Thursday, December 30, 2010

Posting Christmas

I am still out in the middle of the countryside, so posting irregularly from Panera, nearby when I can get in. One car, three people -- you do the math.

This week I spent reading The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, a book recommended on another blog.

Schwartz discusses why more is less, or making less sense, in our culture. I was interested in the topic, which seems so relevant today, but it was when he got to the following topics that I got truly interested: choice and expectations, choice and depression, choice and empowerment.

I see this everyday in my students, but I have also seen it in the New Yorkers recently interviewed about the post-Christmas blizzard and their expectations about snow removal by the city's government. Let me start with the blizzard issues.

Watching this news on TV I have been astonished at the reactions of NY'ers to the issues of snow removal. New York is the biggest, busiest city on the East coast and it got hit with 6-31 inches of snow--depending on where you were--Sunday night to Monday midday... and NY'ers were vocally complaining when by there was still snow on secondary and tertiary streets... on Tuesday. Or on Wednesday. IT'S A FOOT OF SNOW, FOLKS, ON EVERY STREET IN MANHATTAN, BROOKLYN, QUEENS, STATEN ISLAND AND THE BRONX! Every bridge, every tunnel, everywhere. The city asked people not to call 911 unless it was a life or death emergency: did people listen? No... and ambulances got stuck trying to respond to over 40,000 emergency calls. The city asked people not to try and drive their own cars... but they did and got stuck, thereby requiring city vehicles to pull them out, vehicles which had JUST AS MUCH TROUBLE getting around...

And then everyone got mad at the mayor and the city for not bailing them out.

People, a little rational thinking, huh?
1. This snowstorm was widely predicted -- everyone should have thought about and prepared for how to get to dialysis, jobs, food, pharmacies... BEFORE Monday morning. There was nothing else on the news, we all watched the storm move up the coast. Whyfor were you unprepared?
2. It was over 12 inches of snow: all vehicles, even city ones, get stuck in that kind of  thick, heavy, wet snow. They're not miracle machines.
3. You don't live in Georgia, where people had a right to be astonished at the snow. You live in the Northeast where it snows. It's winter, it was a snowstorm/tropical storm, it dropped snow and ice... figure it out.

But the real problem, it seems to me, is that the people of New York expected the city--meaning some objective entity--to solve their problems individually. In a city of 18 MILLION people. On Wednesday I heard one guy resentfully and self-righteously say that their block was NOW shoveling themselves out! It took 48 hours for the block to think of that solution and put it into practice. But these weren't renters: they were house owners who hadn't even shoveled their own cars or driveways. People, take ownership/responsibility for your place of living. Help your neighbors. Especially the elderly, the weak, the shut-ins!

Of course--because we have shopped for a gov't that would do everything for us... so we only have to become observers and critics of their performance, not do-ers. Our " actions" are limited to picking--followed by the expectation that all would roll out for us after that. This is Schwartz's thesis.

We have come to feel that since there is a wide selection, once we choose, we've chosen "the best," and the responsibility is now on that choice. We have no more responsibility, for example, to solve problems like snowy streets since our government has promised to care for us. We sit inside and wait, impatiently. But we simultaneously disconnect ourselves from being "the government," which we are--so we bear no burden. No burden for action, no responsiblity, and a demand for total, equal happiness.

I suspect some of the dissatisfaction is that SOME streets were plowed while others were not. Why not MY street? Why yours? Are you more important? Am I less important? What about MY emergency/situation/fears?

My students are empowered when I tell them that on a test, there are 12 questions, but only 10 required answers, so choose the ten you will answer and the two you will leave blank. They like this choice. It is specific, helpful, and eases their tension about being "perfect." Small, focused choice.

My students become anxious when I post ten exercises, and tell them they can choose which 5 to do for a grade. Questions about which ones are better (all are the same), how to do them (instructions are the same for all), when to choose (any time during the semester), etc. -- anxiety goes way up, despite the fact that I posted all of them at the head of the semester, gave them the entire semester, and that every exercise is virtually done the same way, albeit on a different play which they choose from a list attached to the exercise. Too much choice. They actually get paralyzed, and it is my fault, as the authority who dreamed up this exercise. But... they initially like so much choice, according to them at the top of the semester.

