Saturday, August 14, 2010


Nice little bit of news arrived yesterday: my Spring 2009 article on Equus published in one of the stronger journals in my field, earned an honourable mention for outstanding essay.

The recognition is nice in an of itself, but it's also good affirmation that in a period in which I've been producing a great deal of writing, kind of in a vacuum, that my work is at least deserving of mention.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Draft Done

Commenting on my last post, Sisyphus congratulated me on the writing progress while turning a willful blind eye to the great data loss of 2010. Essentially, I think the good progress of this week has amounted to essentially the same thing:

La lalalalalalala The semester starts in 10 days? lalalalalalala my computer is in a shambles? lalalalalala my office is a wreck? lalalalala annual reports are due this month? lalalalala I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!

You know things aren't going well when you are writing academic prose as a way of avoiding everything else.

But if anything, it's paid off in the writing. Ten mostly new pages today (the two drafted pages were primarily outline, and only fragments of sentences remain from that), which adds up to about 22 new pages since Tuesday afternoon. If only I could write at that clip all the time!

I'm labeling the entire chapter "drafted," since the next stage is to get Willow to do her magical editing thing, where she simultaneously polishes up my prose while at the same time points out the places where my argument goes off the tracks.

And there is one place in this essay where the argument does go off the tracks. Whether that is forging brave new territory or simply running into a ditch I cannot say. Many of my readers down the road will say "ditch" but I'm sticking to my guns, for now. Those two pages felt like the most dangerous words I'd ever written, because they risk, I think violent disagreement. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back at it

Despite the technical difficulties and the lost data, I have noted the waning days of the summer break, and have returned with some urgency to the writing at hand. On the one hand, the demands of summer teaching had already ensured that I wouldn't be done with the draft of the book by August 23, the first day of classes here. On the other hand I had still hoped to be done with chapter 4 and onto the revisions of chapter 6, which would include the research I traveled to NYC for last week. I was making decent progress, only a day or two behind my revised timeline.

Though it was difficult yesterday to get back to it, I have made significant progress, drafting another 8 or 9 good pages in the last 24 hours. I am on track, I hope, to finish this draft of chapter 4 by tomorrow, and use the last week before classes to at least open up the document that is chapter 6 (chapter 5 is done).

While composing on Willow's netbook is hardly ideal, it has reduced the amount of internet procrastination that often attends my writing. So for now, I will point you to the updated tracker to the right, and then close up shop for the day.

Monday, August 09, 2010


That's the sound of the punch in the gut I felt when OIT told me that they wouldn't be able to retrieve any of that data: apparently, none of the retrieval machines would even recognize it as a drive.

Which means that I totally dodged a bullet by almost randomly deciding to back up many of my documents, and almost all of my most important documents, on Saturday night.

I can only imagine how I'd be feeling if I had not done that, because I would have lost: a year of teaching documentation mere weeks before my annual report was due, all of my work on my tenure file and annual report, and much of the writing I've done in the last year, including huge chunks of the book manuscript (see all that progress over there on the right?).

Frankly, I've been very cavalier about backing up, and this could have been a total disaster. Instead, this is only a minor disaster, and I've learned (I hope) a Very Important Lesson.

Sooo, internets? do you back up your files? anything systematic? simple? reliable? If enough of you give me good advice, I'll repost the findings.


Blogging will likely be light for a few days or even weeks. Sigh.

My laptop died. Specifically, "Internal hard disk drive not found."

It's not as bad as it could be, for a few reasons. First, it's the university's computer, so I am not responsible for the troubleshooting, rebuilding, and/or replacement that might be deemed necessary. In fact, the machine is already on its way to its destination (whatever that may be).

Second, Facebook saved my life. Saturday night, as I was shutting down for the evening, I opened a tab that was already on facebook, and noticed that someone on my feed posted the end of a long day recovering their data from a virus-infected computer. "hmmm," I thought. "I haven't backed up in ages, and I've written a LOT of new material in the last weeks." So I popped in my data key, and downloaded the contents of My Docs. And went to bed.

The next morning, when I awoke, the computer had tried to reboot, and failed. A clicking sound emanated from the hard-drive side of the machine, and the black screen of death (apparently worse than its blue cousin) taunted me. It was 6:30 and I was on baby duty while everyone else slept. Junebug was kind enough to let me check to make sure that the data on the key was ok, and it was, so my early morning panic was mitigated.

What I don't have backed up: A few somewhat important documents that were only on the desktop (my to do list/calendar, and the zero draft document for freewriting and brainstorming the book project), my large library of PDFs which had not been backed up recently, my email archives older than 6 months, and my iTunes, which is mostly still safe on my actual iPod. So the losses, if they are irretrievable, are not earth-shattering.

But the timing, with the book project running just a little behind schedule, the semester starting in two weeks, and my annual report due at the end of the month, could've been better. Today, which should've been a writing day, has been a day of sending the laptop off to OIT, of checking my files to see what I do have, and have lost, and of a belated freaking out, which is better now. I'm working on Willow's netbook, which is tiny and slow, but adequate, so I have some access, but I feel electronically homeless, or at least itinerant, for now, and that will mean that some of my goals are just going to have to change. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Flying Solo

Long-time readers of this space surely know that I harbor an interest in performances of white masculinity (particularly middle class, hetero, white masculinity) in American culture, specifically how bourgeois men perform when they think they are being watched in specific ways.

So having posted about academic masculinities, and masculine performances in the gym and the locker room, I hadn't touched the subject here in a while, though I think about it constantly, as this is a campus that takes its particularly masculine (but sometimes female) mascot very seriously.

But wandering through airports for large chunks of the previous three days sparked an observation that I think is worth pondering a bit: Airports are the perfect place to observe bourgeois masculinity.

