench my jaw and try to breathe deeply, reminding myself that I am indeed a pacifist, and that putting my fist through the TV or computer screen won't help anyone.

Let's step back for a moment and consider the facts:

Who commits the school shootings we see in the news? White boys and white men.

Who are the ones proposing more guns in the schools? White men. Who are proposing that we teach our students to run toward gun-wielding attackers? White men.

Who are the victims? In disproportionate numbers, girls.

Who might actually be able to see this problem most clearly? And who's out of touch here? I think you know my answers.


We need a longer-term solution than the quick fixes--such as kevlar-coated textbooks--proposed by pundits and crazies. We need to teach our boys and young men to respect girls, women, and others who are unlike them because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, class, or disability.

Part of the problem, as women and feminist bloggers have pointed out in writing about violence against girls, is that we're looking at the means and ends of school violence and not its causes. By focusing on gun crimes, we're looking too narrowly at school violence.

Cathy Davidson writes that by focusing on threats to our children by violent or predatory adults, we're doing our students a disservice:
Well, we are leaving about 30% of our children behind (http://www2.edtrust.org). That is the current high school drop out rate, making the U.S. #17 in the world. We know level of education correlates with future employment, poverty, crime, violence, incarceration (http://www.prisonuniversityproject.org). If we are concerned about internet predators because of the irreparable harm they do our children, then let’s look at the far more vast harm that comes to children right now in America because of disaffection from our schools.

I agree. We need to be less concerned with teaching our children how to fend off attackers and more focused on improving the quality of education in many of our schools. The immediate violence of a school shooting is indeed tragic, but the damage caused by a failure to graduate from high school can reverberate throughout a community and a nation.

This improved education must include peace and justice studies so that students can understand challenges in their lives and make wise decisions about how to address them. We need fewer JROTC cadets who are skilled at taking orders and primed for military service and more students who can think critically and thoughtfully for themselves.

Can we all be pacifists? No, we're too far gone as a nation to pursue that course. Would a large dose of pacifism help? Certainly. Would it hurt? Unlikely.

What's your solution to the various kinds of school violence?

(Photo by Cindy Seigle, used under a Creative Commons license)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Life coaching?

Anyone here ever used a life coach? If so, did you think it was worth the cost? I can't quite afford a coach at this moment, but I'm thinking one might be beneficial in the near future.

Here's my deal: I know life coaches like to differentiate themselves from therapists. But my health plan does have a very affordable short-term (I think 7 visits) therapy option, and I'm wondering if working with a therapist skilled in career issues would be hugely different from consulting with a typical life coach.

If you've considered career issues with both a therapist and a life coach, I'm especially eager to hear from you. And if you're a fan of life coaches and can make a recommendation, please e-mail me at trillwing -at- gmail -dot- com or leave the coach's name and website in the comments.

Many thanks!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Reports of his toddlerhood greatly exaggerated

A little over a week ago, I reported that Lucas had taken his first two steps.

We're still there, folks. Tonight we met the two-step threshold again, but three steps in a row are apparently just too difficult for him. He and I are flying down to see my parents in a week, and they're expecting him to be walking by then. It would indeed be kind of nice if he was walking at least part of the time because they have wood floors through most of the house now, and last time he came back with bruised knees from crawling.

So yes, I still have a big baby. He does think it's hilarious when I trick him into walking a step or two on his own, but then he falls into the floor, giggling in a big baby heap.

Have I mentioned he's fastidious as all hell? He'll take things from my desk drawers and either (a) replace them on his own after playing with them or (b) drop them on the floor while sitting on my lap, then climb down from my lap and hand them up to me, piece by piece, by category--pens first, then pencils, erasers, rulers, etc. It's the damndest thing.

And tonight he tore up a piece of wheat bread into tiny pieces and placed all of them in the cupholder on his highchair tray. There wasn't even the tiniest crumb on the rest of the tray.

Is this child really related to me? Clearly he has some of the uber-organized (if not always sparkling clean) Mr. Trillwing in him.

The babysitter comes tomorrow and I'm trying to figure out what to do with my time: work on my journal article or this book proposal. I'm guessing it will be the latter since the proposal is due in a few days. I also promised an editor at the American Studies Association conference that I'd send her a book proposal for my dissertation.

Look at me, pretending to be a writer and all. Good thing I quit my job several years ago to go back to school and get that shiny Ph.D., eh? Now, what was that job, again? Oh yes, I was a writer.


P.S. I'm sad. Twitter isn't letting me log in.

"The Dog Who Loved to Suck on Toads"

A fabulous story from NPR.

Plugging Mr. Trillwing and friends

Mr. Trillwing has carved himself out a little corner of YouTube and is currently featuring his musician friends. Just FYI.

