January 31, 2005

Still a fashion geek

When we got to the symphony Saturday night, Spouse went off to the box office to pick up the tickets and I decided to pop into the women's restroom, where it turns out, there was already a whole bunch of women with the same idea. Standing in line, I turned to glance at the huge mirror on the wall and here is what I saw:

A whole line of women wearing long black coats. Most of them had on make-up and dressy clothes, with black shoes or boots. And stuck in the middle, looking strangely out of place, one woman wearing a bright red ski parka and hiking boots. Yeah, that was me. I actually laughed out loud.

Did someone send all these women a memo telling them what to wear? How did I miss the memo? How could all these women arrive from all different parts of the region and be all dressed alike?

Admittedly, if I had given the matter any thought at all ahead of time, I could probably have figured out what the dress code was. I even have a long black coat hanging in my closet, a hand-me-down from Urban Sophisticate Sister, who reminds me to wear it when we go to funerals together. I could have come up with black pants, too, or even borrowed my daughter's hooker boots.

The thing is that I never ever think of this stuff ahead of time. It's been cold here, damned cold, so of course I've worn the ski parka everywhere every day for weeks. The thought of wearing the funeral coat never crossed my mind. I think I'm going to have to start posting my weekend plans ahead of time so that some of you can remind me what to wear.

January 30, 2005

Watching music

For Saturday date night, we didn't need to choose a lame movie this week; we had tickets to the Snowstorm Symphony Orchestra! I love going to the symphony. When you buy the cheap last-minute tickets, you get put either high in the balcony, or way up close, just beneath the feet of the musicians. Both are great places for people watching.

Up high on the balcony, you can look down at the crowd as they come in. You can tell so much from their body movements. That couple there: they've been fighting. Perhaps they will make up later on tonight after all that music washes over them. The man there? He doesn't want to be here. See the way he is sitting, his body stiff, his eyes staring into space. I wonder if the music will touch him despite his disinterest. Those two women there? They've known each other for a long time. See the way they are talking, their gestures completely in sync. That young man who just came in, with the two girls right after him: he's eager to be here. Look at the way he scans the stage. I bet he's some kind of musician.

When the lights dim, and the orchestra begins, my attention shifts to the stage. From way high up, you get to see how the whole group moves as one, everything in the orchestra so carefully coordinated. The music is matched by a precision of movement: every elbow in that row moving in and out, perfectly, practiced and precise.

Last night, we had the seats way in the front, the seats they sell last because no one wants them. We were so close that I could tell you what kind of socks the first violinist was wearing. From this angle, you notice first the feet: some are still, careful not to move, but always there are a few, who like my Dad, have to tap a foot when playing. The clothes are all the same - everyone in black - but the best part of all about sitting up close, is that you get to watch the faces. The orchestra becomes not one entity but all kinds of fascinating individuals.

Look at that musician there: he is concentrating entirely, his eyes never moving, his entire being focused on the score. Look at the woman on the left: her dark eyes intent, her lips just slightly parted, she is not even in this room, her whole self is caught up in the music, lost to the rhythm. It makes me shiver to watch this up close: the utter absorption, dedication, and concentration of an artist.

Sunday night at my desk

It's Sunday night, 10 pm. I've had a terrific weekend but I'm tired, nicely physically tired from skiing outside in the cold fresh air all day. I just read to With-a-Why, snuggled with him until he fell asleep, and it took all my willpower to leave that warm comfy bed. I've got to stay up because I have stuff to prepare for class tomorrow. I bribed myself to do work by telling myself I could write for ten minutes -- ten minutes, no more -- and post something to my blog.

I just sat down at my desk for the first time today, and switched on the computer to see a whole bunch of nice comments on the post I wrote yesterday. I love getting comments; it's like getting letters. (Are any of you old enough to remember when friends wrote letters on paper and mailed them in envelopes, with stamps turned upside down or SWAK written across the flap?) I like being part of this blog community. I know, as I pull stuff out of my grey school bag, that I'm not alone: I know throughout this community, other people like me are preparing for class when they would rather be sleeping and promising themselves for the millionth time that next weekend, they are going to get everything done by Friday afternoon.

January 29, 2005

Winter evening

Last night was pretty quiet for a Friday night. Well, as quiet as any night can be that includes teenagers playing the drums, bass, and electric guitar. It was a small crowd this week, just my own three boys and three extras. What we call extras are kids who spend so much time here that we consider them part of the family: I don't hesitate, for instance, to assign them chores.

FirstExtra is a kid we've know since first grade: he's an only child so he spends a lot of time here. He's an avid golfer (a sport I think is peculiar) and has tried to introduce my kids to the sport. Last year, he and Boy-in-Black were hitting golf balls around in the back yard and he sent one flying through the sliding glass door in our kitchen.

SkaterBoy, one of our 13-year-olds, used to live next door to us. When he was little, he was a quiet serious boy with big blue eyes. Whenever I'd tell all the kids that we had to clean the house, he'd say, "My chore is petting the cats" and he'd sit cross-legged on the floor with a cat on his lap. We moved away from him five years ago but I still pick him up every Friday afternoon so that he can spend the weekend with us. He describes himself now as "a short kid with an attitude."

Blonde Niece is another of our 13-year-olds. Her older sisters are in college and her parents both work on weekends, so it makes sense for her to spend weekends here. She's beautiful in a very unself-conscious way and all of our extra boys seem to have crushes on her, which for some reason annoys her male cousins, who don't get that at all.

Temperatures here are still hovering way below zero, so it was good night to stay in by the fire. I think I've built a fire in the fireplace every single day since Thanksgiving. I love how a crackling fire can transform a dark cold room into a cosy place where the family just automatically gathers. The downstairs of our house is one big room, living room and kitchen combined, with my little office as the only thing that is separate. So the fireplace is the center of our home, and on cold nights we fight for spots on the long comfy couch or the big chair. We've got millions of pillows too, and most of the kids sleep here on the floor, since we don't have much bedroom space. The living room is where the music happens too - we've got Boy-in-Black's drum set in one corner and the piano against the inside wall. And all kinds of amps and guitars strewn about, with black cords snaking about the lamps and furniture.

