Thursday, July 28, 2005

Phinally Done

That's now "Doctor," et al.
More later; for now, I am resting on my laurels--one of which is poking me in a most uncomfortable spot.
Thank you for your support, and good night.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A perfect day

Today we took our daughter to a local shoreline for a quick dip in what she alternately termed "the sea" and "the river." She and I waded into the pungently cold water, while papa wisely waited further up the beach. My feet passed from chilled to numb, my capri-length pants were not short enough to avoid getting thoroughly soaked, she had goose-bumps over every inch her swimsuit didn't cover. In short, it was glorious.
Then we hit the nearby scenic restaurant (one of those corporate clones with the "lite rock" mix and early bird specials), where we dined unfashionably early, in time to get a seat outside on the deck. From there we had a front-row seat for some hapless "sailors" who had lost their engine and were drifting ever closer to the dock. The two "adults" involved had boarded the dinghy, and were, we presume, trying to tow the fairly good-sized sailboat away from peril, leaving two sub-teenagers and a frantic dog on board. I suspect these women shared my notion of 'sailing'; that is, lying around in a bikini with a beer in one hand. Nope. Those sails aren't just for decoration; might as well know how to use 'em if the power goes out.

I sipped a berry cosmopolitan as the sun shone on the water, with my small family gathered around me, and no thoughts whatsoever of the culminating experience I will undergo tomorrow. Yep. By this time tomorrow, I'll either be a "doctor" or a cautionary tale for future students in my department.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Anyone else see a pattern here?

I admit it, I get all my news of the world over at Bitch, PhD. these days. I find the world's weirdness more palatable filtered through her justifiably outraged feminist lens. So forgive my lazy ass when I link to her post on the current nanny-dust-up as published in the New York Times. The Times essay features the employer's side of the story, Dr. B's post thoughtfully links us to former nanny Tessa's blog. Reading this story, I was reminded of the recent outrage with which this post in the Chronicle was met.

What struck me is not merely their cautionary tone with respect to blogging. And I think the pseudonymous "Ivan Tribble" issues more than a cautionary note; he makes it pretty clear that whatever weight he has as a tenured faculty member will be used to prevent any blogging PhD from darkening the gothic archways of his ivory-covered tower. Even more than that, though, I noticed how both pieces rely on the apparently impenetrable armor of "The Appropriate." Both suggest that in these days of at-will employment (meaning, in practice, that one's continued employment is "at the will" of the employer, although on paper it can work both ways), the dogma of "Appropriateness" has assumed a kind of quasi-religious authority. It's a slippery technique, such reference to what's appropriate. On the one hand, it suggests an ironic disdain for the artificiality of the belief (i.e., that nannies shouldn't drink even when off work, or presume to write better than their [published] employers, or have the audacity to believe, as most ambitious 20-something women do, briefly, that they might be wasted in more traditional feminine roles).

Taking recourse in "appropriateness" allows the person passing judgment to preserve the veneer of postmodern sophistication in these kinds of rants; "See, look at me, I know that monitoring my nanny's sexual fantasies/my job candidate's penchant for Star Trek reruns is actually beneath me, and that it should probably have no bearing on my position as an employer." At the same time, of course, the judgment is clearly being passed, and the blogger is found to be beyond the pale.

"Appropriate" has such a nice, commonsensical ring to it. Of course you wouldn't want a drug-crazed nymphomaniac taking care of your children, right? Or a Star Trek conventioneer at your department meetings? But the tyranny of appropriateness seems to go more and more unnoticed in society, so that it works as a kind of de facto Truth, a kind of everyman's litmus test for behavior. In practice, of course, it's anything but benign, and anything but "common" in the universal sense. Instead, it elevates various socially and economically and politically specific beliefs to the status of inarguable fact, while appearing instead to reduce them to "choices" that are clearly within the individual's control. All the nanny would have had to do to keep her job, we argue, is to avoid the stupid mistake of giving her weblog URL to her insecure and bitchy boss. And why, for heaven's sake, we cry, would any job candidate in this horrific market send prospective employers to the website where she wrestles with her secret problems with self-mutilation and affection for the paintings of Thomas Kincaide?

