Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pre-Oscar Poser

From Senor Fluff:

"If you had to go to the Oscars, and you could get anyone to design your dress, who would you choose?"

"Oooooh. Would I get input, or would have to wear whatever I got?"

"Does it matter?"

"Of course. This is a hard one. I have to think. I suppose if I had to choose blind, it would be Armani. You'd run the risk of it being boring, but it would be pretty at the very least, and probably pretty flattering. But if I could choose? Maybe Gaultier? Chloe? Patrick Robinson? This is tough. Give me a minute... Oh my God!! Whoever it would be, it wouldn't be whoever designed Rebecca Miller's dress designer! Holy crap! What is that monstrosity?!?"

Just thought I'd share. Feel free to weigh in on the question at hand. Once you recover from Miller's unfortunate digestion by taffeta. Turn away quickly.

Labels: ,

Toothpaste and Orange Juice

You know the litany of world's worst combinations? Toothpaste and orange juice, neon and spandex, T&A, heat and humidity, Whitney and Bobby, etc., etc. I'd like to add to this list my own, most-hated combo: writing and grading.

I knew, this semester, that it was going to be a problem. I have an article due at the end of March (eep!!), a conference paper due at the beginning of April (double eep!), and another article due at the end of June (too far away to worry about). That double whammy in March/April, however, coincides with the run up to the end of the semester, which is always the prime grading moment before the deluge of final papers, exams, and projects. I did my best to work my schedule around those dates, with the knowledge that it was just going to suck. But I'd forgotten that I'd have to deal with the mid-term grad-age right at about the time that full-scale writing panic sets in. Which is yesterday.

So, the good news is that my co-writer and I got a decent start on the article Friday and Saturday, and I mapped out an idea for my conference paper that will draw on some work that I've done before. (Somehow, the online conference program has me listed without a paper title, and I'm taking full advantage of that fact to write a slightly different presentation than the one I had planned. Which sounded awesome when I wrote the abstract----in May. But sounded less do-able when the paper was accepted at the end of September. If they'd just told me in July (a reasonable two month turnover rate), I could have actually written that paper, but c'est la vie, bitches!) The point here is that I've gotten a good amount of writing done this weekend, or at least enough to hold off the 4 a.m. "I'm going to move to New Mexico and run a goat farm because I'm about to be drummed out of the profession" panic attacks that I know and love.

The bad news, of course, is that I should have been spending this weekend working through the grading backlog that I promised my students to return to them on Monday. I have a set of early portfolios and a set of exams, and cranking some mid-terms grades to do, and that's just for one class.

You know that screed about "teaching and doing research simultaneously is hard"? Yeah, well. I think I'll brush my teeth and have some citrus for breakfast.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Holding Back the Snark

I've been, as the title says, Holding Back the Snark, as sung to the tune of Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years." I've gotten about this far in rewriting the lyrics:

Holding back the snark
Thinking that it's better in the long run
But what I'd rather do
Is speak it awfully slow for you

But I'll keep holding on
I'll keep holding on
I'll keep holding on

The inspiration for such a masterpiece of revision? Student emails, of course! I actually have quite delightful classes this semester, including a brand new film class that is a challenging mix of senior English majors who are all about the theoretically-informed critique of films, and students taking it as an elective who want to talk about their love for particular actors. I've committed to having them do weekly writing in this class---short papers in which they apply the secondary work we're reading (either an article about the genre, about the time period, or a film textbook) to a very specific element in the film, and move toward a larger argument about effect and ideology. No, it's not easy, but that's why we practice, eh? Attached to the syllabus is a description of the assignment that students can follow. This puts me in the unenviable position of reading and commenting on 20 of these a week, but there's nothing like weekly writing to embed some habits of mind (and, sadly, make students take a film class seriously).

