not my usual workout

When you've spent the last three days hacking up mucous, as I have, it really works some deep abdominal muscles. I do plenty of ab work, but the coughing located some muscles I don't usually use. My abs are now sore from coughing so much. That's ridiculous but true.

In good news, I'm slowly getting better. Felt like the walking crud at the office today, but it was an interesting conversational test piece:
Colleague 1: "oh, you've got what I had last week. And it lingers (coughs to prove it). I had to go home and sleep in between my classes." (followed by more sympathy)
Colleague 2: "How was your holiday?" (I cough and say "good, until I got sick") "Guess mine was better than yours!"
Colleague 3: "People always wonder if they're sick or if it's allergy." (me: "well, since I had a high fever, I know I'm sick") "And you know what? it's both! ha ha!"

In case you couldn't figure it out, Colleague #1 would best be able to pass in the so-called "real world." She's also disliked by many of her peers for her sophistication, professionalism, and social conservatism. (I disagree with her on most political issues, but we have a good working relationship anyway.) Colleague #2 is one of my favorite old guys on the hallway. I think this counts as "banter." Colleague #3 has been embittered by the system.
{Last comment edited a bit this morning to be less cranky.)

Finding Neverland

So one of the movies we saw over the holiday before I got sick was Finding Neverland. On one hand, it's got all the ingredients that apparently are pulling in the crowds: it's got a family theme; it gives one version of the backstory to Peter Pan; it has cute little kids and a dog in it; Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, and Julie Christie for star power; and it has an amazing ability to turn the entire theatre audience into weeping puddles by the end. I kid you not -- I'll tear up at all sorts of movies, so I'm no litmus test. But the big guy who sat behind me? the senior citizens at the end of the row? the teenaged girls? Everyone. My gf and I actually stood outside and watched people coming out. Nary a dry eye to be seen.

On the other hand, there's a lot of potentially disturbing stuff here too. After all, it's about a grown man (J.M. Barrie) who likes to spend his afternoons in the park playing imaginary games with someone else's children. The first 20 minutes or so are really uncomfortable to watch. Depp gives an amazing performance that teeters exactly on the boundary between playfulness and flirtation -- with his wife, with Sylvia Llewellyn Davies (the mother of the boys), and with the boys, especially the one called Peter. Now, because it's a big-budget movie released during the holidays, we all know it can't possibly be about a pedophile, right? So one of Barrie's friends takes him aside and says, basically, "you can't keep doing this, people are talking about you." And Barrie says "You mean with Mrs Davies?" and his friend says "Yes. But also with the boys." Barrie denounces all such rumors, and we the audience are summarily dismissed too, asked to stay and enjoy the film only if we can agree not to worry about such questions.

To the extent that you can do that, then, you get drawn into the story of Barrie's life as this film tells it. Wounded by his own childhood and the death of his brother at young age, he's an adult who longs for the innocence of childhood. He both recognizes and projects his own issues in/onto the boys, who have lost their father. As a playwright, he's struggling against blockage and failure. The imaginary games he plays with the boys provide him with material that becomes the successful stage play of Peter Pan. Life is fodder for art, according to this film; and the imagination can transform life into something better, at least for a little while.

Anthony Lane's review in the New Yorker points out some of the many ways in which this film does not actually represent Barrie's life. It too is an imaginative construction, which I think is only implicitly acknowledged in that early conversation between Barrie and his friend. What 21st century audiences expect to find in Peter Pan is something a little more sugary than what is actually in Barrie's text -- most people today think of Disney before anything else. Why did the story of Peter Pan resonate with its Edwardian audiences? Because death, the donning of adult responsibilities, the loss of childhood, were familiar obstacles for all adults. Why do today's viewers weep at the end of this movie? For exactly the opposite reason: we don't have an intimate familiarity with loss. We are stunned by the multiple losses experienced by the children in this film. We live in a world in which people live longer, in which we can buy enough entertainment stuff to prolong our childhoods forever, in which the transition from childhood to adulthood is marked by sex, not loss/death. For us, we can't not see sex hovering around the edges of this story, even though the film tries to banish it from our sight. What really happened? What did Barrie's wife think? What did the first viewers of Peter Pan think it was really about? There's no way to know. This film gives us maybe a partial glimpse. But it also tells us a lot about our own time.


vacation virus strikes again

This is the first time in about 36 hours that I've felt up to sitting at the computer. I got hit with a chest cold/virus thing that started out slowly Friday night. Some congestion, nothing too terrible. I slept late Saturday and thought I was getting rid of it. But by 6 pm I had a fever of 101.5, headache, and a bad cough. I felt really lousy. Last night was really bad, because I was tired, but couldn't sleep because I couldn't breathe properly. Then all the shallow breathing started causing an anxiety reaction. Horrible. Plus I had to keep getting out of bed to cough up phlegm. I think I finally got sleep around 5 this morning. My fever broke around noon today, so I'm definitely on the mend. But I'm trying to take it easy. Once I get off the computer I'm heading back to the couch. I ought to grade some papers, or read my colleague's third-year review dossier. But I might just have to watch another episode of Queer as Folk on DVD.

If I get sick, it nearly always happens in the vacation at semester's end, rather than during the school year. Once I relax a little, my immune system also relaxes I guess. So maybe getting this now means I won't get sick in the longer winter break, right? I'm trying to put a positive spin on things, since I really hate to be sick. I am a lousy patient. I get really frustrated with not being able to do my normal activities. And then that often prolongs the misery because I start back too soon. So I'm really trying to take the rest of today off. I have to be functioning tomorrow and the rest of the week. At least the fever burned out the germs pretty quickly. But it left me feeling wrung out and tired.

