December 31, 2004

New Year's Wish

New Year's Eve. My extended family has divided, with the older crowd going to my parents' house for a quiet party, and the younger crowd coming to my house for what is being termed the wild party. I am plenty old enough to qualify for the party at my parents' house but since I live here, it looks like Spouse and I will be hanging out with the gang of kids, teenagers, and college students. I prefer the younger crowd anyhow. Cousins and extra kids have been arriving, and I've delegated all sorts of cleaning and cooking tasks. We won't eat until after midnight; it's a tradition to begin the new year with a big meal.

I'm taking a quiet moment in my office (okay, not that quiet, but at least I'm alone since everyone in the family understands that they are not allowed in my office) to think about 2004. Highlights included a trip with Spouse to Utah in June, some great camping trips with the kids, and a visit with Artist Friend in October. The low point was of course the moment that I realized that George W. Bush had been re-elected. I was so hoping that the country I live in would be heading in a different direction in 2005.

Here's hoping that somehow those of us who care about other humans, other creatures, and the planet will be able to make a difference in 2005.

December 30, 2004

It does matter what you call me

When I got married, I did not change my last name. My conservative home community was (and still is) shocked by this. Of course, since I'm a known feminist, my academic friends would have been shocked if I had changed my name. Sometimes I really feel like I live in two different worlds.

The internet has made the sexist practice of a woman taking a man's name even more absurd. When I was trying to locate some old college friends a couple of summers ago (for reasons I cannot divulge, although I assure you that my intentions were not evil), I found my male friends pretty quickly through internet search engines. But I couldn't find the female friends at all. That's when it struck me. Many had gotten married and CHANGED their names. How do you google someone if you don't even know her last name?

Should getting married be like entering the Witness Protection Program?

Train Tracks

I live just outside a small village that I am going to call Train Track Village. You know how, when you play with wooden train tracks, you make a village by taking a few random buildings - some wooden houses perhaps, a church maybe, or a post office - and set them on either side of the track? That's what this village looks like.

I live on one of those country roads where you must drive slowly so that you don't hit a deer or a wild turkey or one of my kids with his skateboard. The road is pretty quiet because it deadends into the railroad track. During hunting season, men with guns leave their pick-up trucks parked down near the railroad track while they head into the woods to get a deer. I've lived somewhere near this railroad track my whole life, unless you count sojourns to go get educated. When my house is very quiet, which is hardly ever, I can sometimes hear the trains going past, carrying passengers west to Chicago, or east and south to New York City. That rumbling sound that makes my home vibrate connects me to friends and relatives in both cities and to places along the way. Whenever a friend moves to a new city, I have to rearrange the train track inside my head to connect that friend to the real train track just down the road.

I work on an urban campus that is only nine miles away, located in the middle of Snowstorm City. Snowstorm City is big enough to have a symphony, a big university, a hockey team, a science museum, an art museum, and .... well, not much else. We get a lot of snow, and that's pretty much it.

I blog from my desk at home, in a room that faces west toward Chicago, with a view that includes pine trees and often a flock of wild turkeys. I am surrounded by shelves overflowing with books and a scattered assortment of feathers, rocks, and seashells. The floor of my home office is usually littered with stacks of books and folders full of important stuff that I will get to someday. I often share my chair with a cat, which causes yowls if I lean back too quickly. So I write from the middle of nowhere, connected to the outside world by books, telephone, internet, and the train track down the road.

December 29, 2004

Simple Comparison

The amount of money that will be spent on Bush's inauguration: $40 million.

What the US has pledged to help the relief effort after the tsunami: $35 million.

Shooting my kids

I just read Mel's musings about holiday cards. I will admit that I am one of those people who sends out a photo of my children every year. It's a family tradition and I've never missed a year. Yeah, it's nice when the photo includes the whole family, but we've never done that. Why not? Well, it's fairly easy to hang a blanket from the ceiling, group the kids in front of it, and then snap a photo. But if I have to include my spouse AND find someone else to take the photo, well then, I can guarantee that the photo will never happen. Too complicated. That kind of thing would take advanced planning, too much an investment of time and energy during what is always a hectic time of the semester.

The reason I send the photo (and I only send it to people whom I think would want to get one - which I realize is not everyone) is because I myself love getting holiday photos in the mail. I love photos of any kind -- kids, old people, cats, dogs, horses, ferrets, whatever. I love handwritten notes. I especially love the corny newsletters. I have a cousin who every year sends an unbelievably horrible newsletter - dreadful stilted rhymes, all kinds of peculiar bragging, and puns that don't even make sense. Red-haired Sister calls me the moment she gets the newsletter and makes me run out to the mailbox to make sure I have one too so that we can mock it out. My Mom and other sisters have been known to join in the ritual of making fun of the newsletter, although Red-haired Sister seems to take particular enjoyment in it.