I'm sure he'll start posting video of himself and our family soon enough. Mr. T, he's into the digital media.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Twitter

Because I don't already have enough of my life on the Web, I've joined Twitter. It's hard to explain exactly what it is, but I'm finding it's a simple way to keep myself honest and focused on work in the evenings. It's a quick method of reporting on what I'm doing instead of blogging ev-er-y-thing.

If you decide to join me, send an invitation to trillwing -at- gmail -dot- com. If I recognize you from our little bloggy community, I'll add you as a friend and we can be focused together.

FYI, I use my real name on Twitter, so that's what will be showing up in your friends list if you join. You'll recognize me from my avatar. :)

Procrastinators unite!

Dammit

I missed The Clutter Museum's anniversary on the 22nd. What shall I do to make up for that oversight?

My teeny tiny little life

Is it sad that I get excited over things like this?

Monday, October 23, 2006

If I see one more job posting. . .

. . .that includes the word "transnational," I'm going to scream.

Seriously. Especially after the pretty dreadful sessions of the transnationally-themed American Studies Association conference this year.

I'm also beginning to regret not focusing on "comparative ethnic studies." Apparently that's hot, too. Or is it just another way of saying "transnationalism"?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

<~zot!

Blogrolling, which manages my blogroll, must be on the fritz, as every single blog on my blogroll has a <~zot! next to it.

<~zot!
<~zot!
<~zot!
<~zot!
<~zot!


Sorry. Just needed to get that out of my system.

Confessions of an ambivalent adjunct

The more I apply for academic jobs, the less I want one.

Maybe it's a function of all the lecturing I have to do this quarter. When I was a TA, I'd have occasional opportunities to lecture in front of a class the size of the one I have this quarter (100 students). But that was usually well into the quarter, so half the students in the class knew me and my sense of humor--and seemed to like me for it--and totally had my back. Other times, I've lectured for classes where I wasn't working with the students, where I was invited to talk or where I was a reader and the professor had to leave town for a week. And then, too, the students were responsive.

But now that I'm in charge? Frequently it's like talking to a wall. I mix it up with small group activities, "turn to your partner and tell them. . ." moments, video and audio, etc.

Would it be inappropriate to wad up a ball of paper and toss it at the student who sits directly in front of me and then proceeds to nod off during every class? Seriously.

I know I'm not yet a great lecturer, but relative to the other stuff the kids have had to sit through, I imagine my lectures aren't bad.

Last class, we read a chapter from Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. The chapter covers the diverse communities in Kansas, from trailer-park-dwelling meatpackers to wealthy McMansion owners. In it, Frank illustrates that the vast majority of Kansans--working class folks--vote against their own economic and social self-interest by supporting Republican candidates. He also makes references to Populism.

As a companion to this reading, I chose some of the artifacts and phenomena Frank mentions in the chapter and elaborated on them as well as on some popular conceptions of Kansas. So I talked about Populism, The Wizard of Oz (and Populism), megachurches, and Thomas Kinkade. I showed a video of Kinkade talking about his work. I made connections among these phenomena and talked about the shift in values over the course of the 20th century. We finished with a discussion of middlebrow culture.

Throughout the lecture, I used music to evoke a response from students. I opened class with "Carry on My Wayward Son" by the band Kansas (of Topeka). I played the smooth jazz Frank calls the soundtrack of "Cupcake Land" (one columnist's name for the developers' suburban haven of Overland Park, KS). I played a piece by Rush to flesh out Frank's illustration of Emporia. I played praise music by Kathie Lee Gifford. And I played a union song ("Bread and Roses," as performed by Utah Phillips and Ani di Franco--it's wonderful and available on iTunes).

Have you ever tried to lecture to a background of smooth jazz? It's not easy. (I promised the students I would turn off the music if they answered my questions. Hands went up.)

For the most part, however, the students just didn't get into it. And I'm frustrated. I can't just stand up there and explicate the chapter for them--that's their job, and if they have questions about the text, they can discuss the chapter with their TAs in section. So instead I've been putting together these mini-lectures, which I intersperse with activities or discussions that ask students to make connections among what on the surface seem to be divergent phenomena.

After all, that's what American studies is supposed to do: make connections. In the past, I've been successful at getting students to learn how to do this, but I'm thinking 100 students just might be too many for me to reach at once.

Finally, a question for you all: When I was a TA, I didn't like it when faculty told me what to do in section. I knew my students, I knew what they needed, and I knew how to deliver to those needs. Sure, if a professor wanted me to cover something generally, that was fine--but I wanted to cover it in my own way. Accordingly, I haven't been telling my two TAs what to do in their sections. And now, my friends, I've hit a roadblock.

The first assignment for the course is a very short (2.5-3 page) paper that gives students the opportunity to practice writing what will be for many of them their first college essay. Therefore, it's a fairly highly structured and focused prompt. I'm asking the students to:
- watch M. Night Shyamalan's The Village
- identify what the villagers perceive to be the threats to their community
- name what the students believe are the actual threats to the community
- argue whether or not these threats are ones that have been perceived by or experienced by the historical communities we've read about and discussed in class, and then explain their significance.