Blech. OK, I'm heading back to the couch. Now I really wish I had a laptop so I could snuggle up in a blanket and read blogs at the same time.



Just in the past year or so, I have really noticed the full moon's effect on me. I don't sleep much on or around the full moon. It's not insomnia, exactly. More like a strong unwillingness to go to sleep. The dogs are definitely more restless around the full moon, too. I don't know if I picked it up from them, or if living with them has somehow put me more in touch with the lunar rhythm. So, two nights ago, which I think was the night before it was technically full, I was up until 5. Last night I managed to turn in around 3, which isn't totally unusual for me anyway. I aim for 1 or 2, but if I get that second wind, then sometimes I'm just up.

But any new change in my sleep patterns gives me a little bit of anxiety, because I have a fear of insomnia. I've never had it, I don't think. But my mother & brother had it, and my dad certainly had very peculiar sleep patterns. I've always been a sound and heavy sleeper. I can drink coffee at 10 pm and go to sleep a couple of hours later. Usually, my issues result from just not getting enough sleep due to scheduling, rather than any other sort of concern. But I know that all sorts of things are changing in my body as I get older. Sleep seems to be one of them. I wake up more easily in the night (partly since I'm the on-call dog mom, so if either of them needs something, they come to me to wake me up) and I have a harder time sleeping past 10 in the morning. Though today I managed to loaf around til 11:30.

So at least figuring out the lunar connection gave me some peace of mind -- for a few days each month, if I just can't seem to go to bed, I have a reason for it, not just general decrepitude and aging.



Over the past few years, my partner and I have developed our own Thanksgiving traditions. This is how it went this year. We slept late, I fixed scrambled tofu and soy bacon for breakfast, and then we went to the gym. (My gym is open every year on Thanksgiving day -- and my yoga place had morning classes, too, which would have been a great option except for the sleeping late.) Then we came back and took the dogs to the park for a romp. This year, we met up with my father-in-law at the park -- we usually don't spend the day with any family members, but he was in town and wanted to see us a bit. Then he went off to his society shindig, and we went home to eat vegan Thanksgiving food from the natural foods place -- they do a pre-planned menu thing, where you just specify how many people you're ordering for, and pick it up on Wednesday night. It's pretty tasty, and it means that the day is a real holiday for me too. The dogs get special Thanksgiving food too. Then we went to the movies. Also a new twist on tradition -- we've always had the good intention of going out to the movies, but have often wound up staying in with DVDs instead. I think the key factor was that we didn't eat dessert before going out. Then we came home, and for the past hour or so our frozen vegan blueberry pie has been baking in the oven. We've each been writing/playing on our computers, geeks that we are. We'll rendezvous in a little while for pie and another movie.

All in all, it's been a great day. Very relaxing. Around Christmas time, we have to spend a lot of time with my partner's family, who are local. Travelling to see my mom is much more pleasant if we do it at some time other than the holidays. So we've been able to clear Thanksgiving for just us, which has been really nice.

I am so thankful for my partner, and for the life we've created together. I'm thankful also for the chance to share my life with two dogs -- over the past three years this new path has helped me to learn more about the web of feeling that connects all living beings together, and to become a better person through living in a new family group. I'm thankful for my friends old and new, face to face and virtual. Without all those moments of connection and support and laughter, this existence would be so much more bleak. And yes, I'm thankful for the internet, and for bloggers. When I stumbled into the blog world in May, I had really no idea how important it would become to me. Gratitude overflowing, y'all --


reading matter

OK. Maybe I'm not that detail oriented, in some aspects of my life. Because today was the first day that I actually read a Starbucks paper napkin. So I don't know if this poetry has always been printed on them or not. But in case you don't have one (or your politics preclude you from ever succumbing to the temptation of chain lattes) this is what it says (along with a spiraling design):
extract the secrets
of my soul

mine becomes yours

(I've formatted the indents to reflect the graphic design -- though the words are also curved around the spiral motifs, which I can't replicate here)

I suppose this is the textual equivalent of the abstract art you see in hospitals or corporate buildings -- abstraction works in those settings because you can order it up color-coordinated to your decor, and because you don't run the risk of offending anyone with representational art. (I'm also not against abstract visual art -- I just want to point out the marketplace value of it in today's world.) This is poetry that most people don't even see, or if they do, they pause only briefly and move on.

I'll save a full textual analysis for later.


creative obstinacy

...might be one way of describing my persistence this evening in crafting a truly fabulous class plan for tomorrow. Even though I know that a lot of my students won't be there. As we get to the end of the term, I've learned that I have to lecture more explicitly, since they're doing less of the reading, and attendance gets more sporadic. Although my pedagogical philosophy and my teaching style are very much discussion based, I suspect that I'd also be pretty good at doing large lectures. It would take a heck of a lot of work, though. Every time I revamp one of my mini-lectures (since I never lecture for a whole class period -- maybe 30 mins at a time, tops) I have new respect for my colleagues in history who lecture every class day. Anyway, those few students who show up tomorrow get a cool presentation with some new slides that I'm pleased with.

I know, it's sort of silly at this point in the term to be putting this much effort in. But I hate the way the literature at the end of the term always gets short shrift. Maybe it's time to teach the course backwards.


nano update

This weekend I went to an event for people in my area who are doing NaNoWriMo. It was interesting to see the range of people who are also going through this crazy and wonderful process. It's incredibly inspiring to me, that 40,000+ people are signed on to attempt to write a novel this month. People of all ages, professions, locations; and novels of all genres. Creativity is an innate human capacity, one that our culture tends to dampen down and cordon off, telling us that it's best left up to the professionals. If you spend time making something that matters to you just because you want to, it's a really great thing. Whether or not you show it to anyone, or get recognition for it, or any of that.

