Sunday, August 31, 2008
New Kid on the Hallway on the way that the press is framing the abortion issue as part of Palin's narrative. As if every woman who has given birth since Roe has not made a choice (except those where services are not provided).* As if every pro-choice woman chooses to abort. As if there is an empirically "right" choice. The most frustrating thing about this narrative is noted in the first comment to New Kid's post. Palin chose. She chose. She was not compelled to have a child with Down's Syndrome. She chose, and this is considered heroic in the NYT story. Yet, she and her party want to eliminate every other woman's right to do exactly what she did. It's rather patronizing, don't you think? SHE can be trusted with a choice, but the rest of us shouldn't. Her choice was correct, the rest of ours might be wrong.
Knitting Clio takes up a similar topic and focuses on Palin's involvement with Feminists for Life, an organization that perhaps best illustrates one of the problems with Trivial Pursuit history by using the anti-abortion stand of 19th century feminism to justify the anti-choice position as a feminist issue. As Knitting Clio points out, however, Feminists for Life have stripped this information from all context of the history of birth control and sexuality. Palin's membership seems to be a way of using feminism to promote a distinctly un-feminist agenda.
Hecate at Echidne of the Snakes takes into consideration the media's culpability in creating a misogynist narrative that designates some women as "correct" and others as "incorrect." She imagines the sort of media coverage that Palin would receive if she were Obama's pick. Her speculation hearkens back to the sort of pillory that H. Clinton has endured -- and, indeed, any woman who dares to venture into a public sphere.
Historiann, who has a series of posts and links, rightly points out that the press, in covering these moments in women's history as they happen has completely ignored actual women's historians, or even women historians. Dudes, with no expertise in women's history, are commenting on women's history.
This puts me in mind of some of my graduate classes. If the week's readings had anything to do with gender, the men in the class all shut up.** When the professor asked them why they were so silent that week, they all said, "well, I'm not really an expert in women's history. I don't know much about it." As if that ever stopped them from commenting on anything before! Maybe the professor should have brought in a t.v. camera?
Bitchiness aside (if you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me),*** this absence of women's historians, Historiann points out, is just symptomatic of the inherent and unexamined sexism within both the media and the Democratic party. This is what most distresses me about this Palin nomination. The Republicans are more skilled at recognizing that women vote, that women admire strong women, and that women are dying to vote for a strong woman.
The Democrats take women's votes for granted because their policies tend towards helping women and the types of conditions under which women live (I say "tends" because you really have to qualify anything liberal that the Democratic party as a whole does). Indeed, I wonder about the class, geographical and racial demographics of women in the Republican party versus those of the Democratic party. Do they resemble the men?
In any case, I don't tend to get too involved in these sorts of party politics, partly because I'm bit of a self-absorbed flibbertigibbet, and mostly because I feel so alienated from the outcome of party politics. I vote Democratic because they are as about as far left as you can go and expect to get results. I feel like they are the last -- last, not best -- line of defense between me and the intense, "I got mine, fuck the rest of you," hell that is the Republican party.
Getting back to the disturbing thing about this nomination. Just as with Hillary Clinton, (and I tend to side with Twisty Faster in not calling H. Clinton "Hillary" while calling all men by their last names), the nomination of a woman by the opposing side seems to bring out the barely concealed misogyny of Democratic pundits. As Historiann points out, they seem to not realize how much they alienate their female supporters by using sexist language as part of their arsenal against opposing women. They don't realize that they are essentially confessing to thinking that we are still "girls" and detestable, that they call us "bitch" when we leave the room. (I also wonder if there would have been this PUMA phenomena -- a very sexist discussion -- had H. Clinton taken the nomination rather than Obama.)
Tenured Radical, Professor Zero, and WOC, PhD both point out that the whole "Palin as a victory for feminism debate" is really just smoke-and-mirror from the Republican party, one of which Palin herself is quite aware and uses. As Tenured Radical, Professor Zero, and WOC, PhD very strongly remind us, Palin's policies and positions are, essentially, Republican, and therefore not feminist, not friendly to women, not friendly to gays, not friendly to people of color, not friendly to the environment or its inhabitants, not friendly to anyone except the people who fund her party.
You know, I always thought that the first president from a marginalized group would be a Republican. To get into the halls of power, you first have to prove that you support the existing power structure, so you can't have too much of the whiff of activism about you. This is the terrible irony of the political game that is at play here.
Say that McCain wins (god help us), or say that he wins then suffers a heart-attack and dies (hi, FBI, just speculating here, not making any plans in that direction). Palin would be the first female vice-president in the first instance and the first female president in the second. Yet, at the same time, she would support legislation and appoint Supreme Court justices that curtail the rights of other women. If you wrote a novel or made a movie about that, no one would believe it.
Speaking of movies, I am reminded of The Contender here, which I haven't seen since it came out on video, but thought bore mentioning.
* I have a brother because my very pro-choice mother chose to have him.
** Except Babu. Babu, the only man in our women's history class, was much better at understanding women's history than the Palin-like Republican women in our class.
***That's also a nod to Historiann's reference to Alice Roosevelt Longworth. God, what a fabulous bitch Longworth was!
Thursday, August 28, 2008
I confess to feeling as if I'm cheating on her, or insulting her, or even taunting her by merely writing this post on the ole girl (I'm the same way about my car).
Meanwhile, a pretty picture of a moth outside of my office building:
Monday, August 25, 2008
1. My uncle was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He served two (or was it three?) tours. This killed his marriage to my aunt, who, at age 20, had a hard time living officer's wife lifestyle. He wasn't my uncle for much longer.
2. Never in my life have I been thoroughly satisfied or completely relaxed. I am, as they would say in the seventies, uptight.
3. When I was five I could read chapter books. They saved my butt, literally. Before I could read, I would get into lots of trouble, for which my rear-end suffered endlessly. When I learned to read, my mom could count on me staying quiet and out of mischief, and I escaped further spankings. (Here come the SiteMeter hits for "spankings.")
4. High school was a pure, unmitigated hell of self-loathing.
5. I will never forget anything bad. My brain just dig those paths deeper into my memory. I hate it.
6. Once I met no one in particular.
7. There’s this boy I know whose parents have to stay healthy and alive for the next 15-18 years because, if they die, the kid becomes mine. I'm a much better aunt than I would be a mom.
8. Once, at a bar, something happened, but I wasn't there.
9. By noon, I will be awake.
10. Last night I watched Mad Men. Twice. Yeah, it was that good.
11. If only I had a brain.
12. Next time I go to church it will burst into flames. Or I will.
13. What worries me most is EVERYTHING. Disaster is around every turn.
14. When I turn my head left I see books.
15. When I turn my head right I see the t.v.
16. You know I’m lying when I am lying. I am the world's worst liar. Bullshitting, on the other hand...
17. What I miss most about the Eighties are leg warmers, permed hair, and shoulder pads. Man, I miss shoulder pads.
18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be Hamlet.
19. By this time next year I will be a year older and we can only hope a year wiser. I may even still live in the same place.
20. A better name for me would be...you know, I named myself for this blog, then wrote two posts about out, so that should be good enough; but if I had to choose a THIRD name, it would be Bitch N. Moan. For obvious reasons.