For those of you who picture me as the traditional Mom making some kind of big meal and serving it loving to all the kids: I'm not. Friday nights, we order pizza from the one place in town that will deliver to us (we had to bribe them originally but we are regular customers and now they love us). And we get French fries with hot sauce, the vegetarian substitute for chicken wings. Last night we were a small enough group that we could all fit around the big wooden table; usually, every just grabs food and finds a place to sit on the floor. My favorite spot to sit is on the raised hearth in front of the fire. I've burned holes in fleece doing this, but oh, the heat on my back feels so good.

So that was how I spent the evening: I took the most comfy spot, on the end of the couch nearest the fire, and worked on a piece of writing I was editing. With-a-Why snuggled next to me with a book. Spouse was at the big wooden table doing some kind of work on his laptop. Boy-in-Black on the drums and FirstExtra on the bass were working out some kind of song. The 13-year-old crowd were on the floor in front of the fire, playing a game. Occasionally, I'd look up to yell at someone to take their dirty cups to the kitchen counter or I'd make a quick trip into the cold garage in my socks to grab some more firewood. When I'd look out the window, I could see the white drifts of snow, the dark woods beyond, and all the light spilling from our windows.

January 28, 2005

You gotta wonder about anyone who can feel threatened by a yellow animated sponge who talks in a funny voice

"Let me ask you, who would you rather go bowling with, SpongeBob and his friends or the Rev. James Dobson?"

That's a quote from Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob Squarepants. He continued: "Probably the only common ground I have with the Rev. James Dobson is that I haven't seen the video and I bet he hasn't either."

The video, produced by the "We Are Family" Foundation, is designed to encourage tolerance and respect. Here is the text from the tolerance pledge that got James Dobson all upset:

"I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own."

Horrifying isn't it? The thought of my kids getting the message that they should treat other people with respect just terrifies me.

What kills me is Dobson's assertion that his kind of narrow-minded intolerance is Christian.

I've read the New Testament several times, studied it in theology courses and literature courses. I am wondering how Dobson could possible read the New Testament and miss the whole point about loving your neighbor. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus say that it is okay to treat someone like shit because they are different. Whenever I hear someone like James Dobson going on and on about the message of the Bible, I always think that he's just like the loudmouth I sometimes get in class who jumps in to argue a point and several sentences into the argument, he looks like a fool, because it's clear to everyone in the room that he hasn't read the book.

January 27, 2005

On the breast of the new fallen snow

The full moon this week made me realize that my blog must be a month old now, since I started it during the last full moon. So it's time for reflections of the blogging experience.

Here's what blogging feels like to me:

1)Freewriting. The kind that Peter Elbow advocates. I love freewriting. I try to limit myself to one post (about ten minutes, give or take) each day because otherwise I could easily become obsessed and post every hour.

2)A night out with a group of friends where we end up talking about all kinds of things -- some silly, some serious - but anything is acceptable. And the topic changes every five minutes.

3)Going out to dinner at a conference with a bunch of academic people I've just met. We talk about all kinds of things but sooner or later certain topics are sure to emerge: the tenure process, what kind of students we get, how much we hate to grade papers.

4)Open mike at the local coffeehouse: You read a poem or sing a song and get almost instant feedback. Afterwards a few people come up with specific comments, which makes you realize that they were listening. I really love it when people take the time to leave comments. According to my sitemeter, my blog gets 96 visitors each day, and I wonder sometimes who these people are, but when it comes right down to it, it doesn't matter. I just love an audience.

5)The family gathering where each personality plays a predictable role. I've been reading some of these blogs since last October, and it's been cool to get to know the people behind them. It's comfortable and stable. I know where to click if I want to know the latest political outrage, where to click if I want to know what delicious treat someone is baking.

6) Space for me. No one who lives in Snowstorm Region has read this blog. Not my kids, not my spouse, not my sisters, not my brother, not my parents, not my colleagues, not my students, not my friends. I don't feel like I'm keeping any big secret from any of them. I don't plan on saying anything mean about them behind their backs. I grew up in a crowded household with a bunch of siblings close in age so having my own space is hugely important to me. Many academic bloggers seem to write from lonely places -- often they've been relocated because of their job -- and are reaching out to find a community. My reasons for blogging are in some ways the opposite: I am enmeshed in a community where I've lived my whole life, connected to all kinds of people as mother, wife, daughter, aunt, sister, teacher, neighbor, friend. Blogging gives me a space for exploring who I am when I'm not playing any of those roles. Space where I can be just me.

January 26, 2005

Never Ever Meme

I was going to write a list of things I'd love to do someday. But the list got too long too fast. My problem is that I want to do everything and go everywhere. So instead I offer you a much shorter list of:

Things I've never done.
And don't want to.

I've never ....

1. Gone to a Disney theme park.
2. Eaten anchovies on pizza.
3. Worked out in an exercise room, health club, or whatever you want to call it.
4. Jumped from an airplane with a parachute.
5. Attended a professional football game.
6. Gone to a Starbucks.
7. Had sex on a waterbed.
8. Gone on a cruise.
9. Run a marathon.
10. Watched MTV.

January 25, 2005

The smell of homemade apple pie

Shaggy Hair Boy had a birthday last week, and as a present, my mother brought him an apple pie. My mother makes delicious pies, not deadly sweet like the ones they serve in diners. She uses real apples, not canned filling, with a crust that is so good it tastes great all by itself. The pie was still warm when she got here, and I could smell the apples and cinnamon as she walked in the door.

My mother told Shaggy Boy that the pie was a birthday present, and he didn't have to share it with anyone.

That pie was the highlight of Shaggy Boy's week. He'd wait until he had an audience of hungry people, make himself a hot cup of cocoa, cut himself a slice of pie, and then sit down to eat it in front of everyone, bragging about how good it tasted. We've all had my mother's pies so we knew he was not exaggerating. Whenever I could catch a glimpse of his freckled face under the wild locks of curly hair, I could see that he was enjoying himself immensely.

I completely understood Shaggy Hair's need to gloat. He's the third child in the family. He will never have his own room, his clothes are always hand-me-downs, and he lives in the shadow of his ridiculously over-achieving older siblings. I'm the third child in my family so I know what is like to never have anything to call your own.