So my student R. is a well-meaning and dedicated student. She's an adult who's got kids, and she's taken film classes before at the local community college. So, three weeks in, she writes me to tell me she's concerned about her grades on these papers (on which she was receiving B's, for the record), and asked me to clarify what I want. Right---on TOP of the comments that I give you each week? Okay, so I construct a sample for her---a "this is what I would do if I were going to write it, but this is only one of many models" type thing. Since it took me about 45 minutes to do that, I figured I should post it for the entire class so that everyone could see it, effectuating the creation of a course website to do this on, but whatever.

Okay, so this week, after having posted the example. Virtually all of the papers are better, and start moving toward the kind of analysis I want. They're not perfect, but they're in the ballpark (and not largely made up of "gee, I saw this movie when I was 14 and my sister and I thought that Andrew McCarthy was the hottest thing. And then we went to the mall and bought glitter socks. But back to the movie..."). Of course, virtually all of them are on the same topic as the example that I posted, but they all worked through it in their own way. So, I'm not complaining. And, like those of her peers, R's paper is better too---she got an 87.

Her email to me, sent the day after class, reports that she's disappointed and wants to know if I have any suggestions, because she thought she was doing what I asked.

And here's where I have to start singing my little song. Because seriously----other than write it for her, what else can I do? How do I respond to that email without saying, "Well, R., did I perhaps say anything in the comments that would specifically explain how to make it better? I don't have your paper in front of me, but it so stood out from the other papers that I can practically recite it verbatim, and thus here's what I would suggest, over and above what I wrote in the comments. Because usually, that's how I roll: I refuse to tell you what to do differently next time unless you specifically write to me. But good on you! You figured out my secret code, and thus I'll give you REAL feedback now!"

You can see why the song is necessary, no? For your viewing pleasure, here's the video. Sing along, if you're so inclined, or suggest more lyrics. And picture me with that hair...


Monday, February 18, 2008

Fakin' It Til I Make It

Are there any history peeps out there? Particularly ones who won't want to nail my feet to the floor for doing a little work in their discipline? I hope so, because I'd love some advice. Be gentle...

So, I'm teaching an liberal education course on a particular topic---the literary and cultural production of a particular array of ethnic groups. I should remind y'all here that this is a set of people that the students have little to no direct knowledge or information about. As in, brainstorming a list of popular culture representations---or any associations AT ALL---of/with these people didn't take long, even with prompting. Particularly because I have to constantly remind them of the difference between these people as they have inhabited the U.S. for generations vs. people who look like them and come from the largest continent on earth. You know what I'm saying? Hello, forever foreigner!

Right, so. I've found that it's crucial to give them some historical background on each of the groups in order to help them understand the ways that immigration patterns and geopolitical contexts shape the daily lives and experiences of these peoples. I like, particularly, to assign sections from one of the first, and still most cited, historical book in the field. Why, you ask? [You'd be alone in that asking; I try to explain my rationale to the students, and they think I've gone mad. Just like today when I tried to explain Farm Aid in the 80's. Hello? Willie Nelson? Anybody? Bueller?] For at least two reasons: the book is comprehensive but very readable; it carefully analyzes the difference in the treatment of immigrant populations and their communities on both the mainland U.S. and the state of Hawaii (which really begins to highlight the power wielded by a majority population); and because, on occasion, the author inserts his own personal stake in the history he's documenting. [Yes, I know that's three! Thank you!]

So what's the problem, you ask? Is it that the students are bored with the text? Is it that they don't read it carefully? Is it that they value the "truth" of it over and above that of the literary texts we're using? Well, yes, but we're hashing that all out---not my main issue. My main issue is this: what the hell are the best practices in history pedagogy? In other words---how do you people teach this stuff?!! Seriously. I've never been much of a lecturer, and I'm still not. I'm perfectly prepared to lead students in the practices of interpretation of a text---whether that be a work of literature, a film, or a visual art piece (or, more likely, a print ad or a website. Puppybowl? WTF?!). But when it comes to guiding them through the historical text, I'm a bit at a loss. What's really important to me is that they understand the relationship between the oral histories and, as they call them "stories" that the author includes (ah, narrative, my old friend!), and the economic and legal situations that condition those "stories." As in, when the government says you can't own land, and neither can your children, it has an effect on your relationship to the nation, yo. So, not to be all pedantic, but how do I avoid being pedantic? What kinds of questions do you people ask to help students get the point?

