Wednesday, May 30, 2007


A question for the internets:

Anyone have any sense at all of the comparative ecological / economical impact of a heat pump (electrical) vs. furnace heat (natural gas)?

No, of course it doesn't have anything to do with the fatal flaw in our HVAC on what is thus far the hottest day of the year here. Nothing at all.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

No, Really, I'm Writing!

So I've set aside most weekday afternoons for writing, after a good workout and a relaxed lunch.

Writing, and IMing friends, and surfing YouTube for old REM videos, and reading EVERYONE ELSE'S blog.

But no, really, I'm writing now. I swear. A page so far this afternoon.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Warm Fuzzies

I'm snuggled into the recliner with Imperia, watching The Backyardigans, making her giggle with kisses, and I say, "You're my favorite girl in the whole world, did you know that?" and she looks at me and nods proudly.

"Am I your favorite Dad?" Another proud nod...

"Daddy, do you know who is my favorite favorite daddy?"

"No" I say coyly, enjoying the amplification...

"Evie's daddy, Jason."


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bedtime Songs

Lately, the children have been very interested in an increasing repertoire of bedtime songs, and Rambunctious in particular has decided that he no longer wants his lullaby cd. So I'm getting a longer and longer list of songs to sing, but seem to need even more to add.

Not every nice, soft, quiet song makes a good lullaby, though, for if it relies too much on background instrumentation, or is repetitive in its melodic verse structure, the voice is the only thing to carry the line, and the song gets boring very quickly. This, sadly, is the problem with some of my favorite lullabies for cds, "Hallelujah" and "Halfacre", which violate both rules.

Here's what's in the repertoire now, though some, (like "Scarborough Fair") only get one verse, sometimes repeated once, to avoid being too mundane, and some (like Don Henley's "Lilah") only get snippets because I don't know them all.

"Scarborough Fair"
"Lilah" (Don Henley)
"Sweet Baby James"
"Tender Shepherd"(A lullaby from the musical Peter Pan)
"Unforgettable" (Our wedding song)
"The Impossible Dream" (or, as rambunctious calls it, "The Important Dream")
"Soon it's Gonna Rain" (from The Fantasticks)
"Black is the Color of my True Love's Hair"
"In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning"
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
and, my favorite, "Moon River"

Willow also sings a few not in my repertoire:
"My Funny Valentine"
"Peaceful Easy Feeling" (Someone's a big Eagles fan)
"Somewhere over the Rainbow"
"The Rainbow Connection" (which she's just told me, and which I must add into the rotation)

So what lullabies do you remember loving? What have you sung to your children? What makes a good lullaby for you?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Wimp and the Blimp

This was originally a post from the very anonymous blog I was doing with photos of this weight loss plan, and which I abandoned for many reasons. This was a post I thought worth saving, and after the weight-room post, this seemed a good time to revive it, now slightly revised:

I was a small kid, always in the bottom 10th percentile for height and weight. I started 10th grade at 4' 9" and 87 pounds: the smallest person in my grade, male or female. Pics of me as a boy are all ribs and knees and elbows. I was a runt.

Because I was a small male, my masculinity was often questioned: Though I did not look particularly odd, I was often derided in my early attempts at romance…(perhaps it was my winning personality). I often imagined that I was more feminine than my peers: I looked at my delicate fingers and wondered if they were a sign that I was queer. I tried to make myself larger by trying to be larger than life. Flamboyant in some ways, just loud in others…too proud of my smarts, which was often the only thing I really believed I had going for me.

I am looking over some snapshots from the years before I met Willow:

I am ten and standing in swim trunks at the top of an island overlooking a lake. You can count my ribs.

Two pictures when I am twelve--one a baseball team photo: The bat and the hat both look too big for my body. Though I am not the youngest player on the team, I am the smallest. Same for the soccer photo. I was third string.

I am thirteen, and standing next to a classmate: he is a full foot taller than I am.

I am at my sixteenth birthday party, talking to a female classmate. My arms are as slender as hers are.

In every single prom and homecoming photo, I am thinner than my date, including the vegan tennis player.

I am a freshman in college: I fit into my dorm neighbor’s corset—she is a riot grrrl, and unrelated, tiny. I am 5’11” a 130 pounds. My roommate is pretending to lick my breasts.

I am a sophomore: my girlfriend likes my legs, likes how I look in her tights, in her pleated skirts. I wear her black pleated skirt and tights with a cashmere jacket and a daisy in my lapel. (Clearly, the Morrissey period).

