Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ain't no Cure for the Summertime ... Flu?

I dunno, maybe it's just a nasty, nasty cold, or some kinda other virus, but it turns out that those crazy Harry Potter dreams were not just book inspired, since in the intervening four cough/ sinus/fever/nausea-pocked days, I've had some crazy dreams about much less fanciful things.

Turns out the cold that Rambunctious brought home is harder on the grown-ups. Friday and Sunday (far less on Saturday and Monday) were rough days indeed, and last night Willow found herself laid low by the bug. Rambunctious has bee runny-nosed and coughing for about ten days, now, though the only other signs he's exhibiting are some late-in-the-day cranky-pantedness.

I hate being sick, not just because, you know, I'm sick, but because I can't contribute to the running of the house and all. I remember an incident when I was, say, 16, and I was supposed to go help my dad chop some wood for our woodstove. He came in to get me that morning, and I was all, "I don't feel good." I recall him being miffed, because he suspected (not without cause) I was playing sick to get out of manual labor. But it turned out that I had a fever of, like, 103, and really didn't feel good. Nonetheless, the lesson that illness makes you a burden was internalized (And thus disability studies and disability activism finds its basis).

Couple this with the fact that my (chronically ill) mom complains that my dad is a big baby when he gets sick, and this is decidedly something I do not want to be, and you have a mindset: "When you get sick, soldier on--don't let anyone fuss over you and don't slow down."

The problem is I AM a big baby, and this attitude invariably culminates in me overdoing it and needing to completely disappear for a while. Couple this with the fact that I get weepy when I have a fever, and you see the problem...

On Sunday afternoon, I woke up from a nap with a fever, hung a new curtain rod and some curtains, resorted the silverware drawer with a new organizer purchased that morning, and then (surprise) felt woozy enough that it was hard to stand up. So I disappeared back into the bedroom to lay down just as the kids were getting up and moving after naptime.

Now, Willow is in bed, and I'm trying to keep her there, mostly because I'd need someone to keep me there. But she knows...she's sick. She'll stay in bed until she's feeling well enough to get up.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Visions of Potter

Last night, Willow and I began our descent into Pottermania, picking up the book at 11:45, and deciding (wisely) to take in the first two chapters. By the time we put the book down at 12:30 am, my mind was spinning, but since I was insanely tired (big workout both that day and the previous day, plus an inexplicable string of late nights), I dropped off immediately.

But the night's sleep was hardly restful. I almost immediately, in that strange space between waking and dreaming, developed a theory that explains a major component of the HP universe, one which I won't share because I'm only on chapter 2, but which kept my mind racing for most of the night, and which still makes a fair amount of sense in the light of day.

I finally awoke fully at 5:30 am, and so did Willow. I told her my theory, which seemed to let me get it off my mind enough to go into a deeper sleep, but Rambunctious and Imperia were up by 7:30.

I felt like crap. My body ached from post-workout pain, my head hurt from not enough sleep, and to boot, I think I'm coming down with some sinus thing. WIllow generously let me sleep in and took the kids to school today while I roused myself on my own good time.

In the meantime, I'm working on several books at once, something I find myself doing more these days, until one really grabs me and I finish it. But often I have 3-5 books which I've started enough to say I'm reading them, and which lie open around the house and office, but none of which has me by throat, hurtling toward it's conclusion. RIght now, those books include HP and the Deathly Hallows, Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, Salman Rushdie's short story collection, East, West, that old standby Heart of Darkness, and finally, War and Wine, a birthday gift about the plight of France wine-growers during WWII, which is so far quite good. This is in addition to the 10K-word short story that Willow knocked off this week (and which is amazing), and the various theory that I am using tor evise this article, which is inching to completion. All of this is to say that it makes a certain amount of sense, if you read the above list, why my dreams are, well, colorful.