One of my TAs discussed The Village in her sections, helping students see how to address the prompt. The other one feels very strongly that students should have to interpret the movie on their own, that we've done enough hand-holding with them on the course readings about the historical communities. As a result, she has not discussed the movie in her sections. (FYI, I agree with her approach.)

How the hell am I going to norm the grades for this essay? My experience has been that the TAs and professor get together and all read the same 4-6 essays, then decide by consensus (or by the professor's declaration) what grade each paper deserves.

I thought it might be possible for the TA who helped her students with the prompt to grade the essays a bit more harshly than the TA who didn't, but it's becoming increasingly apparent that such an approach isn't going to work.

Meanwhile, the students are floundering. I had one freshman in the second TA's sections come to me with a "thesis" for her essay that wasn't arguable and that showed she didn't really understand the movie. Argh!

I see a major fiasco on the horizon. What to do? The paper is due on Thursday, and the second TA's sections meet, I think, on Wednesday and Thursday after lecture, so it's too late to command her to talk about the film with her students.

Ideas?

On my ballot

13 state propositions, 4 local measures. Who the hell has time to research all of these?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ethical dilemma

I'm vegetarian, but I'm not evangelical about it. I'm not out to convert people, especially people who live relatively sustainably in the third world, to my diet.

Nonetheless, I was excited when this year's Heifer International catalog showed the opportunity to donate--in lieu of the usual pigs, cows, chickens, or rabbits--a "knitting basket" (four wool-producing animals for one family), honeybees, and tree seedlings. I'm not nearly generous enough with charities that help the poor, so I thought, "What the hey, I'll donate some honeybees and seedlings."

But then I read the fine print on page 3 of the catalog: "Each purchase from this catalog represents a contribution to the entire mission of Heifer International. Donations will be used where needed most to help struggling people."

Hmmmm. So now I have a dilemma. I don't want to presume to say exactly what struggling people should eat--after all, people need protein--but I also don't want my donation supporting the eventual slaughter of animals.

Thoughts? Do you know of vegetarian-friendly charities that also do good work?

Typical conversation with Lucas

Me: Where's your nose?
Lucas: (looks quizzical)
Me: Where's your nose?
Lucas: (points to dog)
Me: That's the dog. Where's your nose? (I touch his nose.) There's your nose. (pause) Where's your nose?
Lucas: (points to dog)
Me: Yes, the dog has a nose. Very good. But where's your nose?
Lucas: Mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm.
Me: You're hungry? OK. We'll find your nose later.
Lucas: Deh dah!
Me: Yes, that's the dog.
Lucas: Mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm-mmmmmmmm.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Letters to products from my bathroom cupboards

Because I've been meaning to whine, dammit. This post is not for the queasy, I assure you.

* * *

Dear Always ultra thin pads with LeakGuard Core(TM)+ Barriers,

I have always been a big fan of you, especially since you slimmed down in the 1990s. That said, I am sick and tired of you changing your packaging, labeling, and design every two months. It's hard to find you on the store shelves, and your latest "improvements" aren't beneficial at all.

First, the sticky part is now too sticky. When I try to remove a pad, it tears apart. Icky!

Second, the slick little piece of wax paper that covers your wings when you're first removed from the wrapper really, really, really need not tell me to "Have a happy period."

Seriously.

Your monthly friend,

trillwing

* * *

Dear Bausch & Lomb PureVision Toric contact lenses,

You suck. You are waaaaaaay too thick. You chafe my eyes. I don't know why I didn't notice this when I tried on the sample pair at the optometrist's office. They told me you're the improved version of my old contacts. And now I'm stuck with a year's supply of you and I am not happy. Seriously, who would wear you for 30 days nonstop? I can't keep you in my eyes for an hour without wanting to claw my corneas.

Bloodshottily yours,

trillwing

* * *

Dear Maximum Strength Wart-Off,

Every time I begin to use you during my biannual battles with plantar wars, you get my hopes up. You work for six weeks, and then. . .then you stop working altogether. Why, why?! You know that means I must go get liquid nitrogen treatments, which means blisters, which means I can't walk for two days.

You are a vicious tease.

Salicylically yours,

trillwing

* * *

Dear Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandages 85th Anniversary Collector's Edition tin,

You seduced me in the store. I was looking for the distinctive Band-Aid tin smell of my childhood. Where is it? You merely smell ever-so-mildly perfumed. I long for that nauseatingly plasticky scent that evokes maternal and paternal care.

Damn you!

trillwing

* * *

Dear citalopram,

I loooooooove you, but I would like to end my dependence on affair with you. Why, why must it be such a bitch to live without you?

Yours in enhanced serotonin levels,

trillwing

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

We have toddler!

On Saturday, Lucas took his first two steps by himself.