No one is savvier about this truth than my students. They know that conformity is ALWAYS the right choice, and few of them can imagine feeling strongly enough about any issue of personal expression--sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion--to risk being "inappropriate." They know that all of our talk about the death of Truth is total b.s., and that in place of a hierarchy based on white patriarchal and economic power, we have instead a hierarchy based on "appropriateness" [as determined within white patriarchal and economic power]. They are scornful of students whose desire for personal adornment leads them to body art that the Fortune 500 would disapprove. They know better than to stand up to injustice, if doing so would require raising their voices.

I chose academia in part because my fellow academics seemed to me to hold their liberal politics longer than those in other fields, who eventually bought better cars and homes with more than one bathroom. My academic friends lived on into their 40s and beyond dressing, talking, and feeling inappropriately for the tenor of the times. They railed against injustice and attempts to enforce the status quo, and weren't afraid to spray spittle on those in the front rows. I think blogging has become a kind of underground for such political passion and energy; a way for those of us disheartened by the malls, wars, greed, and ruthless patriotism of contemporary American life. So at their best, blogs are fundamentally and by definition inappropriate--they say the things that people don't want to hear, and raise the issues that we as a society resist confronting. So when Helaine Olen and Ivan Tribble tell us that we should be careful what we write in our blogs, because our employers "might not like it," they are nonetheless enforcing what is and is not appropriate--in our writing and in our lives. In both cases, these writers acknowledge their discomfort with what they see in their (prospective) employees' blogs. Both then proceed to explain how that discomfort is ultimately Not Their Fault, but that of the blogger, for crossing the line of appropriateness. Much easier for Olen to fire her nanny (even worse, to let her husband do it) than to come to any real terms with her discomfort with this "younger version" of herself, whose very presence makes her ambivalent about her life. And far easier for Tribble to write off job applicants whose blogs don't conform to "refereed" status than to consider why so many academics now produce more (and more happily) online than through the self-important and bloated academic presses.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The culture of life, part 468b

I foresee a run on federal employees in the wake of the republican-sponsored changes to bankruptcy laws. Apparently despondent over excessive medical bills, the shooter in this case decided jail was a viable alternative to repayment. As more and more Americans are trapped by skyrocketing medical bills, and as fewer and fewer can afford insurance, this solution may start to seem more and more sensible.
Hard luck for the postal carrier, however. I hope future followers of the "Georgia alternative" to homelessness brought on by medical bills do a better job finding non-violent felonies. Or at least targeting those representatives of the federal government who, unlike the hapless mailman, had a hand in creating the double-bind that pushed them to the brink of homelessness.

Friday, July 8, 2005

Random thoughts on the drive home from preschool

We have a new local "oldies" radio station. This morning they played Foreigner's Urgent, which I realized may be one of the earliest versions of the "booty call" song. It even features a pseudo-phone ringing in the background. Now I know that the genre of the booty call has a long and distinguished history, but it was startling to think of old, familiar songs in this way. What other "classic" rock songs fit the definition? ELO has a song about an incomplete booty call, right? And there's always "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight", which I see, to my horror, was apparently written by Barry Manilow, even though those other guys recorded the hit version. And no, I'm not actually as old as these music references make me sound, and yes, I have listened to music produced since 1985; in fact, one of my chief embarrassments is that I tend to prefer contemporary pop (Destiny's Child, anyone?) to the kind of discreetly aging rock from my own era.

I should say that when they make a movie of my life, the music I'd like to have as my theme would be the Tijuana Brass. But I suspect it would actually be Foreigner, a group I never particularly liked, but which seemed to have a top ten hit that played almost continuously in the background of every important moment in my life. Perhaps that's the tragedy of my life: I was born a Herb Alpert girl in a Lou Gramm era. Aside: How I loathe that stupid "Ally McBeal" for making a travesty of the "what's my leit motif?" issue. I spent many happy hours imagining the soundtrack for my various activities, and I feel robbed that someone went and put it on a stupid TV show--one I almost never watched because I couldn't stand her whole winsome act. A person's personal soundtrack is something that should be...well, personal!