My novel? I am way, way behind on my word count -- the goal is 50,000 by the end of November -- and I may not make that target. But even if I don't, I've already gotten so much out of the process. It's been incredibly freeing to just sit down and write something that doesn't have an argument, an audience, a rhetorical strategy, or evidence. Something that is just pure play. Especially since I've been struggling with some blocks in my professional writing, this experience has been a good way to loosen them/me, I think. I'm behind on my word count only for time reasons. I'll know better next year how to plan my month to enable the furious composition necessary for NaNo. And I've got some extra time next week with the holiday...who knows how many words I might be able to crank out?

The NaNo event was also kind of interesting, since I'm rarely in social situations where I don't know a single person, and where there isn't one shared interest drawing us together. Obviously, there was some kind of interest in writing shared among all of us, plus the willingness to attempt this. But beyond that, not much. I made an effort to talk to people, maybe 9 or 10 of them -- kind of a big deal for me, since I'm introverted and pretty picky in choosing my friends. But this was an event mostly attended by other nerdy introverts, so I assumed most of the social weirdness was due to a general lack of social skills.

But the gathering also forced me to recognize one of my own biases. Two of the women I chatted with were wearing crosses around their necks. And as soon as I was standing close enough to them to realize this, I started looking for ways out of the conversation. Now, I have several friends who are practising Christians, and two close friends who are active in their Unitarian churches. But I don't know anyone who wears a cross. And for me, it signals a kind of close-minded religiosity that really puts me off. I know that's an unfair judgement. If I were in a work situation, or some other kind of relation that would require us to spend time together, then I would make the extra effort to get to know these individuals and perhaps do a little educating (of them and me). But in a casual social setting, the cross seems like a voice saying "BACK AWAY, you lefty non-Christian lesbian." I just don't want to bother putting out any effort at all to find out if that's really what its wearer would say or not.

Obviously, I don't usually encounter crosses in my social circles. So this was interesting. I've had students with crosses before, of course, but in that case my feelings about it are completely irrelevant, since we don't have a peer relationship in which one would share personal information.


movie roundup

Until someone builds something like all consuming to keep track of the movies I've seen, I only sporadically keep up with them here. But that's better than not keeping track at all. I once knew a guy who had a notebook where he listed every single movie he saw -- and he'd been doing this since he was 15. I'd love to have a list like that. Mostly because my memory for titles or actors' names is lousy, so it'd be a big help when I want to recommend a film, or see something again. imdb and Netflix are a big help for looking things up, but only if you can remember some detail to get you started with the search, rather than the miscellany my brain holds on to: you know, that film we saw last winter that had the blond woman in it, who was in that other movie about the spy? and there was the car accident, and the little kid? I'm forever trying to trace back through the recesses of my lousy memory. The plus side of a bad memory, though, is that I can rewatch a film I saw 10 years ago and fully enjoy it a 2nd time, since I've forgotten everything but the broadest outline of characters and plot. (Not true for everything, but for a lot of movies.)

Anyway, some of things I've seen recently include:
  • Sideways -- we just saw this today, and I really enjoyed it. It's smart, it's funny, and it has the marvelous Sandra Oh in it (if you haven't seen her in Last Night, you really should! it's a wonderful bittersweet existential indie pic). Ostensibly it follows two guys on a trip through wine country during the week before one of them is due to get married -- it's a buddy picture, a last fling/wild oats picture. But it's also about creativity, about arriving in early middle age and trying to figure out your life, and about how deep knowledge acquired in the course of pursuing a hobby or interest -- in this case, wine -- can wind up offering the key to understanding the larger picture.
  • Undertow: David Gordon Green can create a beautiful shot -- but there's not a whole lot of plot in any of his movies. I like All the Real Girls the best of any of his that I've seen. Unlike a French movie with no plot (like any Rohmer film, for instance) , where at least you have characters talking -- this movie you don't have much talking either. Green wants the setting/scenery to do the talking. But I enjoyed it well enough while I was watching it.
  • The Incredibles. I saw it. I admired the technical aspects. I acknowledged the sweet family values behind it. I fell asleep. Really, I did. I knew I'd possibly have a hard time sitting through it, because I just don't really like animation. That puts me firmly on the margin of most American viewers -- it probably has to do with how I was raised or something. But it's true. I just don't like cartoons. No matter how cute, or sophisticated, or violent -- whether it's Loony Tunes or anime, it mostly leaves me cold.
  • The Forgotten. Julianne Moore is definitely in my list of actors I'd watch reciting the phone book. And I really enjoyed this thriller up until the last 20 minutes -- there was really no way to resolve the movie in a fulfilling way. Interesting mix of the psychological and the extraterrestial.
  • Birth. Fascinating to watch this one in a movie theatre, since there are a couple of scenes that had people (mostly men) freaking out -- giggling/gasping in discomfort. Intriguing premise, and some really interesting acting -- it's all about family dynamics. Points for the great haircut on Nicole Kidman, too.
  • By Hook or By Crook (DVD). I LOVED this movie. It's beautiful, moving, funny, quirky. Best of all, it features two very butch women in a buddy pic that isn't about being lesbian or transgender. The characters (played by the co-writers and directors of the film) are just who they are. For me and my partner, it was extremely refreshing to see masculine women on screen -- you very rarely see butches, even in lesbian films, except as minor characters. IfThe L-Word is mainstreaming the representation of lesbians on screen, it's only presenting a certain version of lesbian sexuality (long haired femmes with femmes), one that's really appealing to straight men, who make up a big portion of the audience for that show. Not that any one show, or any one movie, can ever represent the complexity and variety of lesbian gender and sexuality -- any more than any one hetero movie can -- but because there are still far fewer lesbian films made, the stakes involved in such representations are pretty high. I'm a femme-identified lesbian, but because I'm attracted to and partnered with a butch woman, my identity as a lesbian is no more represented in The L-Word than my partner's is. By Hook or By Crook is also exciting because it's coming out of the Bay Area punk dyke scene (Sini Anderson and others were involved in the making of it) and there's a lot of creative independent energy visible in the film. Digital video is one tool for the coming aesthetic revolution . . .


