Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Ancients and the Moderns: Or Yo-Yo Ma and the Honkers

As I was doing some general reading yesterday about the writers and readers of the c18, I came across a passage (in J. Paul Hunter) describing the so-called "ancients" (Pope, Swift, Johnson) and the "moderns" (Defoe, Fielding, and other novelists that would certainly include Haywood), and I realized that if one were to insert "teacher" and "student" in the passage to substitute for "writer" and "reader," we'd get a pretty good description of the laments and concerns of contemporary English teachers. You know the how the complaint goes; it's the whole idea that students aren't good readers anymore, that they can't think (or write) in a complex, linear way. They only think (and write) in a fragmented webular way. The fear that good books and quality sources are disappearing from our students' repertoire and that all we'll have left will be Wikipedia and some falsely authoritative blogs.

Then, I saw Yo-Yo Ma on Tavis Smiley last night. Is he (Ma) not amazing or what? He is, indeed. And he is a great example of the ideal combination of the ancient and the modern--what most of us actually try to offer our students, I think. He knows and loves the classics, but he goes beyond them. He's interested in music played by bush men in Botswana. He plays Appalachian music with Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck. He's got a new album that includes duets with people like Diana Krall and James Taylor (among others). I've seen the man pluck his cello with both hands--including thumbs!--for goodness sake.

I'm sure there are musical purists who criticize some of the ways in which he strays out of the classical box, but I love his passion. His lack of fear. Specifically, he doesn't seem to fear that a sacred tradition will be lost or polluted by his experimentation. Last night on Tavis, Ma said that he hadn't found any tradition in the world in any culture that wasn't invented. He was suggesting (if somewhat implicitly) that the inventedness of traditions means that they do not need to be absolutely static, unchanging, or sacred. He does not seem to believe that some traditions (of music or whatever) are better merely because they are old. He believes that traditions (and music) are valuable because they give us meaning, thus his appreciation of the musical traditions of the bush men--along with the musical traditions of the hills of Appalachia.

As I keep thinking about how I want to change my teaching methods and content (now that I've been doing it for over a decade), I will keep Yo-Yo Ma in mind. Because as much as I lament the fact that my students are not giving due respect to the literary canon and its traditions of greatness, the reality, if I look at it squarely, is that we don't go to the bookstore to pick up books written in heroic couplets (a la Pope). Rather, it was the novel, and all of its "modernity," that, in the c18, won the day (or century). It is true that my students have a difficult time thinking (and writing) in depth, and I do want them to know some of the valuable literary traditions, but Yo-yo Ma seems to offer a great example about how we might can, in many ways, reject the ancient/modern dichtomony, opting instead for harmony.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A More-Than-Good-Enough Man

Current Events

A list of weekend events:

  1. Began mourning Paul Newman's death.
  2. Took the kids to view the crab tank at the fish market.
  3. Got snacks at the health food store.
  4. Visited new baby niece at the hospital (mom and baby are well!).
  5. Visited turtle/reptile show at which son held many snakes and at which husband was bit by a corn snake.
  6. Went to mom-and-kids (i.e., no dads) potluck gathering at which I felt like a character on "Thirtysomething."
  7. Came home to conduct bath and bed time routine.
  8. Watched first episode of Mad Men.
  1. Got up early with kids.
  2. Watched a show about whales.
  3. Watched beginning of 101 Dalmations.
  4. Watched Meet the Press and Chris Matthews.
  5. Went pier fishing. Caught mackerel, crabs, and lots of seaweed.
  6. Watched kids play at park. Ate linguica while sitting on the grass.
  7. Drove home, back to the fog.
  8. Bathed children.
  9. Ate great pasta made by Husband.
  10. Conducted story time and other bedtime activities.
  11. Got on computer.
  12. Am now sitting next to Husband who is reading an article about Palin on his computer.
  13. Will then probably move onto something from Netflix with some port and chocolate.
A great weekend (except for the Paul Newman part). But conspicuously absent: Exercise and Dissertation Research.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Stressed Out Baboons

I know I'm overdue for a post, and I have several topics in mind, but tonight I'm just going to chill out and keep watching this PBS special about stress. It features a hippy researcher from Stanford named Robert Sapolsky who studies the effects of stress in baboons, and he's a pretty funny dude. A good show.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Things my Son Has Learned During His First Month at Kindergarten

I like to think that he's learning about the sounds of the letters, etc., but these are the things I know for sure that he has picked up:

1. That he has "nuts" and that its fun to talking about kicking people's "nuts" (although he wasn't quite sure where they were located).