Tonight, I'm not sure if Top Chef on TiVo will bump back the next chapter of HP, but if it doesn't, I hope we read it early enough that I can clear my head before bedtime...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Reading with Disgrace

I'm in the process of outlining the syllabus for the Commonwealth Lit course (a title I'm finding less and less satisfactory as I prep the course--I wonder how long it's been in the books this way?). Anyway, I'm trying to think of a secondary reading that would pair nicely with Coetzee's Disgrace, something that gets at not just the challenge to, but the displacement of whiteness, or perhaps something that hints at the ideas of "after postcolonialism." I'm drawing a blank.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Uncracked Tome

Like virtually every reader of this blog, I own ( and have owned for 24 hours) a copy of that book...you know the one. Unlike a few of them, I haven't finished it. Unlike even more of them, I haven't started it, and probably won't for a bit, probably not until at least 10 tonight, and maybe not for several days.

This is not because I am disinterested in what happens, or am in any other way blase about the book, the narrative arc, whatever. Willow and I were reading the before many were in the craze (We started them when Prisoner came out, which means while we were hardly early adopters, we were swept up in what seems like the first wave of the craze itself).

Instead, I'm waiting for bedtime, and specifically, a bedtime when Willow and I are both alert enough for the bedtime story. Because we're treating this volume of the series as we have every other volume of Harry Potter: we're reading it aloud to one another, aswe have every other word of the series.

Willow pitched the idea when Prisoner came out that we try them out as bedtime stories--she had picked up a paperback copy of Sorcerer's Stone, and we read it aloud and really enjoyed it. So she went out and picked up hardcovers of Chamber and Prisoner, and the fall before we were married, we spent much of a vacation, an erstwhile wine-and-antiques long weekend in the Shenandoah Valley gobbling up the books in large chunks.

We waited for Goblet while plans for the movie series were bandied about, and when we got our copy in the mail, we shut ourselves up for several evenings, and while we didn't finish it in the one-sitting fashion that some were already using to consumer the book, we got through it pretty efficiently. It was, however, the first time we were really confronted with the need for restraint, not to read ahead of the other, to put it down after a chapter (or two) a night before the final push took up a whole Saturday.

Through this process, characters began to develop voices that remained consistent across time--my Hagrid sounds not unlike Michael Caine, Dobby sounds like what some will remember as the voice of the magical character Glomer from the Saturday morning cartoon version of Punk Brewster, Mad-Eye Moody is so gruff that I have trouble staying in character for a whole chapter, and Umbridge is breathy and treacly-sweet.

Order of the Phoenix went more slowly: Willow was 6 months pregnant with the twins, and so bedtimes were getting tougher to predict, what with all the fun sleeping obstacles that a twin pregnancy offers. That said, a 10-hour-each-way drive to a vacation in Canada, plus the very leisurely week in between meant that we got through the angry book soon after we had returned.

Half-Blood Prince was the greatest challenge: it came out while we moving to BRU, and we had 20-month-old twins. Our sleep patterns were always disrupted, and a major sleep disturbance period immediately after our move meant that the book was abandoned for weeks at a time. Then, the pressures of my first TT job meant that I was spending a good number of evenings lesson planning and grading. As a result, we spent a good 8 months in the dark knowing neither who died nor who killed. Our friends were remarkably sympathetic, for no one spoiled it for us over that period.

Now, the kids are almost 4, and their bedtimes are reliable and still early. Our vacations for the summer are over, but vacations now are more stressful than our regular summer schedule, so that's a good thing. So tonight, or tomorrow, or soon, I'm looking forward to dusting off that British schoolboy-in-puberty voice and reading a bedtime story to my sweetheart. Hopefully, we'll be done by the time school starts.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Self-narrative and Psychology

Someone recently forwarded me a NYT article from May 22 about studies in psychology by Northwestern prof. Dan McAdams about self-narration, and the way that how we narrate ourselves correlates strongly with mental health:

the researchers found strong correlations between the content of people’s current
lives and the stories they tell. Those with mood problems have many good memories, but these scenes are usually tainted by some dark detail. The pride of college graduation is spoiled when a friend makes a cutting remark. The wedding party was wonderful until the best man collapsed from drink. A note of disappointment seems to close each narrative phrase.