Anyway--it is an interesting book. It did shed light on my issues about feeling disempowered, about depression, and simply about feeling too many choices face me every bloody day. Even here at Panera: they don't offer just three pastry choices, they offer 18. Not including 16 bins of bagels and about 12 types of bread... and that's just breakfast food, not even the coffee choices (15) and teas (uncounted) as well as other drinks (cold coffee, cold non-coffee, cold fruity, sodas, water). Hmm. And yet the possibility exists that I won't find the RIGHT pastry or the RIGHT drink choice--and therefore will be terribly disappointed. It's breakfast! But I understand the paralysis.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Favorite Christmas Movies

'Tis the season for Christmas films... but usually the predictable ones. As I tell my students, a holiday like Christmas can really focus and increase the tension, urgency, and dramatic life of a narrative, giving extra-special oomph to your plot. I also simply like slightly twisted Christmas tales.

For example:

1. Die Hard. Yes, a Christmas film. The terrorists, led by Alan Rickman, take over a Christmas party and, sadly for them, Bruce Willis's John McLane is in the house. Ditto, Die Hard 2.

2. The Bishop's Wife. With David Niven as the bishop, Loretta Young as his wife, and Cary Grant as the angel.

3. The Preacher's Wife, the newer version with Whitney Houston, Courtney B. Vance, and Denzel Washington as the angel (of course!).

4. The Man Who Came to Dinner. The Kaufman-Hart classic turned into a very funny film.

5. Stalag 17. Christmas in the POW camp. Brilliant William Holden.

6. We're No Angels.

7. Home Alone, the original only. Didn't we all dream of being alone at home, without siblings, running wild and staying up all night without supervision? Dang right.

8. Holiday Inn. In my opinion superior to White Christmas, if only because of the delectable Fred Astaire.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


I saw this new Disney-Pixar film last week (after finals closed!) and found it delightful.

This new take on the story of Rapunzel features, yes, an evil "stepmother" -- actually simply the woman who steals Rapunzel from her birth parents in order to have access to the miraculous youth-giving properties of Rapunzel's hair. And yes, Rapunzel is blonde and Evil Mother is dark. In fact, she has black, curly hair...

Putting aside the issues of older-woman-seeking-eternal-youth and dark vs. light heroines (a staple of melodramas), to be considered later, the production of the film was stunning. The colors, the drawing style, the editing (sound and shot), and the overall look of the film was fantastic. There were the Disney staples of wonderful animal pals (a horse and a chameleon), Pixar's usual motley and unexpected characters, and wonderful tunes from Alan Mencken. As my friend cynically suggested, it is ready for Broadway.

Alert: Politics! Tangled definitely displays the usual painful gender politics of Disney films, commenting negatively on older women who are desperate to be young--so desperate they steal someone else's child! Sadly, not a trope limited to Disney... but I wonder how it sticks with little girls as they age. Disney as usual displays the simplistic notions of dark woman/light woman, natural mother/childless crone, found in most melodramas. It's Snow White all over again, and I thought we had come a long way from that 1930s classic!

It reminds me of Lillian Gish's role in The Night of The Hunter, a great film directed by Charles Laughton. She's a woman who has taken in stray children during the Depression, and is as fierce as anything. And the silent star is clearly not afraid of being seen in her late middle age. Not a "typical" mother or heroine.

At the homestead

I am back east for the holidays, and there is nary a sign of snow yet. Bone dry and windy. I thought I'd share these photos from last Christmas when there was more then enough snow in my little hometown.

One very snowy winter morning in the middle of our small town. Looks like a traditional little village, almost like a Christmas card, non? The church is the one where I sang in the Sunday choir all through high school, a Dutch Reformed Church (Presbyterian), located on the north side of the village green, visible in the first picture. One would never guess that hippies used to squat in tents on that same green, would you?

It is an interesting little town with an interesting past, now settled into an attractive and mysterious middle age... only one of the reasons I enjoy it so very much.

Jack and I are firmly established in house with my folks, where Jack has spent a lot of time lying under the Christmas tree, against the radiator.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Back to... normal?

More or less.

Yesterday, I took care of errands online and in person, getting ready to fly out for the holidays with family. Also went to see Tangled, the new Disney movie which has a very singable score (no surrpise!) and is superbly done. More later.