if only they would take a note

Dear English Department,
Please excuse Professor Mel from her duties today. She hasn't slept properly in several days. She woke up with a sore elbow, the result of excessive computing last night combined with the 45-lb puppy sleeping on her arm for 2 early-morning hours. She would really rather be at home, as she usually is, on Fridays, relaxing and recuperating from the long week. She needs to go to yoga class instead of sitting on this Master's thesis defense. She would rather not even have to finish reading this particular Master's thesis, which although excellently researched and written, is so dull that it makes her want to draw graffitti in the margins rather than comments. She's not too cranky yet, but we fear that Extreme Grumpiness may soon ensue. It would probably be better for all persons involved if she were excused.

The Early-Morning Whine Generator.


let them be barking at nothing, please

Julie recently wrote about her watchcat going on the alert early one morning. For the last ten minutes, our dogs have been barking and running from one door to the other. Now, this could be due to one of the neighborhod stray cats. Or it could be something more menacing. Normally I wouldn't be that weirded out -- after all, our dogs bark at anything or anyone who comes near our house. Which in our neighborhood is a good thing. But last night, we were all in the front room watching TV and suddenly our younger dog started aggressively barking at the front door. My gf peeked out the side window and saw that there was a guy standing on our front porch! This was like 9:30 pm, totally dark outside, etc. Very disturbing. He went away after a couple minutes, probably because the dogs were barking. But it kind of freaked us out.

We have an alarm system, of course, and we have two dogs. All our neighbors have dogs. So stuff rarely happens around here without someone being alerted. But still.


ick. double ick.

At Target the other day, I happened upon a truly bizarre item: a calendar of images that are the fruit of a collaboration between Celine Dion and Anne Geddes. Apparently there's also a book, with accompanying music tracks.

Now, I have never been much for cutsey decor, and so I've never really understood the appeal of Geddes's art -- you know, the babies-as-still-life-objects thing. I've also never really understood the appeal of Celine Dion (although I have seen a couple of great drag queens lipsync in homage and that was all right).

But look at these pictures (at the link above). Does anyone else find these as creepy and weird as I do? First of all, newborns are not especially pretty or cute to anyone except their biological relatives. These pics are all of babies too young to even have their eyes open. Then, she's photoshopped the images so that they appear as if they're sleeping inside flowers or other plant parts. It's all vaguely and disturbingly sexualized, yet with a crystalline veneer of "sweet innocence," as if the Sugar Plum Fairy were channelling Georgia O'Keefe.

Who buys this stuff? People who have kids surely have their own pictures of their own little darlings. So is this for people who don't have kids? If so, what is the appeal? Or is it just for OBGYN offices, baby clothing stores, or other themed settings?

imho: keanu is not as bad as people think

Finally, a decent quiz answer. Yup, it's me and New Kid who are searching for meaning and trying to save the world.

And I get to wear black. Thank goodness.

the student who I can't stand

There's a student in my small class who has been sorely trying my patience all semester. I haven't blogged about her before because I'm really trying not to complain about people in any specific way . . . she spends a significant portion of her life on line (because who would be friends with her in real life?) and maybe I've been paranoid that she would somehow find me.

She is severely socially impaired, to the point that she can't recognize when other people are talking and interrupts them (and me). She claims to be ADD and she frequently twitches and does weird physical things in class. She refuses to put her desk in the circle with everybody else, and sits off to the corner. She's 28 years old and still lives with her parents. She's nerdy, to the point where she's basically a parody of nerds everywhere (and I am one, so I am allowed to say this) -- she's a big Star Trek fan, she believes in vampires, she plays role-playing games in full costume, and she writes fan fiction. Now, just to make it clear where I stand: my best friend reads and writes fan fic, many of my other friends are into Star Trek, and I used to play D&D (though not for many years). So really, I have nothing against any of those things. But put them all together in someone who is really, really irritating, and it just gives the rest of us nerds a really bad name. Plus she smells kind of bad.

So basically my plan has been to ignore her weird sucking-up comments when I walk in the room, her irrelevant self-revelations during discussion, and her many strange behaviors. Each class period, she'll make a range of comments which rarely have anything to do with the material at hand. My challenge as a teacher is then to say something intelligent that picks up some tiny little speck of idea from her blather and turn it into a coherent point about the material. I can see the other students in the class rolling their eyes when she talks, and then watching me to see what I'm going to do. But tonight it was really hard. I had a hard time keeping my face blank as I listened to the IDIOCY that came out of her mouth. I think the worst was when she was defending an example of racist 19th-century pseudo-science because she said she had a friend who underwent alternative treatment for cancer and therefore she believes in pseudo-science. WTF?

thank goodness the semester is nearly over.

message from the universe?

