Saturday, July 31, 2010

More scenes from our new life

The past two weeks represent the first time in years that Fang and I have spent so much unbroken time with the boy, as his next preschool term doesn't start for another couple of weeks. We've both noted how much we've learned about Lucas, and we're seeing huge leaps forward in his development, and particularly in his imaginative play, creativity, and helpfulness.

One example: Lucas has always wanted me to help him make little sculptures out of pipe cleaners. Last week, however, he took matters entirely into his own hands, shaping and reshaping an elaborate sculpture so that it was first a hat for him, then for Fang, and then something to go over his shoe and trail behind it:

I've begun to worry that the boy is gifted in a right-brained way. I worry that he'll test just shy of gifted and won't get the challenge he needs in a mainstream class. I'd like him to be bright, but solidly mainstream, or clearly gifted, so that it's clear what kind of educational path we should set him on. His favorite things right now are stickers, tools, drawing, writing the letters of his name, and being read to--especially poems by Shel Silverstein. He's just starting to get the jokes in them, to pick up on their various ironies, which is a lot of fun.

The dog is also growing--and growing on us. Jake is alternately zen and puppy-crazy-dumb, and he's learning to negotiate the house's many hardwood floors. He often sounds like he's tap dancing. Here's a photo I took of him yesterday; he's about six months old now, and really turning into a lovely dog.

If you need some scale, that's a large Kong dog toy at the left of the picture, and a men's size 13 shoe in the foreground. He's a big pup!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fun with that Old Spice ad

How the heck did I miss this?

And for posterity, and for those of you living in a cave, here's the original:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Writing group?

My copy of Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks just arrived, and it looks fabulous. But now I need a writing group.

I know some readers of this blog are doing really interesting research and writing. Any humanists or social scientists want to join me in writing or revising an article this fall?

E-mail me: trillwing -at- gmail -dot- com.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Boise blogging

Some scenes from our first several days in Boise, as seen through my iPhone. . . (A bit prosaic, but I know family will appreciate the Lucas photos.)

Our first full day in Boise, we saw this sign downtown. (I thought the tiny red shoes on the doorstep were a nice touch.) Welcome to Idaho!

Mmmmmm. . . Lunch at P.F. Chang's.

Boise has irrigation canals running all over town. This one--being explored by my dad and Lucas--ran behind the motel where we stayed until the movers showed up with our stuff.

This statue of Lincoln--sculpted by Idaho native Gutzon Borglum--was recently installed in a Boise park. The local media bragged that it is "the third largest seated Lincoln statue in the world." Go Boise! ;) Fang has recently developed a fascination for all things Lincoln--he just finished reading a book on Lincoln's use of the telegraph--and I suspect he's brewing another novel, this time with Lincoln as a central character.

In the Boise Zoo parking lot. . .

Boise is very, very, very white. Like more than 90 percent white. I very much feel my whiteness here in a way I haven't since I lived in Iowa. It feels like an itch that won't go away.

The Boise Zoo is kind of old school, but it did have one of those tiger windows that I've seen at many larger zoos.

Lucas has discovered boxes in a big way. He keeps packing himself up. Here he is in the box for our new push mower:

I haven't explored much of the city yet, but Boise apparently has a ton of nature parks, including this one not far from downtown:

Next to the parking lot Lucas and I spotted twin fawns!

Their mama was on the other side of the parking lot:

I haven't seen urban deer since I lived in Iowa City, so I enjoyed the sighting.

Regular text blogging will resume shortly. . .

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Busy busy--and distracted

My moving-into-a-new-rental to-do list has been insane, and much of it has put me in the car, running errands on the unfashionable side of town, which conveniently begins one block from where I live. :)

I did manage to make it downtown yesterday for Urban Lunch, "a monthly informal gathering for urban-minded individuals who want to further the discussion surrounding Boise's urban issues." I ran into a departmental colleague there, and met two terrific folks with whom I hope to work in the future--one of the founders of Urban Lunch, who also works in my dean's office, and a visiting assistant prof who works on urban rhetoric. This town is packed with interesting people.

