Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Language in the Real World

We'll take a break, for a day, from my enthusiasm for anti-procrastination practice and patting myself on the back for getting a very small amount of daily writing done, because, well, The Real World calls. And that shit is important.

You know, of course, that when I say The Real World, I don't by any means refer to that threat of a distant land where uppity college students are sent after they fail our classes and then get the dean to reverse the grade. Because that Real World, my friends, is a fantasy. Instead, I refer to the much more banal, ever-present Real World that exists on your television; the one that started it all; THE Real World, season 4870, on MTV.

So, I have to admit, even the Fluff part of me can't really take the Real World anymore. It seems to me--and this might well be a function of age--that only the places change, while the people (actors? characters? what do you CALL them?!) stay exactly the same, season after season. I think I officially handed in my beach towel after San Diego, which kicked off a trend of bar fights and arrests. [Interestingly enough, I think the cause of the fight and incipient arrest was the locals taunting the cast members. Not only a beautiful example of the fourth wall being broken down, but also of harrassment for their 2.3 minutes of fame. Hee.] And, as a side note, did the network heads at MTV decide that they're only going to film in hot places now, so as to maximize the chances of nakedness? Remember when RW used to be filmed in cold places like New York, or Boston, or London? Now it's all Austin, Las Vegas, San Diego. Season 4871--Real World: Kuala Lumpur...

Okay, so here's the thing that I saw as I toggled between Flip This House to Lost and Delirious (featuring a fetus-aged Mischa Barton, I might add. The film is actually ONLY interesting for that). I landed on an episode of Real World: Key West, in which two roommates were constantly referring back to an argument about some godawful thing (the substance of which was never actually discussed), defending their own positions to their other roommates, justifying their existences with winning lines that began with "the thing about me is...". If you've seen one episode, you've seen them all.

But wait!! Here's the best thing! So Janelle, dressed in a tank top and a waistband of a denim miniskirt, is in the process of explaining herself to one of her roommates (the entire time, she speaks to the mirror as she does her hair. Hmmm. If this were a novel, I'd condemn it for its overt symbolism). And she says, and God I wish I had a direct quote here: "He's mad because I'm self-confident, and he's insecure." Right, big surprise. You're no Coral, Janelle! But here it is---wait for it: "He's just looking for an escapegoat..."

Aw yeah, that's right--it's not a typo. An "escapegoat." Janelle is a freakin' SAVANT. Which of us doesn't need an escapegoat? Isn't it actually a more truthful rendering of the ways that scapegoating works? It draws attention more to he who needs the (now outdated term) "scapegoat" than the one who is painted with that brush.

All of Janelle's egomaniacal solipsism aside (and that's a big ol' mountain to push to the margin), she's a neologistic genius. Like Foucault, without all of the theory and social critique.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In Your $#$%^ FACE, Procrastination!

Ah, as one might cannily discern from the title, yes, I actually made some progress yesterday. Surprisingly, after all of the drama (mostly, primarily contained in my own head, but with occasional leakage out onto poor Mr. Fluff and Fluffmama), it was the same experience that I had writing the dissertation: You know, once you get in there, it's just not so bad. For a short time, anyway. And by short, I mean like a hour or two.

Regardless, Project M is underway. If all goes well, I can start on Project B when I'm through with draft of Project M. This is all starting to sound very James Bond, no? Hmm, Kfluff by day, secret academic agent by night. There's the way to make ass-in-chair sound sexy. And look at who's getting all ambitious now that she has two pages written?

Well, stay tuned. We'll see how it goes today. The only thing standing between me and the draft is the farm hustle. Let me warn you in advance--I call this the devil game. Sort of like if Hello Kitty were the face of Satan. (If you look at it, you'll get it.)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Avoidance Strategies

Well, this is hardly the only place where the blogosphere will reflect on this, but if you haven't read this yet, then get on it. [Unless you're one of those people who has absolutely no problem with the ass-in-chair, think-til-you-sweat thing. Then you can ignore this completely. And you can also earn my undying resentment.]