I am in the first year of grad school. I am 22, and still only about 140 pounds. I’m on a camping trip with a girlfriend. I barely remember having those high, hollow cheeks, those slender arms, the breakable wrists, the elegant neck, the body that fit into women’s clothes.

An anecdote: I am in the sixth grade, and one of my female classmates in the gifted and talented class (G&T) and I have bonded over choose-your-own-adventure books. She is heavy, and has some poor social skills. I am a runt, and my social skills are hardly first rate. We write one another notes. On a G&T field trip (riding the short bus—another designation that we are “special”), we sit next to one another, huddled down and choosing our adventure—let’s say, page 46—and the whispers begin in the back seats…and a line gets uttered. Some laughter. A refrain. A chant: “The wimp and the blimp! The wimp and the blimp! The wimp and the blimp!” We are trapped there on that bus, trapped both in our own separate, embodied shames. I am ashamed of my body, and hers. She is ashamed of her body, and mine.

I arrived at adulthood believing myself to be small, effeminate, encased in a body that I could not control, whose codes were written for me, not by me. I believed that I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight, because trying to gain weight had never been successful before. I believed that I would never be a masculine man because I’d never have a man’s body.

What all of this means now is that I was completely unprepared to think about my body as really part of me, or rather, it was a precondition that I had to work around, and not a part of the self that could be crafted. I had no sense that I had to take care of my physical health, how, or to what degree.

Moreover, because of the ways that I developed my persona around my body, I went into my mid 20s (and probably well beyond) with people challenging my sexuality openly, vocally and to my face. I am ambivalent about this phenomenon, to be honest, because I certainly questioned it plenty, myself, and I don't want to suggest that to be read as queer was an insult. But for one, it's almost as presumptuous as compulsory heterosexuality. Two, I really wanted to say, "Really folks. Do you think I could be this deep into an education steeped in gender studies and not have thought hard my own identity?"

Finally, it still tells me a lot about the ways that dominant culture still wants to try to link gendered, sexed, and sexualized bodies and indexical to one another. I have been married to Willow for more than 7 years now, and so my sexuality seems generally accepted, and I therefore cannot tease this out from my expanding body. But I don't think I'm any less flamboyant than I was when I was 25, any less interested in challenging gender stereotypes when I can. I just don't look as good in a kicky skirt.

But somehow, because my body now looks more like a normative male body, I'm not a wimp (though to be honest, I'm no more interested in proving otherwise than I was 20 years ago), and while the former students who read this blog probably know more about how I appear in front of the classroom, I believe I'm no longer read (at least vocally) as simply deluding myself about my sexuality.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Parts on the Floor

In between posts about gyms, bodies and weight loss, I am supposed to be re-writing this essay for the collection I'm editing. I presented an introductory version of the essay at a conference last summer, and it will likely be published online in the very near future. But that was only a 14 page version, and this version needs to be significantly more substantive.

So all this blogging is clearly a distraction from the other windows open on my computer: an outline, and old version of the essay, a document with chunks of the old version copied into the outline, but in an order no longer coherent, with huge gaps. Around me are new articles and books to consider and copies of the old essay with comments from the faculty research group.

This was supposed to be my first big project of the summer, and I want it done by the end of May. keep your fingers crossed, because instead of this essay being a smoothly running machine, right now it's just disassembled parts on the floor.

Monday, May 21, 2007

On Men's Rooms: Locker Rooms and Weight Rooms and Masculine Anxiety

Like my academic title? I'm horrible at academic titles, so let's call it practice. Or a way to distancing myself from this itchy subject. But to get to the point:

Today, for what I think is the first time in my life, I walked into the free-weight room at the campus rec center, by myself, to work out. Oh I've been in before to look for someone (Willow haunts these quarters regularly) and I've recently (in the last two weeks) ventured in with her to learn the ropes if you will, but this is the first time I've ever gone in by myself, and I have to say, it is one of the weirdest experiences of passing that I've ever performed.

Passing as what? you ask: as a Real Man. I'll get to this in a second. Most of my exercises in passing have been class-based, and I am infinitely better at passing "up" the class ladder than "down" (though my family of origin is much closer to the "bottom" than the top). A couple of times in college I also did a little gender crossing, although only one of these was an actual attempt to pass as female: the others were exercises in actual theatre or in a trendy androgyny, and at 5'11" and 127, I can say with some pride, that I looked fabulous in that kicky pleated black skirt and black tights. I also had a black beret, blackberry lipstick, and a daisy in my lapel. Can anyone tell I was listening to Morrissey at the time?