By contrast, so-called generative adults — those who score highly on tests measuring civic-mindedness, and who are likely to be energetic and involved — tend to see many of the events in their life in the reverse order, as linked by themes of redemption. They flunked sixth grade but met a wonderful counselor and made
honor roll in seventh. They were laid low by divorce, only to meet a wonderful new partner. Often, too, they say they felt singled out from very early in life —
protected, even as others nearby suffered.
There's a lot to think about here, and a fair amount of danger (The pathologization of certain kinds of narrative and self narrative strikes me as a potential powederkeg), but the initial observation--that reading cycles of joy spoiled vs. cycles of pain redeemed into the sequence of experienced events strikes me as a potent one. So while the pessimist who believes life always gets you may simply be grouping a natural fluctuation of events as flowing from positive to negative, the optimist may take a similar set of life events, group them such that they flow from negative to positive, and ends up looking more confidently on the future.

I am, for better or worse, generally optimistic, and as the article here suggests, have often felt quite lucky, but in retrospect, I also see that the narrative patterns identified here are very similar to the ways I narrate my life: High points are the ends of stories I tell, not the beginnings.

While McAdams's book (which I have not read, having only just now discovered the work's existence) seems to talk interesting about race and national narratives, I don't see any hints about gender, though I wonder if there's some simple phallogocentrism in the teleology of this work...since I do some writing on gender and life writing, this could do some interesting things in the way that I think about how life narratives might be read as normative or as resistant (or both).

The Pence Amendment

Bitch PhD recently posted this comment, which I copy and paste here:

I'm trying to reach out to all the blogs I read that have smart, prochoice authors:

I just learned (via NFPRHA) that Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) is poised to offer an amendment today to the LHHS spending bill (HR 3043) that would prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving Title X funding. This amendment would effectively defund 13 percent of Title X family planning clinics and threaten access to family planning services for millions of low-income women and men.

Please reach out and urge your Representatives to vote NO on the Pence amendment. You can find your representatives by going to Project Vote Smart and entering your nine digit zip code. If you don't know it, go to www.usps.com to look it up.
[Contact info for Representatives is also available here. -Ed.]

If you have time to post this, or to urge friends to call, I'd be appreciative. Please feel free to send around widely.

For the record, I think that if you go here to congress.org, you can email all of your Congresspersons directly.

ETA: OK, so I should read the comments to these posts I link to to find that the amendment already failed, which is good.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Body Conscious

As some readers know, I've been doing this diet-and-exercise thing this summer (I hesitate to call it weight loss, since that is only one goal), and I have good news and bad news on the results thus far. The good news is that even though the last three weeks involved a conference, a houseguest, and a trip to the West coast for a wedding--all opportunities to eat more and exercise less, I still lost a pound or two in that period, making a total of 16 over two and a half months. I take this to mean that I've changed my eating and exercise habits enough to actually alter my metabolism for the better, so my body can handle a hiatus from the concerted work of this body project. So good news.

The less comforting upshot seems to be the change in the way I am thinking unconsciously about bodies generally and discursively. As I pay attention to shaping my body to meet a more normative standard of beauty and ability, I find myself attending more to difference in other bodies, and not in a good way--that is, I find myself noticing beer guts and flabby arms, and most disturbingly, making snap judgments about those people.

I am well aware that the body-consciousness of US mainstream culture lies at the heart of a lot of the disciplining of normativity for larger discourses, but I had imagined that as someone who thinks about these issues (and against these trends) as part of my whole intellectual project, that I'd be resistant to some of these impulses.

But the impulse to look that gets internalized at the gym seems to have made its way outside of the gym, and this is something I want to pay attention to--how my own comparative success at remaking my body into something more normate (though less average, I note) has changed my impulse to judge those with different bodies.

