oppose the FMA

The Human Rights Campaign has a form to make it easy to contact your senators to indicate your opposition to the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which will come to a vote in the Senate in early July. Perhaps useful for some readers to note: many conservatives also oppose the FMA (see quotes) for a variety of reasons.

tenure celebration part 1

I've got tenure!

(got it pierced on Friday)



I didn't blog at all over the weekend because my friend M was visiting from out of town. Somehow my blog life and my real-time social life haven't yet fully intersected. Probably because most of my close "real-time" friends live in other cities. One such friend is also a blog pal who's recently posted some good thoughts about rediscovering the good qualities of the internet through blogging. I kinda feel the same way.

About a year ago I was really involved with Fotolog, which is a community for people to share a daily photo -- a blog without words. It was an amazing thing -- for a few months. Then as word spread (via NY Times and others) then the numbers expanded phenomenally and the sense of a knowable "community" all but vanished. It's based on a simple system of favorites lists -- so you can browse from one person's pictures to see those of people who they like -- which does still create small clusters of like-minded individuals (or rather, like-aesthetic'd individuals). But a lot of people spend a lot of time bemoaning the loss of the good old days when Fotolog was only a few thousand people. I share a lot of those feelings -- though I've also spent less and less time on Fotolog for other, more personal reasons. But when I go back, I can still visit some of the same people and learn from their photographs -- which for an image novice, has been an amazing resource. But it serves in my mind as an example of both the very best of the internet and the worst -- and how they can coexist, and shift, within a few months. The best: connecting people who would never otherwise meet, and tapping in to basic human generosity -- people's willingness to share advice on photo technique, hardware, software, etc. The worst: abuse of the comments system, people trying to post porn, etc (as if there weren't already plenty of places to see and share porn on the internet).

So it's been nice to start reading and writing blog and find the good parts of the internet again. To be fair, there are other good parts: the VICTORIA listserv for people involved with Victorian Studies (my field of specialization) has been an active, helpful, and mostly thoughtful community for over ten years. As someone working in a department with limited 19thc colleagues, it's been very sustaining to have this virtual group of colleagues to draw on for advice and ideas.

I realised recently that I haven't really "come out" as a blogger to very many people in my real-time life -- Tony Pierce's list of blogging do's and don'ts says:
5. dont tell your mom, your work, your friends, the people you want to date, or the people you want to work for about your blog. if they find out and you'd rather they didnt read it, ask them nicely to grant you your privacy.

I know everyone has different opinions on this, but I basically agree. My gf reads my blog, and a couple of friends do who also blog. But most of my real-time friends don't blog, don't read blogs, and besides, I talk to them in real time. And I started my blog to give me a different kind of space in which to think about things -- something other than my already-defined professional work which seems to easily take over almost all reading and writing. I like having my blog life separate -- it's a space of freedom that way. Especially as an academic -- the academic world has only two or three degrees of separation, which can get really claustrophobic. (Like what happened to Tracking Tenure, who discontinued her blog because a colleague started reading it and writing his own copycat version.)

so, yay for blogs. Now I have to go catch up on my reading.


hangin' at the Depot

So I'm the one wearing the butch pants in the house today: I replaced our bathroom faucet, which had been leaking from the base for probably 8 months. The final straw was that one of the plastic handles cracked, making it inoperable. So it was time to do something. And I think I succeeded: no leaks so far. It's actually not that difficult, if your house is pretty modern and things were put in correctly the first time. Neither is true of our house, so it did require a couple extra trips to Home Depot (only six minutes away, another good thing about our neighborhood!). (also replaced the drain/pop-up assembly and the P-trap-- which before today I didn't know what it was).