Today's big plan is to clean the top half of my apartment--otherwise known as upstairs--and take care of a few more errands.

A friend and I plan to drive through my 'hood tonight and view the lights. Yesterday evening as I was driving myself home, I was nearly blinded by one display--everyone seems to have gone all out this year in the 'hood, and since the very very rich people live in my 'hood, that's saying something. Lawn crews were out and about for a month stringing, hanging, tossing carelessly-yet-elegantly, and inflating. I suspect it is for the same reason people have brought their HumVees and big ol' SUVvies out of the garage and are driving them around. In my very very conservative-yet-filthy-rich 'hood, the poor times are over and we're all about celebrating... despite reality.

Lest you think me filthy rich, I assure you, not so. I live on the right side of the tracks--literally!--(for now) amidst them, but I am an observer only. But I do observe that Jags, Lexae, and the prevously mentioned HumVees are out and about without shame--despite the undoubtedly huge gas bills.

Tonight for our lookie-loo trip, I plan to break out my stash of Angelina's powdered cocoa and make us a thermos of the same. Nothing like looking at lawn ornamentation while sipping the best Paris cocoa! What I need is some full-bodied milk or, heavens, cream to make it super special.

Big D is sunny and mild, but the hometown will be snowy and cooooolllllddddd. Have to pack for that, for both Jack and me.

Christmas plans: read books, watch terrible TV, cook, write, play with Jack, be bored... and therefore unstressed. Create my list of 50 Books to Read in 2011, and start reading them. Go see The King's Speech with parents. Go see The Fighter, maybe with my sister. Watch the snow fall, lie on the ground, melt... watch the deer, many birds, and turkeys in my parents' yard--oh, yes, it is clearly on some animal version of "safe places to hang out."

Sounds crazy, right? But not in a Drah-Mah way, like my everyday life. Nice.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Free at last!

The hardest part of this job is the bi-annual end-of-semester crush. And... it happened again, despite my best plans.

Unfortunately, it has become a regular event. Unlike several of my departmental colleagues, I give final exams and require final revisions on my students' plays during the exam period. During this same period, my department gives individual student evaluations, where each student receives first a written and then an in-person assessment from each faculty member who teaches them in our department. The in-person ones are given by the entire teaching team at once; so we meet on one day, for example, with all our senior undergrads, and then the next day with the juniors, and so on.

This means that in a little more than a week, I led three assessment teams for three grade levels including 12 seniors, 12 juniors, and 22 sophomores--while writing my own assessments for all but 7 of those students. My job before the meetings is to collect, collate, and distribute the written evaluations; during, to keep us on time and focused; and after, to follow up with any probationary requirements.

Oh, and I prepared, gave and graded one final examination, collected and graded one research paper, collected and graded 18 short plays, and met individually with my 8 senior playwrights with notes about their plays. And met with a search committee.

All in 9 days, last Wednesday to yesterday! Breathe the free air!

The main problem is that no matter how I plan the time, it is too fast, too much, and picks up stray events and charges that make it tougher. This year, I planned a little better and had food in the house to cook and eat, which meant that I wasn't existing on a diet of coffee and fast food. That's a situation full of disaster for my moods and stamina. The house goes kaplooey, my errands go to mush, and everything piles up.

Fortunately, the evaluations went off without a hitch--except for two young men who didn't show.

The exams, papers, and grading went well, although the middle one took 24 hours too long (our Registrar starts sending nasty notes after 48 hours if your grades aren't in, then the phone calls begin.... apparently they have nothing to do in that office!). But the students actually ended with the grades the earned--which surprises them but is usual for the way things work. I did have several students who pulled their class grades up as much as a grade level--which was superb!

The meetings went better, leaving me now to email my written notes to each student, an easy enough task, once I get organized for it.

And, surprisingly, I got lots of errands done this week! I visited the Tax Man and got old back taxes figured and in to the IRS, which will make for a sizable refund. I put in and got back all my prescriptions for the month. I got my car registration and new license plates for the DMV. I took Jack to the vet and got our flying certificates. And today I plan to visit the bookshop and sell books, the consignment store and sell clothes.