And we'd all be disappointed if we didn't get the newsletter. We make fun of the letter but we love getting it. And even though we joke about the horrible rhymes, that doesn't mean we don't love the person who sent it and honestly care about what is going on in her life.

This year I asked my kids if it was time to discontinue the holiday photo - my youngest child is ten. But they said, no, we might as well. The relatives were expecting it. It was a tradition. This attitude surprised me.

"But you hate the photo," I said.

"Complaining about the photo shoot is part of the tradition," explained my sixteen-year-old. "Getting you annoyed is part of the fun." His friend, one of our extra kids who has witnessed the photo shoot every year since about first grade, agreed. "Remember the year when we broke one of the lamps and you went psycho? That was mad cool."

We joked about which photo to send. In one shot, the blanket that serves as a backdrop fell down and you can see all the dirty dishes piled on the counter, as well as a bulletin board crammed with all kinds of to-do lists. That photo would give friends a more realistic glimpse into our life. We also considered adding all the extra kids who were lounging about watching us take the photo. The extra kids said, no, they liked their traditional jobs of holding lamps to add extra light (they are just normal living room lamps so it doesn't really work) or doing silly things to make everyone smile. They didn't want to be on the other side of the camera.

In the end we took what was pretty normal shot - well, my youngest child is wearing a black fedora from our dress-up clothes collection, which is maybe a bit strange - and sent it to all the relatives. I always take a leftover card, cut-off the holiday greeting part, and tape it on the inside cover of my journal so that when I'm at a conference, sleeping alone in a strange hotel room, I have a photo of my kids with me.

Ruby Slippers

Tonight one of the extra kids at our house was a neighbor girl whose parents had a funeral to attend. When the little girl arrived, she was not wearing boots, despite snowy weather which called for winter boots. She was wearing her brand new Christmas shoes. I could tell by the way she walked in, proudly and self-consciously, that she loved these shoes. They were bright red and glittery, exactly like the ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz. She took them off carefully, wiped the snow off them, and set them on the stairs so that I could admire them.

The house was fairly quiet because my spouse had a board meeting and my older kids were at my parents' house, being served a home-cooked meal and being entertained by their grandparents. Ruby Slipper Girl and my two youngest kids sat in the living room under the glowing lights of the Christmas tree and played a board game, which was one of many new toys in the house. I added some logs to the fire in the fireplace and sat on the couch with the newspaper, listening with half my mind to their silly conversations and earnest arguments about the rules of the game.

With the other half of my mind, I read story after story about the tsunami disaster. I looked at photos of women and men mourning the loss of their children, images of drowned bodies piled into mass graves, and tables of statistics predicting how many more will likely die from disease.

When her parents returned from the funeral, the little girl put on her ruby slippers and went home.

December 28, 2004

Not Lacy Enough

I just returned from doing errands with the two thirteen-year-olds of the household, a son whom I'll call Shaggy Hair, and a niece, whom I'll call Blonde Niece. It's very cold here in the northeast so we were running between buildings, since we do the logical thing of leaving mittens and hats in the car so we won't lose them. What annoyed me is that I had to keep stopping to tie my boot laces because they kept untying themselves. When we were back in the car, my fingers numb from tying the laces repeatedly, I reminisced to the kids about shoelaces when I was growing up.

Back in the day, sometime just after the middle ages when I was a teen-ager, shoelaces were kind of thin, usually plain in colour, and not very exciting to look at. But they had one huge advantage over the stylish, thickly rounded laces on the boots I was wearing today. They usually stayed tied!

I do not understand how laces have evolved into something that does not stay tied. Why would anyone design a boot lace that would untie itself repeatedly? Isn't the ENTIRE FUNCTION of the lace to keep the boot or sneaker tied? If someone out there has got an explanation for this, I would like to hear it.

Why I Wear Pantaloons

One tradition in my family is that grown-ups don't get gifts for Christmas. I support this tradition wholeheartedly because I hate buying gifts for adults. Kids are fun to buy for and because they are growing and moving through new stages of their lives, they actually need stuff.

Of course, since no one gives me gifts at Christmas, I feel completely justified in buying myself something. Because even though no one else might realize this, I am constantly growing and changing and moving through new stages of my life. This year's present to myself: pantaloons.

No, not the kind of pants Johnny Depp wore in that pirate movie. Not the kind of pants he wore in the Peter Pan movie either. Not the pants any male actor ever wore in any of Hollywood's versions of history. Erase those images from your mind. I am talking about the kind of pantaloons that belly dancers wear.

