Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Year of No

Oof. The first week back always feels a bit like being punched in the stomach. While assembling track as the train is coming around the bend. With my hands tied behind my back.

Much of this feeling is, of course, due to the fact that I hadn't quite finished my syllabi by the time the first day of classes rolled around. Add to that the necessary copying (which got lost), class websites to build, frantic phone calls from students, a department meeting, and a orientation activity for incoming first year students, and it's one hot mess. Is it any wonder why I want to focus on fashion?

All of this has only reaffirmed my commitment to this being the Year of No. I'm certainly plagued by the "yes, I can do that! yes, I'd be happy to take on more service! Sure, I'd love nothing better than to attend more committee meetings! I'll do anything that contributes to student learning!" disease that many of us succumb to (you know who you are!!). But here in year five of my full-time teaching career, I've become conscious that this has two effects:
1) That I'm doing a sub-standard job at everything, because I don't have time or energy to devote to all the different tasks that I've taken on.
2) Even the things that I committed to because I believe in them I end up hating and resenting, because I'm exhausted and stressed.

I don't want to be this person, and I don't want to be this kind of professor. Please note the order in which these two come. I would desperately like to make it through this career without become a warped, angry, bitter person. And since my personality already tends in that direction (I have deep sympathies with Statler and Waldorf, my favorite childhood Muppet characters), I need to nip any external inducements to crankiness in the bud.

So, my answer to all of this? I hereby call for the Year of No. Which means, my first response? No. Can you attend a committee meeting the week before classes start? No. That committee that I chaired last year needs to get a speaker for this coming fall? No. And in fact, I'm removing myself from that committee, thank you very much. Do you want fries with that? No, dammit, it's the transfats! My tally thus far:
  • Four students doing internships that want to meet with me this first week. No. Here's email instructions for what you need to do. Let me know if you have questions.
  • Colleague wants a tenure letter. I'm already doing two, and they're due in a month. So, no. (I do have a bit of a bad conscience about this.)
  • Meet to discuss making a flyer for a conference. No. Let's pass it around via email.

It's not much of a tally, but it's a start. And don't I feel like a hard-ass? Go me! Let's see if the Year of No has any effect on the quality of my life, and my productivity, here in the last year before tenure, shall we?


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Oh, Hell, One Last Fashion Post

Last year at just about this time, Frenchie and I met for a clandestine shopping trip in New Jersey. You can relive the good times here (but please ignore all the whining that accompanied it. Sheesh! How do you all put up with me?!). In what is clearly destined to be an annual event, we made our way back to Jersey earlier this week.

It was a delightful way to start this week, which is technically the last week before school starts, but is the one packed with meetings and get togethers and such. Tomorrow, for instance, is an all-school gathering, lunch, and then a brief break before a reception. And who am I to complain? The newly-hired faculty have been in orientation for two days, while our writing diva has held workshops for all kinds of campus groups! Psychologically, it would be better to simply accept that school starts this week, but I can't seem to get up on that horse. So complain I will: why aren't my syllabi done? Why can't I manage to edit my damn article? Why do I have to return phone calls from people who ask stupid questions?

Shopping, however, is a great balm for the soul. I'm sad to say that the wonders that awaited us last year were few and far between this year. Either we timed it better last time, Frenchie and I, or else the secret is out: the outlet mall was packed with locals (all of whom seemed to have some tremendous beef with the management; every store we went into had someone arguing with the cashier in loud, nasal tones). I would really, really like to avoid huge stereotypes of New Jersey. It makes it difficult, however, when you can't get out of the state. What's up, NJ? Would it kill you to put up some signage? Basically, I need to know that the Garden State Parkway entrance is coming up and what side of the highway said entrance is on. I need the sign to be bigger than my hand, and I need it to come about a mile in advance, as opposed to the current "turn here right now and you can still make it" warning. That's all I'm saying.

As such, the merchandise was a bit picked over, but Ms. F and I did our best--which is pretty damn good. I found a delightful 60's style print dress, which I have no idea how to wear (hmmm. fodder for another post?), which Frenchie went home with not one but two pairs of footwear, one of which we dubbed "dominatrix-y." But isn't that just part of the charm?