More to do, but my holiday begins now!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Finally, final final grades

Thursday is here and...
  1. last 3 days of classes DONE!
  2. 1 last research paper -- being graded
  3. 2 1 "final" meetings -- with no final, just handing in final projects
  4. 8 5 3 2 final meetings with students about original scripts: would be done but two students "failed" to show for originally scheduled meetings, had to re-schedule for Monday (sigh)
  5. 1 final (official) -- review session completed yesterday -- Grading in process!
  6. 38 26 individual student evaluations to be written, copied, handed out to students in 3 rounds of face-to-face meetings -- round 1 today round 2 today
  7. 2 student projects to be seen DONE!
  8. and grading, grading, grading until 12.15
Yay!  Finally DONE with all papers, all plays, all final exams... and meetings!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Counting Down!

End-of-the-week assessment, but I am still very much in the middle of things....
  1. last 3 days of classes DONE!
  2. 1 last research paper -- being graded
  3. 2 1 "final" meetings -- with no final, just handing in final projects
  4. 8 5 3 2 final meetings with students about original scripts: would be done but two students "failed" to show for originally scheduled meetings, had to re-schedule for Monday (sigh)
  5. 1 final (official) -- review session completed yesterday -- Grading in process!
  6. 38 26 individual student evaluations to be written, copied, handed out to students in 3 rounds of face-to-face meetings -- round 1 today round 2 today
  7. 2 student projects to be seen DONE!
  8. and grading, grading, grading until 12.15
A loooong week, nearly done. Three days without tests or evaluations, only writing and grading. Oh, and two parties!

Also--more Christmas wishes, now that I think about it.

Basic Travelsmith easy travel dress. I had one ofthese for a decade, and it finally died. Most useful peice of clothing I ever had, and one for which I received tons of compliments.

A variation on the same. Of course, I would get it in black.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas wish list

Current standings:
  1. last 3 days of classes DONE!
  2. 1 last research paper -- being graded
  3. 2 1 "final" meetings -- with no final, just handing in final projects
  4. 8 5 3 final meetings with students about original scripts
  5. 1 final (official) -- review session completed yesterday
  6. 38 26 individual student evaluations to be written, copied, handed out to students in 3 rounds of face-to-face meetings -- round 1 today round 2 today
  7. 2 student projects to be seen DONE!
  8. and grading, grading, grading until 12.15

Yesterday was an action-packed round of student evaluations, student meetings, and talking talking talking... 
Today is more fo the same: 2 meetings, 11 evaluations, and 1 meeting wtih a colleague. Then 2 hours of blissful at-home grading/final-making.

I've already turned in my wishlist to Santa, but here are some things I wuld love to get.

Le Creuset baking set, now onsale at cobalt, of course.

Blue oxford boyfriend shirt at J. Jill, also onsale.

Gold link/chain bracelet. This is just an example-hint.

Gift card for my new e-reader (to be opened Xmas morning)--so I can buy and download books.

Brown and black leather belts, good quality, mostly for wear with jeans and trousers. These are Banana Republic, but this is not the most difficult gift choice to find...

I had a hard time coming up with these. I've been doing such a good job decluttering and moving things out, rethinking what I already have, that these are what's left as real "need to haves." I'm actually impressing myself, right now!

Oh, and this!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Back in town

Yes, last week was crazy... This week IS crazy... next week should be back down to ORANGE levels.

My list from last week:
  • last 3 days of classes DONE!
  • 1 last research paper -- being graded
  • 2 "final" meetings -- with no final, just handing in final projects
  • 8 5 final meetings with students about original scripts
  • 1 final (official) -- review session completed yesterday
  • 38  26 individual student evaluations to be written, copied, handed out to students in 3 rounds of face-to-face meetings -- round 1 today
  • 2 student projects to be seen DONE!
  • and grading, grading, grading until 12.15

Yes, it is not exactly time for champagne, but with one party looming, three friend-dinners scheduled, Christmas shopping completed, I am actually seeing the end of the tunnel. I am also managing to eat and sleep better than last week, so I feel better (funny how that works!).
The biggest challenge for us this time of the year are the individual student evaluations we write--1 for each student in each class--and deliver in teaching teams. It is a time-consuming process that enables each student to understand where she or he stands and what he or she must work on in future. I have 38 evaluations to be written, copied, handed out, and filed. Leading to discussions with each individual students during the three meetings. And finals, final projects, and final grades, which are due 48 hours after the final--for the convenience of the Registrar's office, not the professor. Just another way the administration "structures" our teaching.
Then, finally, I will have five days just to DO NOTHING before holidays at the parents. Yes, clean house and car. Yes, ride bike and cull closets and drawers. Yes, go to early matinees and see holiday movies even my nephews won't want to see. Heaven!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Small break