But damn! That pie looked good. And he stretched it out over several days. It was torture for me. And today, home reading student papers, I was still thinking about it ....

Trees do grow in Brooklyn

Over at kinesthesis breakthrough dr. m asked me about my interest in urban nature. He's got a couple of posts that fit into that category: he describes going out to walk his dogs in the city and seeing Orion through oak branches on a moonlit night. More recently on a bike ride through the city, he watched men digging through the earth to uncover antique bottles, remnants of human civilization hidden under dirt.

Last week I asked my students to describe urban nature. Here are the images they came up with:

The nest of sparrows I can see from my apartment window. The ivy that clings to brick. Dandelions pushing their way up through cracks in asphalt. Bats soaring from the eaves at dusk. A squirrel on a power line. Trees blossoming along city streets, filling traffic air with sweetness. The plant on my mother's window sill. Rats in the basements and sewers. The funky smelling guy in the seat next to you on the bus. A hawk soaring on an updraft. A glass of water to drink. Central Park. Cut flowers from the corner store. Breeze on your face on a hot summer street. Moss growing on lamp posts. Birds in the chimney. Bats in your belfry. December streets lined with snow-frosted tree trunks. Garbage bins raided by skunks or raccoons. Cockroaches scuttling across linoleum. Spiderman leaping from building to building to save the city he loves. Sunrise beyond the skyline of skyscrapers. The duck pond. The tree that Francie Nolan sat under. Ant mounds in the grassy median. Maybe even alligators in the sewers.

January 24, 2005

City sidewalks

Today in class, I asked the question I asked on Ianqui's blog: When it snows in New York City, where do they put all the snow? It just doesn't look like there's room between the buildings to put it all.

Students from the city were eager to explain the process. It gets plowed into piles, then hauled away with construction-type vehicles, big dumptrucks and such. Eventually, it gets loaded onto barges, hauled out into the ocean, and dumped. If you walk down to the piers on a winter day, you can watch this. They can't dump it into the Hudson because that would create glacier-like obstacles.

The snow that falls in a heavily urban area picks up pollutants on its way down. So even if it looks pure and white, it isn't.

That's what my students tell me.

January 23, 2005

Wind chill

Here's the advantage to skiing in bitterly cold temperatures on windy days: you never have to wait in line at the chairlift. And you get your choice of parking spots in the lot, too.

Last night's snowstorm dumped more than a foot of fresh snow on the slopes, and we got there when the chairlift began running, so we were the first ones up the mountain. It's so wonderful to ski into untouched snow. I can see why they call it powder; the foot of loose snow that whirled all around me as I skied was very much the consistency of talcum powder. I thought the slopes would get crowded as the day went on, but apparently the subzero weather, high winds, and poor driving conditions kept people away.

So just a handful of us had the mountain to ourselves.

In this part of the country, meteorologists make a big deal out of something they call the wind chill factor. This weekend they kept saying that it was in the -40s. Sitting on the chairlift, I could well believe it. The problem with the chairlift is that you are dangling high above the ground, nothing shields you from the wind, the seats are cold metal, and you can't really move much to get warm. Most days I enjoy the scenery from the chairlift, but today it felt a bit like some kind of torture. Worth it though. I love skiing when there is so much powder. I will attempt all sorts of things because if I fall, the landing is soft. Last week was icy, and I have a whole collection of bruises just turned yellow on my hips and legs, but today I fell several times and it was like tumbling into a pile of pillows. Oh, it's so much fun. I even tried some jumps and landed a couple of them.

On the last run of the day (we stayed until the chairlift stopped running - I am a big believer in getting my money's worth), I went up the chairlift with Blonde Niece. When we reached the top of the mountain, the wind was gusting so strong that we could hardly see. The swirling snow had erased the tracks of the other skiers, and it was as if we were the only people who had ever been there. I wanted to stand there and just gaze at the scene in awe - the desolate mountaintop, pines shifting in the wind, snow spilling from trees, the wind carving wave-like patterns in the snow - but it was just too damn cold. No matter how well you dress, the icy wind will find some bit - a finger that you didn't ball into your fist inside the mitten, a toe that you forgot to keep wiggling inside the ski boot, or the tip of your nose that got exposed when you pulled down your face mask because your breath was making it wet.

It dusk when we started home. Thankfully the snowplows had been busy while we were playing, and I was able drive more than 15 mph. We passed cosy farmhouses with lamplit windows, a deer that bounded off across a snow-covered field, stands of pine trees still holding up snow, and stretches of dark road lit only by the almost full moon. The kids fell asleep in the car; we'd been up shovelling the driveway at 6 am to leave on time. It felt wonderful to pull into my own driveway and come into the warm house. Spouse (who doesn't ski) had cleaned the kitchen and heated up the lentil stew. The painful sensations in my feet began at last to subside. My youngest son, With-a-Why, and I settled into the big comfy chair in front of the fire; few things in life are as relaxing as sitting in front of a fire with a warm child who is nodding off to sleep.

January 22, 2005

If Lawrence Summers can tell an anecdote about his kids, so can I

I am the kind of parent who goes to parent/teacher conferences faithfully, even when I suspect the teacher may have little to say to me. That means that I went to 18 parent/teacher conferences for each of my two oldest children during their elementary school years. Both kids had the same teacher for almost every grade.

Whenever I went to a conference for my daughter, the teacher would almost always say, "Oh, she is such a reader. And wow, she is a good writer. I hope you encourage her to enter local writing contests, etc."

Whenever I went to a conference for my son, the teacher would almost always say, "Wow, he is really good at math. He is great at science. He really ought to think about a career in math/science."

Here's the strange part. If you look at the report cards and standardized test scores for my two oldest kids, the numbers are almost exactly the same. Academically, it's as if they have the same brain. (Not surprising, of course - similar genetic material and the same home environment.) I live in a state that really believes standardized tests so I have lots of data to work with. Both son and daughter consistently scored in the 99th percentile on standardized tests for math, yet it was rare for me to ever hear a teacher comment on my daughter's math prowess. Both kids are avid readers; both are terrific writers. Yet rarely did any teacher ever comment on my son's reading/writing skill even after he won several local writing contests.