I was about 25 minutes late to Urban Lunch, however. I actually arrived 25 minutes early, but as I was parallel parking my compact car in a tiny space downtown, someone in a large SUV was trying to fit into the same-sized space in front of the car parked ahead of mine. The idiot kept bumping--ramming, really--the compact car in front of me in an attempt, I suppose, to make a larger space for his giant vehicle (even though there was an appropriately sized space across the street), and he set off the smaller car's alarm. I was also worried that he was going to push the small car into mine.

I left my car and pulled out my iPhone to find someplace to grab a lunch to go. Grabbing lunch took longer than I expected, so I rushed back toward the location for Urban Lunch, propelled by my smugness about my punctuality despite being a newcomer to town. Yay me.

But as I was passing by my car, I heard an engine running. And of course, it was mine. I was so distracted by the a-hole ramming the car in front of me that I had exited my car with the keys still in the ignition and the engine running. (In my defense, I've been driving for 18 years, and never had this happen.)

So I called Fang, who was out and about running errands with the boy. He got lost on his way to downtown--he has even less a sense of direction than I do--so by the time he arrived with a key I was late to lunch.

Eventually I'll learn that payback for being self-congratulatory is a real bitch.

Friday, July 16, 2010

An accounting

Pounds loaded (thank God not by us) onto the moving truck: Approximately 14,000 (damn books, comic books, and CDs)

Cars driven from Davis to Boise: 2

Hours spent on the road between Davis and Boise: 11

Wrong turns taken on that trip: 1

Nights in motel rooms: 3 so far, likely to be 4

Toys and gifts my dad brought with him for Lucas: at least 4

Number of said toys the dog destroyed while we were out: 1

Toys purchased by my dad for Lucas on the trip: 2

Number of hours I spent today listening to Lucas prattle on about "germ scrapers" he made out of Legos: 6, going on 7

Number of times Lucas asked me if his redesigned germ scrapers are "cool": too many to count

Motel coffee tables consumed by dog: 0.1

Motel coffee tables for which we'll have to pay: 1

Muzzles purchased for dog: 2

Dog hair in this motel room because I was too embarrassed to allow it to be cleaned with the coffee table chewed up: 3 cubic feet?

Times in my life UC Davis has issued me a physical paycheck instead of direct deposit: 1

Miles I am from said paycheck: 565.3

High temperature the day we left the crazy hot Sacramento Valley: 95 degrees

Current temperature in Boise: 101

Times divorce narrowly avoided: 4?

Blog posts I've written during the move: 1

Blog posts Fang has written during the move: 5

Debt we owe to my dad for helping me drive a car 575 miles, walking the dog, buying all our meals here, handing us an anniversary card brimming with cash, and entertaining Lucas at a time of great physical, emotional, and financial stress for our family: God only knows

Window the moving company gave us for delivery: 3 days

Day on which our stuff will be delivered: day 3

Movers due to arrive: in 15 hours

Friday, July 09, 2010

Melancholy, and missing a friend

Fang has been feeling melancholy, and in my waning days in this charming college town, I can't help but join him in his nostalgia for a part of our life that has passed.

But as I set off on the next stage of my academic life, I find myself reflecting even further back, to college--the last place I was very sad to leave--and even to high school, to friends I haven't seen in a long time and to one in particular I will never see again.

I've been thinking about my friend killed seven weeks ago while bicycling. I hadn't seen Erik for many years, though I had been meaning to do so, since we ended up living a short stretch of freeway from one another. Erik and I ran in the same circles in high school--those awkwardly earnest folks, geeks, and nerds who constituted the gifted magnet at our high school.

We had many classes together--the most memorable being the tenth-grade P.E. class comprising those few of us who weren't on a sports team and who, thanks to the gifted program's odd block schedule, ended up taking P.E. only every other day. It resembled not so much a gifted P.E. class as an adaptive one, and to this day I have great sympathy for the soccer coach who tried to lead our class of intellectually curious, hormone-addled misfits through track, basketball, weight training, and especially swimming and badminton.

I remember a girl classmate and friend of ours, upon seeing the wild-haired, gangly, and Scots-Irish-pale Erik in gym shorts, asked him, "Do those legs go all the way up?" It wasn't meant as an insult--we had all experienced too many of those and we knew we looked dorky in our not-quite-regulation P.E. uniforms--and I still smile at the memory of Erik, with his big, bouncy, ground-covering gait, blinking through his round glasses in shock at someone commenting on a body that (again, like all of ours) was not usually an object of sexual attention.