2. the "Bow-Chicka-Bow-Bow" tune (a la porno)

3. the Pledge of Allegiance

4. how to use the word "freakin'" as in "I'm 'freakin' hungry."

Shall we start talking about home schooling yet?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bad Guy Ballet

Yesterday, The Girl and I put on our tap shoes to dance in the dining room. It was The Girl's first time in her tap shoes, and though she liked the tapping sounds, she maintained a commitment to the ballet vibe. At one point, I tried to show her what I'd learned at my dance class (I've just recently started tapping for the first time since I was eight years old).

As I showed her some steps she said, "That's not beautiful. That's not ballet. That's how Bad Guys do ballet."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Home Renovation and the Quixotic Pursuit of Perfection

Last Saturday, I spent the day at the beach with the kiddie-poos. My husband, on the other hand, spent the day, with his brother, painting the entire inside (including ceilings) of his friend's new house--which is actually a charming but really OLD house. While I am glad that the husband could be such great help to his friend, his day (especially compared to mine) served to remind me of the advantages of the Good Enough approach when it comes to life and, especially, houses.

I know many people who have taken on fixer-uppers, and a I thoroughly enjoyed reading about David Giffels's own Herculean (or Sisyphusian?) efforts recounted in his entertaining book All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling Down House. But Giffels is also honest about the ways in which his dedication (or obsession) with the house impacted his marriage and his family. Similarly, I think about my husband's friend working on this house everday after work and on weekends, when he could be relaxing with his fiancee in the romantic bliss of their engagement. Instead, they must live in the garage of the house and cook on a hot plate as they try to agree on every single appliance, fixture, and floor covering for their house which, though charming, needs pretty much everything except new sheetrock.

Perhaps this seems so daunting to me since one of my first arguments with my husband (when he was still my fiance) was when we went to Home Depot and tried to decide on new carpet for our house. We started to become conflicted about carpet texture and color, and then promptly left the Depot with no carpet. Five years later, we still have raspberry-colored carpet throughout the majority of our house (which was here when we moved in), and we have made very few decisions related to home improvement. Perhaps this is also why most of our walls are bare. But the marriage is strong, a claim I'm not sure I could make if we had begun our relationship under the ceiling of a falling down (or even slightly leaning) house.

Don't get me wrong, I respect and even admire those people who place high value on the aesthetics of their homes, and I know our friend's house will be stunning in the LONG run. But it all takes us back to the Good Enough Principle. When I visit friends or colleagues who have spent years--lifetimes--working to make their homes into works of art, I get tired just listening to the stories about how long it took them to gather the pre-used bricks for their garden wall or how carefully they laid the 594 hand-painted tiles for the mosaic on the shower floor. After visiting such a house, when I get back home, I arrive back at my own front door with a great sense of relief and comfort, glad that I've seen such beauty, but also glad that I do not care to spend hours, days, weekends, and a lifetime creating the perfect house.

Instead, we live in a house with raspberry carpet, cheap and comfy couches (which are not especially attractive but all sections recline into La-Z-Boy position, a feature with which I now cannot live without), and old shower stall that has been (very nicely, dear Husband) frequently patched with fiberglass.

But, as we relax in our house, we have peaceful, easy feelings and we do not have to debate about parquet vs. wood, tile vs. linoleum, cork vs. bamboo, or granite vs. corian. We keep what we have, and we spend our weekends playing at the beach. And that's not just good enough; it's great.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

R.I.P. d.f.w.

I'm feeling a little stunned by the suicide of David Foster Wallace. I have often wondered about the ways in which genius and madness (by which I mean both psychosis and neurosis) are sometimes connected in artists, writers, mathematicians, etc. Certainly, not all geniuses are mad, but sometimes I wonder if the gifts of sight, awareness, and unearthly intelligence come with downsides.

I must admit that I never finished Infinite Jest (I think I know only one person who did), but I did read every brilliant word in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, in which the essays are true knockouts. His Harper's essay on grammar, "Tense Present," made me laugh-out-loud over pancakes at a cheap local diner. Yes, I laughed out loud while reading an essay on grammar, which is certainly a testament to his genius (as well as my geekiness).

I also just found out that he also wrote an essay about following John McCain during the 2000 campaign. I plan to rush out to get a hold of that one tomorrow.

A couple of years ago, The Husband and I went to see/hear Wallace do a reading. It was around the time that Everything and More: A History of Infinity came out (which was a great read for us since I'm a literature girl and The Husband is a math guy). I remember asking Wallace a question after the reading, and I could sense his impatience. He wasn't rude, but he seemed weary of the stageyness and feigned patience required by readings and book tours and interviews. Then I felt kind of stupid about my question. Not his fault, but his weariness made me realize that my question was kind of a silly timesuck.