If one is (and I'll claim this label for myself) a "fashion whore from afar," or more politely an "sartorial aesthete," then half the fun of the outlet mall is witnessing untouchable clothes. God knows that Urbania doesn't have a place where I can go and ogle the latest Stella McCartney or Prada lines. And I certainly can't put my foot in a Manolo Blahnik shoe. But I can in Jersey, which almost makes up for the horrible roads! (The Ikea doesn't hurt either.) So, whilst in many meetings and receptions tomorrow, I'll have this mental image in my mind's eye:

My mind's eye will have photoshopped out my dorky tan lines, of course. And may I just say that Manolos would fit better if I didn't have bones in my feet? Despite these nagging details, it was fun, and what a lovely shoe! Almost as lovely as the feeling of taking it off. Whew.

May all of you have a similarly fantastic and distracting talismanic image to get you through your workweek.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Cooking for Tenure

Last night, Senor Fluff and I hosted my dean and dean's partner. This isn't as ass-kissy or as nerve-wracking as it may sound; the dean was my departmental colleague when I started this job and has since moved up the ladder. About twice a year, we trade off hosting dinners, which is lovely and helps me remember how friendly relationships can be with administrators at a little place like Ascesis U.

It was, I have to say, a rather fabulous meal. Since it's the end of summer, I made a heaping bowl of gazpacho, and crab cakes. And since I checked my menu with Yogini (who is a stickler for culinary aesthetics), I had a delightful little garnish of yellow grape tomatoes and avocado slices. Damn. I should have taken a picture!

As we were cleaning up, I couldn't help thinking about how stressed I would have been if my dean and partner were more like The Dean (note capital "D."). Doubtless, I would have burned my crab cakes. But what if it were the case that part of your tenure file were cooking? "Binder must include evidence of teaching, service, scholarship, and at least one kick-ass meal that you've made for administrators. Please include visual evidence, as well as external letters in support of your culinary expertise." Awesome! The next thing you know, the deans and provosts are all packing on an extra 20 pounds, and we're all spending weekends learning to make pie crusts from scratch and our own mayonnaise (which I didn't do, but I did whip up one hell of a remoulade. And I made too much. What do you do with remoulade, kids?). I can just imagine the office gossip: "I heard Frank in Philosophy went all french haute cuisine: pate and coq au vin! As if! We all know the provost is a meat and potatoes guy. I'm going to try New American cuisine. Rib eyes and Yukon gold gratin all around!"

I should probably mention that the wine store had a sale, and so was pouring both Pinot Grigio and Beaujolais all evening. That might have had something to do with these musings.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chicken. Head off. You Know the Drill.

Apparently, there's some sort of internal academic timer, wherein we all start to panic at the exact same time. I woke up at 5 a.m., in a cold sweat, and tried to create a mnemonic device that would help me remember everything that I needed to add to my list: return books before interlibrary loan people put out a hit; finish evaluations, buy a new coffeemaker, etc.

Usually, that feeling fades after I fall into an anxiety-laden nap between 5:30 and 8. It must be the harbinger of fall, however, that I woke up with a mild nervousness that is about to break forth into panic. Did anyone else see a sudden uptick in emails today? I've received 4 from various committees, 2 from my department, one from PR, a couple from students who are setting up internships, etc., etc. Apparently, the Thursday before the week before class is where it all kicks in.

So just in case I forgot, this is the kind of thing that slows me down during the semester. I've spent the entire morning answering email and such, and am now scanning my list of things to do to see what can actually be accomplished this afternoon before I start cooking for our guests tomorrow evening. Gah. Intellectually, I know that working on syllabi and/or editing my article would be the best use of my time. Unfortunately, I'm so full of fight-or-flight that it might be best to run some errands and come back to one of these this evening.

Tips on prioritizing? Anyone? Bueller?


Monday, August 13, 2007

OMG! *Total * Score!!

So, like, let's say that someone has been coveting a pair of shoes since they came out in late spring. Let's say that those shoes were WAY too expensive for what they were, because they're not the kind of shoes that you can wear every day, or even after this season. (But they're very on trend and incredibly cute.) Let's say that the way one talks oneself out of dropping a bundle on said shoes, every time one sees them at the store and fondles them lovingly as they so deserve, is by telling oneself that really, they are shoes that are only appropriate for 14 year old girls in hot pants. Or Christina Aguilera. Either way, not oneself. One also tells oneself that she is going on the annual outlet trip with Frenchie in a week, and thus there will be no buying, particularly of shoes. Especially of shoes that are only appropriate for 14 year old girls in hot pants, or Xtina Aguilera.