Still, for reasons personal and private (the structures of culture always work on micro levels as well as macro), I'm continuing the project, and by the first day of school, I hope to weigh in consistently 20 pounds lighter than the last days of the spring semester (i.e. 4-5 more pounds in 5 weeks). Let's see if I can rework the shifts in mindset that have moved with the weights on the scale.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I'm It

Were I the sort to get tagged for memes all the time, I'd probably be more reticent about doing them, but since I'm not, and Nels just did me the honor, what the heck...this'll be as good a way as any of breaking the blog silence.

I will say that doing memes at a pseudonymous blog is trickier than at my old name-up-front space, and since some readers there are readers here, you may know some of these things about me.

  1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  3. People who are tagged write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog. (Ok, 'cept I'm not going to tag anyone, but if you like the meme, consider yourself tagged).

  1. Not only was I a fundamentalist Christian for much of my pre-independent life, I was a Christian performer. My first gig, at four, was to sing "Christian Cowboy" at several churches around the area, complete with boots, cowboy hat, a suede fringe vest and yup, you guessed it, matching chaps. Heh.
  2. My brother-in-law's new father-in-law (got that?) told the entire table at the rehearsal dinner Friday evening that according to Vietnamese tradition, my earlobes should tell Willow very good things about me: that I will be rich (still waiting on that), and also faithful (one outta two ain't bad).
  3. I have a long history of dating artists, all of them more talented than me: a piano prodigy in high school, a beautifully-voiced soprano was "my first," my first fiancee was the most affecting actress I'd ever had the pleasure of seeing in person to date, my last girlfriend was also a soprano, and Willow is a writer. Aside from playing piano, I have aspired to all of these art forms with mediocrity--paging Dr. Freud?
  4. I never got straight A's before graduate school. This was always considered a sign of underachieving, since I was apparently allergic to math and science homework, but aced most of the exams. Undergrad B's though were B's I worked for.
  5. In a paradoxically related fact, in the many many standardized tests I have taken in my life, I have never scored better on verbal or writing than on math or logic. This includes the Praxis Exam (nee' National Teachers' Exam) that I took as a backup option after I finished my dissertation in English.
  6. I am deeply ashamed of the fact that I am irrationally afraid of the elderly (although my definition of the elderly gets older and older all the time). First, I wasn't really terribly close to any of my grandparents, and both grandfathers died when I was young (and my remaining grandmother still isn't 80). Plus, as a child and teenager, I witnessed an oddly high number of older people dying unexpectedly in my presence, and so I think I have to work a little harder than some to be a normal person around octogenarians.
  7. Both of my thumbs are double jointed, which means I can pull my thumbs back and bend them downward so the tips of my thumbs can lock behind and below the knuckle of my index finger. Most people find this to be absolutely disgusting.
  8. I cannot stand suspenseful films--Even mildly suspenseful moments in TV shows make me have to leave the room to pee (a likely excuse). Particularly the case are moments of dramatic irony (intended plot devices, overly cliched plotting, or times when I know the ending already), when I know something bad is about to happen. The first time I remember a suspenseful moment in a film that caused this reaction was Old Yeller, after I had already read the book in school. The predictability factor explains to me why I absolutely love to watch live sports on television--because what happens next is rarely formulaic.
  9. EXTRA BONUS FACT: We subscribe to a huge number of periodicals in our house, mostly magazines and academic journals. But of all of the ones we get, I consume none with the immediacy, fervor, regularity, and thoroughness than Entertainment Weekly, which I have usually read cover-to-cover within 48 hours of its arrival.
OK, the extra bonus fact will stand in for tagging 8 people. More posts before long.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

RBOC: Stopgap Edition

It's been two weeks since I've posted anything, and I'm about to leave for another week, so I want to get something up here, just 'cause, you know, I know you all miss me so much. But really, a lot's been going on and I want to get some of it down.