On Sunday, he practiced standing without support.

On Monday, he invented a game that involves standing up on our bed and falling backward into our arms.

That's the fun news.

On Sunday, as if to confirm his toddler status, he also threw his first temper tantrum. I'm talking about a face-rubbed-into-the-carpet, fists-pounding-the-floor, legs-kicking, high-pitched-screaming tantrum.

The fit came about because I was trying to prevent him from slamming his fingers in my desk drawers. I suggested we read a book instead. And then the tantrum commenced.

Wow. We're in for some rough waters.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dooced before it was fashionable

Tonight I was catching up on my reading of the entries on my cousin's blog (OK, so he's my mom's cousin), and I learned that he was dooced way back in early 2001 for blogging about his employer. In fact, according to this list, he may have been the first, dooced even before Dooce herself. (Does his firing lend my family some iota of cool? I hope so because over here on the mainland we kind of need it.)

Details are here (scroll down to February 22), and the entries through March are worth reading, too, if you're interested in newspaper management and politics or, for that matter, if you've ever worked at a newspaper (for the record, Mr. Trillwing and I both have--it's where we met). Fascinating and sad stuff on Ian's blog.

Also, I had no idea he's married to a feminist criminologist.

While you're over at iLind.net, you should also check out the very cool photos of Hawaii in decades past, particularly, if you're into the history of surfing, those of Duke Kahanamoku's funeral on the beach at Oahu in 1968.

Conference notes

- If your session is advertised as a roundtable, that means you won't all read 20-minute-long papers one right after another.

- If you change your paper title and your subject slightly, that's fine. If you promise to tell me, for example, about ghosts in Williamsburg and you end up talking about FBI files, I will be upset. When the next presenter also changes his topic, I will get up and leave the room. It also makes me bitter that my panel didn't get accepted--I mean, I should have just submitted a more fashionable paper topic and then changed it to whatever it is I really want to talk about.

- Ran into Fantastic Adviser and confessed to session hopping. "That's what you're supposed to do," she said. "Getting up and leaving is a way of telling people their work isn't very interesting."

- In the middle of a grad student breakfast I crashed, one of the most distinguished professors at the conference leaned over and whispered, "Speaking of body modification, did you circumcise Lucas?" When I answered in the affirmative, he lowered his head, struck his forehead with his palm, and turned away. I leaned over and whispered, "Well, I didn't do it myself," which made him actually giggle.

- Lowest ebb: Watching a mock conference interview. I realized I'm in a good place relative to my peers in terms of CV stuff, and apparently much advanced in terms of teaching, but my interviewing skills and my ability to speak off the cuff about my work and my field? Probably not yet up to snuff. Also? I don't think I'll ever be able to answer the question, "In the intro course for undergraduates, what three books do you feel absolutely must be included to represent the discipline?" And yes, I have taught the intro course twice.

- In response to the above question, the answers that immediately popped into my head were "Funny ones. Seductive ones." For the record, I'm using My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki as well as a course packet. Is MYOM seminal to the field? I think not. Is it a useful text that students really enjoy? Hell yes. Would I love to teach a course that covered only MYOM, Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich, and Gardens in the Dunes by Leslie Marmon Silko? Oh yeah. Is it just because I really like those books and I know students will, too, because I've used three of them in a course? Uh-huh. (Are you sick of me writing like Donald Rumsfeld talks? I imagine so.)

- I saw a presentation Fantastic Adviser gave to graduate students in material culture. I am sooooo fortunate to have been able to work with her. Seriously blessed.

- The panels I attended were boring; the roundtables were great. I was moved to take notes at only one session. Does that make me a bad scholar who lacks curiosity or a good scholar with discriminating tastes?

- Do not read your paper to me. Seriously. What are we, in fifth grade? No, I don't care if it's just what's done in your discipline. Grow a backbone and make some eye contact.

- Middle Eastern studies + American studies + roundtable format = lively.

- I love me some university press book exhibits, especially with 20-50% discounts, although Blackwell Publishers? Your books are ridiculously expensive. Do you really think academics and museum folk can afford such prices? Even at 50% off, those two books were a MAJOR splurge for me, especially that first one--I had to use my extra-special graduation gift money.

- The logo for the major association in my field is in serious need of an overhaul. It looks like an airline logo from the 60s or 70s:

- When I pay $15 for a breakfast, I want more than pastries and scrambled eggs, even if there is a presentation involved.

- When traffic in the book exhibit is slow, editors like it when you ask them how they got into publishing. They're chatty folks.

- A few senior scholars declared my field to be full of energy and "hot." Then where are the jobs in it?

- People seem fascinated by my egg studies. That cracks me up.

- Conferences are no fun at around 2 p.m. each day. That's when my blood sugar is low, I'm cranky, and I'm ready to throw in the academic towel. If I get a good snack or an early dinner, I can last well into the evening.