The internet has increasingly become for me the handy parent I never had -- neither one of my parents ever fixed anything in our house, that I can remember, except for torn book pages, and the occasional hem. Nothing mechanical. But you can learn how to do almost any home repair online. Which at least gives me enough to go on when I go to the HD. I'd much rather ask the guy "I need a basin wrench, right?" than just have to blankly ask "how on earth do I do that?" I don't have any idea what the working conditions are like at a place like HD, but I hope it's satisfying to at least some of these people who work there who know a heck of a lot about their particular area. People come in, you help them, they get what they need and learn something too.

Now if only there was an Article Depot for my now overdue writing project:
"Well, you see, I have these two ideas that have to fit together -- yeah, I've got about 20 pages of space."

"You just need this idea connector. Comes in plastic, brass, or surgical steel. How long you want this thing to last?"

"Well, up until now, it's been held together with sentences, but some of them are kind of fraying around the edges...I don't know if they're strong enough for the pressure of publication."

"Oh, you got an antique style article? You want to use sentences? That's more work. But you do get a nice effect when you're done. I can show you some adverbs over here..."

Clearly, I need to get back to work.

the hierarchy of fantasy

So we just finished watching Underworld on DVD tonight -- fully enjoyable for its genre. Sort of Matrix + Lost Boys + The Hunger + X-Men -- stylish and stylized battles between vampires and lycans (werewolves). Easy on the eyes (Kate Beckinsdale in hypertight leathers) and on the ears (the industrial soundtrack not quite as cool as Bauhaus in the Hunger, but good).
In this film, vampires are the aristocrats who formerly had the Lycans enslaved. Centuries of Lycan rebellion and warfare ensued after a cross-species romance was forbidden and punished. Now, a hapless human gets caught in the battle...
And of course, it's the vampires who are cool, sexy Eurotrash Goths. The werewolves (when they are not transformed) look like Eastern European mobsters. And there are no female Lycans shown in the movie -- but plenty of sexy vampire babes... And it's nearly always that way -- in Stoker's Dracula, and J.S. LeFanu's Carmilla (a great lesbian vampire story published in 1871-2 that inspired Stoker as he planned his novel), vampires are sexy. Their power over their victims is seductive, enthralling -- thus Stoker's novel so easily melds with our society's concerns about invasion, infection, and the blurring of social boundaries. My students are usually shocked when reading Stoker's Dracula to realize his Dracula is old and kind of repulsive -- our film versions are usually so slick and suave.

Most fantasy worlds have similar structures -- vampires are sexy-cool, werewolves are not; elves are cool, dwarves and hobbits are not. Etc. It's the same old idealization of the upper classes, remapped. (ever seen a fat elf or vampire?) It's worth remembering that most of us would have been dwarf-equivalents in previous centuries...

At its best, SF/fantasy offers new ways of thinking about social structures, gender categories, the meaning of intelligence. But the versions most popular in our current culture rely on the same old binaries. I'm as susceptible as the next viewer -- who wouldn't want to be a cool elusive elf? Go ahead, get your own Crappy Little Elf Name from Rum & Monkey. I'm Tealeaf Horsebeard. That's Mistress Tealeaf, to you...


seen on the way home

We now have a Spam billboard in my neighborhood. With a huge picture of "Huevos Spamcheros." Ugh.

Nearly every week in the Chronicle of Higher Education there's an ad from Xerox asking readers to please not use "xerox" as a generic verb -- making the point that although their trademark is casually used in this way, it's not technically correct. (there must be a specific linguistic term for such words, right? but I don't know what it is -- like "let's get a Coke" when you mean any soda.) I wonder if the makers of Spam are similarly upset by everyone calling junk email spam.