More than one teacher has looked at my son's math scores and said, "Wow, he is really gifted in math. Is his father good at math?"

I always sigh and say, "No, his mother is."

January 21, 2005

I couldn't come to class today because ...

Student Excuses

1. My rabbit ate my folder.
2. When I gave blood, I fainted and they made me stay there drinking orange juice even though I told them I had class.
3. Sorry I'm late, but I passed a dead raccoon on the road, and it looked like a perfect specimen so I went back home to put it in my freezer.
4. I was out all day looking for bugs to pin for my collection.
5. Dissecting a shark took longer than I thought.
6. It was opening day! I had to go hunting.
7. I was busy getting married.
8. I went skiing with a friend and he dropped the car keys off the chair lift and we had to wait for his girlfriend to drive out with the extra key.
9. My snake got loose and one of my housemates freaked out and wouldn't let me leave until I found it.
10. What paper? I was supposed to write a paper?

Rules for the game: Replace any that you feel like replacing. Add excuses that your students have given you. Try to stick to ones that you know to be real. Put an asterisk by all the ones you've added.

Looking at the my own list, it occurs to me that when it comes to bizarre reasons for missing class, biology students win, hands-down, over any other major on campus.

January 20, 2005

Wearing black

Today, I am feeling envious of the Canadians in this blog community.

I am deeply ashamed of the leadership in my country. I am grieving all that we've lost over the last four years.

I can't believe that this nightmare is going to continue.

January 19, 2005

First day of class!

Sure, we had to walk through gale-force winds whipping snow through frigid air, but at least everyone was wide awake by the time we got to the classroom. It's always great to have students back on campus, all energized and chatting about what they did over break. Both classes I taught today were filled with students I've known since they were first years; many are seniors coming back to take one last class with me before they graduate. Both classes are electives; students take the course only if they want to take the course, and that is the absolute best kind of class to teach. Both classes are over-enrolled, mainly because I'm a wimp and I always say yes when students come begging to be added, so today I tried my hardest to be mean. I kept saying things like, "If you don't want to do the reading, drop the course." These are students who know me, though, and they found it funny. I'm not so good at the tough guy persona.

I'm an extrovert so after a couple of classes, I felt filled with all kinds of energy. I love teaching. Both classes went over time because we got into such intense discussions. Back in my office, I had a constant stream of students coming to say hello and tell me what they've been doing for the last month. It felt great to be back. I like the hugs, the smiles, the conversations, the enthusiasm of the first day. Later in the semester, everyone will be worn out and tired and whining about courses like organic chemistry, but today everyone was in a good mood. I wrote up a sign with my new office hours for the door, handed out manila folders to all my students, and announced to one and all that I was going to come up with new ways to use index cards in the classroom. A good day.

January 18, 2005

Underneath it all

Today's accomplishment? I cleaned and organized my underwear drawer. (See, I think I'm getting the hang of blogging. Blogs are for announcements that you have absolutely no other venue for.) The exciting part about this is that I now own a whole bunch of new BitchBrand bras - pretty bras that actually fit me perfectly, in black, white, and nude. I owe this thrill to Bitch, Ph. D. because of her post last fall about how to buy a bra. For years I have tried buying bras at department stores and Queen's Mystery, but they never carry my size. So I always end up feeling like some kind of freak, all because I have breasts. Shouldn't bras be made for women who have breasts? You'd think so .... but no, mall stores are filled with bras padded with foam or rubber or all kinds of crap to make someone flat-chested look like she has breasts, which works fine for twelve-year-olds but not so great for anyone past puberty. Even my friends with small breasts prefer bras that don't look like they've been stuffed with handfuls of crumpled tissues. And I hate wearing a bra that doesn't fit exactly right, especially if I'm wearing a tight shirt.

So now that I've figured out that BitchBrand makes a bra that fits me exactly, I can just order a new bra from an internet site, without even leaving my desk. It's unbelievable how happy this makes me. What I'm waiting for now is for Bitch to write a post on where she buys bathing suits designed for women who actually have such things as hips and breasts.

When last semester began, I was scheduling medical tests to see whether or not I had breast cancer. I was worried about the tests -- my sister-in-law died of breast cancer three years ago so I know that it happens. But the tests were hopeful and five months later, I'm less worried; I have to go every couple of months to have CuteDoctor feel me up, but for now the lump in my breast seems to be harmless. The scare made me appreciate how much I value my ordinary, crowded, busy life - filled with raising kids and teaching students, reading and writing. Even grading papers is preferable to getting chemo. And so this semester begins on a hopeful note: I'm in good health, I haven't had any reason to cut off a breast, and I am never going to wear an ill-fitting bra again.

Going nowhere

Today was the first day of classes, and I was planning to go to campus, even though my teaching schedule is MWF but then my car went crazy on me - steaming, making strange sounds, refusing to heat up, dripping anti-freeze. I think it needs a new thermostat or something. Always, my car waits until we get a subzero day to break down. Cars hate me. I wish I lived somewhere with good mass transit: I'm jealous of all you city folk today. So instead of going to campus, meeting with my advisees, and getting ready for tomorrow's classes, I'm home waiting for a call from the car mechanic and doing miscellaneous household chores.

January 17, 2005

Black and White

I have this student who comes from a city in a different part of the country. CityBoy is intelligent, articulate, well-spoken. His parents are educated and wealthy. He came to our small campus because his career goals are very specific, and we are a specialized school.

CityBoy stayed one summer to do an internship here in the region of Snowstorm City. During this two-month period, he was stopped by cops on 17 different occasions, despite the fact that he is a careful driver who obeys all the rules. Repeatedly, he has been called rude names by cops. They insult and harass him. They ask him to step out of the car. They demand he be searched for drugs or tested for alcohol. He handles this by remaining calm and not saying a word. He is careful not to have anything in his hands, not even a cell phone. He remembers how Johnny Gammage was killed.

CityBoy is black.