Well, December is HERE, which means
  • last 3 days of classes
  • 1 last research paper
  • 2 "final" meetings -- with no final, just handing in final projects
  • 1 final (official)
  • 38 individual student evaluations to be written, copied, handed out to students in 3 rounds of face-to-face meetings 
  • 2 student projects to be seen
  • and grading, grading, grading until 12.15

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


What does one say to someone who is so self-absorbed that they appear oblivious to the fact that they a/ ignored and trampled on your authority? b/ appropriated your "stuff" and then act as if they did you a favor?

And who, by the way, has unleashed long-term ramifications to your job by doing this?

Just a question. Because I am speechless.

November's books -- final days!

How did I get behind? Hmmm.

#29,  Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee (1997) and #30, Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion (1968)

Back to influential women writers and subjects, in fact.

Virginia Woolf is a marvelous subject but frankly I was more stunned by Lee's approach to biography and to writing history. Her biography of Virginia Woolf is a model of scholarship and compelling writing combined, which is what scholarship should be about. Forget addressing the closed audience of scholars (please!) in jargon-laden phrases that point out our superiority to normal people (please!) and imagine reading interesting, intellegent, and intriguing prose about  intruiging subjects.

This book showed me the way to writing prose for "regular" people as well as scholars. There are too few models.

Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Didion contains an essay that completely exemplifies the way I felt about leaving New York, that marvelous city, when I was 27. "Goodbye to All That" is basically about leaving a party where one has had a good time, but the party has turned sour, for no particular reason, and it is time to go. Hard to leave, but definitely time. I left New York because I had changed, my idea of "adventure" had changed, and I was tired of the antics of the people there. Even now, however, when I read this essay i find myself crying because it was a good time, for a while, and like a lover you remember with pain and happiness, you regret that it did not work out better.

The rest of the essays are also good, but that one alone speaks to my life as if Didion and I were intimate friends.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November's books

#27, Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger (1951) and #28, Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (2005)

I read Catcher in the Rye as a grown-up, which makes much more sense, like reading Huck Finn as a grown-up. It is less an instruction manual than a memory play, and leaves one nostalgic but happy to be an adult and through this terrifying phase of youth.

I thought Salinger did indeed catch the voice of youth and the tone of combined hopelessness and powerlessness one can feel at that time: not old enough to make changes in anything but yourself, but not smart enough to know that is a good thing, ultimately.

We forget he wrote it in 1951: well prior to the usual time of teen angst, the 60s. Fifteen years later, the Holden Caulfields of the 50s were the young generation rebels of the 60s. But it is a post-war novel, too, encompassing all the chaos seen and expressed so differently in European novels (and drama).

Julie and Julia was an eye-opener for me. Julie Powell was stuck, as I have been, and started cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking as well as blogging her daily experiences, to get out of it.

I found her writing charming and her setting of this odd goal refreshing. Why not? Mastering cooking? Why not? The movie focused more strongly on the Julia Child plotline, and given the actors, of course, one would say. Julie Powell comes across as lesser and a bit whiny, as played by Amy Adams, which is more the script than anything. And yet Powell does what Ephron herself did: writes herself out of a dead-end place and into a better one. I found it inspiring, and started a blog to record my own, what? adventures, exploits, etc.

Why not?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Oxford rooms

This was the way I walked into my rooms all summer. Jusr some random pictures for the end of Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

If I were in Paris... Friday, November 26 (late!)

I missed the last two week's of this round-up, so this is a slight catch-up post. I know we were all too busy with eating turkey and spending Christmas dollars to miss it.

Today in Paris it is nearly freezing (34 degrees F),so I would opt for indoor happy places.

I would definitely try to get tickets to LULU, by Frank Wedekind, playing at La Colline, in the 20th. This is a brand-new production of the play and the production photos look great. There are two English-subtitle performances coming up. Wedekind began this play in 1892 and finished it in 1913, thereby spanning the entire period of early modernism/abstract theatre.  Most famously, this was translated into film by G.W. Pabst, starring the incomparable actress Louise Brooks. This production looks to be using the 1960s as the erotic background.