My car doesn't have a CD player, so I only listen to the radio while I'm driving. I mostly have it on the 80s retro station, though I'll switch around during commercials. Anyway, my day on campus was neatly bookended: as I exited the freeway to get on the main road to campus at 11:00 this morning the Beastie Boys "Fight For Your Right (to Party)" came on the radio and I rocked out all the way to my building's parking lot. And then, at 9:20 tonight as I was pulling out of the same parking lot, the same song came on. Purely random coincidence? Message from the universe?

You wake up late for school, man you don't wanna go

You ask you mom, "Please?", but she still says, "No!"
You missed two classes, and no homework
But your teacher preaches class like you're some kind of jerk

CHORUS: You gotta fight for your right to party

Your pop caught you smoking, and he said, "No way!"
That hypocrite smokes two packs a day
Man, living at home is such a drag
Now your mom threw away your best porno mag (Bust it!)


Don't step out of this house if that's the clothes you're gonna wear
I'll kick you out of my home is you don't cut that hair
Your mom busted in and said, "What's that noise?"
Aw, mom you're just jealous it's the Beastie Boys!




We're getting near the end of semester! I have only:
  • 5 more class sessions with my undergrads
  • 2 more class sessions with my graduate students

And, yes, I'm counting. Let's see, what else can I count?
  • 3 thesis defenses (and theses to read)
  • 5 letters of recommendation to write
  • 55 papers to grade
  • 29 final exams
  • 3 committee meetings
  • 1 department meeting
  • 2 department parties (one day, one evening)
I'm sure there's more, but that's a start. Oddly comforting to get it all down numerically. It seems much more manageable.


holiday spirit

So the holiday season is definitely here: Starbucks has their holiday drink menu available, Christmas lights are strung up in the major shopping areas, and the radio is full of ads for lawn service companies who will come and decorate your house for you if you don't want to climb ladders. The whole house-decorating thing seems to be a bigger deal around here than what I remember as a kid -- I'm not sure if it's a regional difference, the urban/smaller town difference, or simply a larger consumer shift over the past 30-some years. Growing up, only a few houses in my neighborhood put some lights in the yard. There was a house a few blocks away with a big picture window in the front -- they always placed a huge mechanical Santa and a big tree in the window so you could drive past and see it.

The major decorating on our street won't start until Thanksgiving weekend, when our across the way neighbors will take down their "Harvest" and "Thanksgiving" decorations and begin the construction of a tinselly Nativity and flashing-light extravaganza. During December we can always easily give directions to anyone who cares to visit us, simply by pointing out their yard. In fact, if you wanted to visit us by helicopter you could probably land via their lights. It's truly astounding. They're a retired couple, and keep their yard decorated year round, with seasonally appropriate stuff: Valentines, Easter, July 4th, Halloween, etc etc. But Xmas is when they go all out.

We don't put any lights in our yard. Mostly because we just don't have that much extra time/energy to bother. We can barely keep the yard clean and mowed, much less decorated. But I do like looking at other people's lights. The little kid in me is still excited by them.

I grew up in a non-religious and not even nominally Christian household. We did have a Christmas tree for a few years, initially because my brother really wanted it -- he wanted to be like the other kids, for a change. But our whole family kinda got into the aesthetics of it: picking lights and ornaments that seemed tasteful, pretty, or meaningful to us.

As an adult, I didn't do anything for Christmas -- the day of, I'd usually go out to a movie with some friends, maybe eat Chinese food. Or just take a walk in the park, read a good book, and wait til the world returned to normal the next day. I was comfortable with that. It's not my tradition, so I didn't feel like I was missing something. Though it can be a weird day to be alone, even so.

But my partner grew up in a Christian family, and she really, really loves Christmas. More so than anyone I've ever known. And experiencing the season through her eyes is really joyful. She loves Christmas movies, holiday music, the whole bit. Last year I surprised her one night by going out and getting a little artificial tree (the 3-foot tabletop size is all our tiny house can handle) and some lights & ornaments. It was a really great experience to see her face when she came home and we had Christmas in the house. It will be fun to pull out that stuff in a couple of weeks and set it up again.

Today was the first day that felt a little holidayish. We ordered our vegan Thanksgiving meal from the health food place (although I like to cook, we make it a real holiday for both of us by having someone else cook for a change!); we stopped by Starbucks and indulged in fancy soy drinks; and my girlfriend's been humming holiday music. All of that stuff I used to scoff at now makes me happy, since it makes my partner so happy. We're looking forward to the end of our respective semesters, and being able to hang out, go to the movies, and pursue our creative projects. I feel fortunate that we've been able to create relatively stress-free ways of spending the holiday season. The fall semester is always such a bear to get through, that it's nice to have something to really look forward to at the end of it.

elliptical posting

Now that the weather is turning colder, our house is occasionally visited by various outdoor creatures (insects, reptiles, mammals) who are seeking warm shelter. There is one here with me in my study, but I can't remove him/her without doing it harm. (Or myself, since it would involve a ladder etc). I can't be more specific about my visitor without revealing key facts about my geographic location. All I can do is type at the computer and hope that my visitor finds his way out soon. The back door is open a bit so the dogs can go in and out. I'm assuming that's how he/she got in.

While I typed the first paragraph, he/she disappeared from view. But is probably still in the room somewhere.

The visitor is not dangerous in any way. Or threatening, or disgusting. So I'm happy to share my warm room for a while.