- I worked up the chutzpah to go to a reception hosted by one of the universities where I'm applying for a position. It went well.

- I also pitched my dissertation to a few editors. I'm sending in proposals soon.

- So, in sum:
Panels = boring if there's reading going on
Roundtables = interesting
Schmoozing = fun after the initial first-contact awkwardness
The specter of interviewing = paralyzing

- It's good to be home.

Post #300

I just wanted to take a moment on the occasion of my 300th post to say thanks for hanging around the Clutter Museum. Y'all mean a lot to me.

Hugs,

trillwing

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Neurotic

I don't like to get lost while I'm driving. I get flustered and then have a hard time getting my bearings. And I'm a lousy navigator because I get distracted by the sights along the way. The last time I was navigating my friends toward a conference, we were driving from Chicago to Urbana, Illinois, and we ended up in Gary, Indiana, a town for which, I assure you, we were WAY overdressed. (And I believe Gary once held the distinction of being the murder capital of the U.S.)

This weekend takes me to Oakland, California, another city where I really don't want to get lost, especially at night, when I'll be doing quite a bit of my driving by myself. So I have spent half an hour on Mapquest producing every conceivable combination of map and driving directions I might need in any contingency:

Home to conference site
Home to hotel site
Conference site to museum
Hotel to museum
Museum to hotel
Conference site to hotel (I didn't manage to get a room at the conference hotel)
Hotel to conference site
Conference site to home
Hotel to home

Neurotic enough for you? I have a feeling I'll regret not mapping the route to a few restaurants.

Am I the only one who obsessively produces driving directions? Please tell me I'm not.

Impostor Syndrome, Toilets, and Eggs

Every time I begin an application for a faculty position, I feel a wave of nausea that can only be attributed to impostor syndrome.

This is especially true of applications for jobs in history. It helps if I keep reminding myself that Tough Reader, the historian on my dissertation committee, assured me I wrote a history dissertation (in her phrase, whether I like it or not) and that, in her opinion, I'm qualified to teach history. And Fantastic Adviser pointed out that in my application for one interdisciplinary history of science job, I don't need to project an image of being an expert in the classic history of science texts because, hey, she knows that the person leaving the job worked on the history of toilet technology. (A topic, by the way, I think is absolutely wonderful. I'm actually jealous.) So my fears of history of science programs being a bit hung up on Newton and Galileo may be unjustified.

Anyhoo, I keep the assurances of Tough Reader and the hiring of Toilet Scholar in my mind when I'm applying for programs, and it helps me get through my cover letters without hyperventilating. It makes it easier to write about my dissertation research on women museum scientists and about my current research on, well, some confusion Americans seem to have between human ova and chicken eggs.

For those of you keeping track of trillwing's wild-n-crazy research agenda, I thought I'd share the latest iteration of Egg Studies. Here's an excerpt from one cover letter:
Beyond my dissertation revision, my current research includes an examination of how public misconceptions about human reproduction and fertility have influenced public discourse and policy-making in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States. I have begun this study by exploring the iconography of the human ovum and its common implicit and explicit conflation with the chicken egg. I argue that, because of this confusion of ovum and chicken egg, the perfectly white, uniform chicken eggs available in abundance at American supermarkets help to soothe Americans’ fears about white, middle-class fertility but also provide false reassurance of success in conception.





Fantastic Adviser once cautioned me to publish the women-in-museum-science research first so that I don't become known as "plastic horse woman." Now my fear is that I'll be known as "chicken egg iconographer."

I suppose there are worse things to be known for.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bad idea #4,675

Attempting to do housework without feeling resentful immediately after reading The Feminine Mystique.

Always prepared

So, yesterday in my 1950s class, we were discussing suburbs. I asked students what they thought of when they heard the word "suburbs." One immediately mentioned the neighborhood in Edward Scissorhands. I popped in the video I had handy, all cued up to the appropriate spot (the tiny video store didn't have the DVD).

Another student said she thought of the theme music to the show Weeds. I immediately pulled up Pete Seeger's "Little Boxes" on my iTunes.

Of course, you and I know that in the U.S. these are iconic references to suburbs. But the students didn't know that, so they were impressed. One actually just sent me an e-mail: "You have a gift!"

It reminded me of another moment when trillwing proved herself especially well prepared. While waiting for the bus one day in high school, a friend stared at his broken cassette tape then looked up nonchalantly and asked, "You wouldn't happen to have a knife, some tape, and a piece of foam rubber, would you?"