21. I have a hard time understanding why I bitch and moan so much and for so damn long.
22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll go stark, raving mad! That is, assuming that we are talking about getting a degree, of course. Three graduate degrees is quite enough for one lifetime. If we are talking about random classes, then I'll take acting. Which I am!
23. You know I like you if I make multiple flat and awkward attempts to compliment you or become so effusive around you that you think, "good god! What a big nerd!" Also, if I bitch to you a lot. Lucky you! Or, if I bake something for you. Cookies always say, "I like you!"
24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be whoever listened to the majority of my bitching...probably Babu or My Human.
25. Take my advice, don't listen to me. I'm a person who worries constantly then makes major decisions by saying, "what the hell?"
26. My ideal breakfast is surprisingly not candy. It's more like lunch.
27. A song I love but do not have is actually none. If I want to listen to a song repeatedly, then I get it from iTunes.
28. If you visit my hometown, (as in, where I grew up) go in winter, or stay near an air conditioner. Expect to spend a lot of time in traffic, too.
29. Why won’t people just be nice, dammit!
30. If you spend a night at my house you can have the bed, I'll take the sofa.
31. I’d stop my wedding for anything; but then, I wouldn't be getting married.
32. The world could do without humans.
33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than get married, or put up with too much bullshit, which is pretty much the same thing.
34. My favorite blondie is a tie between My Human and Vuboq. Unless any of you are blondes, then you just make the competition more difficult. My nephews both started out blonde, and they are Teh Cutes! Maybe I should just stick to the fantasies Daniel Craig and Kate Winslet (when she was luscious and curvy).
35. Paper clips are more useful than the current occupant of the White House. They are useful and hold things together.
36. If I do anything well it is bitch and moan. Really, I could win an award.
37. I can’t help but feel righteous indignation about anything, but particularly when people are pissing me off or are treating other people unjustly.
38. I usually cry when I'm off my meds for too long, and when I leave my parents because I'm always afraid that will be the last time I see them.
39. My advice to my nephews is, "your dads are full of shit when it comes to women."
40. And by the way, I still got nothing, but at least it filled up a post for the day!
Friday, August 22, 2008
"Two words," I said. "Or maybe it's actually one? I can never tell, but it involves cows."
"Was that too opinionated?" I asked.
"No," he said. "That was actually quite restrained. Look, I've been collecting quotes all morning."
He showed me his list: "'It's a faculty-driven process.' 'We want to be a community of practitioners, not individuals.' 'It's something we already do.'"
Apparently, I wasn't the only disgusted one. Thank goodness, because that was the one saving grace of a very annoying morning at the Outcome Assessments orientation meeting.
As this process was explained to us, the teachers, by the Kool-Aid drinkers, the people running the orientation, Outcomes Assessment is something "we all already do." Teachers set up "learning objectives," then "assess student learning." That is, we list the ideas, skills, information, that will be covered in the class and test the students to see if they learned what they were supposed to learn. In other words, duh! That is pretty much the job of teaching at its most basic level.
As explained to us, we have to go through this whole Outcomes Assessment process of meeting and setting up an "assessment tool" (the nine question quiz I mentioned in my prior bitch on the subject) and delivering the assessment tool and collecting the "data" from the assessment tool in order to "standardize what we already do."
Don't say "standardize" to a roomful of teachers. "Standardize" conjures up "standardized tests."
Which was, of course, the next talking point. This is not a standardized test, they told us, because "standardized tests are imposed by outside organizations." This is "a completely faculty-driven process." At which point, I wondered if they actually heard themselves or if they drank a little too much of the Kool-Aid because, from what I could tell, the faculty were being driven to do this process by the administration, who was being driven to do it by accreditation and funding agencies, who were being driven to do it by some outside source that no one could seem to identify. "Outcomes Assessment" is no more "faculty driven" than the plantations were slave driven, if "driven" means controlled by an empowered faculty. We were actually being told to police ourselves or be policed by someone else.
Make no mistake, the suggestion that someone else could police us was implied in suggestions of other accreditation agencies that impose the assessments and of "factions out there who want standardized tests." We were told that "this is the future, it's here to stay with no signs of going away, so you might as well get involved in the process." Also, we were reminded, our contracts require that we as individuals participate.
"So focus on the student learning segment of this process," the head Kool-Aid drinker told us. The ostensible reason for assessing outcomes is to determine if our students are learning and, if they are not, how we can improve "their learning." Which sounds great, except this whole process is about standardization and data collection, not about how students learn and how we can improve their learning. The solutions are supposed to "come through the conversations that you will have because the conversations are really the most valuable thing that comes out of this process."
Besides, as the head Kool-Aid drinker's boss said, "this is very much like any other profession. Attorneys have the bar, accountants have the CPA exam, we have this."
I wondered how that worked, because, you see, I took a comprehensive exam and wrote a dissertation that got published as a book all in order to be admitted into my profession. The American Bar Association is a professional organization that set the standards for all attorneys. Accountants and doctors have similar professional organizations that set the standards for their fields. This Outcomes Assessment thing is most certainly not like any of that. Outcomes Assessment is imposed by an organization to which none of the faculty belong, and from outside of the college.
Now, to review, Outcomes Assessment "standardizes" something that we already do all so that we can have "conversations about teaching and learning," which we also already do, to prove that we are true professionals, which we have already done. So why do we have to do spend all of this extra time, during which we could actually be reading books or grading or preparing for class or whatever the hell else it is that we do, in order to work on Outcome Assessments?
At long last, the Kool-Aid drinkers mentioned the real source of this movement: the funding and accreditation agencies (and even they may be influenced by something else). Funding and accreditation agencies want numbers.
Yet, what the Kool-Aid drinkers failed to realize was that, in approaching us for the numbers, they insult our intelligence. Despite all of the talk about "we already do this anyway," their presumption is that we aren't doing it well, if at all. This sort of data is already being collected, but they are assuming that data is somehow tainted, unscientific, or otherwise unacceptable. Despite their talk about "focus on student learning," they actually don't have any segment that honestly addresses the things that prevent students from learning because, if they did, they would want to quantify that.
This all led me to wonder a few things. First of all, does all of this assessing of outcomes really justify itself? If they are in earnest about educating students, has all of this Outcome Assessment really improved education, and how do they determine that? How do they actually know that it is working? Wouldn't the money be better spent in programs that help students be better students or teachers be better teachers based on the existing research that says smaller classes and lighter class loads for teacher produce better instruction and learning environments? Why not go in that direction?
If this is about funding -- and it is -- has funding increased enough to even make this whole process cost effective? Does it justify the salaries of the Kool-Aid drinkers, the photocopies, the server space, the building use, the binders, the faculty time, and all of the other myriad costs of this process? Our budget was cut by $4 million this year, and last year the county appropriated funds that it did not have, so asked for $1 million back. We have freezes on hiring, student programs have been cut, faculty professional development funds have been cut, and so forth. Does this Outcomes Assessment financially justify its own existence in this climate?