Unravelling week

I really needed this day off. Caught up a bit on sleep (I've been running a terrible deficit), went out to lunch with my gf, went to the public library, finished watching a movie, puttered around. It was a really, really long & tiring week. Not so terrible in terms of what I had to do, but this was what I think of as Unravelling week. It happens every semester, around this time -- all of a sudden, the stresses of real life start showing up in the classroom. Some students figure out that they're not really going to make it through the rest of the term, and need to arrange for a "special case" withdrawal. Some just want to come and talk to me about their problems, because now they know me well enough. Some want to explain, to apologize, to let me know that it isn't my fault they're not in class.

In the past week, I talked with the following students: one woman who I've taught for 3 semesters needs to withdraw from class because her marriage is falling apart and she can't concentrate; a young man has to miss class next week because of a liver biopsy -- his kidneys and liver are failing and the doctors don't know why; another's car was totalled and he may lose his job without transportation; a young woman is having trouble with her citizenship application because she and her mother got evicted from their apartment; another is being stalked and is trying to arrange for police protection while traveling to campus. And these are the students who explain their absences and distractions. I know for every one who talks to me, there are others who don't, but are also dealing with sick children or parents, addictions, legal issues, health concerns, and all kinds of other things.

This is the week when the sobering reality of my students' very full lives always hits home. Where does studying literature fit into all of that? I had such an easier time of things when I was in college. I worked, and I studied. But I didn't have a full-time job, or a baby, or any of the other things my students are juggling. Yes, I want them to fulfill the requirements of my course -- that's the educational contract I've set up in the syllabus. But when they don't, or can't, I'm perfectly happy to grant them the withdraw-pass. And to wish them well.

Most of my students have chosen to be literature majors. That's an increasingly unusual choice at this urban university, in an age of professional specialization. They're in my class for a reason. I can't always see what it is, or imagine what my class might mean to them, given their life situations. But the same reasons that make teaching adults difficult or frustrating (they can't always come to class; they can't always turn things in on time) are also what bring some of the greatest satisfaction. Two weeks ago, a student I'd taught several years ago came by to ask if I'd write a lettter for her law school application. She said, among other things, that the novels I'd taught in that women's studies course helped her to think about who she wanted to be. Helped her finish college (the first in her family to ever attend college), become the manager of her retail store, and now seek a professional degree. Literature and the world of ideas can make a difference. I know that sounds corny. But I see it all the time in my students. And those are the stories I try to hang on to when the sadder stories seem overwhelming.


pictures and individual voices

BitchPhd pointed me to Sorry Everybody, which is a fascinating site. People from around the world have submitted photos of themselves holding up signs/texts: lots of Americans saying "sorry" to the world and expressing regrets about the outcome of the election; but also photos from people in other nations saying "sorry" to Americans, in the sense of "with sympathy." There are hundreds of pictures on the site, and I find it a very powerful use of the web to try and create a sense of global community. Much more than just a text-based message board, these images of individuals underscore their written words with a sense of the real, of authenticity. As theorists of photography rarely tire of pointing out, photography creates an effect of authenticity, even when we know intellectually that the image is always the object of creative decisions, and of subconscious and/or intentional manipulation. There's also something very effective in the repetition of the simple word "sorry," and its double meaning.

Obviously, the site just collects the symbolic gestures of individuals -- I can imagine critiques of it that would argue it's ultimately ineffectual because it doesn't take the conversation any further. Yet there is something encouraging in looking into all these faces of people who share at least some points of view -- and more prominent in these photos, share some emotions. I've never seen so many pictures of people making "sad" faces. Staged, yes. But effective.



I am now going to have to Jump in the the shower, Throw on clothes, Drive quickly to campus in order to Hurriedly finish a Meaningless Administrative Task for my noon meeting. Crap. crap. crap. I actually got up early enough this morning to get to school with plenty of time. But then I hung around with my honey and the dogs, and then Error of Errors I started catching up on blogs. I don't get to read any on Tuesdays because I am embroiled in teaching prep & teaching for approximately 13 hours. By the time I get home all I can do is crash on the couch.

As it is I've barely read any (why are you all so prolific?) and don't have anything to say on my own except this ridiculous whine. Won't get to read blogs again (there's got to be a special verb for that, right? since "to blog" means writing) until late tonight. Sigh. That pesky job thing keeps getting in the way.

I'm definitely wearing jeans and boots today. That will at least give me some kick-ass attitude.

off I go.


best decision so far this week

Since last Wednesday, I've had to go to the vet twice (with two different dogs, one for annual shots and the other for a more troubling vomiting issue), take my car in (for oil change), and my car is now scheduled for more major work for later in this week. And I was supposed to go to the dentist this Wednesday. So I postponed the dentist. There's only so much life maintenance I can handle in a ten day period. Whew.

But my honey is back at home! since 4:30 this a.m. So maybe life will start to return to its regular groove.

Now, if I were a betting person, given the weather and the time of semester, I would predict that approximately one-third of my students will not show up for class today, and that of those who are there, about one-third will not have done the reading. Let's hope I'm wrong.


coming out as a wrimo

Yup, I'm doing it. I signed on to National Novel Writing Month on Oct 31st, just in time to start when the month officially began on Nov 1st. My best friend is also doing it, and her supportive enthusiasm helped me decide to take the plunge.
So I've been writing for a week on my novel. I'm a bit behind on my word count, which is ALL that matters in nanowrimo -- your goal, along with thousands of other people, is to reach 50,000 words by the end of November. But I'm doing it. And it's been great.

