Monday, July 27, 2009

Saying No

let it be here acknowledged that I am terrible at saying no. I am so flattered by the idea of having a say that I have been loathe to say no to ANYTHING, particularly when my own voice might be considered useful to the discussion at hand.

This has occasionally bitten me in terms of service, but I am realizing that it has the potential to become a problem for my research as well.

Over the past few years, I've been solicited to do a few things--talks, reviews, etc.--that have in and of themselves been productive (like the plenary I gave last spring, or the talk for Nels Highberg's series this spring). I could argue that in both of these cases, the single project led to work that might have momentous effects on my future research agenda. I can hardly say i'd rather not have done them.

But the book review on a playwright I'd just discovered, and who is only tangentially related to my work? maybe less so. And that kept me from working on the book for two weeks.

I've just gotten a request to write a response essay for an article. The article is written by someone with whom I've had some small contact, very positive, and who could potentially be an external reviewer for my tenure file. The play she writes about appears in my book, and she directly references the article that was pulled from that manuscript. All of this says, "Go ahead! Do it!"

But...the turnaround is quick, even for only 4000 words, and the journal is a small European publication that I've never heard of. The publication is only a drop in the bucket for my tenure case or my annual review file (minor point, I know). And here's the kicker. Those 4000 words for the response essay are 4000 words not written for the book. And with a bit om momentum generated towards getting back on that horse, I think this just might be precisely the wrong way to be spending my writing time...

So I'm thinking of declining the invitation. What do you think? Am I crazy?

Saturday, July 25, 2009


There are conceivably so many things to post about: Race in America is on everyone's lips; the semester is a month away with a new president at our university; our nation's president has hit a few speedbumps in his love affair with America; the economy's still bad, but might be getting better; I'm entering my last full year before I put in my tenure file; I received the best course evaluations this year that I've earned in my entire career; even the professional inertia I reported earlier this week has lifted some.

But with all of those big things to write about, I'm finding myself almost constantly focused on a smaller, more focused life these days: sleeping, eating, spending time with my children, with Willow, with our friends who have visited us and our new baby.

Over the past weeks, I've felt a nagging urge to be more productive, to get more done, to accomplish more. But for the most part, I've spent my time in the kitchen, in the back yard, on the sofa: hardly places where one's career is made, where systems of tyranny are dismantled, where change happens.

As a younger man, I really did want to be a Big Deal, and among my worst fears was not to be known, or remembered, or something. I regarded it a failure to be just one of the billions. How silly. The countermanding understanding that our lives are small things in the grand scheme, and that we make of them what we can in the time we have is one that remains hard to swallow at times, but on days like this, it's some consolation indeed.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I knew at the outset that the summer would not be nearly as productive as I might have otherwise hoped. With the move in May, and Junebug's arrival in June, much of my energy was already spoken for.

I hoped though, that once July got rolling, I'd have time enough and some energy to return to the pursuits that typically mark my summer labors: particularly reading and writing. I have gotten some reading done: a few plays here and there (I was pleased, for example, to be introduced to the work of Irish playwright Marina Carr), and Terry Galloway's memoir, which will end up informing one of the chapters I'm working on soon.

But the writing has stopped altogether. I got that article out at the end of May, to a positive response, and since then, nothing...I've rehashed the first three sentences of chapter 1 a few times, but I haven't even been able to bring myself to read it. And it MUST. BE. REVISED. by the time classes start in a month.

But you know, trips to the grocery, walks with the baby, naps with the baby, Top Chef Masters on TV, convivial visitors, and more naps with the baby have all kept me firmly ensconced in the family room or the bedroom, or some other room than this one, where my computer is kept.

I need a spark to get going, and honestly, I'm not sure where I shall find one...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Farmer's Market

We've got a little Saturday routine going here that we could only take full advantage of because we are now within walking distance of the downtown area. But it's made Saturday mornings, which could get a little hairy around here what with the overflowing kinderenergy clashing with the baby haze...

But here's what a good Saturday looks like...

We leave the house around 8 or 8:15 (ideally, but rarely), Junebug in the stroller, and Rambo and Imp each with their respective canvas bags. a couple of blocks on our way, we run by Craftsman Bakery (not its real name, but named for the adorable little historical home in which it is situated). There, I pick up a cup of coffee, and we grab a few biscotti (for Rambo), a muffin (for Imp), and a loaf of Ciabatta and something else fun (their spinach -feta bread is to die for). after we leave there, we walk across the bridge, and try to get to the market at its 8:30 opening, or soon thereafter.

