Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tour de Fiasco

As I may or may not have mentioned, Senor Fluff and I bit the bullet a few months ago and bought bicycles---something we've been wanting to do since we moved to Urbania. After only six years of talking about it and putting it off, we finally did the deed, loaded up the credit cards, and jumped. (In a follow-up to my new-found bougieness, I must note that it's a hell of a lot easier to buy a good bike when you can put it in your garage, rather than chaining it up outside your house in the neighborhood where local thieves have been known to break into people's porches to take a bike. In our new neighborhood, people tend to leave their bikes outside their houses unattended for a few hours while they go inside to...? Fix their hair? Drink a vodka tonic? Get a fake tan?)

It's been a good decision on a number of levels: it's a kind of exercise we can do together (Senor Fluff is a much better runner than me, and attempting to run together just makes me whiny and his knees hurt); it's allowed us to see more of the area; it doesn't seem to be as much of a monumental exercise task, and so both of us will do more of it, even when we're tired, or not motivated.

So yesterday, I was scheduled to have coffee with a friend, and so I planned to squeeze in a quick bike ride and shower before our meeting. And I have rarely seen such a clustercuss outside of a faculty meeting in my life.

It started out fine. I realized early on that I had forgotten my sunglasses, but it was a bit overcast, so I didn't want to take up the time to go back. I had planned to go for about 45 minutes, so I needed to go far fast to get it all in. I did the first half of the route at a good clip, and started up the hill that marks the official apex of what I had planned to do. It's not a massive hill, but it takes some doing, and so I was mostly looking down and pedaling. When I looked up as I neared the top, I saw that a woman was parked, in the lane, with her flashers on. She flagged me down, and so I slowed up, thinking that she might need something, or that someone was hurt or something. As I got closer (still going uphill, mind you), she said "can you give me directions to D_____?" Unbelievable. You're parked with your hazards on for directions?! Whatever. I pedaled the last few feet to the top of the hill, and made to stop so I could tell her how to get there. Since I'm concentrating on her and how close her car is to the (virtually non-existent) shoulder, however, I misjudge the place where the crown of the road falls away into the dirt. And thus, unable to get my foot out of my clip, I go down like a bag of rocks. To the woman's credit, she helps me up and tries to dust me off, but still clearly wants directions.

After she goes on her merry way (with excellent directions, I might add), I use much of the second half of my ride to get the gears square, since the chain has slipped during my fall. At some point, I realize that my legs have turned to jelly. (I should say that the quads have turned to jelly. The rest of my legs turned to jelly somewhere around age 22. Ba-DUM-dum!) "I better cut this short and go home," I thought, and turned around.

As I approach the cut-off to the country road that leads to our section of town, I realize that a woman is standing on the shoulder waving me down. "No fucking way!" I thought. But yes! She wants to talk to me!! She's part of a news crew that's doing a story on the local road repairs! Full disclosure here: at this point, I have been riding for about 30 minutes. And I have fallen off of my bike. And before I got on the bike, I hadn't showered in two days. Gee, what would I like more than to give you a quote about how the road crews effect me? So, greasy, dirt-smudged me recorded a spot for the local television crew, and then they asked if they could just get a shot of me riding away. Yes indeed!! Here I go!!

As I rode away, I was both obsessing about how hideous I imagined I'd be on the local news, and worried about how late I must now be for meeting my friend. Luckily, I was cruising down this long hill. And cruising. And cruising ever faster, wind whistling in my ears, all the way down to the bridge.

There's no bridge on the way to my house.

The news crew had stopped me right before the turn off route that goes toward my house. In pedaling away from them, I had gone straight on, down the horrible horrible hill. A few weeks ago, I rode down part of this hill by mistake, and it was so painful to get back up that I swore I'd never go this direction again. A friend of mine who just did a 50k race in May "studiously avoids that hill." The hill has about 3 or 4 steep climbs, one after another. And I was down at water level---ironically, just the place that the road crews were starting to work on. Thanks alot, lady newscaster! This fucking road repair affects me now!! So I turned around and climbed Epic Hill, cursing and sweating all the way. When I got to the top, the news crew was still there, interviewing a couple in a Hummer. The intern and cameraman cordially waved at me as I went by.