Second of all, what drives all of this? It isn't the Kool-Aid drinkers. They are paid to be gung-ho. It isn't the administration, because they were told by the accreditation and funding agencies to do this. Is it the accreditation and funding agencies? If so, where did they get the idea for this? Because, if this is something that teachers already do and similar data on student performance is already being collected, then what was wrong with that information and how is this process going to improve that data -- especially when they kept stressing to us that this process isn't exactly scientific nor something that would satisfy a statistician? Is this just supposed to be activity for activity's sake? That if look like we are busy collecting data then we must be committed to excellent teaching (as opposed to actually, you know, teaching)?
Finally, where is the organized resistance? Or can there be resistance? Not just to this but to that standardized test mentality? When the head Kool-Aid drinker said that forces out there are trying to get standardized testing to the college level, I wondered who were they and why colleges don't just say "no." I have a sneaking suspicion that this has very little to do with education and much more to do with politics, which then raises questions about academic freedom.
Incidentally, the party line on academic freedom and Outcomes Assessment is that "a common textbook is more of an infringement on academic freedom than outcomes assessment." They clearly did not see our assessment "tool" for our U.S. history survey to 1865 course.
"How did you feel about that?" the other history professor asked.
"Like I was giving a test for someone else's class," I said. "Or playing a game of Trivial Pursuit."
"Exactly!" he said. "When I gave it, I titled it 'Did You Learn These Random Facts in This Course?'"
"Well, we're in charge this time," I said. "Let's make sure we don't do the same thing to everyone else."
Thank goodness that is what I will be working with (and at a bar, we agreed). If I had to deal with a Kool-Aid drinker, I'd probably be just sitting back and letting them to all the work, but I'd be really pissed off the whole time. This, I may have to do some work, but it will be with like-minded people who, like me, are just trying to survive a process that can be described in two words.
Or maybe it's actually one? I can never tell, but it involves cows.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The day began with a round of "You Suck, Clio!" First, from the FAA, which offically notified me that I will be automatically rejected for a pilot's license if I do not assemble a full psychiatric and medical history of my antidepressant usage within 30 day. They will, of course, reject me automatically if I do assemble all of this unless I agree to go off of the antidepressants. At least my ethical dilemma is solved. I'm now looking into ultralight lessons. Ultralights are like hanggliders, but with a motor and a seat. If you've ever seen that movie, Fly Away Home, the girl guides the ducks south in an ultralight.
Second, my irate student from earlier in the semester contacted me to apologize for is behavior. He's the one who began his appeal for a better grade with "I know more about the subject than you do." His apology skills aren't much better. He wrote that he was sorry for behaving badly, but that he was totally justified in behaving that way and that it was all my fault anyway. Maybe we need to incorporate an etiquette component to student orientation these days?
Once the "Clio Sucks!" portion of the day was over, things started to go a little better. I went up to the office to woman a table for this humanities institute in which I am involved. The table had been set up for the New Faculty Orientation. This was rather fun, since I was on the other side of the table, as a New Faculty, only a year ago. (In fact, this past weekend was my year anniversary here. I've actually stayed in one place for longer than 9 months for the first time in 4 years! ) I felt a little like a sophmore, what with my new haircut and new contacts and all.
So, the rest of the day went well. You could even classify it as "productive" in that I discovered my desk under all of the piles of paper. I'm still not ready to get into the full swing of teaching, but I have until after Labor Day (yeah, we start late here -- end late, too). Tomorrow will be the big test, with meetings beginning at 9 am. I haven't gotten out of bed for that time since Mississippi!
Sunday, August 17, 2008
This particular post started out as a comment to Historiann's post "Mad men: cutting-edge TV, or an excuse to let racism and sexism run free?" Tom and Lorenzo also have a wonderful post about this show, but this post is a response to Historiann and the comments there.
I confess to loving this show. I didn't watch it at all during the first season because, as some of Historiann mentions, I thought "oh no, just an excuse to revel in white guy sexism and privilege." Then, I got sucked into the first season marathon a few weeks ago. The plot moves slow and the focus is on character development, which is complicated and, I think, appropriate to the characters in the world that the writers have created.
I call it the world that the writers have created rather than to the period for two reasons. First, I don't specialize in mid-20th century history, nor in material culture, so I'm not in a position to judge the historical accuracy (although I would love if they footnoted the show). Second, this show is set in a historical period, but it is ultimately a fictional world.
I approach historical fiction with the understanding that the writers are not so much trying to create a historically accurate world -- although they must adhere to certain rules of history much as science fiction writers must adhere to rules of science -- as they are trying to explore a contemporary subject. Mad Men explores white, middle class gender roles and the tension between facade and authenticity. The early 1960s setting makes the subject seem remote enough for viewers to accept the blatant sexism (and anti-Semitism, they have only barely touched on racism) of the male characters, yet near enough to make the world more recognizable than, say, the 1920s or the nineteenth century. Also, sensitive viewers (or those who can do math) will realize that many of the younger characters are the same people who are now in charge today. The young Peters of the show are now the Old Farts at work.
The historical setting also contributes to the writers' ability to make the characters interesting and complex. Completely likable characters are boring and produce unoriginal stories, as do the "love to hate" characters. By placing the characters in the past, when ugly character traits can be written off by the audience as "of that time," the writers can then create characters who behave badly without demonizing those characters. With all of the characters having unlikeable streaks, you end up becoming more interested in what they will do next and how they will handle a particular situation rather than if they will have happy endings.
The female characters are particularly intriguing because of the limits that have been placed on them socially, sexually, and professionally. The choices that they make within those confines are different, often set them at odds with one another, and aren't always what you might want them to make, especially if you are a feminist.
The character Peggy interests me most for this reason because she has the most potential to be a feminist character. She ends up in a precarious position between the "boys' club" of the advertising professionals, to which she does not have fully admission, and the "girls club" of the administrative assistants, to which she no longer belongs. She is alone and vulnerable, but doesn't always act sympathetically, especially toward other women. I want to see if she becomes nastier, if she adopts the sexism of the men, if she becomes confident enough not to be snotty to the secretaries, if she has a show down with the office manager (although that would be too grandiose for this show). Then, of course, there is her dirty little secret!
Ultimately, many of the scenarios that occur in this show -- the power games, the isolation, the use of sex as a tool to isolate or to gain power, the sexual harassment -- are still around today; but if you set them in a contemporary office, no one would believe them. The audience would wonder why the women didn't go to HR and file a harassment complaint. They would wonder why the wife didn't just dump her cheating husband or sue her doctor for breach of doctor/patient privilege, they would wonder why the characters did not act the way we would want characters to react today, even if actual people today don't react that way at all.
The same is true of my aunt, his sister, who has the added clues of three different last names. My aunt entered the professional world with the shortened version of her first name and the last name she received in an ill-fated marriage. She lengthened the first name over the years, then changed the last when she re-married. She worked at in a publishing house, and occasionally I can find her name in one or another of its incarnations in the acknowlegements. She doesn't know about this blog, but I wonder what she would make of my desire to maintain a discrete professional identity attached to the name given to me at birth.
