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.