Our last couple years of high school, we also often ate lunch together with the same circle of friends, on the lawn near the entrance to the band room--where we gravitated because so many of us spent a couple hours a day in symphonic winds, band, or orchestra. It was pretty obvious that Erik had a crush on me, but I wasn't ready--wouldn't be for years, really--for a boyfriend. Still, my feigned ignorance of Erik's interest never kept Erik from being ridiculously nice, and I regret that in my shyness around boys I never really let him into my life the way I might have.

On one of my birthdays--I can't remember if it was my fifteenth or sixteenth, but it was on a weekend afternoon--he looked up my home address and rode his bike quite a distance from his neighborhood to mine to deliver a birthday card. I was in a foul mood--in tears at the moment he showed up--and thanked him without letting him into the house, in part because of my mood but also because I was too embarrassed and confused about boys to let my parents know that I even talked to any. I've often regretted not letting Erik in that day because he was such a nice, if earnest and awkward, guy--exactly my kind of friend, really. He deserved more kindness, as well as a glass of lemonade, on that warm June day. I wish I had found a moment in the intervening years to tell him how much his gesture meant to me. It was a revelation and a confirmation I needed as a teenage girl whose out-of-control thyroid was busy wreaking havoc with her body, mind, and self-esteem.

From third grade on, I was one of those kids--and I suspect Erik was, too--who was a bit too earnest, a bit too bright for my age and too uncomfortable in my own skin. I got picked on a lot from fourth grade through junior high and a bit into high school, and my defense was not to retaliate--I was never good with the quick retort--but to be not only nice to everyone, but to show a genuine interest in whatever they were enthusiastic about. (In fact, Erik often--to my exasperation at the time--started sentences with "You'll find this interesting.") In junior high, high school, and college, I think nerdy or geeky boys like Erik found my kindness and interest, my willingness to really listen, to be a respite from the myriad unkindnesses of adolescence and young adulthood.

One of the last images Erik uploaded to his Flickr account, and a favorite of mine.

I've tried to carry that kindness into adulthood, but one thing I learned from boys and young men like Erik--all those fiercely dorky yet (I now see) lovely guys who took an interest in me when my interest was very much elsewhere--is how to speak and live plainly, in the open, bravely. It hasn't been an easy lesson, and I certainly haven't learned to live as authentically and passionately and creatively as Erik did.

So this past week, as I've been thinking about all the terrific people I've had the great good fortune to have known here and before here, I've been returning often to Erik and to the nice boys--and realizing, to borrow a phrase from Yeats, that my glory was I had, and continue to have, such friends.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

How do you use history?

I'm kind of thinking aloud here, and as an academic I'm hesitant to put baby ideas into print, even virtually, but I'd like to hear your thoughts.

In a month I set off on the tenure track in history, with a trifold focus on U.S., gender, and (especially) public history.

Whereas public historians traditionally have done history for the public--e.g. in museum exhibits or in documentary films--there's a small but growing group of public historians who want to foster and study history done by the public, by passionate amateurs and average folks instead of created for them. I'm one of those historians, and as I transition to life on the tenure track (I'll have 4-5 years to prove I deserve to be employed for the next 30-35 years), I'm searching for a project or two in which I can make significant progress in 3-4 years.

I'm hoping you can help me by telling me a bit about how you use history in your life, either everyday or on special occasions. I want to find a project that not only interests me, but that really gets people excited about engaging with the history of their family, neighborhood, house, community, hobby, or whatever else they're passionate about.

Just FYI, clusters of things that have piqued my interest thus far, in no particular order:

The use of mobile devices to experience additional "layers" of a place

- augmented reality
- GPS-enabled smartphones that provide text or video about a place
- smartphone apps that let people contribute their own stories about a place while they're in it

Crowdsourcing histories

- Davis Wiki does this in cataloging the present and past of an entire city, with no aspirations to objectivity
- The public's use of virtual spaces like the Smithsonian Commons or the Powerhouse Museum's collections database--creating new taxonomies and folksonomies, repurposing historic material in creative ways

Conservatives' uses and abuses of history and historiography

- The Texas school board's revision of the history and social studies curriculum to deemphasize the contributions of people of color and to lionize some very bigoted people.
- The Arizona law that implicitly forbids the teaching of many kinds of ethnic studies.
- Glenn Beck and the Tea Partiers' reinscription of white male privilege in the American historical narrative