Then let's say that one wanders into a Marshalls and comes face to face with said shoes. Then let's say that it's the summer clearance sale, and that the shoes are 75% off. Then let's say that every other pair of these shoes that Marshalls has in stock is the 2.0 version---the one that lacks the crucial detail that made the shoes irresistible...Except the SINGLE REMAINING PAIR in one's shoe size.

What does one say then? Well, if it's me, she says "ring them up."

Below, the uber-cute shoe. Still only appropriate for 14 year olds and Xtina, but I'm a'wearing them anyway. Maybe with jeans, maybe with a suit. Because that's the kind of girl I am. [You may note that the shoes are perched on the lovely, lovely new sofa. It's the chocolate and peanut butter of my "work? what work? I can just buy pretty things!" fantasy. You know. Just like 14 year old girls and Xtina. But I'll forego the hot pants, even in my fantasy. ]


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Gepetto, I'm a Real Boy

This is going to sound like the most obnoxious of all connections. I know that. But in the spirit of confessing ridiculous and embarrassing things to the world (or at least the 2.5 readers of this blog), here goes.

Sometime in the next 36 hours, my long awaited, much-researched and agonized over, perfect sofa arrives. Below, what it will look like, sort of (courtesy of the Room and Board website):

I say "sort of" because I ended up ordering it in a different fabric. Following two months of ordering samples and showing them to everyone I knew. And that was after two months of visiting every furniture store in Urbania, and a trip to the big city to check out Design Within Reach. And that was after hating our current sofa for two years.

So, I've invested a lot of time and energy into this single construct whose job is simply to hold my big fat ass when I want to watch television. Too much, surely. But for some reason, it felt like a monumental decision. How could I get it to match the curtains? Why is everything overstuffed and floral, or weirdly contemporary? Didn't anyone watch old fifties movies? Where were the damn tightbacks? More than simply an aesthetic challenge, however, I think there's something bigger going on. Basically, I equate furniture with maturity. As in, I woke up this morning and thought: "the sofa is coming tomorrow. I'm finally going to be an adult."

Yes, yes, I know. What the hell is that?! I have no idea how this connection got forged in my brain. Welcome to the wide world of commodity fetishism. Intellectually, I get that, and yet I can't deny that I get a frisson of innocent pleasure from the fact that this is the first piece of new furniture I've ever bought. We inherited our current couch from friends at a previous institution. Let's assume that they'd had it for five years, and that we've been imprinting our own ass grooves on it for the last four. It probably goes without saying that it's showing signs of wear. [As in saggy and stained and the biggest scratching posts the cats have ever had the pleasure of defacing.] While it was very comfortable (a snooze-inducer for sure) and did good service, it was never the color or shape that I would have picked. Unlike new couch, which is as close to making my own as I could get. So apparently it's the combination of aesthetic choice and newness that mean signify adulthood to me. I suppose there are worse definitions.

The arrival of the couch will dovetail nicely with another atavistic set of self-definers. Sometime after the sofa arrives (I hope), we'll be hosting our summer reading group. That means that today, I'm off to the grocery store and back in time to clean the house. For no good reason that I can discern (except perhaps 30 years of social conditioning), I can't help but think that being a good cook with a clean house is a crucially important indentity to occupy. Do you think that Gloria Steinem makes house calls?


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Geographical Girly Bits

Technically, this is a third post about fashion, but it's also about the oddities of place. But if you must categorize it as the former, let's call it the third and final installment of the fashion trilogy (Return of the Jedi? Return of the King? Why are they all "returns?" Is it a secret message that I need to take some things back to the store?).

One of the things about Urbania shopping that totally bites is its lack of a single upscale department store. It does fine in the middle (a Macy's, A Filene's, etc.), but it can't quite crack that crucial commodity demographic. [This is true of almost every market in Urbania. We can't quite get a Whole Foods, or a Crate and Barrel. I don't know if this is because the median income doesn't warrant the luxury market, or if it's because we're too close--but too far--from Metropolis to rationalize another outpost.]

