Thursday, February 28, 2008

5-minute poem

The following quick-write poem is brought to you by the latest prompt posted on (In)Decisive Moments.

The instructions:

1. Write a question.

2. Write down the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the following:
Day of the week
Time of day
Body part
Means of transportation
Article of clothing
Song lyrics
Street name
Children’s toy
Historical event
Rock group
Thing you find in a hardware store
Musical instrument

3. Another question.

In five minutes, write a poem opening with the first question, closing with the second question and including as many of the responses to the words as possible. Think about how to get from the first question to the second.

Remember: no more than five minutes!

Tinder box

What time is it in Long Beach?
He is no Rembrandt, this child
no fan of light and dark, he is
like Mondays at noon--neither here nor there.
Ask him to draw a pear and he draws an arm.
From the bus he sees red octagons.
From his window he sees red octagons
all along Broadway,
beyond the living room’s ferns.
He wants a place to hang his shirt--
Country roads, take me home. . .
past grief, to horses.
To Andersen, to dogs with eyes as large
as the round towers of Copenhagen.
He is a metal lighthouse, steel and glass,
striking and, in the storm, struck.
The red tides bring brine into the street.
He does not know whether
to pick up hammer or horn.
And where am I going next?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Random Long Beach photos

Empty beach:

Fun is forbidden:

Decay outside a restaurant:

False advertising:

Squirrel crazy

A couple of squirrels have moved into the backyard next to my parents'. This particular squirrel likes to tease Beara, my Mom and Dad's Aussie:

Fish or cut bait (cut bait)

Walking with my parents and their Aussie

Coastal-Downtown Long Beach, annotated

Click to embiggen.

Pelican photo essay

Seen at the Belmont Pier in Long Beach last weekend:

And one with a touch of the Dooce glow effect:

All thumbs

This is where Lucas's left thumb spends much of its time:

My favorite tidbit from today's sojourn in the archives

Found today at the California Academy of Sciences, amidst the Ynes Mexia papers. She's writing about a trip to the Grand Canyon in 1919:
You have no idea how high the walls are until you have climbed them, but I took my time and reached the top at 5.30, then discovered that quite unbeknownst to myself I had become a Notable Person, and was pointed out as the Lady Who Walked Down The Trail. Said Lady was very glad of Supper, Bath and Bed, and though a little bit stiff next day was otherwise no worse for the trip.
Another find: Like all of the other women scientists whose lives I've researched, Mexia had at least one newspaper article written about her in the "ZOMG! A Woman Scientist! Adventuress in the Amazon!" genre. I get a kick out of those when they're vintage. I'm a little less pleased when I see them today.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the passage above--taken from Mexia's scrapbook--because it's such a nice metaphor for women in science in the first third of the 20th century.

Monday, February 25, 2008


We measured Lucas this weekend. He's not yet 2.5 years, but he's 37.5 inches tall. At 2, he was 36 inches. Depending on whether you believe you should double a kid's height at 2 or 2.5 years of age to estimate his final height, that puts Lucas between 6' and 6'4".

We're going to need a bigger kitchen. . .

Putting on my historian's hat again, and shrugging off impostor syndrome

It's been too long since I've looked at my dissertation (requiescat in pace). If I'm going to get it revised and submitted to Interested University Press this spring, I must go back into the archives this week because the Cal Academy library is closing its doors for the museum's move to Golden Gate Park and it may not reopen until the fall.

It will be my first trip to the archives since I was pregnant with Lucas. Aside from my university's special collections, the Cal Academy archives were the first where I worked on "my" women scientists, and I had a bit of impostor syndrome to overcome. After all, I was getting a degree in cultural studies in a program very much oriented toward the contemporary era--what did I know about archival research? Who the hell did I think I was?

Fortunately, Fantastic Mentor gave me some tips on archival research* and some proposal-writing pointers--and shortly after starting my research at Cal Academy I was off to the Smithsonian Institutional Archives for three months. My mentor at SIA made my feel comfortable there, and I grew more confident as a researcher.

I finished my dissertation in 2006. I embarked on round 2 of a fruitless academic job search. Who was going to hire me, since I fell so neatly into the giant gaps between departments and disciplines? I turned instead to the staff side of academia, where I've been mostly content.