The thousands of ways people use history in everyday life, sometimes without realizing they're doing history

- Connecting to their past through personally or communally resonant objects
- Historical reenactment
- Video games, simulations, or alternate reality games inspired by historical places or events
- Communities of genealogists
- Memorials, formal and informal
- Oral histories gathered by amateurs
- Scrapbooking and photo albums

I'm really curious about what happens if a historian (me!) approaches conservatives' uses of history almost at face value, with a good deal of curiosity rather than immediate criticism (academics' typical first response). I'll be living in one of the country's most conservative states, and I'm wondering if there are ways I might engage with some of the more conservative groups in constructing historical projects and programs that

a) are meaningful to them
b) depend on their participation

but also

c) are packed with opportunities for people to learn to do history in more rigorous ways, rather than stick to simplistic K-12 textbook views (or Fox News' views) of history
d) get participants to think critically and creatively about people, places, and events, in light of existing evidence or evidence they've gathered (e.g. through oral histories)
e) prod people on the ends of the political spectrum to engage with one another's stories and in important conversations about community, through historical research and production

Regardless of your political persuasion, if you had access to an eager, energetic, and open-minded historian who wanted to work with you and your friends/neighbors/affinity community on a meaningful project, what might that project or program look like, and why?

Thanks so much. I can't wait to see what my brilliant and creative readers share.

Moving Medley: Last brain cell edition

I think it's telling that, upon hearing I'm moving to Idaho and setting off on the tenure track, a junior professor in the writing program here handed me a miniature version of one of these:

"Now you'll always be sure to have at least one brain cell," she explained cheerfully but also a bit too seriously.

I've been clutching onto that last brain cell for the last couple weeks, rubbing it like a talisman.

We have five full days until the movers arrive. The house feels mostly packed, but it isn't--we're down to the stuff we use everyday and the awkward stuff, like lamps and the mixer, that's so hard to box up.

The boy's excitement is reaching fever pitch. He's demanded that we pack up all his toys and has contented himself with playing with the tons of shredded documents I've been using as packing material. We've given up trying to get him to understand that his friends aren't coming with him to "the faraway home," as he seems to think that his friends will move with us and be able to drop in at any time. It's kind of heartbreaking to watch him playing with a couple of his little best friends for what may be the last time, as the past year he's become very social thanks largely to them.

Fang, too, is having a hard time taking leave of The Last Boy Scout, his best friend here. As I type this, they're both sitting on our shredded couch, playing their electric guitars at a volume that is a bit too respectable, even for the suburbs. TLBS is a local celebrity because he's the drummer for a band popular in the region, so Fang is especially touched that TLBS would come over to the house to jam with Fang, who is still learning to play the guitar. I've got two guys over 6 feet tall giggling a lot as they try to teach each other different licks, and I'm really enjoying the show.

Lucas is stuck with us for a month, as his preschool's academic year doesn't start until mid-August. I figure he'll find ways to amuse himself, but it's going to make it hard for me to finish planning my courses with him asking me to play hide and seek or Play-Doh or take him to the pool.

I'm veering between nostalgia for this place where I've spent a decade—where Lucas was born, where I've made some terrific friends, where we watched a beloved dog grow old and pass into oblivion, where we've lived a thousand little moments that suddenly I feel I must grab at, selfishly filling my arms, and my heart, with them—and a hard-nosed push to finish up my work at the teaching center, pack up everything at home, and arrange for the countless details (utilities off, utilities on, new insurance of various kinds, landlords to pacify, movers to schedule, junk haulers to engage, house cleaners and carpet cleaners and and and) that accompany such a big move.

My dad arrives in a week to help me drive one of our cars up to Idaho—I'm a cruddy long-distance driver unless I have another adult to talk to, and Fang will be driving our other car—and to help us settle into our new place in Boise. My dad has always been a calming influence on me, so I'm looking forward to seeing him.

I'm waking up several times every night thinking of something that needs to get done. This morning, for example, I was up at 2 a.m. changing our address with the postal service, and berating myself for not yet having a carpet cleaner lined up. Stieg Larsson's trilogy is keeping me company in the middle of the night; there's nothing like a Swedish thriller about the underage sex trade to distract me from my midnight panic attacks.

What's new with you?