Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Boy or Cat?

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2005

Motor skills ahoy

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

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

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

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Blessed be

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

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

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

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

I'll resume my regular blogging schedule after Christmas.

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

Friday, December 16, 2005

Latest addiction

Besides reading academic blogs: Google's Book Search.

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

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

Teaching Carnival IV

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

Thursday, December 15, 2005

My recent silence

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


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

Monday, December 12, 2005

Strange obsession

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Surprise, surprise

As seen at Professor Bastard's:

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

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

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

Saturday, December 10, 2005

War on Christmas?

Really, guys, come on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 09, 2005


Every time, I think the papers will grade themselves.

They never do.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rough draft, rough road

Hear that? Those are my teeth grinding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten weeks gone.


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

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

I just want. . .out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Memory Meme

As seen at Polyopia:

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

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

Positive reinforcement

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 05, 2005

Elf hand

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

Can you blame us?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Grocery Griping

I may have latent anger management issues.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Chapter due

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

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

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

Daddy has some fun

. . .with Lucas's bedhead:

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Speak of the Devil

. . .and he goes out and buys himself a pair of Shiny Dude legs:

I am a bad mother

I've gone too long without posting photos of the little dude.

Do you like our matching acne?

He can almost hold his head up now. 'Bout time, son.

Devourer of Worlds

My husband makes fun of my model horse collection sometimes, but his own superhero menagerie is every bit as dorky, I assure you. His latest kick has been to buy cheap-ass figurines that come with part of a bigger toy. He has to buy six smaller toys in order to assemble the larger one. While at first this seemed like an innocent enough diversion, his hunt for the best deal on, say, Galactus's right leg has taken him over to the dark side of retail.

Exhibit A: Galactus

Maybe I can blame our son, Stinky McFussington, whose moods sometime require the soothing rhythms of freeway fathering, a 10-mile drive up and back the rural highway to the neighboring town. But somehow Pete discovered Wal-Mart, a store he had previously used only for cultural spelunking expeditions on a cross-country trip ("Oh, oh! I must have my photo taken in the rifle section!" he exclaimed, shoving his tongue under his lower lip to look as if he was packing chaw). And now suddenly he's stalking the aisles of America's Most Evil Supermart for body parts.

Sure, he could go to the more pedestrian Target—it's the same distance from home, along the same route—but there's something fitting about seeking the Devourer of Worlds at the Devourer of All that is Fair and Just.

Of course, he can't stop with just one megafigure. Now he's on the hunt for legs for this fine fellow:

Exhibit B: The Shiny Dude

Excuse me while I wax metaphorical, but Pete's search for these figures parallels my own quest to finish The Dissertation, Devourer of My Soul. I find I have to buy into all these little theories in the hopes of assembling something bigger and shinier, borrowing an arm from Foucault, a torso from Sandra Harding, a leg to stand on from Donna Haraway. And in the end, who knows if what I'm building will have any value beyond its constituent parts?

What's most worrisome in this analogy? Pete sometimes buys TWO of each figure and keeps one wrapped in its plastic case, an untouched hope for the future. Me, I'm tearing into all the packaging, pillaging what I can for the here and now, articulating joints haphazardly in the hopes of creating some recognizable, and not too Frankensteinian, creature.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Venturing outside again. . .

Today, for the first time in years, I sent in a job application for a position technically outside academia. It's for a job in a museum, one for which I'm not completely qualified, but that I'd love to have, in a museum I visited frequently as a child. I'm pretty sure I could do the job, as I have acquired the required skill sets over the past several years--just not in a museum setting.

How cool would it be to walk past dinosaur skeletons on my way to the office every day?

I'm torn about applying for jobs outside the academy, for all the usual reasons, but mostly now because I've come to really love the flexibility of academic schedules. Yes, as teachers and scholars we work more than 40 hours a week with some regularity, but dammit, I can nap at 2 p.m. every afternoon, snuggled up to my infant son. And that means a lot to me, as does the fact that I can spend a lot of time with my husband, who works from home.

So when I say I'm afraid that I won't land a teaching job, my fears are not entirely about the not-teaching part of that eventuality. There's far more at stake.

Still, dinosaur skeletons and taxidermied habitat groups . . . Gotta love 'em.

Thoughts on Pregnancy and the Body

I just posted some extensive comments at A Delicate Boy, and I thought I'd share them here as well. They were in response to this note:

To our fellow women,

We are students at the University of Hartford and are completing a project for our women weight and worry class.

Many women consider being pregnant a beautiful thing. "Look at her, she's glowing" is usually heard when commenting on another woman's pregnancy. However, when commenting on our own body, our views tend to differ.

Please assist us with our project by responding to the following questions. If needed, feel free to include any additional comments.