First off, airports are full of men traveling alone, often on business. There seem to be fewer women traveling on their own, and it seems that women more often have traveling companions. And for reasons I'll suggest a bit below, the women who do travel alone are frequently not responding in this particular way to these circumstances, because....

Men traveling alone have virtually nothing at stake in airports--that is, if we taken as a tenuous given that much of the way that white middle class hetero men style themselves for public is a play for, and display of, power. Posture, gait, vocal inflection, clothing, even facial expression, are all finely tuned mechanisms for negotiating social empowerment. But because men flying solo are surrounded by people they don't know, with virtually every logistical arrangement already in place, their behaviors mean almost nothing is at stake. Aside from making it onto the flight or not, the hours preceding boarding for the single man are virtually consequenceless, at least based on the kinds of micro-behaviors that we so carefully modulate otherwise.

And yet, at the same time, these men are completely out of context, which means that there are no other clues to their behaviors: the observer of such figures has nothing to go on except for the man himself, which means that the things we might observe about them individually, guess about them, hypothesize about them, can only be discerned from, well, the text itself. If there is a new critical cultural studies--the text and nothing but the text--this is the place for it.

One might imagine, then, that without context and without stakes, single men in airports exist in their pure, true state. With nothing to gain or lose, and no meaningful context with which to interact, men and their behaviors can teach us loads about a whole (quite powerful) swath of our culture, and presumably, about individual men as well.

What's interesting, though, is that if this is the case, if the single male traveler waiting at the gate has nothing impinging on his performance of masculinity, he, well, kind of stops performing. In short, outside of its cultural-rhetorical negotiations, masculinity stops functioning, and given these conditions, many men stop functioning in any meaningful way as well. This is not to say that there is no there there, that such men lack interiority (after all, I devised this theory in precisely these conditions). But rather, there's nothing for them to do. Look around the waiting area; so many of these guys look completely adrift. Tired, frequently, and uncomfortable largely, but with nothing to do but wait, their faces are largely blank, and their postures are largely slouching, limp.

We could read this a few ways: Robert Bly once might have said that this was clearly evidence that modern society had robbed men of their true natural habitat, and we need to go beat some drums. perhaps. I choose to read this as the absence of a kind of a priori masculinity that burns within the bodies and souls of individual men. More usefully, I think, this suggests the deeply mythical nature of the importance of the self-sufficient male subject as an ideal. For without social maneuvering and negotiation to engage in, airport guy (I probably should have named him earlier. Mitch, maybe), Mitch has nothing to do, no purpose.

But watch him as his cell phone rings, and a switch flips, and his whole posture changes. Cancel Mitch's flight, and the whole army of Mitches go into hyperdrive, with a range of tactics, approaches, strategies in play to find a new flight, to negotiate a better situation (mine was to wait out the loonies and then flatter and empathise with the harried attendant, who seemed to be nicer to me for my comparative kindness to him).

Why masculinity in particular? Because my sense is that while men in such situations are prone to seeing no function for themselves, women are largely conditioned to a) be more aware of themselves as objects of the gaze in such situations, in ways that men are not, and b) bored men with a sense of consequencelessness are dangerous. So while Mitch might really be letting his guard down, the female business traveler across the aisle must remain wary.

The point is, what Mitch at the airport tells me is that masculinity is more than anything a social code, precisely the opposite of the facade of solitary sufficiency that it seeks to project; that the behaviors of real men--especially in a white, hetero, bourgeois context--demonstrate not that men are islands, but that their very function exists in building better bridges.

Friday, August 06, 2010

What I did with my 36-hour research trip (that took 55 hours)

So on Wednesday morning, I hopped a flight to NYC for a brief research trip, mostly to look at the files that an Off-Broadway company kept on a play they had commissioned in the late 90s that has only very recently been published, and now will get the treatment in the book. In fact, I'm close enough to that part of the ms. revision (ch 6) that I hope to get all of this trip's fruits incorporated into the prose by the end of the month.

But the actual archive time was very brief: only about three hours. There wasn't too much of interest (though precisely what I needed), I was allowed to make photocopies, and they had me set up in the front lobby of their small admin offices, so I felt a bit intrusive (though they assured me I wasn't). At any rate, that left me enough time to do the following things (keeping in mind I was on a very tight budget and was lugging around my only bag w/ books and laptop the whole time).

Read two very different but wonderful novels: Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum's Ms. Hempel Chronicles which is very different from her amazing previous novel is still lovely and affecting, and which I polished off in its entirety on Wednesday; also, David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress, which like the other work of his I've read, This is not a Novel, is brilliantly cerebral, remarkably propulsive, and despite being barely narrative at all, still manages to tell an incredible, mysterious story.

Also: got lost behind Lincoln Center, sweated through two shirts, took a break from 95 degree heat in Central Park, took a lovely dinner with my friend Sue in the Village, lounged around the Columbia campus for a while, noticed how disproportionate were the hands and feet of The Thinker, looked for Fornes plays at the 66th St. Barnes and Noble, failed to enjoy several cab rides, and spent more time than I'd like in airports.

The last thing was an unwelcome cap on a nice little trip: Because it was so hot yesterday and I was so tired, I headed off to the airport at 3 for a 7:30 flight. It was air conditioned, it was free, and there was wi-fi (not free). Except that my flight was canceled. Fortunately, my friend Sue had room on her sofa for a visitor, and at 5:00 am, I woke up to try again, and finally made my way home (the extra airport time facilitating the completion of the Markson novel).

So, good trip, a little longer than expected. Lots of reading (two novels and multiple drafts of a play, plus a couple of academic articles and a bunch of supplementary materials), and some good research.

And remind me to do that post about men flying alone. A veritable sociological study there.