Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Blond Joke

OK, I hate myself, but I can't resist.

This really is the best blond joke I've ever heard.

List of Five

I was just over on one of my new favorite blogs, and I saw this "List of Five" business. We don't have any such list in our relationship, but if we did, and just for the record and in no particular order, here's who'd be on mine at this particular moment in time:

1. Angelina Jolie
2. Johnny Depp
3. Jennifer Daniels (www.jenniferdaniels.com)

Ok, I seem to be having a little trouble with this list. I mean, what do we really have to go on, here? All I know about these people is what they look like, and that's not much, when it comes right down to it. I wouldn't sleep with a beautiful stranger in a bar without getting to know him/her a little first. And the thing about celebrities - the two things, actually - are that 1) we know that they're beautiful, and 2) we know only what they want us to know about them. For the most part. Not counting people like Paris Hilton, who are just nuts.

So, Angelina. I like Angelina because she's a cleaned up bad girl. I wouldn't have wanted to date her during the "I've-got-some-of-Billy-Bob's-blood-in-this-vial-and-he's-got-some-of-mine-in-his" thing, though I imagine it made both of them feel very cool. (I kind of thought it was very high school, not that anyone I knew in high school carried around anyone else's blood, but it's the kind of thing we might have thought was cool then just because it freaked everyone else out.) But I like that Angie wasn't afraid to be different, I like that she was honest about her relationship with a woman, and I like that she is, apparently, a woman who does what she wants to do with her life.

Now, Johnny Depp...I've been a fan of his since Jump Street (literally, hee hee), and he's a fabulous actor and from what I've heard an interesting, smart person. I like that he chooses interesting, smart roles in interesting, smart films. And he's totally yummy. But he's a little...odd. I have suspected for some time that it would be difficult to be in a longterm relationship with Johnny Depp. I think he gets a little too "into" his roles, and I would not want to be living in the same house with him when he is preparing to play a drugged up psycho killer.

Jennifer Daniels I don't know at all, but I heard her sing on Friday night, and she was sweet and charming and funny when she sold me a cd and a t-shirt, and she has the most incredible voice. And she's beautiful.

But I can't seem to come up with two more.

Because, you know why? When you come right down to it, cute and sexy are great and all, but what really turns me on is smart and funny. And it's hard to get smart and funny from a picture on a website or a role in a movie.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Friend of Jane

Before Roe v. Wade, a group called Jane practised menstrual extraction, a simple technique that can be done easily and comfortably at home. Menstrual extraction, as the link above explains, is basically exactly what it sounds like: it is the removal of the contents of the uterus. Why do this? Women do it to avoid lengthy, messy periods. They also do it as a form of abortion. Laura Kaplan's book, The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service, recounts Jane's work. Acoording to Kaplan, abortion by menstrual extraction can be performed up to 7 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period (which would be, if memory serves, up to 5 weeks into a pregnancy). In the four years that Jane was active, Kaplan writes, the group provided over eleven thousand abortions.

And, before you ask, the group had an incredibly low number of problems: they did good follow-up with their clients. (I couldn't find the exact figures when I was looking today, as the book isn't organized around data but rather around the chronology of the story, but I know they're in the book somewhere.)

Ever since I read this book in the late '90s, I've been thinking that the problem with abortion politics is that we've allowed not just decisions about abortion, but abortion itself, to be taken out of the hands of women. We need to take it back. The natural childbirth movement has worked to demedicalize childbirth, challenging the medical definition of childbirth as a problem that needs medical intervention, and after years of criminalizing midwives, the medical establishment has decided that, hey! Guess what? Midwife-attended births have a much lower risk of complication and C-section and episiotomy and tearing - and, not coincidentally, less use of epidurals for pain management - than do births not attended by midwives. (And home births? They have the least number of complications of all births, though it's not clear exactly why - it has been suggested that moms who choose to have home births have low-risk pregnancies anyway, or that they are especially well-educated about or at least more likely to follow best prenatal health/nutrition/etc. practices, or that they take an active role in their labor/delivery, or that midwives know a few things that medical doctors do not (let's hear it for no episiotomies!).) Anyway, in a similar vein, we need to demedicalize early abortion and put both the choice and the practice directly into the hands of women.

I can hear you all gasping. I'm not saying this is a perfect solution, necessarily. But, like midwife-attended homebirths, menstrual extraction has had a pretty darn good track record. It works because trained women working together in groups perform the extractions. The success - by which I mean both complete extraction and also lack of infection or any other problems - of such a procedure rests not only on the women actually doing the extraction, but also on the woman having it done. She needs to take responsibility for her own care and to carefully follow instructions for what to do afterward, what to watch out for, etc. This means trusting women to make the best decisions about their health and their bodies, which is, after all, exactly what the pro-choice movement advocates in the first place.

As we wait in SD to see if Governor Rounds will sign the abortion ban into law - and what the Supreme Court will do about it - I can't help but think that a ban on surgical abortion has the potential to do what Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the legalization of medical abortion have not: to make medical abortion, rather than surgical abortion, the norm. Mifepristone is available legally in the U.S., despite the fact that most people don't know about it and that some pharmacists (and pharmacies) won't provide it. And medical abortion is safer than surgical abortion, both because earlier abortions are safer than later ones, and because medical abortions are not invasive procedures. And for those who don't know about or can't get mifepristone, there is menstrual extraction, which can be performed even earlier than a pregnancy test.

So, while we struggle to keep abortion safe and legal, I would like to see us also promote alternatives. Planned Parenthood and NARAL have worked to mandate that EC (emergency contraception) be available in the ER (for survivors of rape, in particular) and in the pharmacy. Let's also start learning how to perform menstrual extraction safely.

Because no one else should get to control our bodies - at least, not without a fight.

Click for more information on menstrual extraction and "self help."

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Just Desserts

Perhaps it was because I so recently posted about the red wine - I don't know. All I know is that I spent all of yesterday in bed after an evening of what was apparently a little too much indulgence. In my defense, I didn't really drink a whole lot, though I did drink quickly and without having eaten all that much. Still, I felt fine Friday night, completely sober, even drove home (and that's something I don't fool around with). And then I had some water and a snack. I woke up Saturday, still feeling fine, until around 11am, when things started to go downhill.

One of the things about having a young child is that you seldom get any bathroom privacy. When I'm taking a shower, for instance, I don't lock the door because it's entirely possible - and likely - that my kid will suddenly need to use the bathroom "really bad." And many times, when I just want to pee in privacy, there is an ongoing conversation through the bathroom door, toys and fingers thrust under the bathroom door to say "hi," and even the occasional attempt to break down the door because my kid doesn't "like being alone, Mommy!"

Don't read this next part if you're squeamish.

I learned yesterday that throwing up is an occasion that warrants even more family togetherness. I could not get the kid out of the bathroom, and I had to throw up, so finally, I pushed him aside and got on with it. This was fascinating to him: "Wow, Mommy! I've never seen you do that!" He then proceeded to grab his little stool (for brushing teeth at the sink) and drag it over so he could have a ringside seat, as it were. So, as soon as I could, I had to physically push him out of the bathroom and close and lock the door. Then, as I stayed in there, I heard, through the door, "Wow, Mommy! That does sound very sick!"

Much later on, when I was feeling better, we snuggled and talked a little about how he had been worried about me during the day. He had noted that, when I threw up, "it was a different color" than when he has thrown up, and thought maybe that meant something bad. He had also been concerned that I was seriously ill, which he always thinks is the case whenever one of us is sick. So I was able to reassure him that everything was ok, and that none of us have ever been that sick. And then we proceeded to lie in bed together and watch "Meet the Santas" on cable. (Just by the way, I find it hard to believe that living at the North Pole means giving up entirely on style. I've seen those lovely Victorian Santas - they are dressed very nicely. Why oh why must the 2005 versions wear matching red track suits?!)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Shamelessly Unoriginal Buffy Post

I was checking out the MySpace page of a MySpace "friend" the other day, and I noticed that he had a big picture of Buffy on his site and the comment that, in times of crisis, he asks himself, "what would Buffy do?" (Reminder to self: Get that bumper sticker!) That reminded me of this piece, which I wrote in June of 2003. (It helps - a lot - if you are a Buffy fan.) And since it's very very late, and I'm very very tired, and I probably won't be posting again tomorrow - here it is.