Academic Coach has a nice review of the book--thorough, and yet with enough leeway for you to still get something out of the book. I'd add to what AC says however, and it's one of the selling points of text--the authors have a subtle sense of humor. This is particularly necessary for me, one who can't decide whether to shamelessly mock myself for being unable to get this damnable article done, or else throw myself off the roof. The tagline of the book, for example, reads thus: "Don't go another minute without Procrastination." [Look, I'm not saying it's uproariously funny, but for what is ostensibly a self-help book, it's better than nothing, right?]

So, in keeping with the implicit suggestions of the book, I'm wrapping up this post and heading into Microsoft Word. Voy a con Dios.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Are They SURE?!!

Ah, Saturday morning. Perfect time to discover myself--by way of online quizzes, that is. So which Classic Female Literary Character Am I? See below for perplexing results:

Which Classic Female Literary Character Are you?

You're Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen!
Take this quiz!

Really?! I'm flattered, on the one hand (and curious to see what the other options were...Dear Emma B. was one, as was Cathy of the moors and abusive boyfriend Heathcliff), and sort of horrified on the other. Elizabeth is great and all, till the end, and Keira Knightley ain't gonna change that one bit. To top it off, I had a dearly beloved undergrad professor tell me once: "Elizabeth Bennett--I'd like to chase HER around the desk for a few hours." EEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWW!

{seen first at the inestimable Dr. B's place.}

Friday, May 26, 2006

Straight to Hell. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect...

That's me, and that's where I'm going.

In today's desperate bid to avoid working on my article, I decided to google myself. I know, I know, and you're right--it's not just procrastination at work, but also a bit of vanity and paranoia, all wrapped in an unsatisfying, hour-long venture. I was pleased to note that I share my not-terribly-uncommon name with a ceramicist (? what's the word for someone who does ceramics? ceramist?), a biologist, and apparently not a small number of young women athletes under the age of 15. Who knew?

In the course of skimming the 950 or so entries (of which very few are actually me, and many of which are defunct), I see my name and one of my colleague's, with the link leading me to a MySpace page. Argh, MySpace--the best-loved tool of the stalker generation. I've avoided this thing like the plague, but apparently, I should get over my lurker tendencies, because what I found, of course, is the page of a graduating student of mine who lists me (and the aforementioned colleague) in her list of heroes.

You would think that this would make me glow with pride. Oh no, dear readers, quite the opposite, because here's the deal: this student drives me around the bend. Almost literally. Generally, by the time she leaves my office, I'm using yoga breathing techniques to induce lightheadedness that will prevent me from yelling the phrase "I JUST don't care!!" at the top of my lungs. Chalk that reaction almost completely up to my own wacky pet peeves; this student is relatively bright, perky, well-versed in the kinds of thing that make the Fluff's heart sing. All of that, however, is delivered to others (and me in particular, I think) with herself as the constant point of reference. How does she begin to gloss a passage from a contemporary novel? By discussing her childhood. How does she answer a question about her presentation? By telling me about her friends. Many times, her formal research papers run along the same track. I know that this is par for the course with 21-year olds. I was far worse in my own day (which explains the desire to stifle negative responses to her). All I can think about, when she's talking, is the scene in Lessing's The Golden Notebook where the protagonist dreams that her boyfriend/husband comes after her, saying nothing but "I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I..."

I should also note in the student's defense that I've tentatively run this by my other colleagues who have had her in class; none of them seems bothered to any great extent. In fact, some truly adore her. So why aren't THEY the ones she chooses? How is it possible that she doesn't sense how I feel about her?

Hmmph. I suppose the answer to that would be located in the very thing about her that drives me batty.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Popular Culture Can Save Your Hair

No, seriously. Forget the fancy conditioners, gloss treatements, expensive highlights, extensions. What I just learned this week: having wide and deep knowledge about popular culture can ensure a good hair day, 9 times out of ten.