But I miss my women scientists. They were funny and sad and frustrated and kind. I miss their handwriting, their letters, the scraps of papers they saved. I miss Alice Eastwood's quips (to his face) about Jepson being an idiot. I even miss trying to read the ridiculously tiny Old German script in which Doris Holmes Blake wrote most of her diary entries.

I'm beginning to feel an impostor in the sense of has-been, even though I have never really been. It's an odd feeling. In my ideal-yet-vaguely-realistic world, I'd have my happy little staff job but with more time for really thoughtful writing, be it academic or in a more public history vein. Right now I don't have the time or energy for ambitious academic projects, but I'd like to redouble my efforts.

Tomorrow I shrug off this increasing sense of imposterdom and let myself be, if only for a few hours, a historian again. I'm hoping I find not only interesting old correspondence but new inspiration.

* My own top tips after a sojourn through many an American archive and library: Bring a pencil and a laptop, cash for copies, and a sweater. And know the manuscript box numbers when you walk in--it impresses the archivists and librarians. :)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

An anniversary

I'm not sure of the exact date, but it was 9 years ago this week that I met Mr. Trillwing. I chronicled our meeting in some detail in this post from 2006 and this post (in response to question #2) in 2007.

In 1999, we were two people who really didn't know how to be in this kind of relationship. I'm so grateful that we figured out (well, mostly) how to be together.

I have the great good fortune to share my life with an incredibly bright, creative, righteous (in a good way), wacky, and funny partner. Thanks for making room for me in your life, Sweetie.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Thoughts on Twitter snark, deconstruction, and a pedagogy

At the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative conference in San Antonio last week, there was an amazing Twitter back channel on which people reported on highlights of the sessions they were attending, critiqued ideas presented in those sessions, and engaged in conversations about conference content. It was, I thought, a delightful addition to the conference.

However, in the final conference session, a plenary featuring Lulu CEO Bob Young, the Twittering turned, in the minds of some people, a bit vicious. My impression of the Twitter stream:
  • We began tweeting in disbelief that the speaker was so tone-deaf to his audience.
  • We ramped up the snark and began giggling because wow, was this guy ever wrong about his audience.
  • We settled into a collective sobriety and depression because Young clearly had been--in the words of one participant--scarred by his teachers and even by librarians, and because we sensed the profound disconnect between industry and academia
Others' reactions
Gardner Campbell has written an excellent post in which he expresses his chagrin in participating in this Twittering, but in which he also explains how (and perhaps why) Young went awry in his talk.

Gardner writes,

But there’s one other thing to note here. A keynote speaker has an enormous responsibility. At these moments, the entire conference comes to a point of focus on one speaker, one set of ideas, one address. ELI 2008 was full of enormously talented speakers, and any of the featured speakers would have been a much better closing keynote than Bob Young was, though I’m sure no one on the program committee had any idea Young would do what he did. But back to the point. Time slots on a program are always precious, especially when so many wonderful ideas and speakers are in circulation. I think we all felt an enormous wave of disappointment (this comment [from Barbara Sawhill] eloquently describes the feeling) that an extraordinary opportunity had been discarded by a speaker who seemed to have no sense at all of the gift he had been given. The program committee, acting on our behalf, gave him a treasure, a great privilege, and to him it appeared to be no occasion at all–nothing to rise to, nothing to answer, nothing to value. Instead, we got jokes about his inadequate speaker’s fee and the relative IQs of his various audiences.
Jim Groom, who wasn't attending the conference, but who was attending to its Twitter stream, shared these thoughts about the plenary tweets:
From my vantage point, receiving all these reactions second-hand via twitter offered a fascinating look into something other than what was being said at the podium, or the vicarious experience of “being there.” What it suggested to me was how the community thinks about what is being said. To hear a large number of people (all of whom I respect and trust) in my network respond to ideas they neither agree with nor, at times, can tolerate was both unbelievably entertaining and fascinating all at once.