Just picked up Buffy Season 4, hot off the...whatever it is that DVDs roll off of. It was on sale, and it came with the added "incentive" of a free copy of the Buffy movie, causing me to raise my eyebrows and ask the clerk if she'd ever actually SEEN the movie, prompting a discussion that produced gems like these (you can decide who's the bigger geek):

clerk: I saw the movie and hated it. It wasn't what Joss wanted.

me: (thinking: oh, we're on a first name basis with "Joss"...this can't be good...) Well, I did like Kristy Swanson better as Buffy than Sarah Michelle
Gellar, who is such a little waif next to Kristy Swanson.

clerk: (dubiously) oh? I love Sarah Michelle Gellar's Buffy, though as a person she's a diva.

me: (quietly) I don't actually know her...

clerk: she never came to any of the fan conventions I went to.

me: and yet she and James Marsters [Spike] seem to really like each other, and he seems by all accounts to be a very nice guy. Anyway, Season 4 isn't my favorite, but it's got "Hush" on it...

clerk: Seasons 3 and 4 are my favorites. I love Spike like he used to be, not this crappy version we got in seasons 5, 6, and 7. I just hope they don't [some term I don't know because I don't watch Angel that means turn him human -- Shan Shoe?] him.

me: Oh, I love the new Spike! I really wanted him and Buffy to be together! I wanted him to become human so he could be with Buffy, but since she's gone now there's no point...

clerk: I'm not a Sbuffy fan [yes, I swear she said "Sbuffy." It must be an actual fan word!]. I think Buffy and Angel belong together.

me: urg. No, I don't like Angel.

clerk: they don't need to duplicate what they already have. [point of order: I don't think any vampires are human, but again, I haven't been watching Angel.]
They don't need any vampires with souls. [begins naming characters from Angel and I have no idea what she's talking about so I just look at her blankly. She clearly has very specific ideas for what should happen next, and she is telling me about them.]

me: well, have a little faith. Joss is still working on Angel, isn't he? He'll work it out. [yup, I actually said this! but had she not established the first name basis, I would have said "Joss Whedon."]

It was kind of fun to have a discussion with someone else who likes the show, but there was some of that disdain and oneupmanship (on her part -- I was too busy being quietly amused) that is illustrated so well by Jack Black in Hi Fidelity. Had I not been busy being quietly amused, I would have been annoyed.

So - who's the bigger nerd?

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Red Wine Story

I briefly mentioned this episode in an earlier post, and then thought, why not? I might as well share this story with you all.

So when I was about 16 or 17, I used to volunteer as an usher at the theater downtown. On Saturday afternoons, I'd put on my white shirt and my black culottes (don't laugh), and head on down to help little old ladies find their seats.

One afternoon, after ushering for a rather dull chamber music performance, a couple of friends (E and L) and I were hanging around the theater. Eventually, everyone else left, and we were pretty much the only ones there. So, being good, respectable young women and pillars of our community, we checked to see if the concession stand, which sold wine and beer, was unlocked.

It was.

We snuck in and drank a six-pack on the premises. And then we smuggled out a huge jug of cheap red wine in E's coat. We drank the wine pretty quickly, ditched the evidence, and proceeded to walk around downtown, completely drunk off our asses.

In the town where I grew up, there is a college set right between the downtown area and the neighborhood where I lived. In our case, this was very convenient, because it meant that we could wander across campus in the direction of home and probably not be seen by any of our parents who might happen to be driving downtown. So, that's what we did.

I vaguely remember laughing really hard and falling down. (Actually, I have a lot of memories of laughing really hard and falling down. There was not much else for high school kids to do there in the '80s. A regular Friday night activity was - I kid you not - to walk up and down one of the main streets in town. For fun. Usually we'd stop for ice cream, but walking around, smoking cigarettes and sometimes pot, and drinking beer was pretty much a good night, especially if laughing really hard and falling down was involved.)

Anyway, so we made our way, giggling and staggering across campus. At one point, we reached a frat house, and I don't know whose brilliant idea this was, but I ended up "Christmas caroling" even though it was probably March. And as soon as the guy opened the door, I fell down.

(Note: If you're noticing a pattern of stupid behavior - young, drunk high school girl in potentially dangerous situations - then you're more sophisticated than I was at 17.)

Fortunately, I had apparently chosen a harmless frat, so we were soon on our way. I did manage to make it home, even though my friends took off to get to their own homes on the other side of town, leaving me alone to find my way for the last several blocks (and I did get lost, even though it's really not the sort of place where getting lost is possible). But I had barely made it through the door when all that wine started to do its worst, and...well, let's just say that I did not drink red wine again for about a decade. And to this day, I still don't like it.

So, that's the story of the red wine. Every time I tell it, I feel like I should really send the theater $20 to pay for the booze.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Banned in SD

So, our legislature has banned abortion in South Dakota, except to save a woman's life.

Let's be clear about what this means. If a twelve-year-old girl is raped and becomes pregnant, she will be forced to carry the pregnancy to term and give birth unless her life is in danger. If - and it wouldn't be unusual for this to happen - having a baby at such a young age damages her body so that she is unable to ever give birth again, she will still not be allowed to have an abortion so that she might as an adult have a baby when she chooses to do so. If the rapist is the father or uncle or brother or grandfather of the girl, she will still not be allowed to have an abortion. If she is determined to be suffering severe psychological trauma as a result of the pregnancy, she will still not be allowed to have an abortion.

You want to know something even more scary? Before this legislative session even began, there had been an increase in self-abortion attempts by women across the state because ABORTION IS SO FUCKING HARD TO GET here. The restrictions on abortion that have been coming steadily since Roe v. Wade was passed, and the hostile environment in states like this one, and the mis-education and ignorance that have been spread by so-called "Right to Life" groups, have resulted in only two clinics in SD that provide abortions for the average woman (wealthy women have always been able to get abortions, and this new legislation won't change that).

(Incidentally, when I write "so-called 'Right to Life' groups," I'm not suggesting that all people who call themselves "pro-life" don't really care about life. But I do think that on an organizational level, "pro-life" groups don't give a damn about the lives of anyone except fetuses. They consistently oppose social programs that would help mothers and children, and they consistently ignore the realities of poverty, hunger, and homelessness in their work. I do know some people who are consistently pro-life, and I am not pointing my finger at them.)

So what we can expect to see if this legislation actually goes into effect is women dying, because banning abortion really means banning safe abortion. We've already seen the carnage that preceded Roe. We're already beginning to see it again, even though abortion is still legal, because it is, as I have said, SO FUCKING HARD TO GET. And for most of this time, the abortion rate has been declining, suggesting that fewer and fewer women are choosing to have abortions anyway.

And let me just go on the record by saying that we have now opened the door for the state to make determinations about the most sacred and personal aspects of our lives. We are creating a fundamentalist state in SD. If the religious right has its way, only heterosexually married couples will be able to obtain health insurance for their children. Teachers who answer students' questions about birth control or where to get condoms will be able to be criminally prosecuted. Pharmacists and doctors who do not wish to do so will not have to dispense or prescribe birth control pills (pharmacists already have this "right").

So - women (and men) are denied the ability to control our fertility, to determine when we cannot continue a pregnancy, to decide with whom we want to make a family.

When do they bring out the burkas?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Email and Student-Faculty Communication

Apparently, student-professor email communication is a big deal, according to The NY Times.

I love email, and I especially love it as a way to communicate with my students. I don't mind when they call me at home, but email is usually more convenient for all of us, especially when one of us - and it is often me, believe it or not - thinks of something important at 1am.

Generally, my experience has been that students are very respectful in their emails to me. Even some of those who call me by my first name in class will address me as "Professor" or "Dr." in their emails. And while they will, as mentioned in the article, frequently attach drafts of their papers and ask for my comments a day or two before the final paper is due, it is often at my invitation and with the understanding that my comments at that point will be cursory.

In fact, as someone who often does not have the time and who is generally too distracted to respond thoughtfully in my email communiques, I feel a bit hypocritical complaining about the quality of my students' emails. And further, as a recent graduate from studenthood, myself, I can tell you that some of my professors to this day often do not acknowledge my emails to them. I chalk this up to their busy schedules, and I don't take it personally - well, mostly, I don't. But over the last 10 years of grad school and teaching, I would say that my email exchanges with my professors have been far more problematic than those with my students.

The worst thing that my students have done via email is to not know quite how to approach me, and so they are sometimes overly informal ("Yo, Teach!") or formal but insecure ("Would you by any chance have the time to meet with me? If not, I totally understand."). Neither of these bother me (though I hope, for their sakes, that they figure out a more respectful or less self-deprecating way, respectively, to talk with their instructors). Or sometimes they don't respond at all (which is one of my pet peeves, but more on that later). Sometimes they will email me a paper instead of giving me a hard copy, and while I confess that I get easily confused by having a stack of hard copies and a few electronic ones, so far, it has been nothing that I haven't been able to figure out eventually. Sometimes they will make demands that I feel are inappropriate, particularly when it comes to grades and why they got them and whether or not they think they should have a different one. But I can't really blame them for this, as we put so much emphasis on grades and then often don't adquately explain how the grading process works.