Here's the backstory. Since I moved to Urbania, I've been seeing the same hairstylist (and sort of paying through the nose for it). She's really a lovely woman--about my mother's age, but with a nice punk streak in her (or at least in her hair, which often has a shock of pink in it somewhere). So, I've been seeing her for years, and with good reason. She can cut layers like no one I've ever dealt with, and it's always a good haircut. Of late, however, it's always a good haircut that is nothing like the haircut I actually wanted. I know that this is par for the course with stylists, what one customer means by "one inch off the bottom" is very different from another. Just in case language was the problem, however, I've endeavored to bring pictures with me the last few times. And you know what that means--hours of sitting at the Barnes and Noble cafe with a stack of Celebrity Hairstyles and Hair Today... Meanwhile, being totally embarrassed about it, and thus having to use a strategically-placed copy of Harper's or a saucy American Bungalow to cover up the depth of my own vanity. So, all of this time and effort spent finding a damn picture, only to have the haircut itself look NOTHING like it. And I do mean nothing, as in "color is close to the model's..." and I didn't go in to get color done. ARGH!

So, despite my adversion to change and new people, I had to do it--I went to a new hairstylist yesterday. A charming lad, and I will say "lad" because he's 24, for crying out loud. A child, really, but very charming. And in the depths of my mortification (because what the hell do you say to someone you don't know, who's got your aesthetic future in his hands?), CL starts talking about, of all things, Bergdorf Blondes.

Yes! This is it! The answer to my prayers! Please, let me wax rhapsodic about Plum Sykes and her asinine columns in Vogue! From there, we tooled on to discussions of Nip/Tuck, Rilke poetry (?!), and the piece de resistance, This:

Even if it turned out to be some mullet/fauxhawk, I'd be tempted to come back. Instead, of course, it's shiny and delicious--CL calls it the "moden Farrah." I attribute it all, of course, to my own ability to discuss the cultural artifacts listed above with great detail and verve. Let this be a lesson to us all.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Owe, Owe, Owe Your Boat...

I woke up today thinking about debt. It would actually be more appropriate to say that I woke up this morning with that heart-pounding, sick-to-my-stomach feeling about debt. This is, in large measure, because Mr. Fluff and I have just bitten the bullet and bought plane tickets to go to a Very Old European City, which set us back more than we had expected. And there's no doubt that we'll pay it off, and have a fine time, and we'll just tighten up the old corset in the meantime. It's the placement of that charge, however, on top of the already-accumulated debt that gives me the old "just drank too much caffeine, feel like I'm running a marathon" feeling.

So, yes, it's true. I've owe a bundle to multi-national corporations at the rate of 3.9%APR, for a good long time to come. And it's certainly my fault--I'll venture a guess that if I looked at how it all happened, the majority of it would be in small increments over years of time, not in large installments like my damn plane ticket. A pair of shoes here; a box of books there; a new computer when my old one was fritzing during the final chapter of my dissertation; ooh, and then there were the appliances, 50 gallons of paint, major expected and unexpected home renovations (here's where it really got out of hand, I think). And in this, I'm certainly not alone: according to the WaPo, I'm in good company with much of middle America (I won't even quote you the horrifying figure of the median debt for families--it's too crushing). Here, they cite the rising costs of housing, health care, and education. And while my own listing above certainly pushes on the first, and I'm lucky enough to have decent coverage that alleviates, to some extent, the second, it's the third that seems utterly underexplored to me.

To wit, in my surfings of late, I've come across two intrepid bloggers on either end of the spectrum, the first--la lecturess, who explains that the copies of her bound diss and her total loan amount from Sallie Mae arrived on the same day. The second--writer Daniel Nester, who happily scanned his final letter from the same company.

I'm going to hope that those who commented sympathetically at Lecturess don't wander over to Nester's place, because what we see in the first is that the ladies who read are being asked to think of themselves as ladies who lunch (the suggestion at hand is that one should consider that big, shiny degree as a "luxury item" and not as an investment in the future). To which I say: What the HELL?! The torture and growing pains I invested in acquiring the body of knowledge loosely attached to a scrap of hairless sheep's hide is nothing like the Oprah-sized rocks I could have bought for the same amount of moola. Should you be tempted, here, to compare the pleasure or soul-enlarging benefits of each, just zip it. It's not the point. The point (should I still have one) is the wretched state of the educational system if we have professors pulling a mountain of debt behind them with a class of students acquiring that same mountain in front of them. Surely no one would say that those students should think of their education as a luxury item, but the amount of debt is the same, if not more. If we were busy racking up Everests to contend with, our students may well be building their own personal Denalis.