We're just getting into peak market season here, and so take a gander at today's haul...

Two kinds of lettuce, fennel, beets, green onions, two kinds of cucumbers, fava beans, purple cauliflower, golden raspberries and black raspberries. Not to mention the pound of handcured-and-smoked bacon that costs the same as a pound of grocery bacon...

There we'll see colleagues from campus, kids from school, dozens of local dogs on leashes (usually) and sometimes in backpacks and bags, even some fellow bloggers. Imperia likes to buy a pair of honey sticks, and Rambunctious likes to pick up fudge or sugar cookies from the shepherd lady who also sells home-spun wool items.

My colleague N'awlins Hippie and her guitarist from the sociology department are often busking, and always have an extra set of spoons or maracas for the kids to tap along with them. I keep threatening to join them, but haven't had the time to practice yet...

After we've made our way around the market, we'll often run right across the street to the library. Last trip we picked up audiobooks of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and an armload full of picture books.

If I'm lucky, especially if we didn't stop for coffee on the way in, we'll stop at the coffee shop named for one of my favorite children's books (I knew I was destined for this place when I was taken there during my on-campus).

We roll back in around 10:30 or 11, and the kids play in the backyard while Willow and I take in our produce, feed the Junebug, whatever. We've lived here for about 10 weeks now, and we've missed the market only twice. I have a feeling we won't miss it to many more times than that this summer.

Friday, July 10, 2009

On the Schedule

Just heard from the press today on the collection I'm co-editing...Full manuscript is in hand, with production on the schedule for November 2009. So it will really happen!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

On Michael Jackson

I've been working on a chapter on autobiographical performance art and the performativity of identity, and so even though I am loathe to contribute to the avalanche of discourse on the subject, it has honestly been difficult not to think of Michael Jackson, who Margo Jefferson, author of On Michael Jackson, has called "a post-modern shape-shifter." And so despite my better judgment, another inquiry into the meaning of Michael Jackson.

In a recent article in the post, Jefferson offers up her eulogy, ending with the overblown "and the rest is silence." And while it feels odd to compare the gravitas of Hamlet's death to Jackson's, one thing becomes clear from this line: that what Hamlet and Jackson shared is deeply important: a theatrical, malleable conception of self-representation, one that their respective cultures could barely contain. And, like Hamlet's Denmark, we too needed to kill off our shape-shifter for our cultural narrative to make sense.

In short, we wanted Michael Jackson dead.

Now, I'll qualify that statement five ways from Thursday--I'm not saying that you, dear reader, had active or secret wishes that this person would suffer cardiac arrest. Rather, by "we" I mean a broader cultural we, and by "Michael Jackson" I mean the simulacrum, the icon of a human being we know truckloads about, but can hardly claim to know. His "reality," if such a thing could even be said to exist, is impossible to speculate on (Was the mediatized Jackson a simulacrum to himself? Perhaps).

What I am saying is that by dominant normate standards, our mainstream American culture could only tolerate Jackson's presence in our contemporary culture for so much longer. What he represented was so deeply subversive to a host of categories by which we order society--gender, race, sexuality, age--that his place in the common consciousness became increasingly sinister over the past thirty years. At the height of his popularity, there were merely the one-gloved queer insinuations, but then came the incongruous hetero-spectacle of his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, and the unseemly conception, birth, and rearing of his children, all underscored by the whispers of pedophilia, culminating in actual legal action 2005 for sexual abuse.

By the time of his trial, his public persona was so confounding that (as one of my grad students pointed out to me) the Court TV reenactment of the trial cast a caucasian woman as Jackson.

I don't claim to know the facts of these incidents in Jackson's life, only that we tempered our cultural fascination with his compelling stage persona with an increasingly vicious expulsion from the real world of the freak whose sheer entertainment value challenged the very identities we use to arrange ourselves in the world.

That narrative of discipline, exclusion, and expulsion wouldn't otherwise seem to logically conclude in a massive spectacle of a funeral, one of the most elaborate we've seen in years. Yet this death was marked by an outpouring of praise and love for a figure who was as much a bogeyman dangling his children over the balcony (literally and figuratively) as for someone who sang and danced well, and sold a lot of music (and owned even more).