The worst thing that professors do is to completely ignore emails from their students, and I have been guilty of this, myself (not intentionally!). Sometimes it's just a matter of forgetting, and sometimes it's easier to address the issue in person (for example, when one will see the student in class in a matter of minutes). I'm not talking about those instances. I'm thinking of more hardcore cases. These are the same professors who don't bother to show up for office hours, who don't return phone calls, who see students entirely in terms of how much time they are taking up that the professor could be using for something else, and who basically communicate disrespect to their students. I firmly believe that students should not be made to feel that their time is worth less, or that they themselves are worth less, than the professor. Routinely not responding to a student's email is just shitty, plain and simple.

But I do have a couple of email expectations, whether I'm communicating with a student, an employer, or an old friend:

I expect that, if I ask a question, or for specific information, it will be answered/provided and not ignored in the response. I hate when I ask a question only to get a response on a totally 'nother topic. I'm happy for the new discussion, but I wouldn't have asked my question if I didn't want an answer.

If I write a thoughtful message, I expect a thoughtful reply, or at least some acknowledgement that my correspondent is not holding up his or her end of the conversation for whatever reason ("I'm sorry I can't write more - I'm insanely busy at work"). (But I don't always measure up to this expectation, myself.)

If I send a message that deserves/requires an answer, I expect an answer, eventually. Or even just a "thanks" for the link I sent - just some small acknowledgement that I exist. Because the thing about email is that it can feel an awful lot like you are sending your thoughts out into the void: you don't always know if your message got through, you can never be sure that you haven't inadvertently offended someone, and you always wonder if you sound as inarticulate and unsophisticated to others as you do to yourself. (It's a little like blogging in that respect!)

Academics, particularly, have our own rules about email. For example:

Always suck up to famous academics, particularly those in your field.

Never write the way you would actually talk. For example, instead of saying, "I loved your book - I really related to the experiences you write about," say "I confess I was moved by how well your book described my own experiences." No, there's nothing wrong with writing this way; it's nice writing. But it puts a lot of pressure on us to be articulate all the time, and no one wants that pressure, believe me.

Don't hesitate to take someone down publically when they make a dumbass comment, even if you could easily write to them privately and communicate your critique. This is a standard academic rule, and one that is both entertaining and terrifying for bystanders (because, hey, it's fun to watch, but you could be next).

I see that I am moving into an analysis of academic social interaction, here, so I'd like to open this up for discussion. All you lurkers: what has been your worst/best interaction in academia, and/or across the lines of student/professor? Leave a comment. I'm curious to see.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Home away from Home

I love coffee shops. When I first moved here, there were exactly two: the Starbucks in the Barnes and Noble, and the alternative/independent coffee shop across town. That one was often smoky and chilly, so I usually hung out at Barnes and Noble (which was sterile and overpriced). Since I had fallen into the habit of reading and writing in coffee shops while living in Buffalo, it was very difficult for me to continue working on my dissertation once I moved here. I needed an environment in which there was enough going on that I would be distracted from the solitude of my work, but not so much noise or activity that I would be unable to concentrate.

Ironically, almost the very second I finished my disseration, coffee shops started popping up all over the city. At this count, there are at least seven Starbucks and five or six independent coffee shops, with one that just opened last month and another planning to open any second.

My current favorite is the only one that is open 24 hours a day. I've noticed that the "cool" people (including me, of course) hang out there, which I think is due to the fact that it is open so late. The other night while I was there, the background music was courtesy of Left of Center, a Sirius station that featured all of the bands from my high school and college days (Echo, The Cure, etc.), many of which seem to be coming out with new stuff that's pretty good. Which made me feel both nostalgic and hip at the same time.

The thing is, if you have to do a lot of reading, coffee shops are the best places to be. No matter how engrossed I am in my book, there is always the danger that I might fall asleep. This is especially true at home, where I am probably already in my pajamas, and where everyone else is very likely already asleep. Coffee helps prevent this from happening, but so does the interaction with other people, the snippets of interesting conversation, the chill that reaches you when a customer opens the door. Too, I am still enough of a New Yorker that I don't feel entirely safe falling asleep in a public place. There is a part of me that worries that I will wake up, cold and alone, missing a kidney and lying in someone's bathtub. Or at the very least, that I'll wake up and find that my wallet and phone have been stolen.

And I think I speak for everyone who has ever been a teacher when I say that coffee shops are what stand in the breach between the pile of ungraded papers and insanity. (I know of one professor who contends that what stands in his breach is a large bottle of red wine, but ever since that time in high school when I stole (and drank much of) a jug of red wine from the concession stand where I worked, I have never been able to look red wine in the eye.) During those times when you have been looking at the printed page for so long that your eyes are crossing, you can at least stand up, stretch, and wander over to ask the barista for another chocolate dessert with extra whipped cream. (Weight gain is an occupational hazard for teachers. It is extremely difficult to grade papers while using a treadmill.)

The danger of adopting coffee shops as substitute living rooms, however, is that you cannot control who hangs out in your coffee shop as you can in your real living room. If someone comes into your home reeking of smoke, talking loudly on a cell phone, or being a Republican (kidding!), you can always ask him or her to leave. In a coffee shop, however, you can't do this, so when someone starts playing the piano, or breaking up with her boyfriend via cell phone, or holding an AA meeting at the table next to you, you either need to get over it or pack up your stuff. But the great equalizer about coffee shops is that, if you are one of the people being annoyed on any given day, chances are good that, next time, you will be the one annoying someone else.

The other danger is that no matter how cool the coffee shop may be, if it serves sandwiches, it is likely to be co-opted by the suburban elite during the lunch hour. Not that this town really has a suburban elite - it's more that there are definitely times when a wealthier and more conservative (also professional and heterosexual) crowd is in evidence, and times when a significantly poorer and probably more liberal (also student/underemployed and queer) contingent gathers. So the trick is knowing when to go so that you are there with your peeps, if that's important to you. (My peeps tend to be there mostly late at night.)

You'll notice I haven't said much about the actual coffee at any of these places. That's because it is, in my opinion, the least important thing. I'm all about the atmosphere - can I work there? Are the people friendly? Is it a comfortable temperature, with comfortable chairs? Will the music be too loud? As long as the coffee doesn't suck - and for me, "doesn't suck" translates into "isn't Sanka" - I'm happy.

But I will say that my favorite place makes a mean mocha.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Little Kids

What's great about little kids is that they have enthusiasm for the things that most of us take for granted. For example, I called home today, where my four year old was staying home due to a bad cold. Here's what he had to say (emphasis his):

"Guess what? We went to the grocery store! And we washed the car! And I petted a dinosaur! A green one! It was a statue! And we bought square American cheese! And we bought white grown-up marshmellows!"

Let's all recap our day that way, just this once. Wouldn't it be much more interesting?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

My Blind Date Story

If you know me In Real Life, then you probably have already heard the story of my first and only blind date. But it's a good one, so here goes.

When I was 17, I was a senior in high school. It was a bad year for me. I'd been dumped unceremoniously on my ass by my first real boyfriend at the beginning of the school year, and then watched as ex-boyfriend started dating a succession of girls, including a good friend of mine, C. (who later dumped him, and I wasn't too mature to secretly enjoy his sadness over that). And then this same good friend went on to not only beat me out in a school Shakespeare competition - girlfriend went on to win the national competition and win a free trip to England.

But I digress. C. - who did, believe it or not, remain a good friend, which is kind of a success story for female friendships - and I made it to the spring of our graduation year, and we looked around and were fairly unimpressed with the datable boys. We had known many of them for years, which was weird because it meant that everyone had a past and that we all knew exactly what it was. We never really had the opportunity to meet new guys - there was school, and we knew most of the people in school (or thought we did - I suspect now that there were a lot of people who flew under our radar whom we would have liked to know). Then there was the occasional show (i.e., concert - OMD, Thompson Twins, Psychedelic Furs, etc.), but it was difficult to just strike up a conversation with people we didn't know. As an adult, it's sort of expected that you would do that, but as a teenager, at least as a teenager in a small city in the late '80s, that wasn't done very easily. And in the unlikely event that we should meet an unattached strange guy, either he was literally strange and therefore not dating material, or he was already dating someone.

But C. and I had decided to branch out anyway - we decided we needed to start meeting, not boys, but men. And somehow, perhaps through her older sister, C. had met a real grown-up 24-year-old man.


Bob, the mailman.

C. and Bob decided to arrange a double date, so they agreed to each invite a friend. C. invited me. Bob invited his friend, Don, who was also 24.

Don, the prison guard.

Now, the first thing you have to realize is that we were utterly clueless about what horrible things could possibly happen to a couple of high school girls on dates with grown-ups. We never thought about why two men would be interested in dating us high school girls. So we prepared for the date pretty much the same way we would have prepared for any date, which is to say that our major concern was looking hot.

On the evening of date night, I told my mom I was going over to C.'s, C. told her mom she was going over to my house, and the two of us went off to meet our dates. Neither C. nor I had our driver's licenses, so, as the plan was to drive to a larger city about 20 minutes away, we were depending on Bob and Don to drive us wherever we were going and to get us home again. C. and I had a brief discussion about what we should do if either of the guys tried to drive after drinking. We agreed that in such an event, we would refuse to ride with them. C. was particularly adamant about this.