I actually haven't seen that many movies over the past few weeks -- too much else going on. But Curtis's comments about Super Size Me , along with many conversations I had about it while I was on my trip, reminded me I wanted to write a few notes about it. My expectations were probably too high for the film -- you already know basically the whole thing before you go in there -- and it's been at least 15 years since I ate anything at a fast food restaurant, so I'm not really directly affected by the topic. My impression is that the film (like a lot of documentaries) is preaching to the choir anyway -- the people who probably should see this film aren't likely to. I enjoyed watching the physical, visible changes as he went through the experiment -- and his doctors' surprise at how rapidly his body fell apart. But a lot of the film was repetitive -- as well as somewhat mean-spirited and simplistic in its critique -- lots of unnecessary shots of obese people in bathing suits for "humor" -- implying that all obese people eat fast food all the time, which isn't actually the case. I'm all for critiqueing the fast food industry, the meat industry, the dairy industry -- but this film isn't quite smart enough to fully make those arguments. Read Fast Food Nation or John Robbins's May All be Fed.

I also recently saw Venus Boyz, a wonderful documentary that's just been released on DVD. It follows a number of drag king performers -- some performance scenes, though much of the film is more interested in interviews, and behind-the-scenes. Some are straight; some are lesbians; some identify as transgender; some refuse any gender or sexual identity. All are amazing, charismatic, fascinating artists who deconstruct and challenge most ideas about gender and sexuality. (I've seen Mo B. Dick perform live, and some others -- definitely worth seeing if you can -- loads of fun and simultaneously intellectually powerful.) Includes some coverage of Diane Torr's Drag King Workshops -- which I think also appeared in one of the early seasons of Sex in the City (I've seen only a few episodes but somehow got to see that one)-- very interesting to see how easy it is to change someone's gender appearance. And for many women it's really transformative to learn male gestures, etc -- because it's all about taking up space in the world. Del LaGrace Volcano gets lots of screen time -- I knew his photographs, but was really charmed and impressed by his interviews in this film. Smart, thought-provoking film -- and a good counterpoint to Paris is Burning.

Finally: The Day After Tomorrow. What's not to like, if you like B-style movies: heroic nerds, weather disaster, post-apocalyptic survival, and overstated themes? But seriously, it was really refreshing to see all the Hollywood spectacle marshalled in service of ideas I believe in about preserving the environment and the current administration's culpability. Who cares if it wasn't totally believable -- this is the opposite of Super Size Me, in that I imagine some people will see this who otherwise wouldn't be thinking very much about the planet. (And, as a print culture historian: how many other impassioned speeches about the importance of the Gutenberg Bible are there in film? or action films set in libraries? Thumbs up for that, even if they did have to burn a few books.)


INTJ redux

My Bloginality is INTJ. No big surprise there. But what is interesting is to glance through the comments column -- tons of blogging INTJs have taken the test on this site. There are definitely some Myers-Briggs types who like tests better than others. Based on my reading of blogs, my guess would be that there are many INTJs on the internet. (thinking about who has the patience, interest, time for this sort of thing.) There's no way to have a more scientific survey, I suppose, but it'd be interesting to know how that will change/is already changing for younger people -- for whom technology is harnessed in the service of social interaction rather than substituting for it... (phones, text messaging, dodgeball, friendster, etc). Using computers means something very different now than it did 20, 10, even 5 years ago.
On a semi-related point, I read an interesting piece in Wired on the plane about the online gaming industry focused not on gambling or multi-user roleplaying, but on plain vanilla things like checkers and hearts. I've always found those things incredibly addictive -- a quick game of reversi on yahoo (what was called Othello in the board game) is excellent for a 5 minute break during a long writing session. But apparently there are retired folks busy playing for 6-8 hours a day. That's where the internet is really changing the daily texture of ordinary people's lives. I've never had much patience for social critics who said the internet would be the death of social interaction -- and this shows how social connections actually grow with new technology. To be able to play a game of checkers any time, with someone anywhere across the globe -- that's cool (albeit in a subtle French Vanilla kind of way).

rental car radio

During my trip I was forced to listen to a lot of Midwestern radio -- the rental car had a CD player but now that I carry all my music on my iRiver, that was no help for me. So I spent a lot of time in Illinois and Indiana hitting the "seek" button.