Finally, I'm on my way home. I'm pointed in the right direction, and I'm doing my best to sprint, since I know I'm going to be late for coffee. And then the raindrops start to fall. And believe me, I wish I were shitting you. Racing home, I also discovered that the fall screwed up my back brake, but really, isn't that all just icing on the cake?

So much for my love affair with the bike. It's dead to me. With bike rides like these, I'll be back in the pool in no time!!


Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's the Pictures that Got Small

At Askesis U., we have a fairly aggressive PR department. The big announcement at fall commencement a few years ago was that we'd gotten a spot on the premiere national morning show. In the interim, a number of faculty members are called upon to participate in all sorts of local news pieces---the city paper, the local NPR affiliate, etc. I suppose it makes sense. It's a good way to get the name of the college out there, although sometimes I have to wonder if what the faculty contribute is really solidifying our reputation in quite the way that the administration might want.

Case in point: a few days ago, I was contacted by Mr. Micawber, our PR guy. [He's actually a very nice man. But there's just this slight air of despondency about him. But what the hell do I know?] A local paper--not the big city paper, mind you, but the Podunk Town Register from up the road--needed an interview with a literature prof. The writer was doing a piece on an emerging trend in contemporary fiction, and would I be willing to talk with him? Seldom has someone been so quick to participate in her own exploitation. "Sure! I'm familiar with this trend! I can talk to him!"

So I had a brief conversation with the guy. I should have known that I was in trouble when I came out of the box explaining how I thought this trend was part of a larger concern about the role of books in contemporary society. How many hours of Fox News would I need to watch to realize a loaded question when I heard one? "But really, isn't this all just really a fad?" "What do you think classic authors would think about this stuff?"

Whoa there, cowboy. You've got yourself the wrong lit girl. I think you were looking for one of my colleagues who like to pound the table about the necessity of the canon. What, Stanley Fish wasn't available? Sadly, if you want a blurb from me for your article, you're going to get the line about how books are related to movies are related to rap music. After our increasingly uncomfortable chat, I looked up his blog, only to discover that he's a 55 year old cranky white dude who, in addition to writing for the Podunk Town Register, also owns a business that sells "authentic" trinkets from a certain Western European country known for clogging and abstruse Modernist writers who spent a lot of time in France. You all know one of these guys, I have no doubt. In making his argument---I mean "interviewing me"---he said: "I don't know if you're old enough to remember these guys in the early 70's who did this kind of thing in music." There's just no way for me to respond to that graciously.

Yesterday, I got gussied up so that they could take my photo for the PDR. I hope there's airbrushing involved, but I doubt I'm going to get that lucky. I'll be curious to see what, if anything, the writer includes of my incisive theory about the books. I expect to see single words like "and" and "the" as the only ones in quotation marks. Someone remind me never to go into politics. As a latter-day Norma Desmond, I'm afraid that I'm not ready for my close-up.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Never Say Never, Now with Photos!

When Mr. Fluff and I put our house on the market last summer and started looking for a new one (not necessarily in that order, which you can remind yourself of if you look here and here), there were any number of criteria that I had for a new house. A quiet neighborhood, in which we wouldn't be subjected to the sounds of our neighbors at all hours was at the top of his list. At the top of mine? A remodeled, or already halfway decent kitchen andbathroom. I was absolutely done with having the construction crews ripping up two of the most used and important rooms in the house, and having to go without them for extended periods of time. Having lived through both in our old house, I was done with major renovation. Surface aesthetic changes I could deal with, but no plumbing, reflooring, or construction crews.

The important thing, I suppose, is that one of us got what we wanted.

The new Casa de Fluff is blissfully (see earlier post on suburbia) quiet, and that's a boon to my quality of life in ways that I would not have expected. However. Like any house built in the disco era, it has some serious aesthetic challenges, at least three of which require all of the things that I didn't ever want to have to deal with again in life. Ever. Seriously---isn't there some sort of maximum number of bathroom renovations any one person should have to face?

Regardless, we chose this house, and we planned ahead, and so job one was to do something about the insanely hideous bathroom. Truly, the only thing that could have made this bathroom worse, in my mind, would have been metallic wall paper. [Scratch that. I suppose if the previous owners had been true CBGB wanna-bes, they would have installed that glass that only existed in the 70's. You know the stuff---it has the gold leaf running through it? Klassy. Thankfully, none of that.] But wallpaper you could steam off. There's somethings only a contractor or alternative licensed professional can fix.