Overiew from website: "In a world where eroticism seems to have become a common law, no man can resist Lulu, even if death is the consequence of pleasure.... In Lulu’s story, the enchanting eros, promise of happiness, ends up turning to trash. The grotesque accents Wedekind valued so much echo till the very last tragic burst of the plot. It is this vim and the combative strength of this writing St├ęphane Braunschweig will nourish his staging of the “monstrous tragedy” with."

Besides that, I would definitely be tempted to go see the windows (surely up by now!) at the major department stores. Just as in American, Galleries Lafayette, Printemps, and Bon Marche come up with something brilliant as their theme and decorate inside and outside to the fullest extent of the law. Here's an example from 2008:


Given, too, that this is not a time for tourism, I would certainly enjoy longer, less crowded trips to the Louvre, the d'Orsay, and any other museum usually so crowded in the summer or Christmas time that visits are painful. Now, there would be room to stroll, linger, and visit those odd little rooms that do not hold famous treasures.

I would definitely be interested in the current exhibition at the Musee de Cluny, the premier medieval museum in Paris, on "Out of Gold and Fire: Art in Slovakia at the End of the Middle Ages." This is the kind of event one can see in Paris that in the US people would simply ignore. Again, with 60 different works--as well as mthe museum's superb gift shop--this would make for a lovely afternoon's visit. Followed by a walk through the Jardins de Luxembourg and a glass of wine or cup of hot cocoa on the Rue des Rennes, while staring at the windows. Even with the cold, this walk--with frequent stops--would allow one to get fresh air, exercise, hot cocoa, and see medieval treasures.... what more could one ask?

November's books

#25, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and #26, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Never Let Me Go is a frightening and moving novel that seems both science fiction and an accurate rendering of the me-centered people we have become. It is now a movie, which I haven't seen, but when I came across this book in 2005, through a friend's recommendation, I read it in a single day. Coud not put it down.

There are three parts, about three children who grow up. I can't really tell you anything about them except that they are British, without giving you a spoiler. And the fact is, the truth of the sotry ahs to creep over you, through Ishiguro's amazing ability to keep you reading despite not knowing what the hell is going on... and the growing fear that it is... I'll stop there.

I am now afraid to read any of Ishiguro's other works, because this one was too powerful. Great testament, isn't it?

Despite that, I highly recommend it.

The Big Sleep is only one of Chandler's few novels. Too few, in my opinion, but it obviously took Chandler a great deal of time to write a complete novel. We should be grateful (and I am) for the handful he left us.

Of course, The Big Sleep features Philip Marlowe, Chandler's most famous detective, living in L.A. during the 30s, 40s, and 50s... when it was something other than the sprawling mega-entertainment mecca it is now, When it was, in fact, in transition. 

Chandler is a fine writer: detailed, exact, and precise, he captures an era and a society that have passed away, other than in period films. His descriptions of the crooks, molls, moguls, wealthy, and down-and-out that pass through Marlowe's life are crisp and compelling; his plots are tightly twisted, surprising, and logical, in the world of illogic and chaos that is moderntity. Although his works were first published in pulp magazines, his writing transcended that. Marlowe is the American version of the alienated man of modern fiction, different from Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammet's detective and Marlowe's peer, because he has no secretary, no partner, no long-time girlfriend, no sidekick.

I also love Chandler's short stories, and especially the collection Trouble is My Business... I only because I wish I could say that when I meet new people: "Hi, I'm Pearl and trouble is my business." "What do I do, you ask? Trouble is my business."  Just for fun.

If you seek good, tight writing and a thrill, read Chandler. Warning: Like Ishiguro, the moral and ethical complications of the life lived in the novel is not easy to take.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bella in the shop

Finally, I took Bella for her annual check-up to the new location of my bike shop, the same place I bought her from. They've moved south of DownTown Big D to a funkier, warehouse-y area that will probably all too soon be gentrified and bland.

I strapped her to the back of the car using the new bike rack and gendered-holding bar, and actually drove through the busy streets of Big D yesterday.

Bad news: the beautiful panniers I bought are disintegrating. The straps apparently cannot hold up to the sun, heat, and nasty water of the area, and literally fell off in my hands. Ugh.