Today's Christian pop music has become very skilled at the chameleon effect -- I'd hear something and think "ok, this is Sheryl Crow-ish" and listen for a minute before realizing it was about Jesus. And then there was Christian death metal music, standard guitar rock, etc. I have not yet heard Christian house music but I'm sure it's out there. (not that it'd be played on Midwestern radio -- I was astonished by the lack of any music with a decent beat).

There was a very weird timewarp effect. I kept hearing songs that I thought had long since fallen out of rotation. And these weren't retro stations, either. Among the memorable ones: "Ebony and Ivory," "Aqualung," and "Freebird." I am not kidding.

Unbelievable but true.

I'm really glad to be home.


after I got back from my travels late Thurs night, our DSL was out -- network circuit problems in our geographical area -- didn't get restored until this morning -- only now do I realize just how anxiety-provoking it was to be unconnected. Especially since during my visit to my mom's I could only get on for brief bits of time -- I haven't really read anything online for a week. Much catching up to do ...


random misc

I saw an ad two days ago for "extreme whitening" toothpaste, whose flavor was "empowermint." After that, where else can "X language" go?

Even post offices in small towns don't have appropriate signage. I guess the assumption is that if you're driving there, you already know where to turn. I keep winding up driving off the edge of town by mistake and having to loop back through what seems awfully countryish.

I've had to make some rules for my mom, which she keeps trying to circumvent. I've said that she cannot move with her:
(1) scrap paper
(2) broken items (dishes, vases, lamps)
(3) pieces of cardboard, string, or cloth that are not actually being used for packing.

Does that seem so unreasonable? I'm not even going to be here for the truly miscellaneous stuff...

This is my last day of packing my mom's house. Then tomorrow I get to go visit some old friends for two days. And then finally I get to go home. I'll be glad to be back with my family, my routine, my computer. Maybe my brain cells will reawaken.


in the middle of the country

I spent yesterday travelling -- I am visiting my mother in Midwest College Town for a few days of heavy lifting. I am here to pack up her house -- she is moving to a smaller place without stairs, which will be much easier for her to manage. But she has not moved in over 40 years. You cannot imagine how much stuff there is to weed out and pack up. And she's deeply attached to most of it.

a few notes from the drive from the airport (about 40 miles) -- visible from the highway were:
17 churches
5 church billboards
4 tanning salons
4 gun shops
1 Starbucks

Starbucks is a really new feature in this landscape -- I was really surprised to see it there.


life imitates fiction

Thanks to Curtis who pointed me to the article at Boing Boing (which I'm really going to have to start reading more regularly) about Pringles preparing to put advertisements on individual potato chips. I feel like I have read something like this in a novel by Gibson or Sterling. Certainly in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age , which I highly recommend for anyone interested in the fate of print culture, animated advertising crawls on every surface and holographically chases passerby in exactly the ways some people predict RFID tracking may do in the near future. I just can't remember whether the ads were so literally ingested. Talk about cultural interpellation.

It also seems especially weird that the first advertising planned for Pringles is for a Trivial Pursuit game. Which will probably subconsciously appeal to people -- if you eat the facts, then maybe you will learn them.

It might be interesting to go back to late 80s science fiction and see what was being suggested for the "future." Remember when disposable cameras first came out? All I could think about when I first saw them on display in Target was The Man Who Fell to Earth, a great Nicolas Roeg cult fave of my teenage years. David Bowie plays the alien who comes to Earth in search of a way to bring water back to his home planet. He's got more advanced technology than Earthlings, and leaks it out bit by bit to raise a fortune to try to build a spaceship that can take him back. One of the key things he introduces were disposable cameras. There's much more in the film -- including one of the most memorable scenes I know of involving contact lenses...