I have lived in this area my whole life, and I too have been stopped by cops. On every occasion, it has been because I was doing something wrong. I have been stopped four times because I did not have an up-to-date inspection sticker on my windshield, which meant that I was driving illegally, an offense in this state for which cops can give a ticket. Several times I've been stopped for having a tail light out, another ticketable offense. I am a terrible driver because I tend to daydream when I drive. One time I was stopped by a cop for going the wrong way on a one-way street. One time I made an abrupt turn without signaling and cut off the car behind me, who happened to be a cop. Another time, I made a left turn into oncoming traffic and bashed into a truck. One time a cop clocked me going 47 mph in a 20 mph zone past an elementary school. (In my defense, school was not in session.)

Number of tickets I've gotten: 0

Cops are always polite and nice to me. They use words like please and thank you. They never search me. They never ever ask me to step out of the car. I'm never afraid because I have never had any reason to be afraid of cops.

I am white.

January 16, 2005

Drives me crazy

"How come there are so few girls here?" Blonde Niece asked me.

We were sitting inside the ski lodge, eating lunch at a table full of teenage boys, some of them related to us. She's thirteen, taking snowboarding lessons for the first time, and she reported that she's the only girl in her group. We looked around the lodge and counted. The ratio of males to females was about 6 to 1. Not even close to being equal.

I don't understand why this gender inequity on the ski slopes still exists. I know that for my parents' generation, traditional gender roles dictated that on Sundays, men got to play on the ski slopes while the wives stayed home with the children to cook the Sunday dinner. But that was the 1950s and this is 2005, and almost every person in the lodge was younger than I am. Most of them were teenagers.

We discussed the physical differences between men and women. Women are more flexible and have a lower center of gravity, all of which should work in their favor when skiing. Women have more fat on their bodies, which makes them more insulated from the cold. Looking at the biological factors alone, the slopes should be dominated by women. But clearly, they aren't -- at least in this rural area where the skiers and boarders come from conservative small towns.

I asked Blonde Niece how come her male friends snow board and her female friends don't. She said that the boys think it's cool and macho and makes them look tough. The girls don't want to get bruises and get sweaty and have their hair look bad. And of course parents encourage boys to ski or board, willingly buying them lift tickets, but girls don't get that encouragement.

How frustrating that in the year 2005 junior high kids are still socialized to fit into these gendered stereotypes. Boys are supposed to be tough and be good at outdoor physical activities. Girls are supposed to look pretty. This kind of thing drives me crazy.

January 15, 2005

Filled with moonlight and screaming

Last night as a special birthday treat for Shaggy Hair Boy, I took him to the ski slopes at night. He wanted to snowboard with some friends so I decided to make the sacrifice and spend a few hours skiing. I managed to get in twelve runs on a gorgeous winter night AND feel like I was being a good parent by driving him there and back.

I'd never been skiing at night before. The scene was so beautiful that I felt like I was in some kind of 1930s movie: Big lights lit up the hills of snow and the nearest trees, pines and hardwoods all edged in white, while the woods beyond looked dark and mysterious. The chairlift pulled me right into the night sky, with a crescent moon moving into the sky just ahead of me.

The slopes were throbbing with adolescent energy: thirteen local schools bring their students on Friday nights. There were 20 buses in the parking lot! The lodge was filled with kids combing their hair, showing off, giggling and shouting, jostling each other. Outside, these kids travel in herds: I'd be skiing along and hear the sound of snowboards rattling against ice, see the shadows approaching, and whoosh - suddenly they would be all around me, a whole pack of laughing, screaming kids, fast but out of control. It's such great energy.

We came home to a warm house to have birthday cake with the gang who gather here on Friday nights. The great thing about Friday night sleepovers is that it gives me hours of peace and quiet on Saturday mornings. They will all sleep until noon, and I'll get lots of work done.

January 14, 2005

Monet's Palette with Rorschach's Method

Last year I decided that I would try to nurture my artistic talents, which were unfortunately stamped down at an early age by an elementary school teacher who thought an art project was successful only if it looked like hers.

So I bought myself some pastels and cool art paper. I spent several days happily drawing and smearing color about until I had used up all the paper and my fingertips were sore.

I quickly learned that art is way harder than it looks. I could not make the images look like anything I had planned. So instead I just decided to go at each picture instinctively, adding whatever colours I felt like, until I could think of a title that would make some sense of whatever bizarre image I had created. This method, which will henceforth in art schools be referred to as "jo(e)'s method" is far less frustrating than trying to learn any art skills. And it is so much fun.

I know you are all hoping that I will scan in the pastels and show you them but Shaggy Hair Boy says that the dust would hurt the scanner. And besides, I haven't figured out how to post pictures yet. You will just have to read these titles and imagine for yourself how wonderful the images are; it's highly possible that what you are picturing might be better than the real thing.

jo(e)'s art gallery

What a rose looks from the perspective of a bee
View from the hammock without my contacts in
Breakfast through a blurry window on rainy day
When moonlight distorts the world
Alien vomit
Autumn view from inside a train moving fast
Eyelashes up close
What a tree trunk looks like to a spider
Weird sea shapes made by hair in the shower
What the marsh would look like if the world was flat
Bottom edge of a hoopskirt, swaying
If a tornado came at us upside down
The train yard inside my head
Sunlight through hair on a pillow
Dreams twisted through clenched fists
Chimes tangled by wind
Moonbeams in jar
What seashells would like if I was in charge of the ocean
Reflections and refractions on a stormy lake
Rose petals in a pile
If tear drops came in colours