It's immensely freeing to just write, with no concerns for revision, for argument, for audience -- just to be doing something that is enjoyable for me. There are so many forces in our culture that want to curtail our innate human creativity. In the 19th century, for instance, everyone in the middle class and above, and a large number of people in the working classes, sang and/or played an instrument. That was just something you did for entertainment when you were by yourself, and especially when you were with other people. Today, some schools still retain music education (although it's frequently dropped when budgets get tight), but many people give it up by the time they reach adulthood. We are a nation of avid consumers of music, but we're told again and again that it's not something you could actually play/do yourself, unless you're really good, unless you want to make a career of it. So many of us (myself included) insist "oh, I can't sing." Well I don't believe that everyone in the 19thc necessarily could sing perfectly on-pitch -- but they believed it was something they could do if they liked to.

I have no dreams of becoming a Great Novelist. But if I want to spend some time writing because it is fun, because it wakes up my inner creative self who sometimes goes into sloth mode -- then why not.

It's also been really interesting to compare the feeling of this writing process with my academic writing. It's completely different. There's no pausing to reflect, to edit -- the idea is just to crank out as many words as you can in a month. And then, if you want, you can go back and edit, or extend it, or whatever. So I actually think it might have some freeing effects on my other writing too.

Why didn't I blog about it right away? I think I wanted to make sure I was going to move forward with it. But there was still that nagging voice that I'm trying to ignore, the one that says "your very few blog readers are mostly academics, and they will think you are wasting your time" or "your writing support group reads your blog and THEY will think you are wasting time" or "you're not really a writer, so why are you doing this."

That's the voice that is fast disappearing, every time I sit down and dream up another 1000 words. So yeah, it's worth it. Will I make 50,000? I hope so. Even if I don't, I feel like it's been a great experience already.


must. stop. reading. blogs.

I must grade. If I grade, then I get to watch a movie. I have several DVDs from Netflix at the moment. That ought to be a big enough carrot. But no, I've been poking around the blogosphere instead, during what was supposed to be a 5 minute "just check email" break.


tech time capsule

As much as my blog is sometimes a communication tool, sometimes a kind of journal, sometimes just a place to stash my stray thoughts, it is also a kind of time capsule -- for myself in the future, as well as anyone else who wonders what life was like for some individuals in 2004. (Shout-out to the anthropologists of 2050!)

Earlier this week, I went to change our cell plan -- excuse me, wireless plan (as I date myself perpetually in my language) -- so my honey and I would have nation-wide free minutes to each other. Because now all the stuff you used to have to pay extra for comes as part of the basic package. So I changed our Old Basic package to New Basic -- same price, way more stuff. But in the process we also had to upgrade both of our phones, because they were too old to handle the new wireless technology. (That was fine since one of them was ancient and barely worked anyway.) So we have new flip phones that are loads of fun. I always just get the free phone, the basic thing they are giving away -- I don't care enough about it to spend extra money on a phone. But because the pace of technology changes faster and faster all the time, today's giveaway phone seems pretty cool to me.

So now we've started Mel's Cell Phone Museum: now housing my first cell, which then became my gf's when we went in together on a "family" plan, and my second one, now relegated to artifact status. Who knows what we'll have in a few years...

Anyway, it got me thinking about my personal technology timeline. When I was a kid, we'd ask my parents to tell us about life before TV -- aside from stories about listening to WWII reports on the radio, they were annoyingly vague about the impact of technological change on their lives. They weren't early adopters of anything, and so my childhood experiences lagged behind many of my peers'. For my generation, we've already been through so many significant tech developments that it's already hard for me to keep track of them. So here's my start at my own timeline, part of my personal time capsule:

1982 I get my first "serious" stereo: separate components. A turntable, a single-deck cassette deck, a receiver, and speakers. The receiver is still in use in my living room today.

1983 I take two semesters of typing class in high school, where we learn on electric typewriters. I know how to calculate space for footnotes and use carbon paper. Erasing technology involved those little sheets of white powder on a plastic backing that you would place under the strike area to cover a mistake with white.

1985 I get a Walkman clone.

1985 I am given an electric typewriter for my high school graduation present. Until that time, all the typewriters in the house (3) were manuals. My parents continued to use manuals for several more years.

1988 I sign up for an account at the computer lab at my university, and learn the Word Perfect function commands. I have a plastic box to carry my 5 1/4-inch floppy disks to and fro. My senior thesis is the first thing I ever word processed on a computer, but I wrote it all in longhand draft first.

1990 Sick of writing long papers in crowded labs at my first graduate institution, I get my first computer: a Compaq laptop with a 486 processor running MS-DOS. It comes with a 2-inch thick manual that allows me to learn anything I want to know about DOS. I liked that. I now use 3 1/2 inch hard floppy disks.

1990 I'm living in cramped quarters, with most of my stuff in storage. I get a "boom box" that has a CD player. I begin to buy CDs rather than LPs.

1991 I get my first email account. I use PINE. I get an external modem. I wish I could remember how slow it was.

1992 I get a CD player component for my "good" stereo.

1993 I get a new Winbook laptop running Windows 3.1. It has a faster dial-up modem built in.

1995? I get my first cordless phone. Now I can wash dishes and talk to my friends at the same time. I soon invest in a headset attachment to ease the crick in my neck.

1995? I get a CD portable player for the gym.

1996 I am an early adopter of the PalmPilot: I get a 1000 model within a month of their release in March. This is probably the only device I've ever known instantly that it would change my life for the better. It did. For several years, people would stop me whenever I used it and ask me what it was.