The pair I bought is made from about five yards of material. The elasticized top sits not on my waist but low on my hips and then the fabric is billowy all the way to the floor. The legs have elastic that fits tight around the ankles, but fabric puffs down over it. If I was clever enough to put in links, I could actually show you a picture, but alas, I have not yet risen to the image level of blogging. The pantaloons are worn with a belly dancing top, which is basically a fancy bra. The general idea is that you need to have the middle section of your body bare so that your audience can see your movements. I bought black pantaloons because I plan to eventually accessorize them with either red or purple - hipscarves, coin belts, and jangly things.

I have been taking belly dancing lessons since last April so it's fun to finally have an outfit that I can practice in that gives the proper effect. Now when I go to belly dancing parties at the yoga center where I take the lessons, I have an outfit to wear. And next week, when all the kids go back to school and I have the house to myself during the day, I will crank up the middle eastern music, put on my pantaloons, and dance.

December 27, 2004

Sticks and Stones

I grew up in the 1960s, in a conservative small town which reacted to social change by pretending that the 1950s had never ended. It was a time of rigid gender stereotypes. Girls were supposed to play with dolls, getting ready for their role as nurturing mother. Boys were given trucks, encouraged to follow dreams of creating and building important things. Of course, most of the families I knew in this community of Catholics-who-didn't-use-birth-control had lots of kids, usually some of each gender, and the toys in every family ended up getting all mixed up anyhow.

My red-haired sister is just a year older than me, and we used to spend hours playing dolls. Mostly, we were writing narratives that began with "Let's pretend." One of my favorites was pretending we inherited a log cabin deep in the woods. Exploring the cabin, we found an attic filled with old trunks. It was so exciting to imagine what we might find in each trunk we opened.

My brother is just a year younger than me, and we used to spend hours playing with his trucks. These were those great metal trucks that kids used to have in the days before everything for kids became safe and plastic. My father had an entire truckload of sand dumped in our yard and we used to spend every summer building roads and caves and castles in the sand.

One time when I was about four, I was lying on the living room floor putting together toy train tracks and I overheard my mother talking about my father's cousins. Here's the point that struck me: he had a cousin named Josephine and a cousin named Joseph. And they both used the nickname Joe! This fascinated me. Especially since they had the same last name. A man and a woman could have the same name?

I loved the idea that a girl could have a name like Joe, because that meant she could play any boy games she wanted. From then on, whenever my brother and I played together, which of course was every day, we called ourselves "Joe and Joe." That's when I figured out that language could be used to bend rigid gender roles ....

Why I Should Not Start a Blog

1) I have a heavy teaching load, which means lots and lots of time grading papers. I don't have time for blogging.

2) I have a bunch of kids at home, which does not give me much time for blogging.

3) I live in a rural area, which means chores like chopping wood, shoveling snow, gardening, maintaining trails. I don't have time to blog.

4) I've got lots of other people I take care of besides my kids: my parents, my elderly mother-in-law, and a whole range of "extra" kids who spend every weekend at my house. I don't have time for blogging.

5) I've got a whole manuscript to work on this semester, and I've already vowed to spend all my at-home work time writing that book. I don't have time to blog.

6) I have no quiet time for writing profound thoughts on a blog. My office at school is in the library, which is pretty much the social center of campus, and my office is always filled with students and colleagues who like to hang there. My home is filled with kids and cats, racing about, playing silly games, and sometimes hissing at each other. Within twenty feet of my home workspace, I can count about six musical instruments: piano, saxophone, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass, and full set of drums. At this very moment, I can count no less than 11 teenage guys jamming in my living room. My home is awfully loud for blogging.

7) I'm vegan which means every meal involves endless chopping of vegetables. I have no time to blog.

8) I have nothing juicy or suspenseful to blog about: I'm in a long-term monogamous relationship. Unlike most academics, I live in my hometown, so I cannot make humorous detached, cynical comments about the culture here. I like my job. I like my mother. I even like my P & T committee.

9) I am a feminist, which means the gang of teenage boys that currently inhabit my living room get impromptu lectures from me about every twenty minutes. That leaves me no time for blogging.

10) I got a graduate degree using a typewriter. I don't know anything about the technology part of blogging. And if I want to keep the blog anonymous, I can't ask help from my usual tech support crew, that is, the gang of teen-agers currently rocking out in my living room.

11) I hate it when people take nouns and make them into verbs. I simply cannot bring myself to blog.

12) And besides, if I haven't mentioned this already, I have no time for blogging.