Women who have been pregnant and who desire to be pregnant in the future are welcome to respond.


*How do you view pregnancy?
*How did/do you expect your body to change?
*How do you think you would feel/felt during the changes in your body?
*What type of clothing do you think you would/did you wear during your pregnancy? Why? (eg. Would you show your stomach? etc)
*What, if any, information would you want to have made available to make the change of the body easier?

I didn't know how to view my pregnancy during the first trimester. I hadn't yet felt any fluttering or movement from the fetus, and I was sick all the time. I felt my body was betraying me in some way. After all, pregnancy was supposed to be wonderful and glowing, and yet I very clearly remember wondering during one TAship if my students would find it odd if I curled up in a ball on the floor in the corner while the professor lectured. Already, I think, they had suspicions about my increasing consumption of pretzels around the clock.

I expected to put on a lot of weight, and I did: about 40 pounds. But the weight gain was gradual, so aside from my clothes not fitting very well, I didn't feel especially huge until the last couple of months. It didn't help that it was summer, 100+ degrees, and I was trudging all over campus every day. I didn't know a person could sweat so much.

I also was devastated by stretch marks, those big purple tracks that make me look like a lion tried to disembowel me. They're supposedly genetic, and the women on my mom's side of the family didn't get them, so they struck me unawares. I blame my dad's genes.

On clothes: I was glad to be huge during the spring and summer, when I could wear shorts and t-shirts and sneakers (my feet swelled and grew) and not have to worry about looking fashionable or spending lots of money on autumn and winter fashions. I was shocked by how expensive maternity clothes are, so I shopped at discount stores (Motherhood Maternity and Target).

My midsection has never been exposed to the sun, and I wasn't about to start showing it off during my pregnancy.

Honestly, I've been more surprised by the changes in my body post-pregnancy. I lost 30 pounds in a week and a half. That was tough, as was adjusting to breastfeeding. And my body has been gradually deflating over the past three months. Today I wore my favorite pre-pregnancy jeans for the first time in 9 or 10 months. And my wedding ring fits again.

I've come to be more accepting and forgiving of my body. After all, I know now what it's been through. Childbirth was tough for me (almost 40 hours of labor), but I've learned that my body, although not svelte, can do amazing things. I no longer worry about my little pot belly, nor whether a shirt makes my breasts look too big (they all do now).

I don't think I needed much more information on adapting to the changes in my body during pregnancy. (It helped that I received care from midwives, who emphasize the naturalness and beauty of bodily changes during pregnancy.) What was most shocking to me about pregnancy were the truly raging hormones post-partum. The baby blues are the worst, in large part because you're adjusting to living (yet again) in a new, very sore, and still-bleeding body. Only after you've given birth do your friends admit that they thought during their first two weeks as mothers that they had made the worst mistake of their lives. I would have liked to be more prepared for that emotional roller coaster.

I'm white, 30 years old, and a Ph.D. candidate in the interdisciplinary humanities. My son, my first child, is three months old.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Getting worried. . .

. . .about job prospects. Other bloggers, I've noticed, are getting invitations for job talks. I've heard nothing. *sigh*

Could it be that I've graded thousands upon thousands of papers over the past seven years as an "apprentice" for nothing? I'm happy that I've had the experience of grad school and of working with the faculty I've met, but during school I probably could have been working at jobs that paid far more money and that required no grading of papers. And then I'd be better positioned for careers outside the academy.

Of course, compared to some grad students, I am better positioned for careers beyond the ivory tower, since I've had quite a bit of work experience outside the classroom: publishing, arts marketing, journalism, museum education, development.

Time to start applying for administrative jobs, I guess.

(See depression post, below.)

Gah! More plagiarism.

I thought my grading experiences this quarter couldn't get more ironic than the student who plagiarized his "100% plagiarized paper" assignment.

Now I have a student for another class who plagiarized 100% of her paper. The paper topic? Ethics.

I couldn't make this stuff up.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Depression in the Academy

A couple years back I was sitting in on a colloquium talk about mental health, and the researcher used the term "dysthymia." As soon as he did so, many hands went up in the room, with people wanting a definition. He defined the condition as "mild to moderate long-term depression." To which one of the women's studies professors replied, "Oh, it's what we all have." Much dark laughter ensued.

It was a telling moment. I wish academics could collectively be more upfront about the prevalence of depression in our industry. I've lost count of how many grad students and faculty have admitted to being on antidepressants or antianxiety meds. And reading academic blogs, especially those by women who blog anonymously, it's apparent to me that we have a problem that's not being sufficiently addressed.

Universities don't go far enough when they merely provide individual or small-group counseling for depression and related disorders. There needs to be a widespread public-relations campaign about depression in academia, something that reaches every corner of our field--from the Chronicle of Higher Education to a depression awareness month on undergraduate campuses. Regardless of whether or not our students are depressed themselves, it couldn't hurt them to know that so many of us are hurting.