January 13, 2005

Copy this

Yesterday I drove to campus, risking my life on roads covered with freezing rain, all because I thought it would be a good idea to get to the copy machine during this quiet week before classes start and get everything copied for that first class. Even getting into my car was a chore because all the doors were frozen shut. Luckily, I know from experience how to deal with this: I climbed in through the back and then kicked the driver's door open from the inside. Always you have to open a frozen door from the inside or you can break off a door handle. Trust me on this one. So I braved the ice storm to come into campus, only to find the copy machine on its worst behavior. Three sheets in, it began jamming on me. I hate machines of all kinds. I think they pick up on my vibes and rebel. I looked into the machine and saw a crumpled piece of paper stuck way in the back. Now if anyone sensible had designed this copy machine, there would be a hinged door on the back of it so that this kind of problem could easily be fixed. Unfortunately, the copy machine for our department (and yes, we have only one because we are a small department) was designed by some kind of sadist. By kneeling on the floor, I could peer through a crack and see the crumpled paper, but I could not fit even a finger through any of the cracks. The secretary, who had been happily chatting with me about her dance class, offered to call the Service People who Usually Take Three Days to Show Up. No, I said, don't bother calling the Service People From Hell, I will fix this machine. So I duct-taped two rulers together, and duct-taped a paper clip to the end, and went after the machine with this weapon. By lying on the floor, I managed finally to get the right angle, even though of course, I could not see what I was doing. I also could not see much of what was going on in the office, although I believe that during this saga I was introduced to some new administrator. ("Those legs on the floor? That's Jo(e). Maintenance? Oh, no, she is a member of the faculty.") I am nothing if not persistent, though, and in the end, I finally managed to get the crumpled piece of paper out of the machine. I danced around the office, waving the paper in glee, and the secretary was happy for me. Then I settled back to get my copying done .... and the machine still did not work. I hate copy machines.

January 12, 2005

Brought to you today by the letter W

So what does the W stand for? asked my youngest son.

Maybe it stands for Wealthy. Or White.

Wanton, perhaps. That means: done maliciously, without regard for what is right.

Wrong. Worm. Wasteful. Weak.

Not worm, my son said. I like worms. They never hurt anyone.

You know how they name streets after places they've bulldozed? Maybe that's it. The W could stand for everything getting crushed under the machine: wolves, wildflowers, woods, wilderness, women.

Perhaps it could stand for Whopper.
A hamburger? asked my son.
No, a Whopper means a big fat lie.

Oh, he said. The W could stand for Weapons of mass destruction, pretend ones.

Yes, I said. And it could stand for Warmonger. Willful.

War Wounds.

January 11, 2005

Bumper Stickers

Don't blame me
I voted for Kerry

Feminism is a moral value

Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity

Well-behaved women rarely make history

January 10, 2005

Stylish on occasion

Blogging has made me admit something that I've known deep down for a long time: I am a fashion geek.

I don't do retail therapy. I hate shopping. Much of my wardrobe comes from the local thrift store because buying previously owned cothing fits in with my anti-consumerism philosophy. I don't blowdry my hair. I don't usually spend more than $20 on a haircut. I don't wear make-up. I've never pierced my ears or any other body part. I shave my legs randomly. I don't own a black dress.

At conferences, I usually wear jeans and a brown shirt. (I used to wear black with the theory that it was a dressy colour, but I switched to brown because it looks better with my colouring.) If I'm presenting that day, I might dress up with a blazer or black pants, but not usually both at the same time. For teaching, I wear jeans, some kind of plain shirt, and either sneakers or hiking boots. I could defend this practice by explaining that this attire is entirely appropriate where I teach -- many of my students are studying to be forest rangers or lumberjacks -- but the truth is that I'd probably dress like this if I taught at Columbia. My younger sister, that is, Urban Sophisticate Sister, who lives in the Upper Snob Section of Manhattan and dresses every day like she is going to a photo shoot, rolls her eyes at my clothing choices. She exudes Trendy, yet Classic, Well-Tailored and Expensive. I look like a woman who just doesn't care what I wear.

Yesterday, though, I had a revelation. I am not a complete and total fashion geek. Once every week, I wear expensive, well-made clothing. My skiing outfit! I will spend any amount of money on outdoor clothing because I enjoy winter sports more if the clothes I am wearing fit well and keep me warm and comfortable. My ski clothes are even color-coordinated: all red and black. When I caught I glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror at the ski lodge yesterday, I looked so well-dressed that people were probably mistaking me for a tourist rather than a local.

And on top of this, I am working on a belly dancing outfit. When I finally finish getting all the accessories that I can wear with my pantaloons, I will have yet another fashionable outfit, although the only people to ever see it will be the women in my belly dancing class since I have no intention of joining a troupe and performing in public. Oh, and I am partial to nice lingerie, especially anything silk, which means that I'm fashionable in the evening after the kids go to sleep, although only in the privacy of my own home. I don't know if that counts though.

How to Ruin the Sensual Thrill

On Saturday night, which is officially date night in my household, Spouse and I went to see the movie Closer. During the opening scene, Spouse leaned over and whispered, "Doesn't Jude Law remind you of John-Boy Walton?"

January 09, 2005

Going Downhill, Fast

A few years ago, my seven-year-old son begged to go skiing. I looked into the prices at the nearest ski resort and realized that the deals they have for local people are pretty affordable. ($110 for six Sundays of skiing, which is less than $20 for each day.) When I called to sign up my son for lessons, I asked, "Do grown-ups take lessons too?"

"Oh, yes," the voice on the phone assured me, "We get lots of adult students."

Well, when my son and I showed up for the first lesson, I noticed immediately that I was at least 20 years older than anyone else, including the instructor who looked about seventeen. Luckily, I have no problem making a fool of myself because really, that is the only way to learn to ski. The cheerful instructor would say confidently, "Follow me," and then head down the hill, while this straggly line of small children and me would weave after him. I had absolutely no control over my speed and I'd often take out a few of the little kids before crashing into some deeper snow and falling into a crazy position, with no clue of how to get up. The instructor told me later that he could always tell when I'd fallen because he'd hear all this wild laughter behind him.

I don't think I actually harmed any of the little kids. A pretty resilient bunch, they were, and pretty good natured. By the sixth Sunday, the little kids were zooming all over the mountain like they owned it. Patiently, they'd wait for me at the bottom while I skied back and forth, zigzagging my way down, attempting to go as slow as possible.

This will be my third year of skiing and I'm still not particularly good at it. But I think I enjoy skiing more than most people because I have so damn much adrenaline going through my bloodstream while I'm out there. I'm so terrified most of the time that even the easier slopes are a thrill.

And I love everything about the whole ski scene. I like riding the chairlift and catching a glimpse of the show-off boarders doing fancy moves on the halfpipe. I love the trails that go through stands of pine trees all piled with fluffy snow. I love the encouragement I get from local teen-agers who yell hello from the chairlift above as they watch me wipe out dramatically. I love spending a whole day outside in the fresh cold air in the middle of the winter. I love the speed, the rush, the feeling of accomplishment when I do make it down the hill. I even love getting cold and wet and chilled through because then it feels so wonderful to come home to a cosy house, take a hot bath, sit in front of a crackling fire, and get into bed with a warm spouse.