This presents a number of annoying problems, many of which can be solved by industrious and forward-thinking internet shopping. [Perhaps I blogged about Operation Replace the Sofa--a five month extravaganza of internet research?] The virtual world is a fine substitute in most cases; I've got a pretty good eye for what will work and what won't, and I can re-wrap a priority mail package for returns in 75 seconds flat. There are, however, some things you have to try on, and to try on lots of them in order to find something that works. To what do I refer? Say it with me, ladeez: bras.

I'll spare you my screed about this particular undergarment and its vicissitudes (okay, I can't resist. It pisses me off that they're totally necessary and yet so expensive. Screw work-subsidized birth control, and give me a co-pay on brassieres). It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is about a 10 to 1 ratio of bras that you try on to those that fit. I assume that some people can make the Vic's Secret thing work (if they can make it through the makeup/perfume/body lotion gauntlet that stand at the entrances to the stores nowadays), but I'm not one of them. I need a department store with a significant selection of serious bras. Yes, the elusive department store that does not deign to grace Urbania with its presence.

My own personal solution to this dilemma has always been to take care of bra-ness during my twice-yearly visits to Home City. Sometime between my departure for college and the present, H.C. has become a world-class shopping destination. In a two-mile stretch, you can gawk at Chanel and Gucci while eating your Hot Dog on a Stick. High end department stores? It's got them in spades. While this is convenient and all, it does rankle a little; when I was growing up, H.C. was known for vice and cheese and little else. It was the place the Monkees and Neil Diamond came to give their last concerts before heading into musical hell. Now, it's determined to be a thriving metropolis, albeit with a lot of vice: the exotic dancers, aspiring porn stars, Hooters waitresses--they're all still there. But now they can buy Versace dresses. (Just like in the Paul Verhoeven flick!)

All of this to say, I made a pitstop at the Nordstrom's while at home---after all, bras are their raison d'etre, right? After many, many tries (Elle Macpherson undies? Not so much), I found a bra that worked. Since I knew that I was going to have to go for six months without a return trip, I thought I'd buy multiples--like three--to hold me over. But when I returned to the rack to find the same bra in other colors, I was stymied. In black? Scads of 32 D's. In nude? Multiple 34 D's and a few 32 DD's. In the animal print? God save us all: a 32F. That is not a typo. 32F. 32F?! That's like a stick with two grapefruits attached! WTF is that?!! Had the Nordie's buyer gone completely bonkers?

And then it hit me: the buyer was probably right on. Welcome to the H.C., bitch, where the strippers and porn community need undergarments too. Supplying those women with lingerie must be a veritable goldmine! [Of course, this did occur to me: if we can safely assume that a 32F is surgically enhanced--and I'm pretty confident that we can--then how necessary is a complex underwire support system? Isn't the beauty of silicon that it holds itself up?]

So there you have it, folks. My hometown in a nutshell. I'm going to go search the Nordstrom website for the bra in my size. Sigh.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Wedding Fashion Question

Since we're talking anniversaries and fashion, I thought I'd post a puzzler from Frenchie, who needs some advice from the internets on what to wear to a wedding. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Although, I should note, we've always called this guy "Vern" because he's aspiring to be the spitting image of the Trading Spaces designer. You know, this guy:

[Whoa. Just as a sidenote, VY's come a loooong way from Trading Spaces. He's writing books, doing a couple of television shows, designing his own line of housewares. Not bad for a guy whose name always makes me think of Ernest Saves Christmas. Go Vern go! Has anyone noticed an uptick in the number of Asian American interior designers? Danny Seo for one, and that other guy, whose name is escaping me...]

Anyway, here's the question:
Vern is getting married on Aug. 18, and we are going. Again, I have no idea what to wear. I'm thinking my red dress would not be a good idea in case the bride is wearing red. (The invitations are red and gold; reception is being held at a fancy Vietnamese restaurant in Philly; he's Chinese-American, she's Korean-American -- am I stupid for thinking the red dress might be a bad idea? I'm trying to be culturally-sensitive, but maybe I'm just an idiot.)

Advice for Frenchie, anyone? I have to admit, I'm a bit nervous that someone is going to revoke my Asian ID card because I don't know the answer here. What the hell does a pan-Asian American wedding look like? And wouldn't it help a sister out if the invite gave some clues?

Feel free to weigh in in the comments. If your shy, feel free to email. Frenchie is depending on you!