I'm not saying we need to pour our hearts out in front of our students, but rather just acknowledge the fact of depression, that adults have good days and bad days, and sometimes the bad days masquerade as good days, and sometimes we don't have the energy to hide the blues. And we need to be open to addressing depression in the student population, making referrals when necessary and just talking frankly about our personal struggles with depression in a way that isn't necessary painfully self-revelatory. We also need to talk to each other, as grad students and faculty. I'm thinking of discussions along the lines of: "Hey, I understand what you're going through. I've been depressed since age 13. Here's what has worked for me, and here's what has worked for friends of mine. You might look into your options."

Why am I thinking about this right now? Because I have 50 papers to grade and a dissertation chapter due this week, and as a result I'm feeling overwhelmed and I've entered a depressive cycle. I feel depressed about having to do the work, so I put it off by working on other little projects or through garden-variety procrastination: surfing the web, catching up on e-mail, reading the newspaper, etc. Then the deadline pressure builds up to the point where I just break down and sob quietly about all the work I have to do.

Ninety-five percent of the time I manage to make my deadlines despite this depression. But for those 5% of times when I don't, I can't tell you how great it would be to say to the supervising professor, "I'm going to need an extra day/week/month to get this done because I've been dealing lately with depression. I'm being treated for this condition, and I appreciate your understanding." Certainly the professor would understand if we said, "Hey, I've been sick with bronchitis/nausea/migraines/bird flu for the past few days, so I didn't finish grading the papers yet." But there's a stigma attached to depression, so I find I have to be vague or evasive when I ask for an extension. "Yeah. . .I had a, um, family emergency that, um, ate into my paper grading time." And then I have to dodge the follow-up questions.

Fortunately, my advisor, I think, would be understanding. But I know some faculty would not be sympathetic because they have never experienced depression, they have experienced depression but have had more success in dealing with it than I have (i.e. they're high functioning depressives), or they just plain don't think depression ranks seriously enough as an illness or disability to merit special consideration.

Of course, there's the chicken-egg question: does academia cause depression, or are depressives naturally drawn to academic careers? Or is the entire damn country depressed and I just haven't been perceptive enough to notice?

Friday, November 25, 2005

100 things

I've seen this meme elsewhere, and I thought I'd give it a try:

1. My desk gets messy quickly.
2. I used to play French horn. Badly.
3. I hope to play horn again someday, but practicing in an apartment complex is cruel and unusual punishment on the neighbors.
4. Minutes before my son was born, in an attempt to get me to push harder, the midwife asked me, "Do you want this baby? You want this baby, don't you?" At that moment, I wasn't so sure I did.
5. Now I can't imagine life without my son.
6. On paper, my husband and I aren't a good match.
7. In real life, we complement each other quite well. I adore him.
8. I've never experimented with drugs.
9. I've never had a beer because I hate the smell of it and because I've seen too many stupid people drinking it.
10. I tend to leave projects unfinished.
11. As an undergraduate, I transferred schools three times in three semesters, to schools in three different states and three different time zones.
12. I'm extremely happy with the small liberal arts college from which I graduated.
13. I used to have an obsessive-compulsive streak.
14. My dog is an empath and an emotional barometer for my husband.
15. I have the coolest dog in the world.
16. I hated being sixteen.
17. Things got better at age seventeen.
18. My first gray hairs appeared in the last couple of months.
19. I am not patriotic in the conventional sense, and never have been, even when I was a child.
20. Despite my concern for the working class, it is extremely hard for me to "support the troops." This is cause for some embarrassment.
21. I am a pacifist. No, really, I am.
22. After attending several silent meetings last fall, part of me wants to be a Friend (Quaker), but the Christian God thing gets in the way.
23. My favorite lines of poetry come from Yeats's "The Two Trees": "Beloved, gaze in thine own heart / The holy tree is growing there."
24. I love natural history museums and aquaria.
25. I'm not so big on arboreta and botanical gardens.
26. My alma mater recently invited my newborn son to apply for admission to the class of 2028.
27. My son has a very big head, and not just because of that invitation.
28. When I was a little kid, my favorite animals were horses and dinosaurs. They still are.
29. I can doodle pretty damn well.
30. I'm slightly embarrassed to say I would love to have my home decorated by Candice Olson of HGTV's Divine Design.
31. I'm making this list when I should be grading papers.
32. My least favorite part of my job is grading papers.
33. The Washington, DC Capitol Police once threatened to turn me over to the FBI for taking photos of street scenes near the Supreme Court building.
34. I have an M.A. in writing poetry.
35. I'm very close to my mom's highly functional family.
36. On my dad's side of the family, I was lapped generationally not once, but twice. My mom and dad were a great-great-aunt and uncle long before I ever even thought of having a child.
37. I have never distinguished myself athletically.
38. But I try to take horseback riding lessons when I have the resources to do so.
39. I used to ride huntseat, but now I prefer dressage.
40. I was once bitten on the butt by an angry mare while buckling a girth. The bruise was incredibly large. Ends up horses bite hard.
41. I like to write angry letters, but I save them for special occasions. Like being detained by the Capitol Police.
42. My least favorite chore is vacuuming, yet it gives me the most satisfaction when it's done.
43. If I weren't so lazy and weak, I'd rearrange my furniture every month.
44. I've been vegetarian for 15 years, ever since we spent three weeks dissecting fetal pigs in 10th-grade biology.
45. I collect model horses.
46. I'm addicted to reading blogs by academics and parents with young children.
47. I wish my blog entries were wittier. My husband's blog is very funny.
48. I'm a talented procrastinator.
49. I'm not very good at finding new music on my own.
50. One of my favorite things to do is to read a good book until I fall asleep.
51. People who smoke in public make me very, very angry. In a not entirely rational way.
52. I felt this way about smokers long before I had a child.
53. My favorite place to live would be the central California coast because it's so damn beautiful.
54. But part of me likes the slower pace of life I experienced when I was living in central Iowa.
55. When I was growing up, I hated Southern California because I loathed urban life and suburban sprawl.
56. I'm still ambivalent about SoCal, but because my family is there, I imagine I'll return there someday soon.
57. In this age of conservative politics, I've come to like western California's left-leaning ways. I'm a fifth- or sixth-generation Californian, but I've just recently, in my late 20s and early 30s, begun to consider this state my home.
58. My dissertation isn't going to write itself.
59. I'm about halfway finished with that project. It's due to be finished this spring.
60. I'm getting increasingly nervous about my chances on the academic job market.
61. I've had two jobs that required me to handle and talk about insects, including whip scorpions, giant African millipedes, and hissing cockroaches.
62. I never thought I'd enjoy motherhood this much. I can't wait to introduce my son to "scary" insects.
63. A lot of my peers seem impressed by how much I have on my plate right now: seeking jobs, writing my dissertation, TAing for two classes, breastfeeding and raising an infant. "How do you get everything done?" they ask. I think they'd be even more impressed if they knew about the sheer amount of time I spend procrastinating or on leisure activities. But I won't tell them about that. I don't want to out myself as a major procrastinator or make them feel bad for not being as productive.
64. Next to my dissertation advisor, I'm wholly unproductive. It's nice to have a good role model, though.
65. I don't have a favorite color.
66. The messiest room in the house has always been the one where I do my writing.
67. I've read all kinds of books on getting organized. None of their advice stuck.
68. I've never been comfortable around clowns, costumed sports mascots, costumed Disney characters, or the like.
69. I've only been to the circus once.
70. Once was more than enough.
71. I've never broken a bone.
72. I miss Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
73. I seek consolation for that loss by watching Monk, Lost, My Name is Earl, and House.
74. While writing my dissertation, I haven't read nearly enough academic books. Parts of hundreds of them, yes, but not enough entire books.
75. I worry about being interdisciplinary. It's kind of like being in middle school again, where I didn't really belong to any groups--I just sort of sat embarrassedly on the edges of other people's lives and interests.
76. I only became an extrovert in grad school. College was a long transition from introversion (needing time alone to recharge) to extroversion (needing contact with people to reenergize).
77. My least favorite characteristic in other people is arrogance.
78. I have very vivid dreams.
79. Lately my dreams have been about being taken to a place where I don't know anyone and where things are out of my control. Usually my life or that of my parents, husband, or sister is in jeopardy, but we always come through OK.
80. Last night I had my first anxiety dream about becoming separated from my son. It scared me. A lot.
81. My favorite children's book, when I was a child and now, is Goodnight Moon.
82. My favorite authors include Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, and Stephen Jay Gould.
83. My dissertation gets harder, not easier, to write as a progress through it.
84. I think about my dissertation a lot. Probably more than I actually work on it, unless thinking (OK, fretting) counts as work.
85. I am ambivalent about breastfeeding.
86. I want to raise my son to be a feminist. That does not mean I want him to be a sissy boy.
87. I don't know any feminists who are sissies.
88. My dad once said he didn't consider himself a feminist until he had daughters.
89. I'm delighted that I was a catalyst for my father's feminism, even though all I had to do was be born.
90. Today my son, aged 11.5 weeks, learned to turn the pages of a book. I'm thrilled.
91. I'm responsible for introducing my son to books. His father is covering his musical education. An esteemed professor of American Studies has promised to introduce him to the Three Stooges canon.
92. I find it difficult to write about myself for 100 lines. It's taken me three days so far.
93. I was in labor 39.5 hours with my son. He was born, fittingly, on Labor Day.
94. I was born in June.
95. I wore braces for eight years. ¡Eight!
96. My mother wore them for ten.
97. I've studied Spanish and French but I'm lousy at both of them.
98. Which is funny because language arts were always easy for me while I was growing up.
99. That said, I need to practice writing more often. I've become less proficient at it.
100. So I'll conclude with the words of Margaret Wise Brown: Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Coughing? Check.
Shorter sleep periods during the night? Check.
Inconsolable wailing? Check.
Low-grade fever? Check.
Chewing on bottle nipple instead of sucking? Yep.
Signs of actual teeth? Nada.