Except, now that I write the words, I realize that my birth name is not discretly attached to my professional identity. I only try to detach my birth name from my full identity when online. In physical life, I detatch my full identity from Clio Bluestocking. Clio Bluestocking (at least until Little Berks) exists only in cyberspace, attached only to this blog and the places where I comment. I'm not sure what to call this phenomenon. Irony? Inversion? The name that I carefully circumscribe online is the one that I carry about in every capacity in my physical life. The name that I use in the fullest expression of my self, I use only online; and I'm cautious about the places where the two names cross.
I've actually considered this issue, but in other contexts. For instance, I never thought that a woman should change her name upon marriage. As my 12th grade AP English teacher said, "your name is the one thing that is always your own." I never loved or hated my name, it was just my name, the thing that indicated me. To relinquish it in favor of some dude's name seemed like a denial of myself, especially since I have heard of maybe four men in my life who would be willing to do the same for a woman. One was in the news about a year ago when the state of California wouldn't let him change his last name to his wife's, one was a fellow graduate student's husband who wanted to preserve her ethnic heritage that was expressed in her name, one was a friend from high school who said that I simply had a cool last name, and one was....I forget the last one. Oh, yeah, John Lennon, but people never called him John Ono Lennon (and everyone reviles Yoko Ono, not Yoko Ono Lennon, and for reasons that I find particularly sexist and racist, but that's another story for another time).
In any case, I suppose if a woman wants to change her name, to embrace the patriarchal baggage that goes with that, that is her business and not something on which to waste feminist energy. For me, the mere concept of name change was a matter of identity.
Not that anyone was asking my hand in marriage, nor was I wanting marriage. In fact, my hostility toward marriage probably colored my attitude toward marital name changes. Nevertheless, for me, the question of last name, if discussed theoretically, was always a good guage of a date's idea of the position of my identity in relation to his. Needless to say, those who insisted upon a wifely name change also saw their identity as primary in the relationship and mine as subservient to theirs. I actually had one boyfriend tell me that, "well, o.k., it wouldn't be too bad if you kept your name, but you can't tell my parents or anyone else." (He always wanted everything both ways.)
I've become a tiny bit more sympathetic about the female name change, especially in regard to women of the past whom I am studying, such as Ruth Cox/Harriet Bailey Adams (Frederick Douglass's "sister"). I try to see the name change not so much as an embrace of patriarchy -- which would be my own feminism imposed upon their lives -- but as an embrace of a different role in their lives, and then to ask what meaning this change had for that particular woman at that time.
For young women, when they marry, this name change is the first time that they can signal to the world that they are now in a different stage in life, although they may not think of it in those specific terms. Divorce seems to bring about a more conscious decision about names. For instance, the writer Linda Ellerbee kept her married name after she had divorced because she had already established herself as a writer with that name. Theresa Heinz Kerry also clearly became attached to her first husband's name and whatever sense of identity she derived from it.
On the other end of the spectrum. I had a roommate who, when she divorced, wanted neither her husband's last name nor her family's name. Both had traumatic associations for her, so she chose an entirely different name that had a greater connection to the person she had become and the person that she wanted to be. She even changed her middle name to make the association more explicit.
For me, however, the question of changing my name through marriage or divorce was entirely hypothetical, a "what if" rather than a real question in my life. The real question of my nominal identity actually came up in a smaller way. When I prepared my Master's Thesis for binding, I had to decide how my name would appear on the title page and on the cover. "Clio Bluestocking" sounds like tinkling bells; but my real name falls flat. Two beats. Dee Dum. "Dee Dum" was me, that's for sure, but could I jazz it up a bit by the inclusion of my middle name, or perhaps my middle initial? The middle initial reminded me too much of the way that my mother constructed her name, so I chose the full middle name. "Dee Dada Dum." I had polysyllabitis: the belief that the use of more syllables makes the user appear more intelligent.
Later, I decided that the full name was not more musical, nor did it sound more intelligent. In fact, when I saw all three names in the card catalog, or on my copy of my bound thesis, I heard a little girl saying her full name to sound important. That's what I was, too. This was my first real accomplishment as a historian: writing a thesis. I wanted to take on a construction of my name that seemed more professional, more enhanced. I was trying on an identity, in a way, but that identity didn't work. It wasn't authentic. I abandoned the three name approach thereafter. Dee Dum. Dee Dum was authentic. Dee Dum was me, and Dee Dum was going to stay me. No need to gussy it up.
Until the internet, that is. With the internet, a person must manage the information that becomes associated with her name. Once the association has been made in cyberspace, it will always be out there. Again, I'm not ashamed of anything that I write on this blog as Clio; but to have employers or potential employers surf through it when I'd rather that they focus on my teaching or research would be counterproductive.
Let's not forget, too, that there are people out there who will use your personal or creative life against you. I think that is where the woman issue creeps into the picture.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
In order not to completely embarass myself, and in order to figure out what questions I should look into, I'm going to bang around a few ideas on the subject from time to time. Like now.
Both of my co-panelists are both pseudonymous and "out" on their blogs. (I'm sure there is some sort of intelligent insight to make about using the language of homosexual public identity to describe open internet identities; but I'm not the one to make it, yet.) As you know, I go by my pseudonym. In fact, I ended up registering for Little Berks under the pseudonym. After all, Clio was asked to participate, not the person behind Clio.
I registered as Clio also because I'm still quite cagey about who connects Clio with the person behind Clio. Not paranoid, but hesitant to make explicit connections between the two identies. In fact, I can count on one hand how many people in my physical life know that I even have a blog, much less a secret identity. Those are people who have no direct connection to my professional life or whom I trust with the knowlege of these dual personae, or both.
In thinking what I should talk about as part of this panel, I began to consider, first, the specific steps that led me to create Clio Bluestocking, and second, the question of named identities. Beyond that, I also began to wonder how my own caginess is related specifically to being female. On the first point, Google and the paranoia of experience produced Clio. On the second and related point, I'm still trying to hammer out a way to conceptualize this compartmentalization of my identity into personal, public, and professional. The third point will take a little longer to ponder.
Clio Bluestocking first saw life as "Bluestocking," a commenter on someone else's blog. This would have been sometime around 2002 or 2003. Remember that, at that time, "Google" and "Blog" were both fairly new in popular parliance and neither had yet become verbs. Naively ignorant of the power of the Google search or its application as a tool for employers, almost all of the commenters on that blog went by their own names.
Then, my book came out, and I couldn't get enough of seeing my own name in print. Not that it was flooding the media, but if you've ever have anything published, you know that you want to see your name, your work, work mentioning your work, whatever, wherever you can. So, I put my name into Google.
Yep, there was my book, alright, and my name on the website at my job, and some comments that I had made on my friend's blog.
At the time, I was looking for a new job (long story) and into going into a library science program (also a long story). While I wasn't ashamed of anything that I had written, these opinions were not the sort of thing that I wanted front and center for potential employers. My name had become professionalized, become my uniform for work. I would have to be careful of what became attached to it in the future if I wanted to have an hope of a peaceful professional future, or simply a professional future at all.