1997 I get a new desktop PC running Windows 95. I get an external zip drive.

1998 In preparation for moving across the country, I give my turntable and 3 crates of LPs to a good friend who's an enthusiast. I hadn't listened to an LP in several years.

1998 Bypassing my university's crappy modem pool, I sign up with my first commercial ISP.

1999 I get my first TV and VCR.

2000 I get my first cell phone.

2001 My partner brings a DVD player into our new joint household.

2001 We get a Gamecube game console because the guy at Toys R Us told us he'd have some at about midnight on Dec 23.

2002 I get a new desktop computer running Windows XP. A faster dial-up modem.

2002 I get a new Palm, the m130. My original PalmPilot still works, but I wanted some enhanced functionality and some new software that wouldn't run on the old OS.

2002 I get my second cell phone, about 1 inch smaller than the first.

2004 We get DSL at our house and I fall in love with the Internet all over again.

2004 I get an MP3 player. I still listen to music in the old style, however, album by album, rather than mixing up songs. (Mostly.)

2004 My third cell phone, now a trim little flip model.

Thank goodness for Wikipedia, since I had to check names and release dates of some of these things to confirm my memories. As you can tell, I'm hardly technologically advanced about anything (although I've been doing informal tech support for my colleagues for years). The PalmPilot is the only thing I've ever gotten right away when it came out.

what will the weekend bring

My partner is out of town this weekend for work-related reasons. Fri-Tues makes it the longest time she's been away since we've been together. I've had to go out of town for longer spells, and her work schedule last summer meant that we only saw each other for an hour or two a day, which is almost like being out of town, but not exactly. So we've been apart before, but it's different for me to be the one alone in the house. Not entirely alone, of course -- the dogs are happy to snuggle in bed with me, especially since the weather has turned colder.

Before we moved in together, I lived alone for many years. I'm good at being alone. Or at least I was. It was a huge adjustment for both of us to live with someone else. And, frankly, for me to live with a dog (we had just one at first, before we adopted the puppy). I didn't know that I loved dogs -- I'd grown up with cats, who have a completely different way of being in the world. J, our older dog, deserves all the credit for teaching me the wonders of dogs. Seriously, she really changed my life. But when you live with dogs, you're never really alone. They want to be with you all the time, they're delighted when you walk in the door, they give you lots of attention. The first six months we lived together, I actually found it kind of overwhelming, being the introvert that I am. Now I find it comforting, and can't imagine living without the dogs.

But it will be interesting to be on my own for a few days.


scattered thoughts

It was oddly comforting to go into campus today, since most of my colleagues were equally depressed.

I never really thought we'd win. And yet I'm feeling down. I'm glad it was as close as it was, at least in some states. That suggests that there is some basis for trying to do the serious work that the left needs to do in this country. But what I've found especially depressing is all the bullshit about moral values. All this spin, now, to try and divert attention away from the global and economic issues.

I vote every year. I wonder what this will do to all those people who voted for the first time this year. Will they shrug and turn away from the process? Will they try to get involved? Can we get a new process? (Since I'm not so thrilled with what the Democratic party's been offering us lately.)

When I voted on Tues, there was a guy there who was very confused about how to do each step of the process -- he was next to me at the check-in table, and then in an e-booth next to me asking for help from the attendant. He was 56 years old and had never voted before. He voted for Kerry. What's he going to do now? I fear that all that vaunted increase in voter turnout is just going to dissipate.


I'm wiped out from a long crappy-mediocre day of teaching yesterday. My pessimism about the election is getting confirmed more and more by the hour. I could only watch the coverage last night in snippets, it was just too frustrating. I have horrible cramps. (Yeah, that's probably more personal than I usually get on this blog but somehow it seems fitting that I'm nauseous, in pain, and cranky today.) And, I have to meet with my chair because you know that administrative job I turned down in May? Well, they're turning on the pressure to try and get me to do it.

Now, I know I could be a starving orphan in a war-torn country and I should just stop feeling so miserable. But I'm just not real chipper today.


vegan brownies

OK, since Julie & Profgrrrl asked, here's my recipe for vegan brownies. (From Louise Hagler's Tofu Cookery)

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Whisk together in a saucepan, until there are no lumps:
1/3 cup unbleached white flour
2/3 cup water

Whip in:
1/2 lb tofu, blended until smooth and creamy (HINT: it works best with "silken" style tofu which is already the consistency of yogurt or heavy cream; if not available, get soft or very soft tofu and blend it with a tiny bit of water in blender/food processor)

Stir constantly over low heat until thickened. Cool completely.

To the cooled mixture, add:
2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Beat well.

In another bowl mix together:
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup oil

Add to the other ingredients and stir well.

Mix together:
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 scant tsp baking powder

Add this to the mixture above and stir until there are no lumps. Bake in a well-oiled and floured 10" square pan for 25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cut into 12 brownies.

For cake-like brownies, increase baking powder to 2 teaspoons and bake for 20 minutes.

This is one of my never-fails-to-impress-the-carnivores recipes.

If you haven't ever baked with tofu, it's worth a try even if you're not vegan. It creates very moist baked goods.



This is one of those days that makes me really happy to not always have to go to the office. If I had a weather pixie, she'd be dripping and gloomy looking. Woke up to thunderstorms this morning, decided I'd work at home. A good day to over-caffeinate, get my teaching prep done, even do some writing. That is, if I can tear myself away from the internet.

Republican operatives exposed

This is disturbing but also hilarious. Republican operatives tried to disguise themselves as gay Kerry supporters in Florida to try to turn voters away from Kerry. They were exposed in part because they were dressed like Republicans.