In a cruel twist of psychology, this realization makes me, a citizen, enraged at Congress (who, as you probably know, just enacted the perfect double-Whammy: raising the current rate on student loans, and eliminating the feature that allows students to consolidate those loans later for lower interest rates). Pay more, and then pay more again. Fire up the rage engine!

At the same time, this all makes me, the debt-raddled individual, feel less alone in climbing my own personal Mount Everest. Warm fuzzies to all.

So much for the intersection of personal and civic life.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Get UP, Trinity...

I think I can fairly say that I have an unhealthy relationship with film. Not in the "want to stalk actors" way (although the thought of Clive Owens gives me pause there); rather, in the "that's so TOTALLY my life" way. Whether or not it actually bears any RELATIONSHIP to my life is simply not an issue.

For example (yes, get on with it, fluff, for crying out loud!): today, I have a list of things to do to clean up from the end of the semester (little piddly crap that, despite it's little and piddly qualities, does, in fact, have to get done), and a list of things to do to start working on my poor abandoned project of the spring. Clearly, I need to take care of the first list first, and that should only take about 3 hours or so--a small investment in my peace of mind, and a miniscule part of my summer. But I just don't want to do it. It doesn't change the fact that it has to be done; but there, I've said it.

It has, however, taken me the better part of today and yesterday to articulate this to myself. Instead, I have found any number of things to do instead:
•I have read every updated post in the blogosphere. Twice.
•I have cleaned the filthy bathroom sink.
•Returned old student emails from a month ago.
•Written witty, chirping emails to people who have fallen off my radar.
•Skimmed back issues of the NY Times (love that archive function!).
•Put books relating to fall class #1 in my Amazon cart.
•Ordered a new Skidless mat to go over my not-sticky-enough sticky yoga mat.
•Searched my bookshelves for everything that I've bought and haven't read in the past year, and stacked them by the bed.

You get the point, right? Procrastination developed to a high art form. So highly developed, in fact, that I even found a copy of this book on procrastination and browsed it at Amazon. I think of myself, basically, as the Picasso of the procrastination world--you know, bringing whole new ways of seeing to the form?

So here's where films come in. The sole image that is moving me toward the hated clean-up list today is this one:

Perhaps you remember The Matrix, back when it was cool, before it had been sullied by its host of vapid yet incomprehensible sequels? Right. Well, in the rather fab opening sequence, you have the leather-clad Trinity running from agents--a sequence that ends with her diving through a window, rolling to face anyone following her (see above). At that point, she says something like "Get UP, Trinity. Just get up." Now, I'm certainly no Carrie Ann Moss, despite wanting her wardrobe, and strangely enough, I'm not being chased by computer programs hell-bent on concealing the "desert of the real" from humans. Depite that, I am finding that this is the only image/line that's forcing me to get out of this chair. Right after I finish this post...

P.S. While I was searching for the image you see above (another 10 minutes I'll never get back), I came across an UNGODLY number of oddities Matrix/Trinity-related. Costumes, Lego playsets, many, many women dressed in leather--you name it. If you're trying to kill time, I highly encourage you to do a little Googlin'. I'll leave you with only one of the more amusing:

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Taking One for the Team

Well, as of yesterday, I decided not to take the very enticing offer of moving my scholarly demesne. This should be a relatively simple decision, but for me: not so much. After all, that office is my home-away-from-home. At certain points during the year, I spend more time there than I do at the place where I pay a mortgage (and that includes time spent asleep).

It's certainly not a lavish office; when I was a lowly graduate student, I remember walking into either gothic cathedrals of office buildings or super-contempo buildings to meet with advisors and profs who had enormous offices with windows that looked out onto snow-covered fields. This is not my office. My windows are in the beginning stages of rot, and the delightful view is one of the parking lot. (I work through a number of car alarms...)