When your name becomes professional, people with claims on your professional life with make demands on the creative work that you produce under that name. Most academics must sign a contract saying as much. A friend of mine found out the extent of that claim when he was strongly suggested that he remove a page from his personal website (the precursor to the blog) because his employers objected to the content of that page. I wonder at the claims that my current employers could make on my blog, should they discover that I have it, despite the fact that I don't consider or include this blog as part of my professional activity. I wondered the same thing at my last job, and even more at the job before it (at that job, if they literally took all of the pounds of my flesh that they wanted, I would be a walking skeleton).
If I wanted an active life on the internet outside of my capacity as a professional, I would need a different name. From then on, I became "Bluestocking" in the comments of that blog, and wherever else I appeared online. "Bluestocking" became a last name when I found it was a common pseudonym amongst bookish sorts and generally taken on sites requiring sign-ins. "Clio," the muse of history (and epic poetry), seemed an excellent first name.
The persona "Clio Bluestocking" is, in fact, my own. I speak just as Clio writes, think just as Clio thinks, bitch just as Clio bitches. She is not a character that I have adopted, she is the name that I have adopted because the professional historian and sometime archivist that is part of Clio had monopolized the name that my parents had given me.
Friday, August 15, 2008
I have determined that I could actually afford to own a house, where I could change my own oil, but I cannot afford to buy one.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent was never the best of the franchise. Thank heavens for Vincent D'onofrio! But, dear lord, it has become dreadfully unwatchable. I can't even stand to have it on for background noise.
Mad Men, on the other hand: There is not enough space to gush over how much I love this show. Let the description at Tom and Lorenzo suffice for now.
Something weird is happening to my computer. When I surf from one web page to another, I seem to be picking up some sort or radio station or similar type of feed through my speakers. I thought the noise came from some sort of ad, at first; but no ads for radio stations were on any of these sites. Has my poor, antiquated computer contracted a virus?
Are there actually hordes of gynecologists out there, running to the Department of Health and Human Services and pleading, "You must help us! These whores are demanding birth control and it violates our first amendment rights to prescribe it because it kills babies!" If so, maybe they should find another job and not try to keep women from standard reproductive services. This is about the doctors' consciences. "Pro-life" is about the fetus. They only seemed concerned that the actual woman who must physically bear the consequences of sex and pregnancy might regret not having children and become depressed. As if no one ever regretted anything ever before (including having children). As if post-partum depression weren't serious. Fortunately, studies are demonstrating that the claim was a product of patronizing attitudes and not actual research.
Ever notice that the majority of people who think there were really any "good old days" tend to be white, straight, and male?I ask this in earnest: what has made liberalism such a dirty word in this country that even the "liberal" political party shuns its? Why is the concept itself so frightening and reviled? Status-anxiety? Fear? The devil you know being better than the devil you don't?
I fear that the above two thoughts will attract trolls. Do trolls trawl the internet for any mention of opposition to their pet issues, then move in to attack, never to return again? That seems to be the case for the worst of them on other, more consistently and overtly feminist websites. "Drive-by trolling" is what I call that.
My dean sent a letter to all of the faculty and staff letting us know of various changes to college staff and policies this coming year. Among the changes are severe budget cuts which mean that all hiring for vacant positions is "delayed," all funds for travel are cut, as are all "major purchases" unless absolutely necessary. Universities seem to be facing similar cutbacks that affect the work that their faculty do, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, "Citing looming state budget cuts, administrators at the University of Georgia have canceled faculty research leaves for this coming academic year, just days before the semester is to begin." (Unfortunately, the link requires a subscription.) It never ceases to amaze me that the people who fund education seem not to realize that education actually does cost money and that the cost for providing education is increasing just as much as the cost of receiving an education.
Again, because it cannot be said enough for me: Australia seems to be closing in on the 21st century in regard to pilots and anti-depressants. Again, note the last quote in the story and this one: "'The important thing that we have found in this study is that there is no difference in the safety profile of pilots who have taken anti-depressants, compared to pilots who haven't needed anti-depressants,' [Associate Professor James Ross] said."
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Making matters worse, last year's Outcomes Assessment produced a multiple choice exam of 9 questions. Nine questions are supposed to evaluate whether the students are learning U.S. History to 1865 effectively. That's not education. That's Trivial Pursuit. Higher education is supposed to focus on critical thinking; but scores from essay tests are too subjective to yield scientific enough "outcomes." So, the multiple choice. I shall research and bitch about this whole process as the semester develops, rest assured.
Isn't that sweet?
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Unfortunately, I failed to bring my camera, so I can't post the pictures of the Glow-in-the-Dark VirginMaryMotherofOurLordandSaviorJesusChrist; or DAVID (as in "and Goliath") the Action Figure; or the assortment of bondage shoes that were scattered among the loafers (sex workers need discounts, too), or the last remaining Backstreet Boy Action Figure (Timberlake, by the way). I also would have taken pictures of the globe that must have dated to the interwar period because it showed the borders of African colonies and "Indochina." The goofy things are half the reason that I go there. The other half is the really inexpensive clothes.
My aunt and I also commiserated, via a series of e-mails, over my dad -- her brother -- and his latest unwanted right wing spam mail. Then, she asked me about this song, "Sea Lion Woman," also known as "See Line Woman." She wants me to do a little research on it, just for fun and if I have time. She's sincere. Questions like this demonstrate that she knows what a historian does, as opposed to other members of my family.
Of course, she is also trying to get me to do more research in Louisiana, too, with the ultimate goal of moving nearer to her. Being near her would not be bad, I'm just not sure that I could deal with Louisiana on a full-time basis.
I have actually done a little research on Louisiana. Nothing big, more in the way of genealogy since that is the homeland of both of my parents. In fact, my father's mother's family lived there while the French still claimed the territory. Not that there is anything to be too proud of in that. That would mean that they killed the Indians and enslaved Africans. They definitely did the latter. Cousins married, too. First cousins, through a special dispensation from the Pope. Nice, eh? Of course, you can't be white and from the south and not have at least one or two skeletons in the closet.
In that family line, we have one of those family legends that has very little documentation. One day, I thought, "why not see what we turn up?" I found some census records and church records that prove that the ancestor in question did exist, and did disappear from the record at a particular time; but I still haven't verified the story, which involves abandoned husbands and children, lovers in New Orleans, and death under suspicious circumstances. I'm pretty sure that the story was embellished, if not wholly fabricated, by a great aunt or two. The starring woman in this legend would have been their great-aunt. In any case, if I were to write a historical novel, this would be one of the stories that I would tell. I should tell it here sometime; but not today.
Anyway, this is "See-line Woman" as sung by Nina Simone:
Isn't she fabulous? If anyone knows anything verifiable about the song (beyond Wikipedia -- checked there), or where to find out good information about folksongs, feel free to contribute!
Thanks to a hit on the Sitemeter from someone looking for information on pilots and anti-depressant, I found that Australia seems to be closing in on the 21st century in this regard. Note the last quote in the story and this one: "'The important thing that we have found in this study is that there is no difference in the safety profile of pilots who have taken anti-depressants, compared to pilots who haven't needed anti-depressants,' [Associate Professor James Ross] said."
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
1) Maintained a steady diet of candy, and pasta, and more candy. Maintained the balance of spicy atomic, fruity gummy, and milky chocolate. I'm almost out of candy, now.