As Kieramc (a fellow twitter-ite who was not at the event) tweeted: “This may be my fave ELI session this year.” I couldn’t agree with her more! It was a blast from the bleachers, in part because I didn’t have to sit (or is it suffer) through this talk, but also because the experience suggests a real pulse within the network. This was a moment of cognitive crisis in our “collective intelligences” which had immediate reverberations in the network (or in this case twitter — sorry if I am using Network a bit loosely here).
Collean Carmean was considerably more disappointed with the direction of the plenary tweets:
I was truly jazzed by the sense of long-distance ‘being there’ via Twitter energy during the ELI experience the last few days. Smart, funny, deep, interesting live back channel and longed-for summaries of fun, food, ideas that I missed.

Then, a LULU of a shift. I checked in yesterday and was stunned by the back-channel backlash, and the…harshness…of the Twitters. So stunned I stepped away from my machine.

Twitter changed for me in that moment. It lost its luster as a stream of consciousness with my connections and left me disconnected. Someone posted that he felt ’strange and estranged’ but he was there, and so had a context. I was just sad.

My take
If we were out for blood, as some people seem to be implying, I'm wondering how much of the incident was expressing our distaste for bad speakers, and how much of it might be traced back to our training as (for many of us) humanities scholars. My own experience in graduate programs in English and cultural studies consisted in many cases of taking a text and tearing it apart (or, worse, as was more common in cultural studies: reading a secondary text that was savaging a primary text, without bothering to read the primary text). And that's what was happening in many ways during Young's talk. We were actively deconstructing the text he was creating--his narratives of his education, as well as his beliefs about how academics view their students--and a lot of that deconstruction, in part because it was taking place in 140-character sound bites, manifested itself in snark.

Of course, this raises a bigger issue: Are we training our students to be similarly snarky, to deconstruct knowledge* rather than to construct it? Is the kind of savage deconstruction we see today in many English and various humanities "studies" programs a necessary part of humanities training? This kind of training--which thank God I didn't get until grad school, as my undergrad institution was much more traditionally liberal artsy--has definitely affected the way I see the world. It's made me more cynical and suspicious about U.S. culture in general, but also about the discipline in which I received my Ph.D.--cultural studies. I have observed that many cultural studies TAs here are more likely to try to have content-based consciousness-raising sessions in their classes than try to teach cognitive skills. I'm not the only one locally to have made this observation.

Which brings me to American studies. I love teaching American studies because it's one of those disciplines that, when taught well, takes a more holistic approach to culture. It asks what phenomena unite or divide Americans, rather than criticize the Americans themselves for destroying cultures worldwide. (Don't get me wrong--the U.S. deserves plenty of blame for corporate imperialism, but I like the American studies approach because it avoids alienating conservative and moderate students in a never-ending blame game of cynicism and suspicion.)

So when someone posts on Twitter that "There's obviously something interesting about his experience, but he doesn't seem to have prepared to share it with us," that's a fine critique. In looking up this Tweet, I remembered it as "he doesn't seem to be" (rather than have) "prepared to share it with us." This, to me, is a significant statement. Whence comes this inability to share? The American studies scholar in me asks about that gap in communication--what is this corporate leader holding back from academics, and why? What is it about his experience that makes him come across as recalcitrant or even obnoxious? What assumptions is he making about academics, and why? I think the Twitter stream was asking those questions, just in ways that are less articulate (but considerably wittier). Much of what we were doing may in the moment have been a slapdash, on-the-fly close reading of Young's talk, but looking back at the Tweets allows us to continue conversations on bigger issues.

So yay for Twitter, and thanks to those who participated in the banter during Young's talk. If only we could always keep our students so engaged. Maybe the next time I teach, I'll have the class's Twitter stream projected on the back wall (as someone recommended we ought to do for Young's talk).

* What do I mean by deconstruction? I'm not necessarily talking about Deconstruction with a capital "D." As it's practiced in the disciplines with which I'm familiar, deconstruction means (in practice, if not always in theory) taking "text" A and running it through filter B (e.g. feminist theory, Derrida, Foucault, Heidegger) in order to see what kind of hamburger gets produced. In my opinion, it's not particularly imaginative or generative.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Seen in San Antonio:

Album cover meme

Make Your Own Album Cover: (as seen everywhere)

1. Click on this link. The title of the page is the name of your band.
2. Click on this link. The last four words of the final quotation on the page are the title of your album.
3. Click on this link. The third picture is your album cover.
4. Add your band name and title to the picture.