And yes, I was, until about age 12, a Girl Scout.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I've been served up depression again, but with a side of silver lining

I'm feeling a bit down these days. I haven't been depressed for a while, thanks to the shiny new Ph.D. and all the smiles Lucas brings to me. But:
  • I'm now knee-deep in another academic year and realize I'll soon be up to my neck in papers and the other usual obligations.
  • I'm frustrated that I don't know what my life will look like in a year. I'm discouraged by how competitive the academic job market is.
  • I'm feeling inspired to begin some new research, but I don't have time because of all the course prep I'm doing this quarter and because of the endless stream of job applications. I need to find the time.
  • I'm stressed about finances. We live comfortably, but it's very much month-to-month, with no planning for the future. And old dog + ongoing dental needs = major debt.

I enjoy the creative, flexible aspects of academic life. I love that I have just about complete freedom to design my own courses. I love that on most days I can join Lucas for a nap at 3 p.m. to make up for my staying up late working the night before. But:

  • Often I want to strike out and try something adventurous (by mild-mannered trillwing's definition, of course) and new. Lately I've taken to reading blogs and listening to podcasts by really bright, creative entrepreneurs--some of whom are WAHMs--and wonder if I couldn't join them in their quest to create fulfilling, meaningful work.* (Seriously. I'm looking for fulfillment, not great wealth.) I think I'd enjoy, for example, creating an online content network that was a useful resource for folks in the museum, public history, and other cultural interpretation fields--a series of blogs, podcasts, videocasts, a forum, a wiki, a print magazine or ezine, etc., with revenue coming in from advertising and subscriptions. I think I have--or could easily develop--the technical savvy (thank goodness I took that digital video art course several years ago and learned me some Final Cut Pro). I'm also optimistic about finding interested people to help. As I've said before, I've been following Chris Brogan's efforts to create his content network. I've been too busy lately to post much to my little museum musings blog, but if I could devote myself full-time to such efforts, I think I could be pretty happy. It's the making-enough-money-to-support-my-family part that's questionable.
  • I could, of course, launch the effort above if I began to phone in my teaching. But I can't do that because I'm not a phone-it-in type. I care too much about my students.
  • Mr. Trillwing would benefit from a career change as well, but his current gig creating newspapers, newspaper websites, and the occasional freelance website lets him work from home and we both really value that. Plus he enjoys calling himself a "newspaperman." If we had a financial safety net, I could say "Fireplace it all!" and let him devote himself full-time to writing and fatherhood.
Today I spent several hours with a good friend (who's also my TA--life got weird this fall), and I asked her what she'd do if she wasn't an academic. She said she'd craft fabulous wood furniture and cabinetry. Right now she lives in an apartment and doesn't have room for a workshop.

I wish I could provide my friends and family with a giant warehouse and field. We'd divvy up the space and go crazy with the creating.
  • For my sister, space to build a world-class fitness studio (with a built-in clientele of academics who need a nudge.
  • For my TA/friend, a workshop filled with top-notch woodworking tools.
  • For Mr. Trillwing, a quiet, roomy office with lots of shelves for his books and multimedia.
  • For Phantom, lots room to construct a playground where even the smallest kids can play safely. I'd also provide her with an on-call nanny so she could sneak off to her room-of-her-own and write.
  • For ArticulateDad, space to set up his own publishing company specializing in children's books and academic imprints, as well as a lab for the work he does with the mind.
  • For Heather, a big fat pile of cash so that she could write half-time and spend the rest of her days cycling around her perfect city.
  • For Jeff, a photography studio and gallery, and lots of non-irritating people to populate his very own camera club.
  • For The Queen of West Procrastination, a costume shop loaded with crafty goodness.
  • For Breena Ronan, a space where she could be both a landscape architect and an academic who writes brilliant things about gaming, feminism, sci-fi, and informal learning.
  • For other friends, a fertility clinic whose methods actually work.
  • For Susan M., who should be blogging but doesn't, a space to found a nonprofit that addresses girls' education in developing countries. And while you're at it, Sue, would you kindly solve this problem of violence against girls on our home turf?
And everyone else in my corner of the blogosphere is invited to bring their dreams, too. We'd all be poor and crazy together.

What about you? What's your dream today?

*Of course, teaching can be ridiculously meaningful. But grading papers: not so much with the fulfillment.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Name-related pet peeves I must slap down correct when they happen

1. When people pronounce the "s" in the middle of my name as if it's a z. (My real name, in case you don't know it, almost rhymes with "messily.")

2. My last name is hyphenated: Trill-Wing. The "Wing" comes from the husband, the "Trill" is my birth name. Yet again and again, people (especially students) think it's OK to call me "Mrs. Wing." WTF?!

I usually sign my e-mails with my initials or my first name, but when students address me as Mrs. Wing, I sign as "Dr. Trill-Wing." Sometimes they still don't get it. Over summer session I finally got fed up and sent out an e-mail about academic etiquette and about addressing people by professional titles instead of marital ones.

Additionally, when telemarketers call and ask for my husband by name, I tell them he's not available. At which point they always ask, "Oh, is this Mrs. Wing?" My response is always, "There's no one here by that name."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Conference meet-up?