My insights on this are incomplete since I'm just not sure what to say (or how much to say) about a suicide, so I will stop the words here, keep this post short and finite--as d.f.w. becomes infinite.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Marmie Moment

Today, I had a Marmie moment--or perhaps a Jo March moment or Louisa May Alcott moment. Either way, it felt great.

This morning, after we dropped The Boy at school, The Girl wanted to read Sleeping Beauty while lying on the floor in the playroom. So we did. Then, say said, "I want to play it." I correctly interpreted that she wanted to act it all out. Fortunately Husband/Dad showed up right about then to play Prince Phillip. I alternately played the good fairies (switching between Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather) and the evil fairy, Maleficent (which was really the most fun). The Girl, of course, played Sleeping Beauty (a.k.a. Aurora and Briar Rose).

Although she didn't have any lines, she was brilliant. She touched the spindle and collapsed into a limp heap on the carpet. She stayed limp and kept her eyes closed as I (being a good fairy) carried her to the futon. She did have a slight smile on her face, but otherwise, she was totally believable as a comatose beauty. And she was so committed to her sleep-like state that she didn't even open her eyes to watch the theatrics as Prince Phillip vanquished Maleficent.

When we finished the scene (after she received True Love's Kiss), she was overjoyed. The first time, she smiled and clapped her hands and said, "Let's do it again!" After the second time, she seemed so overwhelmed by her good luck (Mommy and Daddy totally focused on her and one of her favorite narratives) that she just stood there, smiling so big that she could not speak at all.

Granted, someday I will have to help her descontruct the gender identity she is developing from all of the princess stories (Snow White being one of the worst, I think, because of her ultimate passivity; Belle being one of the better ones if we overlook the fact that she falls in love with her captor, which is SO 16th-18th century), but today was high quality despite the Disneyfication of beauty and womanhood.

And as we acted our roles, and as I saw The Girl's absolute glee, I felt like a good mom. I felt like Alcott's Marmie as she supported and enjoyed the dramatic endeavors of her creative children who knew not Disney. Although I'm not sure even Marmie ever let out an evil cackle in a supporting role.

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Eyes Are Not Good Enough

A couple of days ago, something happened for the very first time. I was looking at label on some kind of jar or tube and I had to move it FARTHER away in order to see it. Do you know what this means? Bifocals--that's what it means. My near vision is going buh-bye.

But how can that be possible if I'm still nearsighted? It must be possible, because I think my mother and her sisters (and everyone else in my family) are nearsighted and still cannot read close up after a certain age. Everyone has reading glasses or bifocals or one contact in and one contact out. So I guess this means that I cannot see near, and I cannot see far. I think the Law of the Excluded Middle is somehow at play here.

So the big Four Oh is next month. Is this what happens when one turns 40? The eyes get old and weary and tell you to just shut of the computer and go to bed early because what's the point of being awake when you're so old? I've spent the past hour looking at other blogs, catching up on my reading so-to-speak, and now my eyes are too shot to stare at the screen while I write my own blog. When did my eyes start hurting from looking at the computer? Is it because I've been staring at the computer on dark evenings after the children have gone sleepy-leap?

My eyes are now telling me to turn of the computer, have some port and chocolate, and see if I can find anything good on one of my three channels (okay, I actually have about six or seven channels, but only three are in English). I can't even proofread this or my forehead will implode.

For help with your own computer/vision problems, click here. (Photo courtesy of Brian Basset and Microsoft Corporation--please don't sue me guys!)

Friday, September 5, 2008

So Knowledge is a Bad Thing?

I'm watching Washington Week, and a pundit just said, "Joe Biden will have to be careful in his debate with Palin. He doesn't want to show too much knowledge."


I've Come to Terms

Okay. I'm realizing that, thinking objectively, the fact that Sarah Palin has kids (regardless of number or nature) is irrelevant to her candidacy. Every mother has choice about how to be a mother.

I couldn't add such a high-intensity job to my life and feel "good enough" about my motherhood, but I realize that that's just me. And how I would do it shouldn't affect how I judge other moms. I mean that. The Republicans might be right (Whaaa?); the motherhood question, in all fairness, should be off the table.

Now onto other questions. "Is Palin qualified to step into the presidency?" for one.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Good Enough Vice-President?