And on a related note, I mentioned, offhand, in class the other day that the American government was implicated in the overthrow of the Hawaiian government, and imprisoned Hawaii's last queen in her own palace until she abdicated her throne. Oh, looks of shock and surprise around the room! Quel horreur! Um, is it safe to assume that this is not common knowledge, or should I just chalk this up to the provincial nature of my students' education?


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Me and the First Law of Motion

Egads, I am inertia girl. I am staying at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. Like a meteor headed toward earth, or a fire lit directly under my ass. I want my own superhero outfit. Of course, it would probably be in the shape of a blob. And my special power? Sitting on the couch.

I cancelled two--count them---TWO classes this week on account of weather. Huzzah! I thought. This will totally give me a chance to catch up on grading! After all, I'm now collecting weekly writing in one class, and a early portfolio and exam in another. This will allow me to get it all back to them next week!

Right. Or, I could sit around and read Buffy fanfiction. All weekend.

In my defense, there were a goodly number of things that got done this weekend (which started Thursday, for the record). Let's make a list, since it makes me feel better about myself, and I like bullet points:
  • workouts: 3
  • movies: 2
  • rooms in house cleaned and vacuumed: 8
  • magazines read: 3
  • songs purchased on iTunes: 9 [Note: I just looked at my list of purchased songs, which, admittedly goes back to 2003. But there are 572 songs on it?!! In 4 years I've spent $572 on iTunes? Sweet fancy Jeezus! As if Apple doesn't already own my soul! Does it make it any better to think that I no longer buy CDs? Surely that ameliorates some of the sting of more than a hundred bucks a year on music? Am I freaking out for nothing? Is this a drop in the bucket compared to other people?]
  • meals cooked: 2
  • trips to grocery store: 1
  • awesomest Valentines Day prezzie bought for husband: 1
  • layers of ice chipped off driveway and sidewalk: 4

You see, when you list it all out like that, it doesn't sound so bad. Now lets make a list of what I didn't do:

  • hours spent on draft of article due in March: .75
  • hours spent grading: 0
  • hours spent working on conference paper in April: .1
  • hours spent obsessing about these three: 4
  • hours spent prepping for class this week: 0

Oh yes, inertia girl sees that the shitstorm is coming. She's aware that it's going to hit her right in the kisser. But if she squints, it looks like it's Clearly, there's time for more chocolate and another story...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Economics of Furniture Assemblage

One day, I will be upper-middle class enough, and live in an area urban enough to buy furniture that is delivered to my abode in one single piece. That day is not yet here, unfortunately. Until then (and it may well be a long, long time), I'll soldier on, buying shit that looks pretty on the internet and comes to me in flat boxes, the prettiness of which renders me amnesiac about the horrors of making what is flat and in boxes three dimensional and architecturally sound, if not always a direct match for the picture. Such was my most recent purchase, whose assembly required these things:

19 pieces of wood
15 threaded long bolts
15 hex nuts
32 short screws
24 long screws
6 short bolts
6 lock washers
6 flat washers
1 screwdriver
1 electric screw driver
2 blankets (to protect the floors)
4 hours
1 sexual favor for husband
1 bottle of cabernet
15 songs of the 80's on an iPod playlist
6 "snap in place" hinges
1 bruised hand ("snap in" my ass)
5 very sincere prayers to Higher Power
approx. 27,582 vile curses

All of that, my friends, for this:

It may very well fit all of my sad neglected glassware, which has been sitting in the basement since I moved into Chez Fluff. It may also fit my grandmother's silver, which is---attention thieves!---wrapped in an old t-shirt in my closet. Best of all, it's the new home to the bar which will allow Senor Fluff and I to live out our most cherished Thin Man fantasies (which are legion).