How do we explain that? To me, it seems not a mourning of his passing, but rather a kind of public celebration that this most compelling of figures can now be contained. It is almost a Greek tragedy in this way: that through expelling our hubristic tragic figure from our midst, we can only then purge the culture itself, and celebrate that even without the great man (or male impersonator, as Jefferson astutely suggests) we can continue. We can celebrate his life only in death, because that death puts him in his proper place in the social order. No longer able to force us to squirm at gender crossings, racial uneasiness, conflations of childhood and adulthood (I could hardly even say "manhood" as that is a performance that Jackson never quite gave us), Jackson can be called a great performer, an icon, whatever.

When his 1991 album Dangerous hit the shelves, Jackson was almost more punchline than a major persona. But he was still culturally dangerous in a way that few understood (and I do not mean in the narrow way that, say, fundamentalist Christians might have understood). For unlike any other postmodern celebrity who, like Madonna, has generally eased back into normative culture, Jackson was unwilling, or perhaps more likely, no longer able to rejoin the mainstream.

And so as a culture, we ridiculed, prodded, and disciplined him into seclusion and into more and more bizarre public iterations. Maybe we drove him to his early death. But now that he is dead, and only now, we can celebrate his life.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

On the plus side...

On the one hand, I just found out that my MLA panel is in the 9-10:15pm slot.

On the other, it's followed by the Division's cash bar...

Bullets, Mostly Crappy

  • Mom's back in hospital, this time with a bacterial infection that she may have gotten from helping to clean dog poo from my older son's knee. She'll be fine, but I can't say that the immediate retreat to certain patterns of communication has been particularly good. I have taken to not answering my Dad's phone calls and just listening to the voicemail in order to prep myself for the actual conversation.
  • Yesterday, a dear friend suffered a tragedy that has absolutely broken my heart. I don't want to say much more about it, but I broke into tears about four times yesterday.
  • I'm not in perfect shape physically either. After squash Monday, soccer Monday evening, and squash again Tuesday, I let myself get overheated and dehydrated, and by the time I got home with the kids in the afternoon Tuesday, I was dizzy, nauseated, shivering, and my whole body ached. I was running a 102 temperature. I'm not sure if it was a mild heatstroke or just heat exhaustion, but after a fevered nap, a cool shower and a lot of water, I felt better. Then again this evening, I had kind of a relapse, with a 100 fever and the dizziness, except the aches seemed concentrated in my back...I'm wodering if I didn't trigger a mild kidney infection. Going to the doctor tomorrow. Blah.
  • Just finished reading Terry Galloway's Mean Little deaf Queer, a memoir that traces both her childhood as a deaf and queer child in Texas, up through her career as a performance artist in Austin, New York, and Florida. I'll be using it (along with her performance work) in one of the chapters of my book, but it's also just a wonderful little book, and not only because I know a few of the characters in the book (and have corresponded with Terry myself for a year or so). I know that most of my readers don't have much room on their bookshelves for recommendations not related to work, but this is a good one.

Monday, July 06, 2009


I have been (predictably) quiet on this space because, of course, I've been deep in the baby haze of renewed fatherhood, punctuated by the sheer energy jolt that is parenting 5-year-olds in the summer.

The baby books call this period of fatherhood "engrossment," in which the male parent (or presumably, potentially any parent who did not physically give birth) bonds intensely with the child through close physical contact, logistical concern, and other domestic involvement with the new child's arrival. I am certainly experiencing that process, as this picture surely illustrates.

But we've got two other children, too, and I've found, perhaps predictably as well, that I've had opportunities to renew my bond with them as well. Much of their childhood has been defined by a preference (not exclusive, but marked) for their mother, even though we split a lot of the parenting duties and privileges. This has been a source of constant, if not devastating, hurt, as I sit quietly as the twins fight over who gets to sit behind mommy in the car, or next to her at a restaurant, as my nurturing of a skinned knee or bumped head is usually elicits cries for Mommy's apparently superior nurturing.

This preference is likely to be even more marked with Junebug, as Willow has been more singularly active with him than I have, requiring my help less frequently during key nursing or nurturing moments. I can only suspect that the next years with him will find some of the same rejections of the father that have stung with the twins.

But as I said, I'm also sometimes engrossed with my older children, having taken them for walks and trips and outings and time in the garden and a lot of other things since Junebug was born. The preferences for Mommy remain, but I'm finding some new, if unnervingly stereotypical, ways of finding affirmation from my children. That Rambunctious, for example, is super-excited to come watch my soccer game tonight induces extraordinary pride. That Imperia, upon her drop-off from a visit with grandparents, sat plastered up next to me at dinner feels warm and affectionate.

Couple these with the engrossment of a sleeping baby, and you can imagine a pretty satisfying month of fatherhood.