So, what then, made the decision so difficult? I suppose it's something I would call "emotional economy." I have a small office building--let's say 10 people or so. As my colleagues this year have had a number of bitter fights and nursed a good deal of animosity toward each other, I've entered my building each day with a heavy heart and a sinking feeling in my stomach. What will it be today? Is today the day of "we're all on our best behavior and we'll play nice?" or is today a "we prefer stony silence and emanating waves of 'you're destroying everything we've built'" day? And that, my friends, is a loser on Wall Street. If you think that we have a limited number of resources that produce happiness and well-being and productivity, this situation is a constant drain on that. And worse, perhaps, it is actually serves to build something--it builds not only negativity on my part, but also resentment (an emotion I have a difficult time getting rid of once it arrives).

Again, why would I stay? Well, it was no small matter that my very supportive colleague alerted me to the idea that leaving would make these bubbling-under-the-surface problems very clear. If there were strict lines of battle drawn in our department before, this would solidify them. Oh, how I'm one to avoid solidified lines (and also direct confrontation--that's just the kind of girl I am).

More than that, however, may be the way in which staying presents a challenge. The challenge to figure out how to come to terms with those that I disagree with wholeheartedly, to remind myself of their humanity, and in doing so remind myself of mine. To determine a way of responding to them out of a real place, rather than the bizarre person I become now in order to interact with them.

Right now, thinking about this challenge makes me want to weep buckets. I'll have to hope that the summer will bring new, untapped resources to bolster the economy.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Where's the Academic Roomba?

Urgh, I say unto thee. Yes, one can read papers and exams, work the fingers to the bone calculating grades, enter them into the devil system, and STILL not be done.

How?! How is it possible?! I keep checking things off my list:

write and send to career center letters of recommendation. check.
write and turn in end-of-year report. check.
gather and copy documents for tenure file. almost-check (have to get to photocopy machine...)

Despite the checks and half-checks, however, things keep coming. Ooh, right, finish setting up those internships. And the website needs updating. And the pilot project needs assessing. And there's a welcome session for a one-year visitor. And lurking out there, somewhere, are the meetings about said pilot project, possible new minor, online initiative. And God knows what else.

This is the kind of piddling-out list that makes me long for expanses of time to work on my poor old article-draft. And that's not something I can say every day (not with much enthusiasm, anyway). I love the fact that administrative work and projects push me to remember how I used to have scholarly ambition. Piffle.

It is on days like these, of the summer measured out, not in coffee spoons, but in sad little interruptions of the gorgeous, indolent expanse of summer (like, perhaps, rotten cucumber sandwiches? terrible service? what's a good metaphor here?) that I dream of the academic equivalent of a Roomba:

You know. A happy little machine designed to run without your lifting a finger, scooting around the room sucking up grime and cat hair, and then returning to it's dock to recharge and do the same thing a few days later, leaving you free to do laundry, or garden, or go see a matinee. Can you imagine? What would one of these look like cleaning up extra academic activities?

It should definitely be red...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Gateau de Ladette

Periodically, of a Sunday afternoon, I find myself rooting around the fridge and pantry, cobbling together something resembling a balanced lunch. If I've been good, and made it to the grocery store before this point, then choice abounds: turkey melt on whole grain with swiss and an apple? Fresh greens with sardines in olive oil and kalamata olives? If I haven't been good, however, and this is more often the case as the semester barrels along to a close, I'm rooting much deeper in said fridge and pantry, compelled by hunger to open dangerously old tupperware containers and consider a variety of unholy unions. Guess which one today was?

Right. So I sit down in front of the telly with some veggie riblets, cottage cheese, spicy blue corn chips and an apple (you know, on screen that doesn't sound nearly as desperate as it did when I put it together...), and channel surf for something appropriately eclectic to match my repast.

The question now, of course, is HAS ANYONE BEEN WATCHING THIS LADETTE TO LADY BUSINESS ON THE SUNDANCE CHANNEL? Go ahead, take a second and click on the link. You know you want to.

Back now? Right, well, it just doesn't do it justice, not in the least. So here's the idea:
Upon their arrival, the girls' regular uniforms of croptops, spray on jeans and stilettos is binned and replaced by traditional twin sets and pearls as their institutionalisation begins. Challenges face them every step of the way, and a series of tasks have to be completed successfully in order for them to avoid elimination, and be crowned a real lady.