Exhibit B: matching sink and toilet, bizarre floor tile, and a "vanity" that can't possible live up to its name without wanting to kill itself.

We lived in this horrorshow for six months (and lest you think "gee, I don't know what she's complaining about. It isn't so bad," realize that I couldn't bring myself to photograph the years of grime and mold that had been allowed to build up in the grout to said tile, and the way that the inside of the blue toilet had turned green over time. I gag every time I think about what could have made that happen). Exhibit A: the blue tub.
, Finally, at the very beginning of my spring leave, I called in our trusty contractor and let him go to town, and I spent 9 hours a day for a week enduring the constant sound of power tools, corralling my animals, having my water shut off, and listening to the same audio tape of the Grateful Dead. I'd complain here about the hours of work leading up to the actual renovation---what with the researching fixturesand furniture, tile and grout, and driving across two states to fetch it all---but really, it was nothing in comparison to that goddamned tape. Argh! Curse you, Garcia, even beyond the grave!!

Ahem. So, I spent days hanging with the renovation crew, learning about tools, listening to the Dead. We spent a weekend with an unworkable shower, and got really greasy in the meantime. In the end, however, we had new tile, a refinished tub, and white toilet (which is neither blue nor green, for which I am thankful every time I sit down to pee). And after much hemming and hawing, paint sampling and swatching, we have achieved bathroom nirvana. As evidenced below. A word of caution: because I was both too cheap and too impatient to live through the consequences of having them chip out the tub tile and replace it with something else, we left the baby blue interior tile as it was, which created some particular challenges in choosing a color scheme. I happen to think that the end result is very chic, and Yogini assures me that it's Boden-esque, which makes me hope that it's very British (pictures below, as demanded by my favorite Academic Cog). Either way, it's done, and I can rest easy. Except for the times that I spend in the dark, linoleum/formica kitchen...

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Case of the Cursed Paper

At dinner with one of my favorite, if a bit awkward, colleagues the other night, I related the tribulations that I've encountered with a paper that I've been working on for the past few months. His response? "It's cursed." "Not yet!" said his sympathetic and slightly mortified wife.

So what constitutes an almost-cursed paper? Like many things, it began as a lark. Mr. Fluff and I had been enthusiastically, if not rabidly, watching a particular television series together on DVD. It's not every day that our media obsessions match up, so when they do, we go after them with a vengeance (and when it's over, he goes back to watching some crap movie on SyFy, like Mansquito, and I return to more civilized ventures, like In Treatment, or re-runs of Dawson's Creek). And, as obsessive watchers of "quality tv" do, we'd discuss the implications of a Marxist-themed episode, or the questions that the show raised about race, etc., etc. Thus, when I saw a paper call that seemed to encapsulate our interpretation, I pitched the idea to Mr. Fluff. "This should be fun! We could write it together!"

I suppose that this could be a War of the Roses kind of story, in which we destroyed our marriage and brought the house down around our ears as we argued over the paper. That part, however, went just fine. I'd do some writing and thinking, hand off a draft of the abstract to Mr. Fluff, who'd tune it up, we'd discuss the ways that our argument was trending, what kinds of secondary stuff we should examine. Easy peasy. So when our abstract was accepted to a conference in Europe, I thought, "huzzah! Clearly, the universe accepts our work together, and is pleased!" But before I could book tickets, Mr. Fluff clucked his tongue. "It's in a month. Will we be ready in a month? You just finished the semester, it's Christmas. Maybe we should wait and try a different one."

Undaunted (despite the fact that the conference was hot on the heels of some work I'd done with my grad students in the fall), I found a national conference with a panel that fit the bill, and we slid the abstract in just under the deadline. We heard back from the organizer the same day. We were in, and needed to hurry up and pay the registration fee. (This probably should have given me pause about the quality of the conference, no?) But fine. We paid up, and I started making plans for the conference, which just happened to be in my favorite of the 50 states. "Perfect!" thought I. "We'll give the paper, and then we'll take the rest of the week for vacation!" I booked the conference hotel, and then a sweet little B&B up the road from the conference city. I researched restaurants and day trips and hikes. And then, the morning before we were supposed to leave, the airlines cancelled our flight because of the terrible, horrible snowstorm of '10. And we weren't able to rebook until the following Sunday---the final day of the conference. Wah!!