Somewhere, I know there are people whose entire job consists of appropriately naming things: products, streets, television shows, etc. Sometimes that seems like a fantasy career but other times I just have to wonder what they think they are doing. My yoga studio is in Wealthy Cultured Neighborhood, which is adjacent to Private University #1. Some of the people who live there are connected with Private University #1 (since their faculty make way more than those of us at Large Urban U) but others are the upper economic percentile of youngish professionals who are establishing families. It's maybe not as wealthy as some other neighborhoods in the city, but prides itself on the university atmosphere which is supposed to waft over the boulevards, infusing everything with cultural capital equivalent to the financial capital evidenced in the large houses and immaculate lawns. (In my neighborhood, most houses have 1 or more dogs, many of which are German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Pit Bulls, often kept in the yard behind a fence to scare off intruders before they come too close. In Wealthy Cultured Neighborhood there are no fences, and no dogs visible. All you see are lawns and little signs that say "no dogs" with a slash through a picture of a pooping pooch. The security systems are silent, invisible, omnipresent.)

So, anyway, on the way to yoga I keep driving past a site of new home construction: a group of what they're calling "carriage houses" arranged around a central green space. Basically these are townhomes built over and around garages. What causes me to notice this particular site: it's going to be called Cheyne Walk. Now, Cheyne Walk, a street in the Chelsea neighborhood of London, is famous for many of its former residents -- but the one that comes first to my mind is Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who lived at #16 for roughly ten years after his wife's death in 1862 -- ten years of incredible artistic productivity in both painting and poetry. Rossetti is one of the greatest poets and artists of the 19th century. He's also famous for an eccentric bohemian lifestyle: chloral addiction, numerous mistresses, exotic animals in the house, and much carousing. Hardly the sort of association you'd expect in Wealthy Cultured Neighborhood. So I have to wonder, do they have any idea who lived at Cheyne Walk? Or is it appealing just because it's a London street name?


There's nothing like manual labor to remove all publishable thoughts from your brain. I've been reading blogs, but just couldn't come up with anything to add to the overwhelming amount of stuff out there.

Though it was satisfying to calculate that my gf and I purchased, hauled, carried, and installed close to 2,000 pounds of cement blocks over the weekend. Now the yard really should be escape-proof, even for terriers who like to dig.


create your own avatar

thanks to scribblingwoman for this link to online software to design your own avatar bit by bit. Creepy fun to look over pages of mouths, noses, etc...

zing in a glass

beverage of the day: green tea lemonade. (if you just soak the tea bags in cool water for a while you get a light, non-bitter tea -- then just add lemon juice and sugar)


question for the week

Last Thursday I talked to my colleague R. We both were up for tenure this year, and we both got it -- his case was more painful than mine, because he'd actually been up last year, but due to procedural mishandling by malevolent administrators, went up again this year. We both made it, which is great.

He asked me whether I'd been congratulated on this achievement. Pointing out what is an odd social failing in a department that actually is fairly civil (as English depts go). In some past years, the chair has announced tenurings at our last faculty meeting of the year; that didn't happen this year, I think as an oversight rather than deliberate snubbing. But in my dept people routinely manage to organize baby showers for faculty and staff; we can't manage a little reception, or even an email announcement, for people who've gotten tenure? (and don't even get me started on the heteronormativity of quasi-mandatory showers -- )

I'm not really concerned for myself personally, as I actually don't desire the limelight. To be fair, my chair said congratulations one on one to me when I told him I'd received the provost's letter (the final stage of decision-making at Large Urban U.). Those colleagues I'm close to already know I got tenure; the others might figure it out over the next few years. But I think it's significant in terms of what it says about academic professional/social culture. So my questions, for any readers who are associated with academic departments: does your dept mark tenure in any kind of way? or is it the great unspoken event? and why is that? no party because some people might have voted against the candidate? no party because we don't want to think about people who didn't make it? no party because there's the implicit (hypocritical) assumption that if you made it you should have and so it's not a big deal?

well, it is a big deal. So I'm just wondering if academic culture in other locations sustains rituals of some sort around this.