So the little guy is 11 weeks old today, which is too young to be teething, really, but he was in a foul mood almost all day. Didn't want to nap, slept less than an hour between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. It could've been gas causing his discomfort, but his fussing was a different kind of crying, a piercing wail that I've only heard once before, when he received his first round of vaccinations.

Whatever it is, my heart goes out to the poor little dude.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


There's something about revision that not only sharpens my writing, but also my mind. I don't do nearly enough of it these days.

But now I will, as I have a difficult chapter due in 12 days. Eeek!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It's a faint glimmer of a headlight right now, but the dissertation train will eventually pull into graduation station.

Tonight I managed to write a couple more pages, important ones that frame a difficult chapter. I've decided to risk some reflexivity, to reflect on my methodology in thinking through the chapter's content. It may get cut later, but maybe it'll prove interesting and useful in the context of the chapter.

In an unexpected turn of events, I have a chart. I've been reading all these books on organizational studies and science studies, and so many of them have nifty little charts, half of which I can't begin to understand. But I like the idea of having a visual summary for the phenomenon I'm trying to illustrate, even if it is a bit clunky right now.

Yay for me.

Dear Sweetie

This post by YelloCello, who is expecting, is so lovely, and sums up so much of what I've been thinking about lately (before and after the birth), that I just wanted to share it. Especially apt are her comments on how her partner and her have changed: "How did he get like that? How did I get like this? Better, and so much happier than before? We raised each other to be better people. So we might do just fine with a newborn."

I'd just like to take this opportunity to remind my sweetheart that we are, indeed, doing just fine with our newborn, who is finally beginning to look not-so-newborn. A few things:

1) We need to accept that Lucas is not going to sleep through the night until he's a teenager. Hopefully he'll go, say, 6 or 7 hours in the next few weeks. I agree with you that the current two-hour standard and 2 or 4 a.m. waking-up-for-the-day is not acceptable. But until he figures out how to really slumber, we must be patient.

2) There's no magic trick to getting him to sleep through the night. Sorry.

3) His piercing wails are not a commentary on your parenting. He loves you very much. (He smiles when you enter the room, Silly!)

4) But yes, that cry that goes waaah! (short pause) waaaah! (short pause) waaaah! does indeed mean he's hungry. He's not faking it, as--despite your protestations to the contrary--he can't yet dissemble or manipulate. Give him enough food and the crying will stop. I promise.

5) We're still learning, and we'll be learning for a long time yet. But already I see that you're a fabulous father. I know that sentiment is little comfort during the 4 a.m. wailfest, but please remember that you're doing a terrific job, and that I love you and the little guy soooo much. Thank you thank you thank you.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Another grading lament

Why, why, WHY did I agree to TA for two classes this quarter? (For the money, Stupid.)

This means that between Wednesday and Thursday, I'll collect 150 papers to grade. Eeeeeeek! And my parents are coming into town Thursday through Sunday. . . Their visit will be a terrific excuse to procrastinate on the grading, but that means the following week is really going to hurt.

Maybe I should be focusing my job search on big research universities so that I can have a TA for a change.


It hurts. A lot. And yes, I've heard it said that if nursing hurts after the first two or three weeks, it's because the little guy has a bad latch.

So let's get that out of the way: his latch is fine.

Also, I don't have thrush. Been there, done that. It was massively painful, and the pain I feel now is merely muffled-scream-inducing. I no longer break out in a sweat at the mere thought of nursing.

I've bought into the "breast is best" philosophy. And into all the accompanying romanticized imagery: the drowsy, contented baby who's just finished a nighttime feeding, a drop of milk dribbling from the corner of his contented mouth. And yes, I have experienced that. It's nice—especially since it means the most painful part of breastfeeding is over, and that I have a break for two hours or so.

Of course, breast is best for Lucas. And over the long haul, it's best for me, too—I concede that. However, on a day-to-day level, breastfeeding is kind of wretched. As I mentioned before, it hurts. And it's kind of boring; there's not much to do except watch TV, as turning the pages of a book, magazine, or newspaper can be a challenge when Lucas is actively nursing. Breastfed babies wake up more often during the night than do formula-fed babies, which means Pete and I are at least mildly sleep-deprived a good deal of the time. (In fact, Lucas is sleeping shorter stretches than when he was younger. Grrrrrr.)