But I digress. Those boundary crossings were more fun and less anxiety-producing than the one today, of Manhood (or more specifically, hetero-manhood). David Savran, in discussing the title of Taking it Like a Man, his book on masculinity in performance, locates in the titular phrase a notion that even men must act "like a man"--that manhood is never innate, and can only be approximated. And manhood is a strange kind of stoic masochism to boot. This is the case of the weight room, where 12 white men (myself included) and one fierce black woman shaped their bodies and displayed them in the not painless (see? masochism) process of shaping.

It is the looking and being looked at that to me define the weight room, and its companion, the locker room, and the spectacle of masculinity, or more accurately, the spectacle of performing masculinity, that produce generally, and for me specifically, the anxiety of hetero-masculinity.

The central paradox of this theatre of gendered bodies is that the act of being seen is imperative to the performance--one cannot be seen as a man if one is not looked at, observed, ideally even admired. However, the act of looking, the very looking that predicates being looked at, is suspect, submissive, and potentially queer. The skinniest boy is compelled to look at the buffest body and desire it. It is virtually a precondition for the skinniest boy being there in the first place. That boy observes the body builder's muscle configuration, his size, his porportion, his definition and wants that body, albeit for himself, yet that desire to have that body himself is not entirely different from having that body to himself.

And yet, skinny boy cannot be caught looking, for to be caught looking is to be caught desiring, to break the silence on the homoerotic transaction. Similarly, the body builder wants to be desired, and he does his own looking, not only to see who else is looking (he desires the gaze of all the eyes in the room, but particularly of those bodies he desires), but to see who looks less desirable.

And as the skinny boy aspires to masculinity by looking like the body builder, the body builder
approaches it by being desired, by being looked at. But it is no secret that the perfect body and the body builder who has sculpted one for himself, is itself associated with the feminine, the the object of the gaze, with primping, with vanity.

The ante for all of this is upped when we talk about the locker room, where the spectacle includes naked bodies and the anxiety extends to, where else, the nether regions. I've been using the locker room on campus for a year or so now, and I still feel certain of the same anxieties fairly acutely, of looking and being looked at, of comparisons, of judgments. It's a little worse that students occupy these spaces in droves at some times, though I tend to hit the gym during off times, especially in summer, where many of the center's patrons are faculty and staff. But the spectre of your colleagues' bodies and your body exposed in the same space seems to make literal the metaphor we occasionally use whenever we see a showdown at MLA of two prominent male academic--seeing who's bigger.

Admittedly, these dynamic are specifically hetromasculine, and I'm sure my female and queer colleagues have plenty to say about their own experiences and senses of these spaces (the gay male gym experience is decidedly different, especially in queer-friendly spaces and places, which this campus unofficially, but decidedly, isn't).

Where do I fit into all of this? Well, I still imagine myself as skinny guy (5'11" and 127, remember?), although I am now a good deal heavier. I grew soft around the middle before putting on the musculature of an adult male, and so was never a specimen of particular admiration in this paradigm. And so I approach these spaces as the inferior, as he who aspires and is judged to be wanting, as opposed to he who is admired and desired, and judges as a component of his own personal anxiety.

To be comfortable in my own skin, with my own male body, is a feeling I wouldn't know how to describe, and part of this process is discovering whether the act of taking control over my body is a path to finding this comfort, or if it only changes the particulars of my own anxiety.

Friday, May 18, 2007


So one of the only things that I've been able to really focus on these last few weeks is this weight loss thing, which seems like it's going well. I've lost around five pounds since the beginning of the month.

I am trying to balance that really fine line between not being obsessive about diet and exercise (which the aborted web project was encouraging) and not losing interest. So far, it's working, in part because it's an excellent way to procrastinate from the writing.

Here's what I'm doing:
Exercise: Trying to exercise 5 or 6 days a week, when possible, something strenuous and something aerobic, which may mean some sets of moderate weight lifting with some time on the bike or rowing. Sometimes it simply means moving my very steep lawn with my pushmower with the broken drive control. Once soccer season starts, that'll certainly count. It should be noted that Willow is a former personal trainer and avid exerciser, often doing 90 minutes of cardio of lifting the same weights that I am, though she is 60 pounds lighter than I am...I have often found her regime intimidating and kind of incomprehensible, but right now, she's been my biggest help in this process. She's even gotten me to work out in the free-weight room, a place I would never have ventured before.