When Bob and Don arrived, we all got into the car. C. noticed a MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror and pointed at it with a smirk. Bob made a great show of snatching it down, tossing it over his shoulder, and pulling out a bottle of wine from under the driver's seat as he turned the key in the ignition and shifted gears. Wordlessly, I turned to C., waiting for her to be my hero and make Bob stop the car. But C. simply giggled and took a swig from the bottle. (I've never asked her why. I suppose it's for the same reason that I, too, did not speak up - I was more afraid of looking like a foolish kid than of getting into an accident.)

Well, I reasoned to myself, if I can't do anything about driver drinking, at least I can consume the alcohol myself so that he can't get drunk. So I proceeded to drink as much of the bottle as I could, and got drunk in about ten minutes. Unfortunately for me, Bob had a second bottle stashed under his seat. I knew when I was beat, so I gave up trying to be heroic at that point and concentrated on not getting sick.

(Just to give you a visual of the mid-'80s, when we got to the first bar on what was to be a pretty thorough pub crawl, Bob grabbed a shirt out of the trunk of his car and changed in the parking lot. The shirt was blue and black, probably with wide vertical stripes. If you've ever seen the movie, The Wedding Singer, it was exactly the sort of shirt Adam Sandler's character's best friend would wear. 'Nuff said. I'm just mentioning it as a bit of set dressing.)

We went into the bar and ordered drinks. C. and I ordered White Russians, which we thought of as classy drinks, and perhaps, in 1986, they were. What I remember from this stop was that Don was beginning to get amorous, and his unique and charming way of showing his affection was to ask if he could look at my watch, take my wrist, and then lick my hand - and not in a good way, if there is such a thing, but in a way that made me want to say, "at least consider the feelings of the other people here, who really don't want to see this."

After that, the evening is kind of a blur (the only surprise there is that the blur didn't begin earlier). I remember "crashing" the prom of our rival high school and visiting with some friends there, and I remember that Bob and Don began begging us to go to a hotel with them (which was just not going to happen). We went to a few more bars and clubs, and dealing with Don became more and more difficult. I will spare you the gory details, but let's just say that every time I think of this date, I feel lucky that C. and I got home without being raped. The guys never got violent, but they were insistent to the point of being pretty overwhelming.

When it became clear to Don that I wasn't going to sleep with him, he tried one last time to get me to give in. His line? "I told my girlfriend I had to work late so I could go out with you." (In case you were wondering, no, I had no idea he had a girlfriend.)

But the kicker: the next week at school, I saw Don again. He was riding on his motorcycle, and riding behind him was his girlfriend.

She was 14.

And pregnant.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Campus has been abuzz lately with sex talk - talk about what constitutes healthy sex, moral sex, good sex, and what "sex" even means. So let me just go on record here and say that, while I totally support the decision to be abstinent and/or celibate, however those terms are defined, I do not think that abstinence is necessarily the best policy. And further, that heterosexual intercourse is not the be-all and end-all of human existence. And finally, that I don't think of sex as sinful, or as something that automatically has negative consequences.

I moderated a student discussion about sex last night, and I was really surprised by how many people almost unconsciously think about sexual acts as sinful, or as "mistakes," or as acts that have inherent consequences. All acts have inherent consequences, but no one seems to think about the consequences of non-sexual acts, even those with far-reaching effects. For example, Coke products are sold exclusively on this Lutheran campus, and the direct consequence of giving Coke our business is that the people of India have little access to clean water due to Coke's practices there. But the consequences of sex seem to be far more important from the way the word "consequences" gets so loosely thrown about. I think largely because this is a Lutheran campus, we come to discussions about sex with a lot of underlying thoughts about sex in relation to sin. For instance, several people talked last night about having made mistakes in their sexual lives and needing to be forgiven for them, prompting a (sadly) much smaller number of others to speak up and state that they didn't see their sexual pasts as mistakes.

It was an interesting dialgoue, and a tricky one, because there were some who clearly defined all sexual activity outside of legal marriage as sinful and others who could not have been further away from this definition. It was hard for this somewhat polarized community to hear what the other side had to say. It was also interesting to me how much it seemed to matter to the sexually active students what others had to say about it. But we each have to make our own moral choices. Reasonable people can disagree. And no one else's opinion should really matter to us if we are honest with ourselves and making our moral choices with discernment.

I became sexually active when I was about 17, and for many years I wished that I had started exploring my sexuality earlier. I felt like I came to it late and missed out on a lot. Oddly, it was mostly in retrospect that I felt this way because once I was becoming intimate with other people, I realized how much this enabled me to learn about my body, about my pleasure, about communication, about self-esteem (both good and bad). It was an education, and I was angry that I hadn't been learning all along.

I got the sense last night that many of the students felt that once they got married, the sexual relationship part would be a piece of cake. One or two students wondered aloud, "what if the sex just isn't that great?" We never got too deeply into this conversation, but that is a realistic concern. It's not that people can't get past bad sex and have better sex, but that we pretend as a society that marriage is an easy answer for sexual problems. The reality is that every married couple I can think of has, at one time or another, had to deal with problems in their sex lives. It is just like every other aspect of a relationship: you have to work at it, and you have to communicate about it.

I submit that coming into a relationship with sexual knowledge isn't a bad thing - in fact, it's a necessary thing. I'm not suggesting that everyone ought to be sexually active before they get married - "sexual knowledge" doesn't necessarily translate into "sexual activity." But I am arguing that everyone should come into a relationship knowing how their bodies work and being able to talk openly about sex and to ask the hard questions without discomfort. We simply cannot move suddenly from thinking that sex is shameful to thinking it's healthy. We have to have positive feelings about our sexualities and our bodies if we are going to have positive sexual lives.

Intercourse tends to be seen as the meat and potatoes of sex (this analogy is not mine, but I don't remember from whom I got it). But sex is really more of a buffet, and there are all kinds of vegetarian options that meat-and-potatoes people often don't think to explore. I mean, let's face it. 30% of American women have never had an orgasm. And a much higher percentage do not have orgasms from intercourse alone. Frankly, I have yet to meet the man who prefers intercourse to oral sex - and while I know some women who do, I suspect that most see it as part of a balanced diet rather than as the only thing on the plate.

I don't mean to knock intercourse - just to point out that it is one among many sexual acts, and one that is male- and heterosexually-defined, besides. It is the one that is based entirely on the male orgasm (as we all know from high school, that's how you know if you've had sex or not, right?).

I would argue, instead, that we should define sex by our own desires and our own pleasures. I don't think that we need to mean the same things, necessarily, when we talk about it. And we certainly don't need to all be having the same kind(s) of sex.

Similarly, I think we each need to define positive sexual expression for ourselves. I had an interesting conversation about this the other day with a pastor. She was concerned about the possible sexual relativism that could result from this perspective, and she argued instead that we needed to make these sorts of decisions about sex in community with others.

Here's what I think that perspective leaves out. As a bisexual woman, and as a former fundamentalist Christian, I know what it's like to come out *from* a community because rejecting the ideals of the community is the only way to survive. For me, making healthy sexual decisions has frequently been about turning away from what the community is telling me and being true to the person I am, as best as I can figure it. This has resulted in some poor decisions, certainly, but also in some excellent ones. I have been fortunate that along the way, I have not gotten pregnant unintentionally, I have not contracted any STIs, and I have received/caused no more than the average amount of heartbreak. (But some of that is also a result of my decisions not to engage in "risky" sex - and those, too, were decisions made in opposition to my community (in this case, the community of my peers).)

We can, and, in my opinion, should make our own sexual decisions individually, or with those others whose counsel we invite. We also have a responsibility to tell those we care about when we think they are making harmful sexual decisions, but with that must come the recognition that our sexual practices and desires can vary quite a bit and still be healthy. I don't think this is sexual relativism. I don't believe that "anything goes" - there are ways to measure whether or not these are harmful practices and desires (the impact on ourselves and others, for example). But I think we need more, not less, respect for individual decision-making - and more open, respectful conversation.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

That Pierre Smell

Well, no one posted here to explain that awful smell in Pierre that I mentioned earlier, but one of my students told me today that there is, in fact, some kind of water treatement plant there. So, there you go.

The Thong v. The WonderBra

I've just recently been made aware of a new fashion issue: VPL, or Visible Panty Lines. I suppose VPL has always been an issue, but somehow I managed until now to avoid worrying about it for most of my life. But all of a sudden, it seems that VPL is a huge problem. It kind of makes me wonder which came first - VPL worry or thongs? Because I'm pretty sure that thongs actually created a lot of VPL worry.