January 08, 2005

Foray into Fashion

I spent yesterday morning with my Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter. You probably think that's a pseudonym, but actually that is what I call her in real life. Her pseudonym is Daughter. Anyhow, she is only home from college for another week, so I want to spend time with her whenever I can. That's how I ended up going to the place I detest: Stupid Suburban Shopping Mall. (If I seem unreasonably angry at the malls here in the Snowstorm City region, it's because I remember what life and the landscape was like before they existed. Oh, but that's a different post.)

This mall has many stores with names that might be familiar to you, but I am going to change them because I don't want to give them any free advertising. Most of them are clothing stores: American Raptor, Urban and Short, Antique Dark Blue, Sizzling Themes, the Queen's Mystery, Big City and Company, Empty Space, Burns Horribly, and several well-known department stores. Oh, and the bigger mall in Snowstorm City has a restaurant called Peckers, a place which deliberately hires well-endowed men to wear tight shorts so that female customers can ogle them.

So here is how the mother/daughter bonding goes. We go into a store and each gather an armful of clothing. That's the rule: we both have to try stuff on, even if one of us doesn't like the store. Even if one of us is too old for the stuff in the store. Then we go into the dressing rooms and try everything on. Here's a typical conversation:

Me: "Well, how does this look?"
Daughter: "Uh ... that depends."
Me: "Depends on what?"
Daughter: "Were you going to wear it in public?"

I save a lot of money by shopping this way. Of course, what money I save by not buying stuff for myself gets spent inevitably on Daughter because she just happens to look good in everything. And she wears an extra small, which is always the size on sale, so she comes home with all kinds of new clothes, paid for by me because her scholarship doesn't cover wardrobe expenses.

As for me, I went to the mall with the vow to buy something decent, something different than what I usually buy, and I came home with a pair of jeans (Empty Space Store Flare Size 10 Average). They were identical to the jeans I was wearing. But of course, they were on sale, so that counts for something.

January 07, 2005

I want to be one of these women in my next life

During her review of the MLA, Dr. Crazy made some pretty astute and funny observations about the way people dress at conferences. At first I was horrified to realize that the way I dress (jeans, usually with a blazer) marks me as someone old and jaded, but upon reflection, I think maybe she is on target. I am old and jaded.

Here's a new category of conference goers I have seen emerge over the last ten years: the Up and Coming Young Female Professors. They dress in suits, often, or some version of that, often in conservative colours like navy blue or black, and yet somehow radiate a sense of high fashion. I'm not sure how they achieve this. Maybe it's the accessories. Somehow, their hair always looks good, even though they are staying in a hotel that features dry air that creates static electricity for everyone else and makes my hair look like shit. These women are immune to static electricity. Sometimes their presentations can sound a bit like they might be reading a chapter of their dissertation - incredibly dense and not easy for a listener to grasp - but when they depart from the text or answer a question from the crowd, they are amazingly articulate, smart, poised, and self-confident. They are able to shmooze at parties until the wee hours of the morning and yet appear at 8 am sessions, all bright and articulate, with their hair still looking good, sustained by endless cups of coffee. They carry laptops computers, talk on cell phones in the corridors, and the technology always works for them. Despite a conference climate where in-focus projectors seem to break down about half the time, these Up and Coming Professors never seem to have any trouble with their Power Point presentations.

These women amaze me. I'm not sure what they are doing in academia but I think some of them ought to go into politics. I'd like to see them running the country.

January 06, 2005

Kindred Spirits

My favorite characters from the books I read as a child:

Betsy in the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. She got into snowball fights, had the same best friend all through school, and fell in love with the theater after seeing her first play. She knew from an early age she was going to be a writer.

Laura Ingalls in the Little House on the Prairie books. She loved wild places. Town was too noisy and crowded for her.

Ramona the Pest in the Beverly Cleary books. She was willing to make a Great Big Noisy Fuss to get what she wanted.

Holly Hollister in the Happy Hollister books. At the age of six, she was a detective, and she traveled with her family to all kinds of cool places all over the world. She was a tomboy who wore her long brown hair in pigtails.

Anne of Green Gables. She had a quick temper, she lived in daydreams half the time, and she romanticized nature shamelessly -- a kindred spirit.

Charlotte in Charlotte's Web. The little girl in the story falls apart when she hits puberty and the pig is just plain stupid, but the spider is damned smart. Did you know that a female spider will kill a male spider after mating with him? That's not in the book.

Jo in Little Women. A tomboy with lots of sisters. I hate the part when she cuts off her hair to sell it and one of her sisters says, "Oh, Jo ...your only beauty!"

Randy Melendy from The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. The third child in a close-knit family of four kids, she was always getting into scrapes but she put her whole self into anything she did.

Mary in the Secret Garden. She believed in magic.

Portia from Gone-Away-Lake. In one scene, she gets to play dress-up with beautiful old ballgowns from an ancient trunk.

Arrietty in the Borrowers. She didn't want to live trapped under the floor. She wanted to emigrate, live outside - and she did.

Betsy in the Carolyn Haywood books, especially Snowbound with Betsy. She decorated a tree with peanut butter for the birds and learned how to make angels in the snow.

Pippi in the Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren. She was way stronger than most men. And totally unconventional. In one book, she gets to sail the south seas.

Posy in Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Like me, she was the third girl in the family. She wanted to dance, and nothing would stop her.

Harriet M. Welch, in Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. She wanted to know everything and write it all down.