Good news: Bike store is fully-functional in new space and funkier than ever. They are checking her tires (both flat!) and gears and springs, etc. Picking her up Saturday.

She needs a hosing down, too: lots of mud from the last couple of weeks.

Glass windows, University College, Oxford

These windows date from the 17th-century, made in Holland. They are not stained glass, but painted glass.

In order: Jonah and the whale, Jacob and the ladder, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac. Dig the funky whale.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Boat trip, Oxford

Some of my students from the summer, on a trip down the Isis.

Happy Thanksgiving!

An appreciation of the holiday:

Have a great day, eat just a little too much, and enjoy time with friends and family.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oxford Bikes, 2010

I just found a folder full of photos from this summer that I never uploaded. Bikes from Oxford's City Center.

Beading 101.. sort of

I am starting my goals of 2011 early, wherein I will take classes in things I am really interested in. Like jewelry making.

This past Saturday I fnally took the class in wire wrapping that I had scheduled for an evening in September... but a tornedo touched down and the class went all cancelled. I finally called and asked when we were rescheduling... and it turned out they had forgotten to call me.

Fortunately there was an opening this past Saturday. Which was great timing.

I already make myself necklaces by stringing beads. I have made some lovely ones and learned a fair amount along the way. I tend toward beads of natural stones, silver, and glass, and my designs are far from wacky. Since I am small, I also tend to make things that are not "statement" necklaces in terms of size but hopefully are in terms of design.

The shop, Beading Dreams, I spoke to had three intro courses: color choices, wire wrapping, and knotting. I chose only the wire wrapping, because it is a basic skill and I feel I already have a great color sense.

The 2-hour course was fun. It started an hour before the store actually opened, so we could get undivided attention and no distractions. We began by learning how to use the 3 versions of pliers on cheap/base wire. I shared a table with three other women, one of whom had taken the other two intro courses and the other two who planned to. A nice group.

Our teacher, who also owns the shop, was very direct and went s-l-o-w-l-y as appropriate. Then she turned us loose. We got to make a bracelet and pair of earrings; I chose to make mine to match two scarves I have acquired in the last year which both feature yellow and bits of red. Not common choices for me, so the new bracelet and earrings match both scarves and have already come in handy. I poked myself once with the pliers, but avoided real damage. Surprisingly.

Once I did a couple, the whole link-making thing made sense and was fun. I plan to go back on Friday (Black Friday!) for their early 50% off sale. I can buy the pliers I need for the wrapping, as well as some beads for projects. Of course, I have lots of beads. I am such an international beader I know great stores in both Paris and Bath--huzzah!

Photos to come of the final projects, but I think they both turned out nicely. We could choose from two trays of relatively inexpensive but funky beads. I chose some flat, pale yellow beads in hard plastic, with lines slashed in them, and small red textured beads. The yellow was very pale while the red is bolder--like both scarves, actually.

A worthwhile two hours! My next class: I actually hope it will be on the firing range, wherein I will learn to fire a gun. My goal is to reduce my own fear of firearms (is it possible?) and one of my students from last summer in Oxford has offered to go with me, as she is very familiar with guns from family hunting events, etc. Like the opposite of my family.

November's books

#24, THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein

This is a children's book, and I hate to ruin anyone's happy childhood memories so SPOILER: don't read this is you love this book.

I hate it.

Why? Get a clue, readers! The tree is female, the child male. She "gives" him everything until she is just a stump, and finally, old and worn out, he comes back and sits on her for comfort. Perhaps Silverstein didn't realize the political implications of his abusive message, but I do: enable your man, Tammy!


If Silverstein had written the book so the child was female and the tree male, the moral would not be "be selfless" but, "stop being selfish, bossy!" "You should be nicer!" "Share!" "Stop defacing that defenseless tree!" All good lessons for children (male and female) to learn, granted, but certainly in our culture gendered. How do you get a boy to like you? Be like the tree! Do everything for him, make him feel good, overlook your needs for his, and rely on the fact that, deep down, he loves you... no matter if he takes your apples, cuts off your branches, and turns your trunk into a boat so he can SAIL AWAY FROM YOU!!!!!! and all his other responsibilities.