Plus, Lucas nurses for at least half an hour at a stretch. That's down from his previous marathon sessions of 45 minutes to an hour, thank goodness. But he nurses vigorously—his suck is so strong, in fact, that he frequently bears indentation marks from a pacifier on his face. Yikes!

Despite all these obstacles, I aim to stick it out for a year, mostly because I'd feel unbearably guilty about depriving Lucas of mother's milk, and I imagine I'd miss the closeness engendered by nursing several times a day. He does get 2-3 formula feedings each day (and my milk production doesn't appear to have decreased at all, despite this supplementing), so that provides me with some relief. But for the record, it's still damn hard.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Is it just me, or is there some inherent delight in catching plagiarists?

. . .Especially when they've cheated on an assignment that called for plagiarism? (See assignment description in "Updates," below.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Yesterday Lucas had his first vaccinations. Much screaming ensued, and we introduced him to the magic of baby Tylenol. After that, he slept and slept and slept. Maybe he should have shots every week. . .

Today he was fussy. It's as if yesterday he figured out how to scream and now he wants to practice this new skill with some regularity. The usual soothing methods aren't working very well (with the exception of the sling, which puts him to sleep almost immediately, and breastfeeding), so that's been a bit frustrating.

But overall I'm still enjoying the whole motherhood thing. It's easy to say that now because Lucas is still at the point where we can set him down without worrying that he'll roll over or scoot away or start swallowing loose change. Must write as much of my dissertation as possible while he's still a very lively paperweight. . .

Still no theory

So I'm still in search of a theory, The Theory to unify the dissertation, or at least this hellish chapter. The three big stacks of books on my desk testify that I've been looking pretty damn hard.

It's clear to me now why my first advanced degree was in creative writing: I just want to tell little stories, not make pronouncements. . .

The boy is stirring. Must log off.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Happy Halloween!

From our Sweetpea. . .

Multiple (Academic) Personalities

One of the perils of being in cultural studies is job applications. Lots of job postings call for interdisciplinarity, but when it comes down to it, I'm guessing disciplines will hire their own, especially considering how competitive the market is right now. How many cultural studies Ph.D.s work in history or English departments, I wonder?

As a result, I find myself constantly defining and redefining myself in my cover letters. At noon today I was a historian; at 3 p.m. a museum studies practitioner; and now I'm a feminist theorist. So much for having a strong, centered sense of an academic self.

I'm looking for tips, therefore, on how others with interdisciplinary degrees have made this transition into disciplinary departments. Comments?

Saturday, October 29, 2005


When Lucas is happy, he lets out an emphatic "La!"

He's feeling very La! today. And that makes me feel La! too.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Because it's all about the photos

Lucas loves the play gym his great-grandmother gave him.

7.5 weeks of Pure Cute.

Seriously. I need a theory.

Standpoint theory isn't sexy enough, nor is debunking it. Organizational theory? Philosophy of science? All so dense. . .

Where is my left brain when I need it?

Students and the library

After my many years at this university, I'm still shocked at the number of senior students I've encountered who don't know how to use the library. The fault lies in part with the students lacking initiative, of course, but also, I think, with instructors who don't assign research papers. Yesterday I once again helped a senior who had only ever written one research paper, and who had never used the library's electronic databases to find journal articles. She had spent hours at a computer only to turn up three newspaper articles on her relatively common topic.

Obviously my high school experience was aberrant, but when I was in tenth grade my biology teacher expected us to use the local university library to undertake our research.* As a result, I found myself in a Cal State U. library at age 15 and frequently thereafter. Shouldn't such basic research skills be required of all college-bound students, or at least forced upon them when they arrive at college? Those skills (along with a healthy dose of critical thinking faculties) certainly would improve their papers.

*Does this statement make me sound old? I also walked to school in the snow; it was uphill both ways, and I had to carry a sick chicken under each arm. (OK, I made up the part about the chickens.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


All right, my chickens have come home to roost.

I've always loathed reading mainstream cultural studies theory, and when I was required to do so for graduate seminars, I usually did the reading, took a few notes (maybe), participated a bit in class, and then promptly forgot what I had read before jamming my brain full of the next week's dose of densely- (and too frequently poorly-) written articles. That's a horrible admission, isn't it? Perhaps I can redeem myself by saying that I read other material outside of class that did stick with me? But now those texts aren't helping me much either.