Will any of my readers happen to be at a major academic conference in Oakland next weekend? Or, alternatively, at the Black Panthers' 40th Anniversary Reunion, which is taking place at the same time and hotel?*

If you're going, and you'd like to meet up, please let me know.


*What about professors who were Black Panthers? I've met/know of a few. Talk about a busy weekend for them. . .

Musings on a portrait of trillwing

This is my first audio post, so please excuse any awkwardness. . . It's just shy of 3 minutes long.






Trillwing gets down

Whenever this song comes onto one of Lucas's CDs, I have to get up and dance. Sometimes I even play it two or three times in a row.




If you can't see the video above, click here.

I'm sure it's a sign of something. . . I'm just not yet sure what.

And now, some political commentary from trillwing

Moral Majority my ass.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Cult

Because the American studies program here is small (about 80 majors, I think, and 7.5 FTE faculty plus a couple of lecturers), it's common to have students in my classes twice, and sometimes three times. Usually it's a coincidence, but I do have students who seek out my courses because I'm the one teaching them. That's flattering. I joke with my students that I have a "cult following" in my repeat students, and this quarter that seems to be especially accurate. I have many students repeating a course they took with me in the spring--last time it was on the 1890s, and this time it's the 1950s, so they're allowed to do that. But there are lots of other wonderful courses, and I want to encourage them to experience as many of the faculty as possible because the professors here are excellent teachers who really care about student learning. It feels kind of small liberal arts collegial even though it's an enormous university.

Anyhow, today a student whom I met yesterday in my 1950s class added my intro class. Ends up she was so impressed by the first day of the 1950s class that she's going to change her major from sociology to American studies and take as many American studies courses as she can. She told me she asked other students in the class about American studies and they all were effusive about the program, so she's very excited. She's frighteningly enthusiastic and obviously bright, and she stands out in part because she's an articulate and sharply dressed New Yorker in a sea of casual Northern Californians.

American studies is the kind of major students stumble into; very few students enter this university declaring American studies. It's really magical when a student who doesn't enjoy his or her major "clicks" with the American Studies program here. And we end up with some really engaged, bright, and delightfully quirky students. Seeing students find their academic match in American studies makes me very happy, as if I really am some kind of junior deputy cult leader.

If I stay in academia, I hope I find another compound just like this one.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Disciplining the Breast, Disciplining the Woman

(Cross-posted at BlogHer in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.)

I.

How many clothes you have to take off
before you can make love.
This I think is important:
the undoing of buttons, the gradual shedding
of one color after another. It leads
to the belief that what you see is not
what you get.

--Margaret Atwood, excerpted from "How to Tell One Country from Another"


How many clothes do you have to take off before you can reveal your breasts?
To whom do you (would you) reveal your breasts, and why?
Who has commented on your breasts? In what contexts?
In what ways do you discipline your breasts? Bras? Surgery? Pads to soak up breastmilk?
In what ways have your breasts disciplined you? Cancer? Low self-esteem? Popping out of your clothes? Hindering exercise?
In what ways have your culture's views on breasts limited or empowered you?


II.

Having been raised in the U.S., I don't think much about breasts. I'm puritanical that way. My breasts are my business, not yours.

Having been raised in the U.S., I think a lot about breasts. I'm puritanical that way. I worry about the message my women students are sending when they wear low-cut shirts that accidentally bare a nipple. At the same time, I worry about people sending my women students the message that they need to dress with someone else in mind.

The poet John Keats came up with the idea of "negative capability." Brilliant people, he wrote, are "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." In the U.S., we have negative capability of the breast.

After all, aren't breasts in American culture all about uncertainty, mystery, and doubt? And don't we think about them without resorting to fact or reason?


III.

I will someday be a breast cancer survivor.

I'm pretty certain of that. It's what women in my family do: survive breast cancer and then heart disease and heartbreak and whatever else fate throws at our chests.

My grandmother has been a survivor for more than twenty years. A few years back, when she was in her late seventies, she was having some heart trouble, and I rushed her to the emergency room.

They admitted her immediately, and as the nurses were applying the EKG sensors, one noticed one of the tiny blue dots my grandmother bears on her chest. They're the souvenirs of her radiation treatment, those tattoos.

"Are you a breast cancer survivor?" the nurse asked.

"Yes," Grandma said, trying to smile despite her anxiety about her chest pain. "They removed quite a lump."

"Did you have reconstruction?"

"Yes." Grandma looked at me nervously.

The nurse peered back down Grandma's hospital shirt and then turned to me.

"Have you seen these? They did a great job. They're fantastic!"

I smiled.

"No, seriously--have you seen these?"

Grandma laughed.


IV.

We've all heard straight men say it: They can't help but stare at breasts. It's a testosterone thing, they swear.

Perhaps hormones are partly to blame, but cultural attitudes about the breast are also very much in play.