Okay. So the whole point of this blog, or at least the inspiration for this blog, is to support the notion that women, especially mothers, shouldn't feel bad about trying to have it all, and that in order to have it all, we might not always do "it all" perfectly. Somestimes, we're (just barely) good enough. And that's . . . okay (to quote Stuart Smalley).

Now we have our poster case: Sarah Palin.

I must admit, I'm a bit thrown by the whole thing. Suddenly, I'm seeing Laura Ingraham and Rudy Giuliani wag their fingers at the double standards of those who ask, "Can she really handle family responsibilities along with being the veep or, dare we say it, the president?" It's strange and disorienting to see Republicans and even ultra-conservatives cheer the hockey mom with five kids who could be leader of the nation and commander in chief. Especially when, if I remember correctly, Hillary was attacked in 1992 (and thereafter) for being too much of a career woman. She had to write a book about children in order to (try to) shift that impression. This morning, I heard someone saying that we wouldn't be asking these questions if Palin were a Democrat. Are you KIDDING me? A Democratic mother of five would NEVER make it because conservatives would assume she's a terrible, neglectful mother instead of a kickass mother (the latter of which seems to be the take on Palin). I mean, aren't all Democrat or, worse, LIBERAL mothers bad mothers anyway? You know, since we don't have any family values.

I have heard pundits and regular people say that it's offensive for anyone to ask about Palin's family obligations when we wouldn't ask the same questions of a man. Okay, that might be true. But for me, as a mom who works, as a mom who often feels guilty when I have a busy week and am away from the kids more than usual, I just can't imagine.

I have two kids and I am a tenured instructor at a community college. My husband is a university lecturer. We are both full-time professionals, and sometimes, during the academic year, life just gets crazy. That's when I have to be satisfied with being "good enough" at all of my roles. But I do have the option of taking two extra days to get my students' papers back to them. Or I can go into a class a little underprepared and still hope to do well. I can even miss a day (or more) if I need to skip out and spend time with a sick child.

But, as I mentioned in my first post, there are some jobs for which "good enough" just isn't . . . enough. President of the United States--the office for which Sarah Palin must be ready--is one of those jobs. In order to be great at something, one must divert all resources (energy, time) into that role. One cannot put Putin on hold or wait until tomorrow to deal with the dangers of a hurrican.

I teach a Women's Studies course. I do scholarly work on feminist issues. But I still have questions about Sarah Palin as mother/veep. If I step back and think of it all very logically and objectively--sort of like Spock--I say, "Sure, why not. It's up to her. She can live her life how she chooses, and she can be veep and a parent--just like a man." And really I do believe that. But, as a mom, I just can't even begin to imagine being in her shoes.

And since her her balancing act could affect me, I just wonder.

I also wonder, if she gets to the White House, how many "good enough" moms around the country will have to hear, from hubbies or others, "Look at Sarah Palin. She does it all, and she has a more important job than you and more kids that you!" Will that be a step forward for women?

Most of the women I met in my postpartum mommy-and-me groups did not work full time, and most of them still don't. A lot of woman have realized that "haven't it all" is just too tough. That, in order to have it all, too many things have to give. Many women also realized that if they work out-of-the-home full time, they STILL do most of the work at home (as was confirmed in some recent studies). So many of those women have decided to be stay-at-home moms. Or they work out of the home just part-time in order to hold it all together. Unfortunately, this is where the supermom backlash starts. It's the notion that, "Oh, well if you're JUST going to stay home and not 'work,' then you better be a supermom. The house better look like a Pottery Barn set, and the children better be eating homemade organic food." As if perfect is the only equivlent of "good enough."

Somehow, Sarah Palin seems to fictionlize all of this. As if the woman from the "I can bring home the bacon" commercial of the 1980's just walked on to the presidential stage and said, "See? It's easy. I'm a good Christian, a good mother, and I can be President."

I can't go on. My head is spinning from the political and social whiplash that is smacking me around.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Maybe My Most Embarrassing Teaching Moment

Backstory: At home, all day long, my kids talk to me. Constantly, they talk. Often, I'm distracted or I don't hear them, so I find myself saying "What, Sweetie?" a bazillion times a day.

So, I'm in class on Monday, passing back papers. I'm looking at the names, sorting through them, while students are talking amongst themselves. A voice off to my right says something. And I respond:

"What, Sweetie?"

I realized my mistake in one second or less. That voice had come from a 20-ish young man in my class who was asking me a question. And I called him "Sweetie."

Color me mortified. And bright red.

Lots of giggles all around, with me trying to apologize and backtrack so that no one could press charges against me.