Eating: No radical diet plan, just a series of guidelines for making choices to consider whenever I'm eating. I'm still eating at the same restaurants, and often choosing from among our established cooking repertoire.
  • Less fat is better.
  • Less sugar is better
  • Lean protein is good, and mandatory in the meal before a workout, and worth a little extra fat if need be.
  • More fiber is better.
  • More water is better.
  • Avoid seconds.
  • Avoid unplanned snacks--I often plan one mid morning and mid afternoon.
  • Natural ingredients are better than processed ones.
  • Flavor is still important.
The interesting thing is how much this process has me thinking about my body, which is an interesting place for me to be, as a man who a) has never really had to worry about my health, and b) has never had any hope of being a prime physical specimen, either in terms of attractiveness or athletics. But as a theorist of gender and performance, thinking about my own body in these terms is unsettling to say the least, for all sorts of reasons. These were all things I intended to consider in the other blog project, and may import to some degree here, though it will certainly be more confessional than I've been in this space before, so we'll see how I feel about hitting publish. Still, right now my goal is 15 pounds over the summer, to start the school year with a differently shaped body. And in the meantime, to think hard about all of my motivations for working for a differently shaped body.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

K'Zoo Envy

Am I the only person floating around the blogosphere with Kalamazoo envy? It's bad enough that virtually half of my favorite humanities bloggers are Medievalists, but they also get a kick-ass conference that they all seem excited to go to, complete with a dance (which may be a mixed blessing), and a huge blogger meet-up, one even bigger than our little one at MLA, which is supposed to be for the whole field (granted, there was that nifty little panel, but we got hustled outta there so quickly that it was hard to make any new connections at all).

So, ok, partially I'm just wishing I could go to the K'zoo meet-up. Because, you know, I like people and I like to meet them. I am also, however, wishing that my field had a conference like this, one that regularly attracted a wide range of folks who shared these interests. The Narrative Conference comes close, I'll confess, and a couple of years ago, I enjoyed the dance as much as many seemed to enjoy the K'zoo dance. But few bloggers. Very few bloggers.

What I really want is a regular modern drama conference, one that attracts major scholars in the field, many graduate students, and a core of folks who will go again and again. And it'll have a dance. We modern drama folks can head off to ATHE (the big theatre conference) or ASTR (which is also theatre, but more theory oriented), and there's the lovely Comparative Drama Conference, which has a limited modern drama presence. But several years ago, the journal Modern Drama hosted a great conference (which I know only from the excellent volume published as a result: Modern Drama: Defining the Field) that I wish a) I'd been in on, and b) repeated annually. That's what I'd like.

Or maybe, just to be a fly on the wall (or an actual real person) at the Kalamazoo blogger meet-up. I'd like that, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My Electronic Archives

In a recent post, I mentioned that I had been collating all of my pdf copies of articles into one location, an idea that started as something of a lark in order to procrastinate, but which is growing on me as I continue the task.

Last fall, I discovered the library's digital sender, a scanner that helps students who don't want to pay 10 cents a page just to get some non-circulating text to their home computer. The thing scans a page (or several), saves the file on a campus server for five days before it deletes it, and then sends an email message with a link. I can then go and save a copy of the file to my own computer. In August, I used this technology to create pdfs of the disparate course readings that my grad class was doing, and I burned them to a cd (following academic fair use guidelines) for future reference. It was a hit, and I also had some articles I use often now easily accessible on my desktop.

Plus, as ILL moves to sending pdfs for articles requested across the network, I had begun to accumulate some research in this form, as well.

Now, I am in the process of preparing a similar reading list for a grad student doing an independent study, and am making copies to take up to the library's digital sender to make the electronic files, and it occurred to me: while I'm up there, I might as well take some articles I have photocopies of that I use frequently, but am always misplacing. And then: I should also go find the articles on JSTOR and Project Muse that I'm constantly referring to, and save copies for myself in this library of mine.

I am now in the process of simply accumulating the scanned images into one folder (which I will likely back up onto a flash drive), but what I'd like to be able to do is take these image-based pdfs and OCR them to make them readable and searchable, though I suspect I'll need to get Adobe Acrobat, and not just Reader, to do that. Any advice would be very helpful.

What started as a way to waste some time by shuffling around my folders seems like it could turn into a useful exercise in organizing my research!


You may remember that soon after Milo, the hero of Norton Juster's children's classic, The Phantom Tollbooth begins his fantastical journey, that he gets sidetracked in the malaise of the Doldrums, where he can barely muster forward motion.

Now, some two weeks (give or take a day) into my summer break, I find myself in the same predicament.