January 05, 2005

Snow falling

After the chaotic frenzy of the holidays, the household has returned to normal. It's quiet here with just the six of us. Spouse is at the big wooden table with his laptop open, doing some kind of work-related paperwork. Daughter is reading on the couch, nestled cosily into the spot nearest the fireplace. Boy in Black in upstairs on the computer, doing chemistry homework while simultaneously chatting with friends on IM and checking online to see what the conditions are like at the ski slope where he snowboards. Shaggy Hair Son is settled comfortably with a book in his red bean bag chair, which is positioned under the branches of the big potted orange tree. With-a-Why has just fallen asleep, after listening to me read a chapter of the book Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright. Even the cats are calmer now, sleeping on couches and chairs and beds, taking of course all the most comfortable spots in the house. Things will get noisy again Friday afternoon when extra kids begin to arrive but right now I am appreciating the peacefulness of a winter evening. The downstairs of my house is one big kitchen-living room area, except for the small office that is mine. As I sit at my computer, I can look out through the open door at my family and know that all is well with them.

Lingerie Lingo

Every time Dr. B mentions a corset, two images flash into my mind. The first is of Scarlet O'Hara clinging to a bedpost while Mammy pulls tight on the strings to make her waist as small as possible. Scarlet is gasping for breath but all this is clearly necessary if she is going to catch a husband. The other is a scene from one of the Little House on the Prairie books. Ma and Laura have been sewing a dress for Mary, the oldest daughter, but when Mary puts the dress on, it doesn't fit. The buttons are popping. They figure out the problem. Mary's corset strings have stretched. So Mary hangs onto the bedpost while they pull the strings, pulling the whale bones in to crunch her ribs, until she is thin enough to fit the very stylish new dress.

Since there is nothing sexy about these images, it's clear that I am just not up to date on this whole corset thing.

Maybe I need to buy lingerie more often.

January 04, 2005

Learning the Shimmy

It was grey afternoon so I decided to put on some Middle Eastern music and practice some belly dancing moves while cleaning the kitchen. My youngest son, With-a-Why, was sitting at the table with his crayons and colouring paper.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"It's called the shimmy," I said, pleasantly surprised at his interest in learning the proper names for dance moves. The older boys just roll their eyes when they see me belly dancing.

"Oh," he said. He coloured for a few more minutes and then looked up again.

"Well, it looks to me like you are just shaking your ass."

January 03, 2005

Random Thoughts about Spring Semester

Why do they call it SPRING semester? We will have snow on the ground for most of the semester. We'll be lucky if we get a few nice days somewhere near the very end. It's really winter semester, at least where I live.

I love buying new office supplies. A new stack of yellow legal pads, new reams of paper for the laser printer, a new box of pens, a new box of folders. I buy lots of plain manila folders, but I also get a box that are red, blue, green, and yellow because I color code my courses. I've done this for years, so even though my office is jammed full with stuff, I can glance through a pile quickly, and pull out all the green folders that I used for the Green Course other years. Tonight, I've lined up three new clean green folders for the Green Course. One folder for the class roster and stuff I want to do that day, one folder for student papers, and one folder for the syllabus, handouts, things like that. Tomorrow, I'll work on the Red Course.

The first job I ever had was working under the table as a legal secretary when I was about fourteen. That began my lifelong addiction to yellow legal pads. At any given time I have 4 or 5 yellow legal pads on my desk, with different lists on them.

About guilt. New Kid was talking about how she feels guilty adding books she hasn't read to a course. What's funny is that I am feeling guilty because I am using all stuff I've read and taught before. I read a lot to keep on top of what is getting published in my area, and most years, I add at least one book to each of my literature courses, dropping some book that is kind of outdated. Last spring, I added a couple of new books that worked really well so this year I didn't make any changes. I feel guilty when I don't make changes. One nice thing, though, is that I am having fun rearranging what I am going to teach and that is soooo much easier to do since I've taught it all before. I do always reread everything the night before I teach it. That's part of the job that I like. I get paid to read great books, always ones that I've chosen.

Always when a new semester begins, I have this sense of getting a new start. I can rewrite the syllabus. I get new students. I can vow anew not to procrastinate when grading papers. I make plans to reserve more time for writing. I love the academic calendar because it offers so many chances for a new beginning.

Like jumping into an icy river ... without the fun

For the last two weeks, my school stuff has remained tucked away in my grey shoulder bag. I've been busy cooking and cleaning, hanging out with my kids, visiting with extended family, going out to the movies with Spouse, reading books for pleasure, surfing blogs, eating big meals, or just sitting by the fire. The teenagers in the house are nocturnal when they are on vacation, and I have fallen into their pattern. It's been a relaxed, lazy time of staying up late to watch old movies and sleeping as late as I wanted.

This morning, the alarm rang at 6 am. It was dark outside. And cold, bitterly cold.

Makes Me Want to Scream: Part Two

I hate it when the word BABYSITTING is used to describe a man taking care of his own children.

When my kids were very small and I had papers to grade, my spouse would take them out for the afternoon on a Saturday so that I could grade papers in peace. Sometimes he would stop to see his mother. She would later tell everyone how wonderful he was to babysit the kids. BABYSIT? They are his kids! Her assumption, of course, was that watching the children was the woman's job, and a man who takes care of the kids for a few hours should be praised to the skies for helping his wife out.

January 02, 2005

Things People Say that Make Me Want to Scream: Part One

REVEALING USE OF THE FIRST PERSON PLURAL. It drives me crazy when married people talk in the first person plural. I don't mean in logical ways, like saying, "Yesterday, we drove to Boston." I'm talking about things like: "We think this" or "We believe this." With the exception of some alien beings I saw once on a Star Trek episode, thinking and believing are not collective acts. I feel uneasy around married people who have given up their own identities, their own thoughts and beliefs and opinions, to the extent that they talk in first person plural. It's creepy.

January 01, 2005

I'm glad I did

I'd rather give advice than plan my own life. So here's my list of things you should do if you ever have the opportunity:

1. Take a whitewater raft trip
2. Go winter camping
3. Take some kind of dance lessons
4. Get a professional massage
5. Visit New York, Paris, and London
6. Hike through a rainforest
7. Sunbathe naked
8. Spend time with someone who is dying
9. Be with someone when she is giving birth
10. Be hungry for a day
11. Go to a rally to support something you care about
12. Learn to sail
13. Go canoeing with someone you love
14. Go hiking in the desert
15. Learn the names of at least ten plants where you live
16. Volunteer at a soup kitchen
17. See a Broadway play
18. Spend a weekend at a monastery
19. Spend a day at an art museum
20. Read something you've written aloud in public