2) Took a nice long nap, all afternoon. The kind that makes you need another nap to recover from the exhaustion of taking the first nap. Although, now that I think about it, can you classify four hours of sleep as a "nap"?
3) Played on the internet. Wrote this post, even. Added to my Spanish profanity. Looked for a cheap used bike. Read blogs. Almost did research for a panel on blogging -- but that would have been like work, and my computer is deadly slow. (I have an antique computer, by the way. It's a desktop from 2001.)
4) T.V. was on the whole time, through the nap, through the candy, through the internet.
You know what reruns I would love to see? Homicide: Life on the Street. Andre Braugher was so great in that -- he dresses up pretty much anything that he's in -- and they told such morally ambiguous tales. Man, I miss that series. Of course, they had difficulty developing their female characters. They created the women to be something interesting, but just didn't know what to do with them.
I'd also like to see the run the first season of Mad Men again. They did create interesting female characters, and they do know what to do with them.
Perhaps it is time for Netflix?
And I have this irrational, bitchy desire to smack the hell out of eHarmony's happy couples.
5) Did not make the bed.
6) Did not fold the laundry.
7) Did not plan any thing for any class.
Sadly, I did NOT meet my goals in these ways:
1) Woke up before noon. This was a necessity because of number 3, below.
2) Did not stay in jammies until 3 pm. This was also a product of number 3, below.
3) Went to the lab for blood work that my doctor ordered back in May. I need a refill on the happy pills that are keeping me from flying, and have to go back to my usual doctor to get it. Along with the stigma of taking happy pills, repeated doctor's visits for refills is one of the annoying things about them. He'd want to know about the blood, so rather than just explain that I'm a lazy bum, I decided to go get it done.
I've waited so long because I hate needles, except when they are leaving me with earring holes or tattoos. Needles in those cases leave behind something pretty. Blood work is just pain with the potential for bad news. This was just a routine check, since this is a new doctor for me (a Buddhist, not an Old Fart), and he wanted to make sure everything was o.k., particularly since I'm on the Diabetes Express thanks to the genes of both parents and all four grandparents. I don't really help it either, what with my candy addiction.
The lab was short staffed today, so everyone was exhausted, stressed, and very pissy with one another and the patients. The patients weren't too happy either, waiting and waiting after a night-long fast and no caffeine. The woman who took my blood was openly angry with her co-workers, which I would have found funny had she not been about to stick me with a needle. I got a really nice bruise on my arm. I did not get an "I Was Brave Today" sticker with the little blue bear on it. I asked nicely, too. Damn ageists.
4) Worked out. Granted, it wasn't a serious, jog and weights workout. I just walked about 3 miles; but I did carry 3 lb weights and break a sweat, thereby making this an actual productive workout and therefore counter to the goals of doing nothing for the week. My walk to the lab this morning would not count as "productive," except that it got me to the lab, where something productive happened.
5) Listened to a non-fiction audiobook while working out. The audiobook, Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky, is about an effort to save Yiddish texts and, by extension, the Yiddish language. Since I am not Jewish, a linguist, or a Judaica specialist of any sort, this could be considered "recreational reading" and therefore within the parameters of my goals for the week. Because the book could also be considered "personal enrichment" and therefore productive in some capacity, it could also fall outside of those parameters.
Unfortunately, I did listen to this book while working out, and that multi-tasking puts it firmly in the "productive column." Multi-tasking this week should only involve two unproductive activities. If one activity contributes to productivity, then that activity automatically sinks the the other.
6) Ate a salad for dinner, thereby breaking the candy diet. In my defense, I bought some tomatoes, squash and peaches at a Farmer's Market this weekend, and I didn't want to waste them. I did use lots of dressing, too; but, still, the salad did not move me toward my goals for the week.
Score: 7 items toward meeting goals, 6 items not. "Meeting goals" wins by a point.
Now, normally, I make elaborate plans for course revision, research, writing, future course development, gung-ho workouts, and home improvement. I schedule every day down to the minute. "I WILL be productive!" I proclaim. "All I have to do is stick to the schedule." Satisfaction comes through accomplishment.
Well, as you can imagine, I do none of it. Maybe I workout once or twice. Maybe I move the pictures around in my never ending quest to find the proper place to put a nail. Sometimes, I end up neck-deep in refinishing a piece of furniture. Yet, mostly, I see a lot of Law & Order reruns (where have you gone Lennie Briscoe? T.V. nation turns its lonely eyes to you), eat a lot of candy, and wallow in my own crapulence as I curse my own lazy ass. At least I end up very very happy to return to work. My ambition always outstrips my energy.
"But what if?" I asked myself. "What if I completely abandon the schedule? Or, rather, what if my schedule does include the things that I know I can accomplish: Law & Order, candy and crapulence?" What if I plan to do nothing? Could this be a list that I can manage? Could I emerge on the other side of the week, full of a sense of accomplishment? Could I have made my neurosis (which would not in anyway interfere with my ability to fly a plane, except maybe to keep me from actually going to the airport -- but I digress) (I'm not bitter) work for me? It's just so crazy that it might work.
So, my list for the week:
- Sleep very late. Make noon the goal.
- Drink coffee and surf the internet for at least three hours after waking up.
- Stay in jammies until at least 3 pm.
- Keep t.v. on constantly. If Law & Order is not on, Scrubs, That '70s Show, The Family Guy, and Bravo reruns can substitute. Netflix movies are also permitted, but the t.v. must be on for at least 12 hours. The only acceptable reasons for turning off the t.v. should be naps/sleep or reading mystery novels.
- Eat candy. Try to keep the flavors balanced between the fruity gummies, the milky chocolates, and the spicy atomics.
- Break in that new sofa well and good. Make sure you have developed a nice good wallow in the shape of your butt in at least two spots.
This could be a workable plan.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
SiteMeter Secret: What to make of someone finding my blog through this link?
Blogger says that my Astrological sign is Leo and my Zodiac sign in the Sheep. The lion and the lamb. I am also supposedly born on the cusp of a water sign and a fire sign. This could easily explain my personality.
Recently, I rented the HBO "John Adams" series. I have nothing intelligent to contribute to the discussion on the series, and mostly fixated on details of staging. I wondered if the series producers consider it history or fiction. It was based on non-fiction, but the creative license of the screenplay would mean that the history would be fictionalized.
When the series aired back whenever, I remember several people mentioning the smallpox innoculation scene as being particularly creepy. While it certainly did induce shudders, the one that had me hiding my eyes and my breasts was the unanethsteitzed, complete masectomy performed on Nabby Adams. The horror of that scene, however, was completely and unitentionally undercut in the next. John and Abigail anxiously await the end of the operation . John paces until Abigail, in frustration, says, "For God sakes, John. Sit down!" Did the editors not know? It's hot as hell in Philadelphia.
In the second hand store, while searching amongst the children's books for a present for Boudreaux, I came across a book called "The Little Boy and the Tigers." In the story, a little boy buys a new coat, pants, shoes and umbrella; but on his way home four tigers extort him out of his new clothes. Later, the tigers become jealous of one another, each insisting that he is the most handsomest tiger in the land. The quarrel escalates until the tigers put aside the boy's clothes and chase each other around a tree. They run so fast that they melt into a pool of butter. The boy gets his clothes back and his father gathers up the tiger butter for the boy's mother to make pancakes. Recognize it?