Aside from the webpage's appalling inability to make nouns and verbs agree ("the girls' regular uniforms...ARE binned, ARE binned, dammit!), notice how the author buries the word "institutioalisation," in all of its British spelling, right in the middle of that paragraph?

Get on point, Kfluff, you say. Agreed. Perhaps it helps to paint a picture. The establishing shot is generally of the stately British manor house Eggleston Hall, in the verdant countryside, all very Gosford Park. This charmant scene is generally interrupted by shots of the various "girls" in their lives prior to "institutionalisation." Their horrendous actions include everything from drinking to snogging in bars, wearing coveralls and drinking, smoking and drinking. I did mention drinking, yes? Return to Eggleston Hall, scene of calm, pastures, formal sitting rooms and twinsets.

Ah, says Kultur, wunderbar! The "girls" (seriously, they're in their twenties) learn elocution! Gourmet cooking! Flower arranging!

Bah, says Fluff. It's yet another reality television show, where women compete for a rather paltry prize (a sports car, which they don't even discover until the final episode). What do the ladettes have that any season of the Real World does not?
[Well, for men, for the most part, although bachelors are trotted out on occasion so that the girls can learn to behave themselves appropriately.]

But here is where you're both right! And therein lies the frightening appeal of the show! Because, as you've probably ascertained by now, the skills that the Ladettes struggle, competitively, to attain, are those markers of cultural capital, wrapped up in a bow of domesticity. It's no mistake that they're training to be "ladies"--at the end of the season, I fully expected to have the epilogue describing the ways that the winner stuffed Prince Harry full of her blue-ribbon Linzer Torte, and, dazzled by her exceptional deportment, proposed immediately. Not bad for Clare, the "amateur pole dancer!" [Clare's not the winner, by the way.] The implicit bride-training is nauseating, for sure--in the second-to-last episode, they wear CORSETS, for God's sake. I'm fumbling for the remote, complete with barbeque sauce on my grimy mitts. And yet, there's something not all wrong here.

Perhaps I'm sucked in, I admit it. But what do you do with the girls who claim that they receive a sense of "self-worth" from the finishing school curriculum? Interpellation aside, there's something here. Isn't she, in a way, right? Could it be that the show, for all of its New Victorianism, is enacting some sort of Henry Higgins subversion? Taking the girl out of South London and training her to perform posh? Or is all of it to show that you can't, in fact, make a lady out of a guttersnipe?

Hurumph. In the end, I can't get past the fact that the teachers punish the girls for drinking. Whether they move to Buckingham Palace or flash their thongs in Brixton, they're going to need a cocktail or two--such is the shared fate of Ladettes and Ladies.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

And Now, a Word from Our Sponsor...

Well obviously, the word is KulturFluff. And just as obviously, a made-up word, a hybrid, a juxtaposition. I'm sort of embarrassed to say just how proud I am of it...

So here's the deal: Kultur is a nod to the Germans, for their attachment to all of the possible connotations that our own English-language "culture" doesn't quite pick up. [See the Wikipedia entry here.] Okay, it's a bit high and mighty, but that seems right to me--we professorial types do love the Kultur-with-a-capital-K. At the same time, I'm a bit suspicious of all that it has allowed people to do, to justify (I'll spare you my canned lecture on canon and hegemony).

Fluff, of course, is the polar opposite: everything from so-bad-it's-good tv to the marshmallow stuff you put in bad fudge. And here again, I do love the fluff (more of the former than the latter kind, admittedly), but I worry that too much of it can make us sick.

Thus, KulturFluff is born (or from your points of view, dear readers, perhaps is borne). From the mind of a lowly professor in the north straight to your greedy little computers, KF is an attempt to make sense of the world between these two poles, while my "real life" wheels away beneath me--a haze of teaching at a small liberal arts college; writing an article; tending to a bungalow in decline; determining what makes me happy on a minute-by-minute basis (a nineteenth century novel here, a re-run of America's Next Top Model there).

Stay tuned. I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog-reading.