You should certainly help him all you can with that. And be glad he comes back. Later. Old and useless. Without gratitude or a gift. Or an apology. Oh, yeah: let's model THAT behavior. Gak: the message for girls is dangerous and stupid.

The message for boys, equally so. It's all "take, take, take," use the people who love you without respect or apology, avoid unhappiness by running away, but there will always be someone waiting for you--without you earning that right. This is not only destructive (talk about entitlement!) but suggests men remain children who need to be handled. That they are incapable of deeper emotions, commitment, and generosity. That there is no price to pay for unremitting selfishness.

Too much?

Okay, it is also an anti-green message. Take, take, take from the environment because it is all here to support man (in this case, Human-Man) and will always be there... no matter what...

Uh, not so, sport. Start paying back, stop abusing, and water that tree. And you will have shade, food, and a companion for life, you lazy mook. Or just keep cutting everything away until there isn't anything but a stump. Your choice.

For me, this book was a lesson in looking at the bigger picture, the message behind the pretty shiny love duet being sung in front of the curtain. What, exactly are the political implications of this book as a gender message, or an evironmental message, or even a social message? Who do you want to be, the child or the tree? Why?

And every Tree needs a Sassy Gay Friend (and this one leads to a reference to one of my favorite books!)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Weekly savings... or not

This week's total's:
  • Spent: $81.52
  • Saved $15.26 (19%)
Not such a great comparison, but I did buy spices and herbs for cooking, so that was a bit of a pile.

November's books

Damn,  three-fer.

#21 The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
#22, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem
#23, Writing s Woman's Life by Carolyn Heilbrun

The Prince is a fascinating, cynical, eyes-wide-open look at politics and the people who use them. I read it in a comparative literature class,and found it both practical and disturbing... like The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Machiavelli wrote it during the rule of the Medici family in Florence.

One of the objections to The Prince is that Machiavelli advocates immoral actions; in fact, he advises princes who would succeed to be ruthless and to be practical rather than good (one of the things I always admired about Louis XIV in my study of him). The work is not based, however, on political theory or the "should" school of action, it comes from Machiavelli's direct observation and experience of successful rulers. He is obviously aware of classical works on the subject, like Aristotle's Politics, but suggests those classical treatises do not apply to the modern Renaissance world.

One can certainly disagree with Machiavelli about the "proper" actions to be taken by a prince who wants to be "succesful," and even the definition of successful. What cannot be disputed is that Machiavelli is, sadly, on target in most of his thinking.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions was one of the first nonfiction books I read that could be called feminist. I was working and living in NYC. Why did it take so long? Good questions, because it was immediately clear that I am a  feminist. Still and despite the bad press for using that word in this modern 21st century world.

"Knowledge that is not accessible is not helpful": this is Steinem on academic jargon. I want to have a t-shirt with this emblazoned on it!

Steinem is one of the most intelligent and far-seeing of the feminists who changed the way we think about women (a little). Her book is personal but profound using everyday prose to detail the ways in which she observed misogyny and anti-women actions in the 1970s and 1980s. As a young woman, I found it profoundly eye-opening about the realities of my life, the daily interactions going on around and to me.

Steinem never shows off. She simply speaks in a straightforward style that anyone can understand, even if you do not agree with what she says. There is no hiding, no colonizing, no appropriation of resources. Which of course makes her dangerous, not only to misogynists but to the feminists who wish to control the argument, rather than include all women, all men, all persons in the movement toward true gender equity.

Writing a Woman's Life is a non-fiction book by Carolyn Heilbrun, and it was probably the first book I read in a feminist grad class. A small book, it rocked my world as a writer, a future academic, and a woman. Heilbrun addresses the myth of women, specifically women writers who actually lived, by interrogating the ways in which male biographers and female autobiographers construct those lives.

In other words, how they turn fact into fiction/myth that suits the general stereotypes about women as artists, writers, creators (outside of maternity), and individual actors of their own reality. It is not a pretty book, and like most feminist writers of the 1980s, Heilbrun (like Steinem) sees the room for vast change and the need for it now. Both women wanted to educate a generation of women--mine--about how to be truthful about their own, life experiences even if those life experiences did not conform to social mores.

So... three writers who do a bit of "Emperor's New Clothes" revelating. No wonder I am interested in them, then and again now.