My brother, Boudreaux's father, had a little See-and-Say book and record of this story when he was about four. My mother, to this day, sings the song that went with the pancakes. Something like "pancakes, pretty little pancakes, get them while they're good and hot." That's one of the things that I will remember about her fondly when she has passed away. Now, it continues to be annoying. I hate that feeling.
In Target yesterday (shut up! It's not Wal-Mart), in the shoe section, a man began singing to his wife, who held a pair of serious fuck-me heels: "Those boots are not for walking. Leave them on the shelf."
I had gone to Target to buy a replacement for my broken CD player. Yeah, I'm old school -- I even have cassette player. The only CD players that they had were for children. The same technology, but decorated with sparklers, or Hello Kitty, or Disney Pixar's Cars. I chose Dora the Explorer, although I am only marginally aware of the show because Boudreaux loves it. Not as much as he loves Cars, but close. Plus, we have similar tastes in hairstyles and she's an adventurous girl who solves problems (from what I hear). We didn't have many of those on t.v. when I was little. In fact, I used to pretend Bugs Bunny and Jerry the Mouse were girls, just to compensate. The player itself is actually superior to the one that broke, before it broke. Better sound, better fast forward/backward controls, better anti-jog protection (or whatever they call the thing that keeps the CD from skipping when you move it).
I needed the new CD player because I listen to audiobooks while I work out. The better the book, the more frequently I work out. For this reason, I wish more academic books were on tape.
I work out at a nearby gym. It isn't bad, despite lacking an indoor track. The men there, however, like at every other gym that I've used in the past 20 years, take up a lot of space. I'd say "some people" rather than "men," but those some people are consistently male. Only when I went to the Meat Market gym in Texas did women try to take up a lot of space, usually by adjusting their make up and hair, and sticking out their tits and ass. The men, however, seem uniformly and blithely unaware that other people exist. They take up single machines for a full hour, mostly chatting. They chat at the volume of a yell so that I, on the other side of the gym,cannot hear my audiobook over their conversation. They leave massive plates on the barbells; and, mostly, they just get in your way. They crowd you in an almost empty free weight area. They stand in your space while you try to stretch out. They all but hover above you while you are on the mats doing crunches. All the while chatting like very loud biddies. No wonder many women (and we have a surprising number of Orthodox Jewish women in this neighborhood, too) want a separate workout area. They aren't just modest, they want to work out in peace!
People with SUVs tend to drive about in the same oblivion as the men at the gym. The SUV behavior is not gender specific.
Driving around town last weekend, I ended up behind one of those SUVs. It had a bumper sticker complaining about the price of gas.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
The last time that I did that, I actually found out that someone I once knew had been busted for "manslaughter." Sadly, he is not still in jail, which is where he very much deserved to be for many other reasons.
This time, however, I was sort of hoping for a happy ending. When I was in high school, I had this great friend. We had the same name, which is a rather androgynous name, but spelled differently, and that became part of our repertoire. I never fell in love with him; but damn, I loved hanging out with him because he was just so easy and fun to get along with. We, as the cliche goes, had chemistry; and that chemistry was powerful.
With him, also, I could safely let out my inner drama geek, which had been strictly and explicitly forbidden to me at home and, implicitly, in most of the other areas of my life. He was in the drama club, and had actually worked professionally as a child actor earlier in his life. As he got older, however, he found that many of the choice male roles in school productions tended to go to the popular, athletic guys. This was partly because the drama teacher who cast acting roles had crushes upon the athletes who -- for what reason I have no idea -- auditioned for the plays (and really, they were dreadful actors, too, to the last), and partly because the choir teacher who cast the musical roles also had a crush on the athletes and wanted "popular" people in the plays, regardless of their abilities, because she wanted more people to attend the plays.
This choir teacher had more than a bit of the starfucker about her, which is quite sad since the stars she was trying to fuck were all teenagers. My choice of words here is not entirely metaphorical. I later learned that she was fired when she was caught in a compromising position with a student. Many a talented actor and singer from our school district did a Snoopy Dance of Schadenfreude on the day that they learned that bit of news.
My friend, however, was not an athlete nor was he gorgeous. He was adorable, sure, but he was short and stocky, without being chubby. At the time, what's-his-name, who played George on Seinfeld and who was early in his career, did a commercial for McDonald's ("The hot stays hot and the cool stays cool"), and I always thought that they bore a bit of resemblance to one another. So, yes, had he remained an actor, my friend would have probably ended up in the comic side-kick roles. He probably would have been pretty good, too.
In high school, he knew what he was up against with all of those jocks, so he went behind the scenes and became a techie. I got to see some of the funky, behind and above-the-scenes parts of the theater at our school because of that (mind out of the gutters! He was JUST a friend.). He and I also forged the one-time mutual support between the dance team and the drama geeks. My dance team friends thought he was fun and his drama friends thought that we were pretty cool, for dance team bitches. The theater and our dance space backed up to one another, and neither of us were stars in our respective activities. So we made good luck posters for the drama shows (not realizing, of course, the theater taboo on "good luck"), and they did the same for us on our competitions.
He and I stayed friends for a few years into college, and even a little after I had graduated and he dropped out. Our friendship fizzled, however, because he entered a little crazy period of his life after a big break-up, and that period didn't seem to have an end.
After I had graduated from high school, he began dating a girl on the dance team. I never knew her, since she was a freshman in high school while I was a freshman in college. They stayed together through that fatal first year after he had graduated and she stayed behind in high school. Even when the college student in that arrangement stays in the city, the relationship seldom survives because daily proximity is a significant factor in the survival of most high school romances.
Then, she graduated from high school and went to college on the other side of the state, the state here being Texas. He panicked and became a bit paranoid, calling all too often and demanding to know where she was every moment of the day. Had there been text messaging in those days, her phone would have been clogged. He also openly disapproved of her extracurricular activities, such as joining a sorority. "That's not who you are!" he insisted. I tried to tell him that, yes, that is who she is, at least for the time being. He had a million arguments as to why she and I were wrong. Naturally, they broke up. She dated other guys, and, after college, got married. She moved on.
My friend, however, did not. He tried to date; but approached it as an act of revenge upon his ex-girlfriend. He would repeatedly go to night clubs, then immediately criticize everyone there for being superficial. "It's a club," I would say. "What do you expect? The kind of woman that you want probably won't be there."
"But don't you think that there could be that one girl there?" he would reply. "That one sweet girl who never goes to clubs, but was dragged there by her friends at the office and who is not like everyone else."
"Well, sure," I said, "but you're looking for a needle in the haystack there. Why not go somewhere where you have a greater chance of meeting someone you would like?" He kept going to the nightclubs and coming out more bitter than before. Then, he would call his ex-girlfriend and beg her to meet to talk.