It may be voodoo economics, but I've got to start somewhere.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Undergarment-Related Mishap

It's somehow warm enough today that I can wear a dress without tights. Hooray! Or so I thought. Obviously, I've never attempted this particular combination of wool dress/microfiber underwear before, or I would have known better. Somewhat akin to the combination of bleach and ammonia, these two have decided to hang onto each other and try to kill me---death via wedgie. Every three steps seems to lodge the latter firmly in my ass. This is what German friends used to call A.E.U.: ass eats underwear.

I have to teach in two hours, and I find myself with the following dilemma: I could suck it up (since that's what my nether regions have decided to do), and go to class, and be distracted by the urge to yank on my undies for the three hour discussion. Or, I could simply take them off. Anyone ever taught commando? I have to imagine that it's pretty distracting in and of itself, and I have distinct and colorful day-mares about falling and showing my class the full monty. Which, of course, is what they would think I do all the time, and then I would be known as the panty-less professor.

Ah, decisions, decisions. Stay tuned, next week, for more AEU tales!

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 03, 2008

In Which I am a Total Nimrod

I just got back from the grocery store, which was mistake number one. Groceries? On Superbowl Sunday? Moronic. That, however, was not the incident befitting the title above. Instead, my nimrod-ocity (nimrod-icity?) stems from my interactions with the meat counter girl, and my mouth which moves so much faster than my brain.

I should preface this by saying that one of the things I can't deal with in the East is the conversation with service people. Or perhaps I should say, lack thereof. At home, it's a given that you make some sort of chatty small talk with the person ringing your groceries, steaming your latte, checking your bank balance, roto-ing your rooter. It's just good manners, just as it's a given that those same people can carry on that conversation and do their jobs simultaneously. I've always thought that this is a social compact that ackowledges that their jobs suck, but that the consumer recognizes them as individuals, not mindless drones. This compact, however, is entirely missing out here. Either my attempts at conversation are totally rebuffed, or the person looks at me like I'm nuts, or they stop what they're doing to respond to me (quite possibly the worst response, in my book). Despite having experienced these reactions over and over again, it's such a habit that I find myself doing it all the time.

That said, I was at the deli counter, asking for some turkey and this gross bologna that Senor Fluff loves (and will probably put him into an early grave). The young woman working there seemed friendly enough, and so when she and I both strained to pass the pressed meat from hand to hand, I said: "they just don't make these counters for short people, do they? The should put a step here." She looked at me quizzically, and I remembered that I was not anywhere near my geographical tribesmen, and I smiled and pushed my cart toward the bread aisle. As I walked away, I heard her co-worker ask "how short are you?"

Mortification. Clearly, she thought I was talking about her! That I had, in essence, called her short. That I suggested that they get her a step so that she could make life easier on the shoppers! Oh lord, I'm the most insensitive person ever. I'm one of those old-ladies-in-training who say things like "you look nice in that picture, but I can see your cellulite," and then defend their statements with "but it's true!!" She's back there at the counter alternately steaming (as I would be) and feeling bad about herself (as I would also be) and her co-worker thinks I'm a total bitch. I am a total bitch!

That's the tape that ran through my head as I finished my shopping. So I grabbed the rest of my groceries (which included climbing the freezer shelves to get the last box of frozen okra---because I was too short to reach it, thank you irony, you bitch goddess), I checked out, packed everything in the car, and then went back to apologize to her. This is where the Superbowl Sunday part kicks in, because apparently everyone needs cold cuts to watch grown men beat the crap out of each other, and thus I had to wait in line, while the co-worker gave me the hairy eyeball and the young woman in question apparently studiously avoided me.

When my turn finally came, I very sheepishly told her that I wanted to apologize to her. And she looked at me like I'd grown a third head. "Or maybe I'm just making it worse!! Earlier I was afraid that I had offended you and I was actually talking about me and I just felt horrible and was afraid that I'd made you feel bad but maybe you didn't even think twice about it and so all of this is just a moot point!" (Not that I babble, you understand.) "Oh," she says, and blushes. "I wasn't offended, but thank you for apologizing." "Great!" says I. "Have a good weekend!" There's me, running out of the store.