This time last year, as readers of my old blog may recall, I had a list of things to do a mile long, and hit the ground running, moving forward as if blasted from the slingshot of the school year. by the end of last may, I had three pieces off my desk.

This summer, I have a similarly large to-do list: for the collection, an intro to write, my own piece to revise, perhaps a co-authored piece to revise, the other selections to edit and the final proposal to polish up. Plus, I've got a book review due on July 1, two new course preps and an independent study to prepare for, and, good lord willing, my own book to return to--I must get that thing ready for the publisher.

So far, though, I've a lot. Eaten better. Mowed the lawn, laid down some mulch, planted a few herbs and pulled some weeds. Read one novel and started a second. (OK, that first novel was for one of my fall courses, so that counts. right?). Begun a process of collating and cataloguing all the pdf files of articles I've accumulated over the years into one electronic library (useful, but hardly urgent--maybe I'll post on that soon). Cleaned up my office. Really really well. I've found a few articles relevant to the collection I didn't have before. I've read a chapter or two, and started in on a few others, but hardly anything diligent.

I haven't been a total slacker, but I've done nothing with any, well, real forward motion. I know it's only mid-may, and at my PhD institution, I'd still be grading finals, but this is hardly the momentum I had last spring, and I'm worried that I'll have trouble picking any up at all as the summer blooms in earnest.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Where I've Been

I haven't posted in over a week, which may prompt you to ask where I've been. And there are many answers to that question.

Answer 1: The end of the semester. Like everyone else in the academic blogosphere, I've been conferencing with students, grading, cleaning up my office, etc. Sadly, nothing new under the sun, though let me just say that my morning survey class--you know: 10 students at 8:30 a.m.? Absolutely phenomenal. I have never seen a survey class so uniformly capable of independent thinking, of actually taking me at my word when I tell them that I hope their papers will actually advance an argument we didn't hear in class. Gendered national sentiment in Orlando. Dueling notions of performativity in Orlando and Written on the Body, nation and sports in Tom Brown's School Days and Wilfred Owen's "Disabled," and my favorite: maternal rhetoric of colonialism as an expression of masculine anxiety over the power ceded to women in the domestic sphere in Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" and Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9. These were a very very nice way to end the semester.

Answer 2: I have gone on a fairly serious weight-loss regime. I've been spending a lot of time doing exercisey things, many at the gym, and some more time thinking about what it means to be doing things to my diet and my exercise regime, which leads me to ...

Answer 3: I had a brief blog affair with another space. That is, When I decided I was going to get very serious about changing my body, I tried, briefly, to make something of an art project out of it. Therefore I created a blog, now deleted, with the following mission:
Over the next month, I will photo-document my own weight loss regime. I will also document my exercise routine and my changing eating habits. I will also use this space diaristically and confessionally, exploring my own history with food, with my body, with masculinity as a construct. As a student of language, bodies, and performance, I will try to be aware of the language I use, almost certainly gendered, and the social texts into which I am interpellated.
This was an interesting project, in part because it helped me jumpstart the actual process (disciplining myself to report my daily exercise and food intake to the blogosphere was good incentive not to cheat), and it also helped me articulate some of the implications of the decisions I was making. Problem was, I wasn't ready to take the risk of telling anyone about the site, even though it was anonymous and had photos chopped off at the neck. And I was having trouble posting every day after about a week. I'll probably post more about this whole project in the next several months. But I've already lost between 4 and 6 pounds.

Answer 4: I took a lovely little jaunt to my old stomping grounds, in part to see many good friends, and also my advisor. I shall post about that perhaps some other day. But it was good.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Almost Almost Almost

I collected the small batch of portfolios yesterday, and hope to slap grades on them by the time the next large batch comes in tomorrow. In the meantime I've begun to map out the summer, which is suddenly looking much more daunting, with a collection manuscript to get together (including rewriting my contribution and co-authoring the intro), a book review to write, two new preps to read for and get together, an independent study to design (which may well be the template for a grad course in the future), and my monograph to get to.

It's this last thing that concerns me, because it's now been four years since I touched the thing, and other projects, small and large, have always intervened. But once this collection is out the door, the book is the last thing left, and the most important. I likely don't need it for tenure, but I want it done by then, just in case. But it's the book after all, and even though the dissertation was a reasonably good draft, the whole project still looks like Mount Everest.

My goal for the summer then, is to get to the monograph. That's plenty. In the meantime, I've got a stack of grading to do and a bit more service (see below). Not quite done yet...but almost.