Which brings me to my point: I have actually purchased my Very First Pair of thong underwear. And yesterday was my Very First Day of wearing said underwear. Before yesterday, I was fairly certain that they were going to end up in the garbage can, possibly one at work (which is where one of my friends has tossed a few pairs of annoying underwear (her workplace, not mine)) because The Rule of Underwear states that it is at work when underwear issues tend to get out of control. But I nevertheless entered into this thong relationship in good faith, with the expectation that the VPL-free lifestyle would not demand too much sacrifice.

Incidentally, about this "pair of thong underwear" business. I had a conversation the other week in which several of us concluded that a thong does not amount to a pair of anything, except perhaps a pair of legholes.

Back to my point. I also recently purchased my first WonderBra (the push-up kind, not one of the myriad other kinds that are out there and that make WonderBra shopping incredibly confusing to me). Sadly, it is white, which means that I probably never should have bought it, because any shirt I would want to wear it with can't be worn with a white bra (because the shirts are black, and the white bra straps would show - just in case that wasn't clear). But South Dakota seems to have a shortage of black push-up WonderBras in my size. And maybe that's a good thing, because there is something very odd about suddenly having one's chest heading off horizontally like that. I'm sure it looks completely different from another point of view, but from my perspective, in my WonderBra I feel like I'm wearing Madonna's pointy cone bra, and frankly, it scares me a little.

Really, if I'm honest about it, push-up bras just aren't me (literally and figuratively). My breasts don't want that much attention, and neither do I. And maybe thongs aren't me, either (I certainly plan to avoid VT, or Visible Thong (shudder)).

By now, you may be wondering, how did Thong Day go? Much better than expected, actually. Here's what I've noticed: when I first put them on, it's like, WOW, this is strange. But then I almost immediately forgot all about them. They were really very comfortable. And since I was wearing tights, it was great not to always be dealing with bunchy underwear (tights and underwear are a bad match).

So - thongs 1, push-up bras 0.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

CRU Crime

Just a quick disclaimer - you may have noticed that I try to come up with clever titles for my posts, and I really couldn't pass up this one, as it rhymes so nicely with "True Crime." But seriously, I'm a little worried that the CRU people are coming after me anyway, so listen, folks, I'm not accusing anyone involved with CRU of having committed any crimes. So please don't start stalking me...OK? (That's a joke! A JOKE!)

And a more serious disclaimer: I'm sure what follows will offend someone. That's not my intent, but I'm writing from my experience, and I'm not going to censor myself. So if you don't want to read anything that is critical of Christian fundamentalism or evangelism or Campus Crusade for Christ, you might want to stop here.

We have this organization on our campus - Campus Crusade for Christ, or "CRU," as it is known here. I'm not sure whether to be glad they've chosen a cuddly nickname instead of the heavily burdened "Crusade" or to be freaked out because they have actually made "Crusade" into a cuddly nickname. But anyway.

It's important from the outset to understand what CRU is about. They purport to be very much the typical Christian campus fellowship-type group. But a look at their mission statement makes plain that CRU is about saving the "lost college students." Some of you may have no problem with that. I'd argue that the lost college students are perfectly capable of finding their way on their own, and that those who aren't need CRU along on their journey like they need a flat tire. But that's probably a post for another time (and it's more than a little informed by my past experience with similar organizations, and as a former "feisty Christ-y," myself (thanks to D. for that great phrase!)).

So I was sitting alone in the campus coffee shop today, and - let's call him CRU Guy, or CG for short - came up and started talking to me. Now, I am pretty sure he knew exactly who I was when he came over to strike up a conversation, though it's possible that he didn't, and I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but again, my experience with feisties and as a feisty reminds me that there are no coincidences in situations like these, and I am not talking about God's intervention, either.

Anyway, so CG came up and introduced himself and tried to figure out where he knew me from, and oh, surprise, it was because I was the teacher who brought my class to the CRU-sponsored talk last week on "Pure Sex." (In case you're wondering - "pure sex" would be sex within marriage, preferably after abstaining until marriage. And I was just a wee bit rude to the speaker, I am sorry to tell you.) CG and I had a short discussion about how students reacted to that presentation and how they react to CRU in general. And I said, as politely as I could, and without malice (really!), that the problem that I saw lay in CRU's belief that its notion of how to be a Christian was the only way to be a Christian, and by extension, that Christians behaved only in the ways that CRU thought Christians ought to behave. Central to this, of course, is CRU's mission of evangelism (in the hardcore sense). And that students didn't appreciate being invited to a discussion about, say, sex, when there was a larger agenda of soul-saving behind it that did not allow for honest conversation.

CG heard this with that wide-open facial expression that young evangelists often have. I'm not sure how to describe this except to say that it's a cross between joy and puzzlement. It looks like they might be hurting themselves a little because they are just trying so darn hard. This is the expression they use when they are trying to draw you out into conversation.

Tangent: There is another expression that I used to get a lot, which is the one they use when you say things like, oh, I don't know, "my lover," and that one is a little less open and a lot more furrowed brow. This expression is frequently accompanied by the question, "what do you mean?" as though the speaker has never before heard the term and therefore is completely bemused as to what you could possibly be talking about. If you don't know any better, you will explain that you are talking about your same-gender partner, and then you are in for it, because you've just opened the door to an argument about what Jesus thinks about your sexual orientation. And at this point in the conversation, you will think that the evangelist with whom you are speaking is really learning something new from you, so you might well have an honest discussion and allow that yes, you have struggled with the whole sexuality/spirituality thing, in which case you will find that you have made a new friend who will track you down on a regular basis to work on your relationship with Christ. But I digress.

So CG gave me one of these wide-open looks, and I could feel my guard go up because I knew exactly what was going on in his mind. And then he started asking me about my sexuality class, making him the third CRU person in a week to ask me about it and therefore letting me know that CRU is gunning for the souls in my class. (It is only a matter of time before they track us down and start sitting in on the class, at which point we will have to find a new place to meet because that would make discussion difficult to impossible.)

And then he told me that CRU had a lot to learn from my viewpoint. And I felt that he was being genuine, but at the same time, I had the sinking feeling that what he meant was that I had some fresh ideas about how they could more effectively witness to the students. What I was thinking, but did not say, is that there was no way in hell I was going to hand the students over to him.

You know, I really want to believe that the poor guy was being honest and straightforward, and I do hold out hope for that possibility. But he's on CRU staff. And what I know about CRU staff and their duties suggests otherwise.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Thinking Disability

I recently reread Nancy Mairs' essay, "On Being A Cripple." Mairs writes quite extensively about MS. She also writes about many, many other things - being the foster parent of a teenage boy; extramarital affairs; depression and suicide attempts; being the mother of a daughter; writing itself. I find her fresh and insightful, and she writes with a critical wit and unflinching honesty that I hope to achieve in my own writing. And I never fail to identify with her. No matter what she is writing about - a suicide attempt, for instance, or life with MS - I can empathize with her, even though I have not had those same experiences. She writes like a friend, and I respond to her that way.

I'm always surprised at the resentment some people feel toward those with disabilities. I remember one discussion I had several years ago in Barnes and Noble with a surgeon who was incensed at the idea that people with disabilities should merit a special parking space (he called this a "special right"). I pointed out that some people are in constant, debilitating pain, and many deal with persistent exhaustion. The 30-100 feet they are spared from travelling by having a parking space near a store entrance may not seem like much to a person who is not exhausted and not in pain, but it may mean the difference between whether or not a person who is can shop for his or her own groceries. The surgeon replied that anyone in that much pain wouldn't be helped by being closer to the entrance.

I hope you don't think less of me for this, but when I learned several months after this conversation that he had broken his back and was going through a long and painful recovery - and that it was unclear whether or not he'd fully recover - I could not help but remember this conversation and hope that he was learning something about why people with disabilities might need those "special rights" he had so scornfully dismissed months earlier.

The reality is, as Mairs states in another piece, that society is not constructed as if it desires people with disabilities to be a part of it. The only places I routinely see Braille, for instance, are on elevator and ATM panels. Lots of people never bother to shovel their walks in the winter, effectively confining people who use wheelchairs to their homes or at least making them dependent on other modes of tranportation. We don't learn American Sign Language as a matter of course (half the time, we don't even consider it a language!). (Disclaimer: Yes, I am aware that many people in the Deaf community don't consider being Deaf to be a disability. But even so, I think the ASL example reflects the fact that the hearing community doesn't consider the Deaf community to be an integral part of society, which is also the way mainstream society treats people with disabilities.)