Nili Sachs, the author of Booby-Trapped, How to Feel Normal in a Breast-Obsessed World, explains that the obsession with disciplining and manipulating breasts is but a recent manifestation of the human desire to mark or otherwise discipline our bodies:
In the big picture there is certain logic to our need to manipulate or modify the shape of our breasts. The human body has continually been put to use as a medium for the expression of cultural, tribal, or genealogical needs. There is a tendency for nations, tribes, and other groups to demand that their members reflect a uniformity—a sameness, an ideal—in their physical appearance. Extreme exceptions in individual appearances are looked down upon; the “different one” can be forced to alter his or her appearance or even be expelled from the group. Many civilizations had attempted, at one time or another, to force some form of body manipulation or shape alteration on some of its members, often at a heavy price. There are health and psychological consequences to using our bodies to express fashion trends or project cultural messages. Using the breasts of the human female to express a fashion and a cultural statement is a new twist—not even a hundred years old—to an ancient ritual.


In an fascinating essay published in the book American Artifacts, Shannon Miller deconstructs the corset's discipline and punishment:
No matter what else a woman wore, the basic fact remained that the corset's shape was always meant to be seen and interpreted by others. This implies the presence of others, a viewing audience, at every stage in her life. Further, the biological roles suggested by a formal analysis of the corset--virgin, harlot, mother--are all defined by a woman's relationship with others.


After the corset came the bra. Miriam Forman-Brunell of the University of Missouri, Kansas City, has written about how bras shape not just breasts, but our beliefs about breasts:
The new technology of constrictive undergarments reshaped the feminine form, such that breasts like Barbie's became symbols of postwar abundance, motherhood, and sexual appeal.


V.

If we have a culture of the breast, we also have developed a culture of breast cancer. Barbara Ehrenreich criticized this culture in a speech to Breast Cancer Action. An excerpt:
Is there any other disease that has been so warmly embraced by its victims? (And yes, I use the word “victim”—that’s another part of the perkiness—the failure to acknowledge that some of us are in fact victims of a hideous disease.) No one thinks TB, AIDS, or heart disease is supposed to be a “growth opportunity” and make you into a better person. No one is thankful for colon cancer, diabetes or gonorrhea. Why, I began to wonder, is a disease that primarily attacks women supposed to be something they should be grateful for?

Ehrenreich was also disturbed by all the breast cancer paraphernalia, especially the many teddy bears created in remembrance or in support of a cure:
Now I don’t own a teddy bear—haven’t had much use for one in 50 years. Why would anyone assume that, faced with the most serious medical challenge of my life, I would need one now? And that wasn’t all: The Libby Ross tote bag that I just mentioned also contained a package of crayons—something else I haven’t needed in many a decade. I began to get the feeling that this breast cancer culture is not only about being pretty and femme—it’s also about regressing back to being a little girl—a very good little girl in fact.


(Ehrenreich writes more about her experience with breast cancer and its culture in "Welcome to Cancerland: A Mammogram Leads to a Cult of Pink Kitsch.")

In a culture obsessed with breasts, sometimes breast culture and breast cancer culture collide. Shelley Batts considers whether Hooters should get involved in the fight against breast cancer.


VI.

I decided long ago that my personal brand of feminism didn't require me to obsess about my breasts or others' reactions to them. My breasts taught me otherwise, and today I have a changed (and changing) relationship with my own breasts.

I recently weaned my first child, and my breasts are in the process of returning to, in our culture's view, their purely ornamental state.

I can't say I miss breastfeeding. In the early months, my breasts and their ducts seemed to have lives of their own, swelling and leaking or getting blocked and lumpy. I'd go to campus to teach, and by the end of the three-hour class, it would be painful to swing my arms by my sides as I walked. Plus, I had thrush, so I knew there was no relief to be had at home: as soon as the little guy latched on, I'd feel pain shooting all the way down to my toes.

Breastfeeding also swelled my breasts one band size and two cup sizes. If my new endowment earned me any extra attention, however, I didn't notice. I was more interested in my pain than in others' stares. I was anxious about my breasts' function, or more specifically about their repeated malfunctions.

Despite this drama, breastfeeding has prepared me for future breast battles, cultural and physical. For example, when my breasts begin to sag considerably, I know there's nothing I can do about it: my beasts have their own will, and if they must collaborate with gravity, so be it. I'll wear a comfortable bra.

More importantly, the trauma of breastfeeding has prepared me a little bit--if one can ever be prepared for such a diagnosis--for my future likely battle with breast cancer. I know I can survive pain and fatigue. I know I can outlast my misbehaving breasts. After years of their disciplining me and limiting my autonomy with their biological functions and cultural baggage, I'll put them in their place with whatever tools I and my doctors have at hand.

Just please, if that day comes, kindly forgo the pink beribboned teddy bears and Hooters fundraisers. Your support of me, of breast cancer research organizations, and of cures for all diseases that afflict women is enough.