See, I'm much more of an American studies person, and in my experience, American studies isn't as good with the high-falutin' theories for which a dissertation in cultural studies seems to call. I love reading articles and books based heartily in the world, texts that reference material culture and draw conclusions about the culture whence it comes without relying too heavily on the popular theorists of the day. But it ends up I'm still learning how to do that myself, and perhaps a cultural studies dissertation just isn't the place to try to generate meaningful new theories. I dunno.

I usually embrace interdisciplinarity, but theory-wise, it's a hard position to maintain, especially when I think about targeting particular chapters toward journals or job talks. The theories I know from the fields in which some people think I fall—science and technology studies, history and philosophy of science, feminist theory, history, cultural studies—just don't seem to work for my dissertation. . .or at least they're not meeting my needs in terms of a unifying theory or two for my project.

Part of the problem is that cultural studies theories on museums deal almost exclusively with representation, with the content of exhibitions rather than with the actual people who work(ed) behind the scenes. And the feminist theories that I used to espouse—namely the idea of standpoint or situated knowledge—just aren't working out as well as I thought they would in the face of archival evidence about women museum scientists. I don't want to force those scientists into too tight a dress, theoretically speaking.

What to do? I'm giving myself a week—yes, a whole week—to figure this one out. And then I must move on.

Cradle Cap

Ick. Ick ick ick.

Lucas is starting to develop cradle cap: oily hair, greasy scalp, dandruff. When I shampooed his hair tonight I noticed it was getting worse. I'm researching treatments, but none of them seem especially promising. I'm also worried that his mild case will balloon into a nastier one. Keep your fingers crossed for us, and if you have any miracle tips, please let me know.

Monday, October 24, 2005


For the first time in a couple of months I've made some progress on my dissertation. I was able to go through some archival material and articles and write three pages. Pete took responsibility for Lucas for 3.5 hours, during which time--poor Pete--Lucas only slept for about 45 minutes. Now Lucas is down for his nap, so I've been able to get even more done. Wheeeeee!

I'm even cooking dinner for myself and thus feeling very human.

I've realized yet again that my dissertation needs a better articulation of its theoretical underpinning. Now if only I could ascertain to which theories I'm in thrall. . . *sigh*

Sunday, October 23, 2005


I should be sleeping now, but I've been feeling a bit manic lately (note the frequency of posts here). I think it's because I'm finally recovering from childbirth (7 weeks out--it's about time) and I'm adjusting to the new sleep schedule.

I'm excited about having four uninterrupted hours--courtesy of Pete, who will be watching Lucas--to work on my dissertation tomorrow. Such a gift! I would be working on it now, but rummaging through my files would wake the boy.

My goal for tomorrow: to write two sections of chapter 3. Figure out, finally, what was going on with the National Science Club and a couple of other Washington, D.C.-based scientific associations and clubs and their significance to my work (there's the sticky wicket).

Equine clutter

I have mixed feelings about my model horse collection.

A bit of background: I began collecting model horses as a child, and then during my college years put them in storage in my parents' garage. Upon returning to graduate school a few years back, I took the horses out of storage, purged the collection by selling or giving away many of the models, and then gradually began to build back up my collection by purchasing horses that really catch my eye. The collection grows slowly--this year I think I've only bought 4 or 5 horses, if even that many.

I participate once or twice a year in live shows--events where model horse people gather to socialize and to compete in tabletop halter and performance classes. I find the competition considerably less compelling than the shows' social atmosphere and the hobby's demographics and politics. I'm just starting a big research project, in fact, on the hobby and its hobbyists; you can check it out here. So I'm not looking to get out of the hobby.

But I do feel somehow held captive by my horses. About thirty of them peek out from bookshelves in my living room. A few more hide in a trunk that serves as a side table next to my couch. Still others are in a cabinet in my bedroom; those are candidates for customization--when I have time, I like to give the horses more realistic paint jobs. In one sense they sit neatly on the shelves, but they also seem to me to be somehow disorderly. And when visitors comment on the horses, I feel childish--as if they won't understand that the most active participants in this hobby are adult women.

If I sold all my horses except the few that hold truly sentimental value for me because they were given to me by my parents or grandmother, I'd pocket probably $1500 or so. And so part of me wants to sell them to pay down some debt. But at the same time, I can't quite bring myself to list the horses to eBay or to the Model Horse Sales Pages. Partly this is because the horses provide me with entry to the live show circuit--they serve as a cover, so to speak, for my research project, and I feel the better my collection, the more seriously I'll be taken by the hobbyists in attendance. Maybe that's silly, but it's what my gut tells me.

I guess I want to live simply, to shed unnecessary possessions. Part of this is practical: we have too much stuff in this apartment. But part of it is spiritual--as I said in an earlier post, the physical clutter in my home is indicative of mental clutter. I want to be free of that.

Maybe this week, in those few daytime moments when I'm not working on school stuff or caring for Lucas, I'll try to cull the collection again. It needs refining.