Mairs points out that all of us, if we live long enough, will experience some form of disability as a result of accident, illness, or age. And she suggests that we start thinking of this as an inevitablility - and thinking of ourselves as temporarily abled - rather than pretending that it won't happen, rather than thinking of those with disabilities as "other people." The result, she argues, will be a world that embraces people with disabilities - a world of accessible entrances and bathrooms, a world in which people learn ASL in school as regularly as they learn French or Spanish, a world in which no one is petty enough to complain that someone else is getting the best parking spaces.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Trying Too Hard

You know, we women in our thirties (and those in their forties) have a confusing path to tread, fashion-wise. Everywhere are media messages that we need to be "sexy," and "sexy" means dressing "young." But we are perhaps a bit wiser - and maybe a bit saggier - than we were in our twenties, and so we are constantly walking the line between "provocative" and "modest," "hip" and "classic," "vixen" and..."mom." There is always the fear that we will expose our desperation, that we will look like we are trying too hard.

And, in case anyone is wondering, "hmmm...now, what does that look like," it looks like this:

But then again, you can't really blame a girl for trying. Especially since I would totally wear Madonna's boots. (The Judy Jetson getup here, though, not so much.)

Sunday, February 12, 2006


I'm running on like four hours' sleep - busy weekend. I will update soon, hopefully tomorrow.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Bodies in Motion

I took a hip hop class a couple of nights ago. It wasn't at all what I expected - actually, I was a little disappointed. The first most frustrating thing was that I couldn't execute some of the moves. The second most frustrating thing was that I couldn't keep up with the pace of the instruction. And then in addition, I didn't like the choreography (probably because of those first two issues), and I didn't like the way the class was taught (almost no warm-up at all, and no cool-down). (And it didn't help that I was the largest person in the class. Nowhere does weight and body image become a bigger issue than in a dance class, let me tell you.)

I had been really looking forward to the class for a few weeks. I thought that hip hop would be easy to pick up because I do have a lot of dance experience, and I am a fairly good dancer. I expected that it would be challenging, but I didn't think it would be impossible. So I was pretty downhearted by the end of class...so much so, in fact, that I stayed for the next dance class in the hopes that I could end my evening with a good dancing experience.

The next class was ballet.

Now, ballet and I have had a long, complicated relationship. I studied at a pretty competitive studio when I was a kid, and I had the dreams everyone has of being a dancer. But after a year on pointe, I had to quit because of problems with my feet that were preventing me from dancing the way I needed to be able to do - and also ruining my feet, to boot. Before I quit, I had been a decent ballet student (not on pointe, though, obviously), and I had been one of the best jazz students. But once I could not continue on pointe, the studio lost interest in me. I was not invited to join Ballet Workshop, the elite choreography and performance group, even though they did very little pointe work. I was never asked to lead the warm-up exercise in the jazz class, even though I had been studying longer than the others. I began to doubt myself, and I began to lose my motivation so that my work suffered. Finally, I quit in tears.

Quitting felt a bit like breaking up with a lover - I missed it, but it was just too painful for me to be in dance classes of any kind. I even avoided going to dance performances; if I couldn't dance, I didn't want to watch anyone else dance, either.

It wasn't until years later, in college, that I came back to dance. I stayed far away from ballet. I started with modern, and moved on to Celtic and West African dance. After a semester of study, during which I was dancing so much I was probably in the best shape of my life, I was invited to join the West African Drumming and Dance performance troupe. After my experience with the ballet studio, this was enormously liberating. It was simultaneously an affirmation and an avenue for me to do what I loved to do. But it's hard for a white girl to do much in this area, and after college, I could not find the same kind of dance community. When I did finally find a place where I could study West African dance, it turned out that the dances were Senegalese, and I found these very difficult (the dances I had learned previously came from Ghana, and were much easier for me to learn).

I also tried Near Eastern dance, or "belly dancing." It was a better fit for my body type than was ballet, which is created not for "real" bodies but for starved bodies twisted in unnatural ways. And I found the music and the movements of both Near Eastern and West African dance to be, simply, much more fun than either ballet or jazz had ever been.

Then, I injured my back, and for several years I was unable to do any dancing at all.

So it is only now that I am coming back to dance.

In the ballet class the other night, I was shocked at how quickly my body remembered what it was supposed to do, even after all the years away. It couldn't do it as well as I wanted, and it didn't look the way I wanted it to. But I found that I could do what was asked of me, I could keep up with the class, and I could even be graceful.

It felt safe.

It felt like coming home.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Network Television

I am so far removed from network tv these days that:

- the other evening, when I was in my regular coffee shop, I told a local anchor that the local news sucked. (I didn't know he was who he was, though if I had, I might have told him anyway. But in that case, it would not have been funny.)

- I had no idea that John Leguizamo (one of my favorite actors and pretend boyfriends) had joined the cast of ER. Or, for that matter, that Dr. Carter had gone away again. Or even that ER was still on. (WTF is up with that? Is there a storyline that exists that they have yet to play out?)

- I no longer think of Lost as a tv show. It has become a video that I purchase on a weekly basis from iTunes.

- had I not been invited to a couple of Super Bowl parties, I would never have known that the Super Bowl was even happening. (Well, I guess that illustrates my removal from quite a few things!)

- I routinely miss awards shows, even in the unlikely event that I want to see one.

- and finally, I don't get any of the references to The O.C. (I don't even know if I spelled that right (is there a space? is there a "the"?).)


I started my whole blogging thing at MySpace. My students are on Facebook, which I've written about here, and while I know of some faculty and administrators who use Facebook either for their own pages or just to spy, I sort of couldn't bring myself to infiltrate their space in that way. (And also, the whole idea of it felt weird to me, like going to a high school dance when you're in college, KWIM?)

But I was kind of intrigued by the whole concept of it, and I was curious to see why it was such a big deal. I knew about MySpace because some friends had pages there, but I thought of it, like Facebook, as a very "young" space, and so I wasn't all that interested in it. But, one day I was poking around online, and I ran across Rivers Cuomo's MySpace page. Well - Rivers is actually my age (at least, he was - his listed age seems to be going backward and he's now two years younger than he was last month), and granted, I'm not even in a band much less a band as popular as Weezer, but if Rivers can do it, I figured, so could I.

So, I set up a MySpace page, and started a blog, and started looking around to see what was up.

As near as I can figure, the whole deal is that at MySpace, you are supposed to either make lots of "friends" or else feel really unpopular because, like me, you have only three "friends," one of whom is the guy who came with the account. Either way, online popularity is measured by how many "friends" you have, and frankly, the whole thing reminds me a lot of middle school, when everything seemed to be superficial and competitive.

And I'll go further - there is something about MySpace that makes me think of reality dating shows. I feel like as soon as I log on to MySpace, I'm entering a world in which Ashlee Simpson is cool and I'm supposed to talk dirty to whoever wants to be my "friend." I'm sure there are plenty of thoughtful blogs on MySpace - Rivers' being a case in point (when he bothers to update it, that is - I don't care if you're at Harvard now, big man, give something back to the fans!) - but the majority of them seem based on that same kind of fake "I'll put out way faster than her" sort of popularity.

Maybe I'm just visiting the wrong blogs?

Anyway. I still have my blog at MySpace, but I never post anything there. I don't get the whole point of having "friends" in the first place, and I know that must make me sound terribly out of it, but there it is. My mom will never be able to figure out the internet; I will never understand "friends." But seriously, what is it that "friends" do other than, by their presence, affirm that one is likeable and interesting (or a "hottie")? When I look around at different pages, the comments the "friends" make are often completely devoid of any content. They are what email used to be, before people started having real conversations online. "Hey - wasn't that a hard exam? See you tomorrow!"

And yet...just like in middle school, when I wanted Patrick Dobson to like me, I kind of want to log on to MySpace one day and find that I have a whole bunch of friends. Though I suppose it would probably help if I put my name on the page so my RL friends could find me, just like it probably would have helped if Pat had known that I liked him back in 7th grade.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Grisly Man?

I finally saw Grizzly Man a week or two ago. I was really excited to see it, and I'm not ashamed to admit that part of the reason I wanted to see it in the first place was precisely because Timothy Treadwell, the "star" of the documentary, was killed and eaten by grizzly bears (hence the film). Um, that's not actually shown, BTW, and if it were it would not be something I'd want to see.

But there is an audio tape of Treadwell and girlfriend being eaten. That's not played for us, either, but filmmaker Werner Herzog - in a scene that I feel should go down in cinematic history as one of the Top Ten Most Gratuituous Uses of Violence in Film, even though we don't actually hear or see the violence - films himself listening to the tape on headphones while sitting next to the dear friend of the departed Treadwell (and girlfriend, whose name I can't remember). Herzog speaks aloud, deadpan, some of what he's hearing on the tape: "Run away. Go." Which is Treadwell trying to save his girlfriend by encouraging her to leave him and get the hell away from the attacking bears. And then Herzog, with a pained expression, says "stop the tape." And tells the friend, who is crying, that she must never listen to the tape and that she should destroy it.

What got me about this scene was not so much what we, the audience, imagined was happening on the tape. It was clearly horrific, and I'm glad Herzog decided not to share it with us. But he very cleverly staged that scene precisely so that we would imagine what was happening, so that even as he is determining that it is too gruesome to ever be heard, he is, in effect, sharing it with us, and manipulating the deaths of two people, the grief of their friend, and the horror of the audience. In this way, he gets to be the hero while acting like the villain.