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Born free...

Rodent update:
Our wayward mouse guest has decided to embrace the "culture of life" for himself. After a cozy (I presume) night in the bowels of our heating system, he peeped out to catch a few minutes of the Tour, where he was seen by my husband, Friend to Wayward Mouses, and by Third Cat, who didn't get a shot at him yesterday. He eluded them both, and was last seen leaping out the back door on his way, one hopes, to rejoin his little mouselet children and to live to scurry another day. Since our obsession with buying an old house (1910, in this case) means that we are already planning a plumbing update and masonry work, I am relieved that for the time being, my heater system hasn't turned into the rat-acombs.

Monday, July 4, 2005

Body count

In honor of the 4th of July, our cat brought us tribute. One large rat (dead--stone cold dead, with his little ratty feet pointed to the sky and a dreadful grimace). One mouse, teeny tiny and very much alive. It managed to escape its captor and the clutches of our very own psycho kitty from hell. After removing the predators, I boosted up the couch while my husband (rodent undertakes and extricator) attempted to catch it in one of those reusable "Glad" containers. We were too slow. It then escaped into the heater vent, which we now fear will issue forth a horrific stench upon its next use. We're skeptical, however, that we can entice this creature out of the heating system and back into the house, where it would immediately become prey to all three cats and my husband, armed with his knock-off Tupperware.

Given the current despicable state of the union, the rampant fundamentalism, outright deception, arrogance, hubris, and general backlash, rodent seems as appropriate a topic for the national anniversary as any other. By that I don't mean to cheapen the human suffering around the globe. We were all God's creatures, once upon a time. Weren't we?

Saturday, July 2, 2005

You can't make this shit up...

No, I'm not referring to the heinous hijinks of our current administration, although I easily could be. Here's hoping you are all reading about the Rove scandal on some real blogs, i.e, those by the well-informed politics junkies among us.

In the meantime, however: This is the kind of thing that makes me deeply embarrassed by my own bourgeois parenting. I confess to owning several of the ubiquitous Baby Einstein DVDs. They were one of those things I thought too pretentious for words, back before I was a desperate woman willing to contemplate subjecting my child to any evil corporate influence if it meant 15 minutes in which to check my email. At least it was commercial free, with classical music to boot.

The other night, we took our daughter, now 2 years and 7 months old, to a new restaurant. Some sort of generic classical music was piped into the dining room, which we of course ignored, as we were intended to. (Here I have to say that nothing seems stranger to me than the idea of classical music, of almost any variety, as "background" music. Unlike the cookie-cutter quality of most pop songs, even good ones, classical music is all about variation--in tone, mood, tempo, pitch. The whole idea of canned symphonies or "greatest opera favorites" smoothed over to an unoffensive volume really offends me. This is music that demands to be listened to carefully, entirely, passionately--not as background to some idiot woman's complaints about her loser boyfriend, or to the unmusical conversation that ensues when dining with the under-3 set. And yes, I know I'm totally off topic.)

Anyway, as my daughter is now wont to do, she said, "What's this song about, Mama?" I wasn't listening, and brushed her off: "I don't know, honey, I can't hear it."
"It's Mozart." She announced. And it was. If my own classical music education wasn't so far in the past, I should even be able to identify the piece, but I can't. If I even read the "Baby Mozart" DVD listings, I should be able to identify it, but I haven't bothered. But damn, did my little overeducated, pretentious, upper-middle class academic heart swell with pride. "My daughter can recognize Mozart! I can't be the maternal failure I fear I am!"

Of course in the cold light of day, I realized that she has no idea what "Mozart" is, let alone who he is. She announces the strains of "Baa Baa Black Sheep" with equal perpicacity.

Still, I smell an advertising contract somewhere...