After hemming and hawing, we decided we'd go to favorite state anyway for a vacation, eat the costs of the conference, and submit the abstract elsewhere. Third time is the charm, right?

Two months ago, I submitted our abstract to a conference in the UK, wherein it was accepted. We paid the exorbitant conference fee, and I've been scoping out the various online airfare sites, trying to find something reasonable. Oh, and in the meantime, I've also read a number of articles on this show, read a classic cultural/theoretical tome, and, oh, you know, written the damn paper to submit it early to their website. Last Friday, Mr. Fluff gets a call in his office, stating that his boss is quitting, and that he'll need to step into that role and run the entire office and all of its programs by himself for the next three months. And, of course, he'll need to cancel his upcoming trip.

Son of an f'ing bitch.

I think we can officially call this paper cursed. I'm cancelling the trip, and the paper, and etc. This wretched piece of work has cost me countless hours, as well as probably $600 in conference fees, and that's if we exclude the cost of the trip to favorite state which I wouldn't have taken if we hadn't already planned it. Do I just surrender, and bury the cursed paper in my yard with a tiki and an evil eye amulet? Do I let it sit, and hope that I can give it again somewhere? Is Mr. Fluff's computer build on an Indian burial ground?!!

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Bougie McBougerson

I'm now closing in on almost a year in the "new" house, and I find that the 10 months here have brought into stark relief the difference that location can make. There's a phalanx of people here that are hard-core proponents of the ethical obligation we have to live in the city. And they're not wrong. After all, by leaving for the 'burbs, Mr. Fluff and I have taken our money out of the tax base and the school tax base; we've abandoned the mixed (as in, both rental and owner-occupied) neighborhood; we drive slightly further to work (and can no longer walk). In essence, there's a good deal of clucking and nose-looking-down-upon that we've undergone over the past year. And I have to admit, there's a sense in which I've mapped myself onto the way of life out here that is a bit disgusting. Case in point---here's what my day has and will look like:
•make smoothie with fresh fruit and omega-3s
•peruse books for fall classes
•get some exercise---either a bike ride or a trip to the gym
•make lunch with remaining produce from CSA
•meet friend to discuss fall lecture series
•paint (not so)newly-remodeled bathroom
•make dinner with remaining produce from CSA
•watch something on TV that I'm streaming from Netflix (because I refuse to deal with the cable company)

It's a little too much, isn't it? I feel like I should be sipping tea with my pinkie finger raised. Now if only I w•as driving my hybrid SUV to and from the Farmer's Market or the PTA meeting today, I'd be fully a part of the neighborhood. Stepford Wife, anyone?

But if we look at it in another way, here's what I would be doing if we had stayed in our old house:
•go into disgusting basement to open windows for cats
•make breakfast (sure, it could be a smoothie---no real difference here)
•make arrangements to address one of any number of urgent projects that will prevent the house from falling down: new roof, flooding in the back yard, crumbling masonry, etc.
•get some exercise, but feel guilty for not doing something about the front and/or back yard, both of which threaten to overtake the house
•dream about buying a bike, but realize that it would probably be stolen, as that's the number one crime in neighborhood
•make dinner
•watch something on cable
•go to bed, only to be awakened at 2 by our neighbors' furious, drunken game of backyard beer pong.

There's just no question about which of these ways of life is better for my blood pressure and peace of mind. And if anything, this is the life of the professors that I had (minus the wine-tasting and rose-growing that seemed endemic to my undergrad profs). But it's undeniable that there's a certain amount of privilege at work here. In part, it's class-related: we could never have bought this house without having improved and sold the first one, and my parents' assistance was key to that. In part, it's the privilege of partner-dom: being able to afford living in the 'burbs is possible only because we have two incomes; being socially comfortable living in a neighborhood of families and retirees is the advantage of heteronormativity. And the fact that I've had 4 months to enjoy hanging out in this house most days is professional: the job I have has given me a significant amount of unstructured time.

So, I'm a girl of the suburbs, without a doubt---it's taken me no time at all to settle into this life, even as I recognize all of the advantages that it takes to live here. And I understand that I'm contributing to a problem with urban life by eschewing it. But there's no question that I'm happier and more calmer here. Perhaps if I just wear my "McBougerson" name tag when I'm out running errands, there will be less clucking from the hard-core city folk?