Aside from the implied violence of this scene and a couple of others, what really fascinated me about this movie was that, if I had to choose between taking my chances with the people he interviews and the grizzly bears, I'd almost rather pick the bears. Treadwell himself was, I don't think it's going too far to say, an extremist. He cared about the bears, he spent thirteen summers protecting them (I never quite got exactly how, but he was living with them and filming all the time, and I know he believed he was protecting them from poachers). Herzog does go out of his way to make Treadwell look like he's lost touch with reality, but to be fair, Treadwell's own footage of himself kind of makes that argument all by itself. When we see him on screen, we see a passionate man, but one who is also very fragile and kind of on the edge.

Herzog also gives screen time to Treadwell's family and friends, as well as to those who found the bodies. There is one really crazy-ass coroner, who gleefully describes details like the tooth marks found on Treadwell's skull, which prompted a loud, "What the FUCK?!" from me.

I did learn some interesting things about bears, though. I was amazed to see Treadwell PETTING grizzly cubs and not being mauled. He seemed to know, like Dian Fossey did, exactly how to communicate through body language so that the animals would not harm him. And I did a little research, as well, which lead me to realize that grizzlies get a bad rap. I had sort of put them in the same "bear category" in which I put polar bears - sort of like, they see you, they will kill and eat you. But in fact, this is not true. They are far less aggressive than that. And it's worth pointing out that 1) Treadwell survived for 13 summers living with them, and 2) the "experts" believe that the bears that killed the couple were not the same bears he'd been with for all of that time, but "rogue bears" who were just nasty to begin with.

Overall, I think we're supposed to come away from the film feeling that the bears are a menace that Treadwell was too far gone to recognize. But what I came away with, instead, was a profound sense that Herzog and the crazy coroner were disturbingly similar in depicting this tragedy.

Monday, February 06, 2006

February Blahs

Yeah, so I gained a ton of weight, I haven't made it to the gym more than once a week in ages, I'm eating crap food, I'm not getting enough sleep, and I figured I might as well whine at you guys about it for a while. This is a kind of shitty post, but the server's going to be down in a few minutes and I wanted to get something up after losing all my new posts the other day. (I'll be back to my regularly scheduled programming soon, I promise. I've got some good stuff coming up - film stuff, maybe even! - so if you don't like ranting, feel free to skip today's post.)

Just to give you a quick background - I gained about 40 pounds in grad school and then more weight after I had my son. On July 5, 2003, I decided I'd had enough and starting going to Weight Watchers. I've lost about 35 pounds since then, and I started working out really seriously last spring. Then, in June, I started working with a trainer and lifting. So in about six or ten weeks, I lost a couple of dress sizes. By the time school started last fall, lemme tell ya, I was feeling pretty buff.

But then we went to visit my folks for Christmas, and it was like a nonstop food orgy. And January was a lot like Christmas for some reason, even though I managed to lose a little of the weight.

And then last week I went to Pierre, as you know, maybe because we were travelling for so many hours in the car, I was just hungry all the time, and I ate ravenously. And then I came back home and we spent the rest of the week going out for dinner.

So, here I am, first day of classes of the Spring term, and my clothes are too tight. There is nothing more depressing than having a whole wardrobe (and my wardrobe is actually pretty small to begin with) that is too tight. I have no idea how I'll get through the week. I went out dancing on Saturday night, and I had nothing to wear, because my club clothes (actually, tank tops and black jeans, but "club clothes" sounds better, doesn't it?) didn't fit, either.

And then on top of that, it's just so damn cold all of a sudden. I mean, I know it's South Dakota and it's winter and everything, but jeez. It was just getting warm enough to start running outside, and now we're down to the frostbite weather again.

Which is another thing. I was running like crazy all last fall - I did two 5Ks and I was doing 10-minute miles all the time. And now I'm lucky if I run once or twice a month. I can feel myself getting out of shape and losing muscle tone, and IT SUCKS.

OK - enough whining. Here's what I'm doing about it - I'm getting back into the gym. I'm getting signed up again with the personal trainer. I'm going to Weight Watchers again - I'm sick of counting points, to be honest, but it WORKS.

End of rant.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pierre, Part 2: A Little Activism Never Hurt Anyone

So, my trip to Pierre, which I posted about earlier, was motivated by a day of lobbying for comprehensive sex ed, reproductive rights, and so on. Over 200 men and women from around the state showed up wearing purple t-shirts, handing out cookies and other goodies to legislators, and taking the opportunity to inform them that we care about women's rights and we expect them to protect these rights.

On the one hand, it was an awesome day. Overall, the entire event was planned well and things ran smoothly. We made an impact; they hadn't before seen such a large group of South Dakotans all revved up in favor of these issues (usually, they hear only from those in opposition). Everyone there felt empowered by our strong showing, and I think that there were many in the crowd who had never before experienced this form of collective action and who found it uplifting and inspiring.

On the other hand, it was diappointing to me that with such hard work and excellent planning, only 200+ people showed up. This is not a reflection of the planners, I don't think, but rather of the population of South Dakota. People don't often have the chance to see collective action in...well, in action, so they don't see its successes. There is instead a focus on personal responsibility and individual behavior. People here care deeply about issues, but they often refrain from contacting their elected officials or taking part in any visible movement.

I suspect that part of this is due to Midwestern, or more particularly, South Dakotan, culture. Politeness, the feeling that one ought to give others the benefit of the doubt, the desire not to call attention to oneself...these things work against collective action, which is fed in part by anger/frustration, the realization in certain instances that the opposition is corrupt, and the willingness to take risks in order to accomplish change.

But I am noticing a change, slowly but surely. I think it's not by accident that this was the year that people showed up at the Capitol. In large part, it's due to people like my comadres at Planned Parenthood who are doing an incredible amount to raise awareness and to build an activist network simply by making activist projects out of social events (and vice versa). It's also due to the increasingly repressive administration we are all living and chafing under.

I hope that what I witnessed in Pierre gave all of us hope that we can make a difference. We did a "Burma Shave," standing in a line by the roadside holding signs and chanting, and we were pleasantly surprised that a large number of motorists who passed by honked and cheered for us to show their support. And whether we were marching, Burma Shaving, or standing on the Capitol steps, we were awed by our numbers - we were a force to be reckoned with!

But no matter how much resistance and inertia had to be overcome to get us all there, once a year is not enough. If we care about these issues, we need to be there continually. We need to make this a priority. A lot of us disagree on some of these issues while we agree on others. For instance, many of us who disagree on abortion agree that abstinence-only sex ed is a BAD IDEA. Yet, there is, as I write this, a bill on the floor that would mandate abstinence-only sex ed in the SD public schools. We saw this coming months ago when our local school board was beset by a small yet vocal percentage of angry parents who protested the new sex ed curriculum, but many parents did nothing and allowed this group to dictate to the schools what should be taught. At the time, we warned them that abstinence-only education would be next, but they still did not act. Now, they are shaking their heads sadly, but are they contacting their legislators?

We can argue that individuals have the power to make a difference, and I believe that they do, but it is in community that we create lasting change. Rosa Parks was not a woman acting alone; she was working with a whole community who had decided that she should pick that one day to stage her protest. Dr. King was not acting alone; his successes were only made possible because of an entire community who had been working together before and during his own efforts. Major social change is only possible if we stick together and make a commitment to prioritizing the struggle in our daily lives.

So, don't sit while others are standing up for the things you believe in. Your voice counts. Make it heard.


Friday night, I worked on several posts for the blog, finishing a couple of drafts that I had been working on for a while and drafting a couple of new ones. And then, for some reason, when I logged on Saturday afternoon, all of my new stuff was gone. GONE. And some of it was good stuff, too, so I'm frustrated.

And also, the paper rejected my letter to the editor for being too long, so that was kind of a drag, as well.

Anyway, so there have been some setbacks in my writing life, and tomorrow is a busy day, but I will be back with some new stuff soon, I promise.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Downstairs Neighbors, Again

So, lately, I've noticed a pattern with Downstairs Neighbors. Every evening - EVERY evening - at around eightish, I feel a strong vibration and hear a sort of booming sound, and I think to myself, "hmm, could that possibly be thunder?" (I really do. You'd think by now I'd be able to skip this part.) I quickly realize that, no, it is not thunder; it is merely Downstairs Neighbors blasting some sort of music (I think it's either metal or '70s rock - I'll have to ask). Apparently their speakers must be right up under their ceiling because the entire floor of my apartment conducts the bass.

When this first started a couple of weeks ago, I thought perhaps I should say something. "But, no," I thought, "they'll quickly realize that their music is way too damn loud and turn it down."