This went on for maybe three years from the time of the break-up. Three years of begging the ex-girlfriend to talk, with the hope of getting back together. Three years of cursing her for not wanting to talk. Three years during which he took out a loan to go on a ski vacation because she had gone on a ski vacation with her new boyfriend.* Three years during which he would drive across Texas to her school and beg her to talk with him. Three years during which he would call her mother and beg her mother to intercede on his behalf.
I just couldn't be friends with him any more. I was actually mad at him. This nasty, bitter, pathetic person had taken away my friend. "This isn't really who you are," I would say. Then I would tell myself, "yes it is who he is, for the time being." So, I let him drift away.
This was made easy by the intercession of his brother. His brother, at the time, seemed more like my friend had been several years earlier. So his brother and I became friends. They, however, had decided that I couldn't be friends with both of them, so my friend sort of abandoned me. Then, I realized that his brother's interest was not platonic, and I wasn't interested in anything romantic with the brother. When I told the brother that, the brother tried to force romance on me -- which felt like a sort of emotional rape -- so I abandoned the brother.
I didn't hear from my friend for another two or three years. Then, he called me out of the blue. I decided to return the call, in the hopes that my friend had finally gotten over the now very ex-girlfriend. We met up, and everything seemed great at first. We caught up and laughed and slipped right back into our old patter. Then, he confessed that he was still hung up on the ex-girlfriend.
"She got married," he said. "I called her the night before her wedding, to talk her out of it. Her mother wouldn't let me speak to her. Her mother said, 'She's getting married. You have to stop.'"
"You do, you know," I said. "You've been broken up for longer than you were together."
"Yeah, I know," he said. Then he launched into the same old discussion of why the two of them had to get together, or why she couldn't possibly marry this other guy, although he didn't even know who the other guy was. I watched him, with his receding hairline and his obvious sense of helpless self-loathing. I saw that he had not changed at all in the past two years; and I was profoundly sad. So, we didn't meet up again. Ever.
I myself went through my own crazy period, and drove off another good friend just as this friend had driven off me. I don't have many old friends. I'm not very good at personal relationships of any sort for some reason that years of therapy still haven't unearthed. Like those high school relationships, sometimes friendships are products of proximity and common circumstance. Not just that, but those are certainly the elements that make them endure. Sometimes, physical distance and new circumstances cause such changes in people that they are no longer suited to be friends. Maybe that's what happened with this friend.
I heard about my friend over the years. About a decade ago, a mutual friend from that old drama squad, whom I ran into at the gym, told me that my friend's father had died and that he had taken over his father's part-time photography business a year earlier. A few years after that, another old mutual friend came into town for my friend's wedding.
"Wedding?" I asked.
"Yeah," the mutual friend said.
"I have no idea," the mutual friend said. "He had gotten too weird for me a long time ago. I'm only here because his mother asked our family to attend."
"Did you meet her? The financee, I mean."
"The thing was so huge," the mutual friend said, "that we went in, saw the wedding and left. There was no way we were going to get a chance to even say hi."
So, he must have gotten over what's her face, I thought; and I was happy for him.
For no reason whatsoever, this all popped into my mind today, and I looked him up. That part-time photography business became full-time very quickly. He never did things half-way. He takes wedding pictures, which is, of course, big business. That somehow seems appropriate for his surprisingly traditional romantic nature, his creative impulses, and his technical abilities. The pictures are all the standard sort, but quite lovely in that hazy, overly romanticized way of wedding portraits. Just what a fresh young bride would want.
From his own picture, he's bald and embracing it by shaving off what is left of his hair. Otherwise looks just the same. Looking at it, I can almost hear him say "hi!" in that way of his that made the word sound like a bear hug. Followed, of course, by the bear hug. After a quarter of a century, you can still miss that.
I hope that he really is happy.
*He said that he would have asked me to go with him, but asked another girl because he knew that he would have more fun with her. Gee, thanks. It wasn't until years later that I realized that he meant that he thought that she would sleep with him. Oddly, I wasn't really angry at him for it. She was cute. I would have slept with her!
Friday, August 08, 2008
I'm also now noticing that their misspellings or choice of completely wrong words are related to the way that they pronounce English. One student wrote the word "rape" when she clearly meant "wrap." When she spoke to me later, I could tell that this was a product of her pronunciation, her accent. Another student spelled my name phonetically, and produced a common name from his country of origin in Asia. He also structured my name as Asians do, last name first and without a comma.
I find this fascinating. They are all proficient in English, although still learning to be completely fluent. The "rape" mistake seemed to stem from enough of a comfort in using English that she did not immediately go to a translation dictionary to find the proper word. She knew the proper word, and spelled it phonetically, just as many native English speakers do.
I tend to think of language use in two categories: not knowing a lanugage, and being fluent in the language. I've taken the requisite classes, but never had to actually be fluent in the language. So, I've never worked through the whole process toward actual fluency. My students are rather far along that the path; and the mistakes they make allow me to see inside the process of fully internalizing and using a language.
Along the same lines, while out walking the other day, I passed an adorable little boy. He seemed to be maybe five years old, but approached me with all of the confidence of an experienced salesman. "Como te llama?" he asked. I was a bit taken aback by his sheer bravado; but I was more surprised that, after a second, I recognized what he was saying. Hey! I understood Spanish! I understood it as it was spoken! "My name?" I asked, too stunned to reply with the one non-obscene Spanish phrase that I know. (The others, actually, aren't even phrases. In college, I attempted to speak the profanity of at least four different languages, thinking that those would be words that I would use regularly. Didn't happen.)
That incident made me realize that I tend to tune out foreign languages. "Tune out," actually, is probably not the most precise way to put it. I hear them, but make not attempt to discern individual words or grammar because I know none. I hear music. Sometimes I can tell if that music is European or African or Asian; but mostly, it is all music. So, when the little boy approached me and spoke in a language that was not English, my ears went right into that musical mode. Yet, the words were words that I -- much to my surprise -- knew. After a moment, they fell together with meaning, not in a word-by-word translation the way most languages that I have tried to learn have done.
I see a related, process occurring in my nephew, Boudreaux, who is three. The last time he and I hung out, we were at my parents' house. They have a cuckoo clock that fascinates Boudreaux. He wanted to know when the cuckoo would chirp, but he didn't have the words for cuckoo or clock, so he asked when the bird was going to come out of the tree box. When I try to relearn the French that I took in college, I do the same thing. I build meaning out of known words, and, like my students, apply English grammar to French words when I don't know the French grammar.
Boudreaux also used to attend a pre-school that taught sign language. At the time, when he was around two, his sign vocabulary was much larger than his spoken vocabulary. His muscular dexterity in his hands was much more advanced than the muscular dexterity in his throat and mouth. At one point, he forced his parents to learn the sign for "Thank you" when they kept insisting that he say it, to be polite, and he kept signing it in return.
The language that I see from my students has all of these elements: full comprehension, translation, creation from the familiar. They haven't yet forced me to learn their language. Fortunately, many of them are far enough along in the process of acquisition that they can convey meaning. That doesn't always happen. Heck, that doesn't always happen with my native speakers -- or even myself.
Perhaps my time and energy might be better spent learning Spanish, rather than flying a plane? You don't have to be medically cleared to do that!