If I leave academia. . .

I will not miss grading papers--especially as a TA, when I don't get much of a say (if any) in the design of the assignments I'm grading. And if I'm reading 50-100 of these puppies, the assignment had better be (a) meaningful and (b) well-designed.

As a TA, I've learned much from the professors under whom I'm served; I've incorporated much of that I've learned into the design of my own courses. However, the grading load this quarter is looking pretty onerous, so I just thought I'd complain preemptively.

It doesn't help that the students whose work I'm reading usually arrive in my classroom underprepared as writers and critical thinkers by their high schools. Where have all the hard-core English teachers gone?

Establishing routines

Just wanted to share that Pete and I have agreed that he'll watch the boy from 10-2 on MWF so that I can be sure to dedicate at least 12 hours/week to my dissertation. Yay!

Attachment parenting?

We've decided here at the Clutter Museum that 11 a.m. is nap time for Lucas. We're not into sleep training (I can't stand the thought of letting him cry himself to sleep at this age), but we are into productivity (and its cousin, sanity), so we're trying to get him used to taking a nap at this time of day. We breastfeed or give him some extra warm formula, hold him until he's drowsy, and then lay him down in the middle of our bed, where he seems to like to sleep in the middle of the day. If he wakes back up quickly, I turn on some lullabies or read Goodnight Moon to him and then quietly back out of the room. The books by sleep experts say establishing a routine before bedtime is essential to success.

Today it's not going as well as usual. He's crying intermittently. In such instances, I usually rush into the room to pacify him, but Pete has been encouraging me not to be so quick about running to Lucas's side because, as Pete points out, the little guy will usually stop fussing after only a minute, unless he's hungry or gassy, in which case he'll let us know if he needs our assistance by screaming at the top of his lungs. So. . . I'm using all my willpower not to run into the bedroom when he fusses. I've busied myself by doing things that benefit him--washing his bottles, folding his blankets, etc.--making myself believe that this kind of proxy care is a justifiable reason to ignore his fussing. I am, after all, still caring for him when I undertake these tasks.

I probably should feed him, even though he's already nursed quite a bit this morning. But breastfeeding has all along been painful for me--his latch is fine, I've been told, but he has a very powerful suck, and we shared a bout of thrush early on--and at the moment I'm feeling especially tender, so I'm waiting for the formula water to cool down enough for me to give it to him. Supplementing with formula still on occasion makes me feel guilty, but cracked nipples call for extreme measures, no?

As a new parent, I'm trying not to subscribe strictly to one school of parenting advice or another, but I find myself drawn naturally (and increasingly) to attachment parenting. It seems to work well with Lucas. Wearing him in the sling or Baby Björn soothes him, as does bringing him onto the couch or bed with me when he's especially fussy around 4 a.m. I'm even getting used to leaving the house with him; where carting him around used to make me really anxious, now it's fairly enjoyable.

Does this mean we'll have a family bed until he's 8 years old and I'll breastfeed him until he's 4? Certainly not. But I'm enjoying being close to him while he's so vulnerable and so damn cute.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Why the Clutter Museum?

I am surrounded by clutter, physical and mental. I'm not a pack rat, but I do have the collector's impulse to acquire particular things: books, mostly, and also model horses. Books and horses for the most part sit neatly on shelves. But because I'm a visual person--I need to keep items related to particular tasks in sight in order to keep them in mind--things accumulate around me: sticky notes (virtual ones on my Mac desktop as well as paper notes), pens, bills, papers from projects on which I'm working, assorted baby paraphernalia. The physical clutter reflects the mental clutter, all those barely begun, half-finished, and perpetually unfinished projects. My environment is a museum showcasing all the things I've wanted to accomplish but never have.

That sounds sad, I know, but it needn't be. My thoughts, and therefore my life, proceed not linearly, but in associative leaps. I shed the clutter of my life periodically, and move on to the next thing, and it's a hopeful, cleansing process. I'm at one of those moments right now as I apply for jobs for next fall, struggle to finish my dissertation, and learn how to raise a son.

Having a baby has put things in perspective. While I'm learning to put together a book-length work and better define myself as a scholar, Lucas is learning how to smile:

In the face of that face, everything else suddenly seems less urgent.

Joining the fray

I've never been much of a night owl, but having a 6-week-old infant certainly messes with the sleep schedule. I've found myself up at odd moments, reading blog after blog, and realizing, hey, my life is as insignificant as all these other blog writers', but they have a public forum, so why shouldn't I?

Seriously, I want someplace to post my thoughts as my life takes a sharp turn in a new direction: entering motherhood, finishing my Ph.D. , embarking on the job market, and more. It's going to be a helluva year, folks.

So welcome to the Clutter Museum.