  • Finished up June by going to a fantastic mini-conference on activism, pedagogy and cultural studies. It's just 18 people, more a works-in-progress symposium than anything. But the intellectual energy is very exciting. My co-editor and I presented a draft of some pages of our introduction that were both well received, and thoroughly critiqued. We've got a lot of work to do on those pages, but they're really taking shape.
  • We also looked over the proposal with our series editor, who is increasingly enthusiastic about the project. Hopefully, a full proposal will be ready move on up the ladder in a month or so.
  • The trip also coincided with a trip to visit many wonderful friends--I had dropped off Rambunctious with my folks for the long weekend (even though he was sick--more on that), and Willow and Imperia went to stay with friends in the same area as the symposium. So we got to spend some good time with a lot of different people.
  • We also got to have a fantastic meal at a great restaurant whose chef was named a best chef by Food and Wine a couple of years ago. Great meal, great company.
  • On the drive home, along a very rural stretch of Interstate, I noticed several lit road signs with the phrase "Terror Tips" and an 800 number. Why? I ask. What are the odds that someone is going to be driving along a stretch of highway where there's nothing but hills and woods for miles (not even a mobile phone tower), and think, "Hunh, I do have a tip on a terrorist, and it slipped my mind until just this moment!" This sort of thing strikes me as the worst kind of spectacle of fear. blecch.
  • Been doing some good reading lately: finished Angela Carter's Wise Children on Willow's enthusiastic recommendation, and finished (by audiobook--cheating, but I'll likely read it on paper very soon) Arundhati Roy's amazing The God of Small Things. I just got an iPod for my recent birthday, so I also got John Hodgman's funny, droll The Areas of My Expertise. In addition to reading for the collection (which will soon include Foucault's The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Things), I'll also be finishing up new reading for the Commonwealth lit class, including Heart of Darkness (for the bajillionth time) and Coetzee's Disgrace. Sadly, I'm leaning toward cutting Rushdie's Midnight's Children because it's just too big. I'll use some of his short stories instead.
  • We've just had a visit from our wonderful friend who I would call Gracefully Overworked Prof, but the initials for that name are GOP and she'd shudder. So instead I will call her Queen of the Archives, because she (like many of her competitors who may be reading this), has spent much of this summer assiduously transcribing manuscripts across various London sites. QotA is a wonderful guest, because she a) loves hanging out with our kids enough that we only barely feel guilty making her hang out with them, b) is always good for conversation on virtually any topic, and c) got me, for my birthday, the makings of a damn fine Pimm's cup, which, as I've just found out, is a smashing British mixed drink involving Pimm's, Lemonade and fruit (In our case, lemon, lime, mint and cucumber). God bless you QotA!
  • Now that QotA is back home, we are preparing to depart for the centerpiece of our summer: a week on the West Coast for Willow's brother's wedding, on the campus of Prestigious-University-whose-mascot-is-NOT-a-bird-but-rather-a-color-or-perhaps-a-pine-tree. Rambunctious and Imperia are ring-bearer and flower child respectively, and are as excited about that as they are about their first flight. One that will last five hours each way, not counting travel time to the airport and waiting time in the airport. Did I mention that they're three and a half? Did I mention that we aren't half as excited as they are?
  • Roger Federer just won his fifth Wimbledon, and while he is hardly my favorite male tennis player, man, that guy is amazing. He and Nadal both made some shots today that I simply don't understand the physics of. So hats off to Roger. Also to 17-year-old American Donald Young who won his second juniors Grand Slam Title and has been hailed for two or three years now as the future of American Men's Tennis. Likely makes the present of American Men's Tennis feel bloody great. But still I'm excited to get to see him play before too long.
  • 15 pounds since May 1. Prompted me to get a fabulous new suit for the wedding.
  • Finally, I must mention that Willow's first story since she returned to writing a couple of years ago has just been published, and we're waiting on another that has also been accepted. In other COMPLETELY UNRELATED NEWS, check out this fantastic story.