The mistake I made was doing nothing. Now, way too damn loud music is a matter of course for our evenings. If I were to be honest, though, the noise and vibrations don't really bother me all that much. If I lived above a club, for example, I would probably think, "hey, it's time to head downstairs for the party," or else, "wow, it's amazing how quiet it is, considering." But as this is definitely not a club, I'm offended by the fact that they either have no clue how to behave in an apartment building or else they are aware that their music is way too damn loud for eleven at night and that it disturbs the rest of us and yet they just play it anyway.

And also, their kids are loud. I'm hardly one to talk - I'm sure there have been many times when our neighbors have been ready to come after us with pitchforks and torches. But every night at one am, their baby wakes up and starts squalling (and every night, much like the thunder, I hear the sound and wonder for a moment if someone's cat is outside wailing to get back in). And the older kid makes weird giggling crying sounds that are very loud and ambiguous.

And on top of all of this, Downstairs Neighbors are prone to making huge, crashing, thudding sounds between midnight and two am. I can't figure out what could possibly make such noise other than pieces of furniture being knocked over, but I suspect it is just them jumping around for some reason that only they and God know and understand. Why they have to do it so late at night is even further beyond me.

Combined, these sounds are actually a little freaky, and while I don't really think that anyone is being hurt, I usually have at least a couple of moments each week during which I consider this possiblity and stand out in the hall for a while to make sure I'm wrong. So it's a bit stressful.

Last night, I once again considered knocking on their door, or even leaving a note, and asking them to keep it down. But you know how it is in apartment buildings: you try really, really hard to get along because you know how much you'd hate it if someone else came to complain to you. And also, you don't want to make enemies where you live. So lots of times, you try to grin and bear it, or else you try not to be home all that much.

I did, however, call the management company about the smoke, and someone is coming over today to attempt to hermetically seal us in. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Fourth Floor Fun

So, I've been asked to help come up with creative slogans for the fourth floor (girls' side) of one of the dorms. (This can be a participatory exercise. You know where the comment button is. Nothing too slutty, please - this is a Lutheran college. But a little slutty is ok, as you can see).

Meanwhile, here's a start:

Fourth floor girls like it on top

Fourth floor: We can't think of anything clever to say

Attack of the Forty Foot Women (urg - I'm trying!)

The Fourth Floor: Nothing Can Top Us
(See, because the fourth floor is actually the top floor.)

Oohhh - got it - how about:
We're Topless! (you can see I'm still thinking about my other post)

That's it. That's all I've got. It's your turn, folks. I know you're out there. Don't let me down.

Hooray for Pierre!

For those of you reading this from somewhere other than South Dakota, that's pronounced "peer," and no, it's not some French guy. No, Pierre is our state capital. And until the other day, I had never been there. But now, having made the great pilgrimage, I find myself moved to write about Pierre.

Let me begin by saying that, while I'm pretty sure I'm glad I don't live in Pierre, it seems like a nice place to visit. I ate at two of the restaurants that had been recommended to me (Guadalahara and La Minestra), and both were excellent. There's a really nice park - Hipple (it was either "Hipple" or "Hippie" or "Nipple" - it was dark and I couldn't see the sign very well) Park. While I couldn't see much of it as it was around 8:00pm, the lights on the water looked very pretty and the causeway out to what I was told is an island was kinda cool.

The Capitol building and the grounds around it are gorgeous. As we drove around the drive to get to the parking lot the next morning, we had to go around a pond. It was around 8:30am, and as it was quite nippy there was "sea fog" rising up from the surface of the water, on which rested hundreds of geese. It was incredible, and I wished I'd thought to bring my camera.

Another thing that caught my attention were the hills south of Pierre. They reminded me of the hills in Marin in California (though considerably smaller, and brownish yellow instead of green). On the east coast, hills and mountains are either covered with trees or they are rock. If covered with trees, you don't see the actual shape of the earth. If rock, they have a sharp, craggy appearance. But these hills looked soft and sensuous. They looked like animals - like something alive and in motion (I could not stop thinking of Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants the entire time I was gazing out the car window at them). These are hills that I want to walk on and feel.

I didn't get to see much of Pierre beyond the commercial district, but on the short drive around the neighborhoods by the Capitol, I noticed some seriously nice houses. I think one of them used to be the Governor's, actually, so I wonder if "regular folk" get to live in any of them.

Pierre does not seem to have much of a nightlife. We tried Longbranch, the one "nightclub," but to our dismay, the DJ that was advertised on the billboard outside of town was nowhere to be found. So, we headed to the bar at the Ramkota...and there wasn't much happening there, either. (We suspect that Pierre residents have a lot of house parties if they want to dance. Or else they drive three hours to Sioux Falls. One or the other.)

But perhaps the biggest drawback to Pierre is the mysterious and noxious smell we noticed upon entering and leaving. We could not figure out what was causing it, but we were quick to close the air vents. If you know the cause, please post a comment and fill us in. We're dying to know! Is it a water treatment facility? A landfill? A dead body? Several dead bodies?

The one thing I didn't get to do was see the Oahe Dam. My friend (who was also driving) was completely uninterested, as, she explained, it was a man-made dam and thus involved no "cute little beavers." "It's just a wall," she told me. "Why do you want to see a wall?" However, I have since learned that this dam is unusual as it is made entirely of dirt. (I am not sure I believe this, frankly.) So, at some point - next lobbying day? - I will have to go check it out.

And that's my tribute to Pierre. (I'll tell you about the political side of the trip another time.)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Shades of High School

I haven't had a boy tell lies about me since high school.

I remember walking one night with my friend, Marc, when Eric and David, guys we knew from band, came by on their bikes. We could hear them talking, though we couldn't make out what they were saying. When they saw us, though, they immediately fell silent, except for the mandatory, "hey," when they passed.

"They were talking about you," Marc told me.

"What were they saying?" I asked.

Marc wouldn't tell me. All he would say was that Eric had been telling the other guys that he and I had gone out (we hadn't - I barely even knew Eric, and what's more, I thought he was kind of a jerk.).

I left it there. I never heard anything more about it from Marc or from anyone else, so I figured that whatever he'd said hadn't amounted to much. Also, I doubted that anyone who knew me would have believed him, anyway.

I guess I was lucky not to have stories told about me. I was no better and no worse than anyone else I knew in high school, and we all did things we probably shouldn't have, and certainly we did things that we didn't want the rest of the school finding out about. But it never seemed back then that anyone really cared. With the exception of a couple of really bizarre stories, I don't remember there being much gossiping about what anyone else was doing or with whom, beyond the casual passing along of information in the event that two people had started dating or broken up.

Perhaps because I've never had to endure harmful gossip, I've been more trusting of people than I should have been. I generally give people the benefit of the doubt, and I assume that they will mostly behave reasonably. But all this changed for me recently.

I was out of town for a conference, and we'd arrived a day early. We had time to kill that night, so we decided to explore the local nightlife. We found a bar that had a band and settled in to enjoy the music. After a while, a couple of guys came up and started talking to us. It was clear to me that one of them was interested in me, and I wasn't looking for that kind of company, but he seemed nice enough and wasn't behaving inappropriately, so we chatted for a while. I'll admit it - I was flattered by his sweet and solicitous attention.

The band started playing dance music, and we all started dancing. After a while, to cool off, I took off my overshirt (I had a tank top on underneath) and tied it around my waist while I danced. At the end of the night, we all left for our separate hotels.

The next afternoon, we ran into these guys again, said hi, and went off in the direction of our different presentations. One of my friends who had witnessed this, and who was staying at the same hotel as the guys were, pulled me aside. It turned out that she had overheard the guy with whom I had chatted talking about me at breakfast: he had told his friends that I had taken off my top the night before.

I suppose he wasn't exactly telling a lie - in a manner of speaking, I had indeed taken off my top. He just neglected to mention the top that was underneath it, which remained on. He also chose to word it so that it sounded as though I had taken off the shirt in the context of being with him.

At first, I was mortified, and I rushed to assure everyone who had heard this that I had done no such thing. Then, I was angry, and I wanted to tell him off. But finally, I was just disappointed: he had seemed like such a nice guy, and I felt both used by him and also annoyed that my judgment of him hadn't been more accurate.

I don't know why he did it. Maybe he thought it made him look good. Maybe he thought it was a better story that way. But what I'm left with is that he obviously didn't think about what it would feel like for me to hear that story or how it might affect me professionally to have that rumor circulating. Or maybe he did, but he didn't care.

I'm not angry anymore. But this experience does make me doubt myself, and it makes me sad that I will now be cautious and reserved instead of welcoming and friendly the next time I meet someone who seems nice and wants to chat.

They Must Be Missing Something...

Plagiarism-free papers?

My favorite line: "Plagiarism Free: We use a plagiarism detection program to ensure that all texts are original."

Do you think those Masters Degree-holding writers are bitter and that this is their way of getting back at academia?