I wish that I could blame my utter and complete dipshitty-ness on staying out late for Dr. Marxy's excellent, 80's fueled birthday celebration, but I don't think I can. I think it's just the dorkiness that is me: constantly thinking that I've devastated someone when they don't give my weirdness a second thought. Which puts me in a bit of a bind: I could just adopt that as an operating principle, in which I always assume that no one cares. But then what if someone actually does, and I don't apologize, which is clearly my first instinct, and then they think I'm an ass?

This is the kind of crap that keeps me up at night. But that deli-counter girl? I bet she sleeps like a baby.


Friday, February 01, 2008


Between reconciling my Christmas spending and hearing about market panic, I've been really trying to reel in my spending. I've held off on my typical "OMG, it's January, and if I don't get something now, I'll be stuck until spring comes" binge, and with the exception of a rather smart piece of furniture, house expenditures are way down. And nothing is more indicative of this than the fact that I haven't bought a pair of shoes since August (ah, but what a pair they were!). So that's six months avoiding my own personal Waterloo of shopping. And then yesterday came.

It was inevitable, really. Along with the holidays came my mother's visit, which was nothing if not a week-long eating extravaganza. Add that to the first few weeks of school, and let's just say that my loose pants are no longer my loose pants. So I've been to the gym (or at least vowing to go) far more often than last semester. But there are only so many times your toes can go to sleep on the elliptical machine before you realize that it's time for new trainers, eh? So yesterday, I bit the bullet and headed to the DSW. Because if I'm going to spend money on shoes, I'll be damned if I'm buying $120 sneakers, for god's sake!

After trying on many, many kinds of trainers (running? walking? cross training? why doesn't someone just make a generic "gym" shoe?!), in every brand conceivable (New Balance, Ryka, Adidas, Nike, Mizuno, for crying out loud), and taking practice laps around the store in each pair (yup, I'm serious about this stuff), I finally found a pair of Adidas that seemed appropriate. My feats of athleticism, however, led me to consider all of the weirdnesses of my feet (wide like paddles, pronation problems, etc.), and the ways in which my regular (read: cute) shoes might exacerbate these issues. At the top of the list: my favorite black ankle boots---the ones I wear weekly, have heels that now look like they were cut on the diagonal. Did I mention the pronation problem? And here I was at DSW, and maybe I should just look around, and gosh, look over there! The exact same boots I have now, except with a zipper! And heels that don't look like they've been chewed by a very precise dog!

Here, then, is a pic of my spoils from yesterday:

"But wait!" I hear you say. There are THREE pairs of shoes in that picture! Yes, well. Last night Senor Fluff wanted to blow his Barnes and Noble gift card on some Agatha Christie novels (there's really just no accounting for taste). I went along for the ride, since I had to return some items to Macy's, which is conveniently located in the same mall. Since the local Macy's is obviously run by Capitalism Satan, however, it was in the midst of its winter shoe clearance. On my way to housewares to take back pillowcases, then, I just took a quick peek at the over-run sale racks. I was strong, I tell you. I resisted red patent leather pumps, metallic flats, green satin peep toed wedges (that one hurt, I gotta tell you). But then, I had a moment. I haven't worn lace-up shoes for years, but it's clear that somehow Victoria Beckham and her bizarrely-alluring bitch-goddess/schoolgirl look has seeped into my consciousness. Because since when am I interested in suede oxfords with 3 1/2 inch heels? Oooh, since last night, apparently. And even more interested when they were 75% off. Here they are, in all their glory:

Those will be just the thing with tights and dresses, no? Break up the monopoly that knee-high boots have had all winter? Let me play out my professor=modern victorian fantasies?

Sigh. I've apparently become a shoe-limic. Last night's binge has necessitated today's purge. If you drive by a pile of shoes left out in the snow, you'll know where to find me.