Thursday, October 30, 2008

Things grownups should know

I can't help myself! I must say it! I'm surrounded by young adults who are clueless about very basic things! I. Must. Give. Assvice. Here, so I don't accost people on the bus.

1) When you buy a new winter coat? The classy grownup kind? And there's a fabric label proclaiming '100% merino wool' or 'Italian cashmere blend'? Affixed to the cuff? THAT IS MEANT TO BE CUT OFF BEFORE YOU WEAR IT IN PUBLIC. Honestly, has our branded culture so infected us with the desire to flaunt labels that it is not obvious that this particular tag is a relic of days gone by, meant simply as information to the purchaser and not for display to the world at large? Yikes.

2) Similarly, that lovely long raincoat with the cute twin flaps at the rear? YOU HAVE TO CUT THOSE BASTING STITCHES HOLDING THEM SHUT. Honestly, can you not see that it's just the flimsiest of fastenings? Holding shut flaps that are obviously meant to, well, flap? They are sewn shut so that when they are shipped here in giant boxes from (sigh) some impoverished country on the other side of the world, the garment doesn't get fantastically crumpled or bent.

To conclude, it makes me sad that so many young adults are so adept at purchasing new garments, but seem incapable of properly wearing them. I mean, you don't have to match your shoes to your purse to your lipstick or anything like that. Just take the tags off, and cut the basting stiches. What is happening to this world?

Phew. Thanks for indulging the rant. Really, I'm usually fairly pleasant to be around ....

Monday, October 27, 2008

True life insights

Lately, we've been waking up late. Or in crisis. Or cranky. Whatever. The point is that it's a race to get out of here in anything near a timely fashion, such that if I brush my teeth I count myself among the fantastically well-prepared.

Usually, I bring my makeup bag to work with me, because I don't get it done at home.

However, on those days that mornings are too rushed to get my face on? I usually am waaaaay to busy at work to manage to get it done there, either.

Begin as you mean to continue, Mimi. Begin as you mean to continue ...


(I'm shameless now. This morning, I had three minutes before class to 'spare' so I dashed into the public washroom in my hallway, Clinique bonus-bag in hand. While chatting with a colleague about school boundaries and urban education, I slammed on: foundation, powder, blush, eyeliner, and mascara. Never broke my conversational stride. And I did manage to apologize for my rudeness, but hell, I've whipped out my boobs in public on many an occasion, so now? I don't care).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Post trip stress disorder

Not me, her.

I arrived home Sunday after she'd gone to bed. I collapsed exhausted into my own bed, a phantom jet rumble seeming to vibrate everything and to ring in my ears, the clock pulsing nonsensical numbers, everything all at once familiar and strange. Relief and finally, relaxed.

I was surprised how much I missed them, my family, while I was away. Maybe it was the fact of a continent between us, maybe the strangeness of total immersion in Danish language and culture, maybe that my cell phone just couldn't, no matter what I was willing to pay, connect my voice to theirs. I pined, physically pined for Pynchon, for Munchkin. I was surprised. Usually, I'm guiltily pleased to have these trips away, these four, five days of hotel beds and interesting intellectual work. Maybe because I've always been traveling west, the trip out has been so much smoother. East is a bitch, I tell you, and the six hours difference between here and Copenhagen never quite resolved itself. On the way home, I sat in a café at the Amsterdam airport, drinking in images of my family, flicking through the 914 photos of this past year, one by one, methodically.

I missed them so much it hurt.

But they were fine without me, obviously: Pynchon met tough deadlines and Munchkin ate full meals. He slept in and she had tantrums. There were hugs and visits and Sunday brunch and trips to the park. They were fine--they were great, even.

When she saw me Monday morning, calling out 'Dada, Dada!' from her bed, she was gracious. 'Mom! I miss you!' she said, smiling, and lolled back so I could rub her belly. She calmly accepted my frenzied tribute of a million belly kisses, my frantic sniffing and patting and kissing. She took it all in stride and was not remiss in asking for what I'd brought her, very pleased with her new leather slippers and her tiny gingerbread doll. I brought her to preschool and she cheerfully waved goodbye.

Monday night, though, she began to crack. Getting her ready for bed, I rocked and read and fed and hugged and tucked and patted. I reassured, consoled, and sang. It wasn't enough. She wouldn't let me leave. She woke up three times during the night, crying as though her heart were breaking, and only Mommy would do. She clung to me ardently, with a surprising strength. As I tried to extricate myself from her the third time, around 3:30am, she reached out desperately, "But I love you, Mommy! Don't leave me! Stay wif me, Mommy! I miss you."


And this has been our week, the gradual unleashing of the torrent of fear and need and the more gradual rebuilding of the defenses against the terror of abandonment. Mommy is here, I will be here when you wake up, we will play. I will not leave you, Munchkin. Mommy always comes back.

We sit on the couch, watching Max and Ruby. I brush the hair from her eyes, pat her knee, knit in companionable silence. My deep longing for her manifested itself during my absence, and was sated with my return; she, not quite so mature, only felt her loss once I came back to her, and the terror is in contemplating what might happen again.

(Can you see the terror? Okay, maybe not. BTW, she didn't quite look like this when she went to daycare in the morning. This is how she came home ...)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

WW: Greeting from Denmark

Well, I'm back now, but I wish you could have been there with me!

Some giant pottery in the public square at Roskilde: the miracle was that I navigated the train system and my inadequate tourist guide and the jet lag to actually make it to this medieval city 30 minutes outside of Copenhagen.

Bicycles and brickwork: Europe looks a lot like a university campus, huh? I have to think about that some more. (BTW, everyone rides bikes in Denmark, with their kids, dressed for work, or in high heels. No helmets. Proper bike lanes.)

Some reconstructed Viking boats at the Viking museum in Roskilde. I got to watch some historic shipbuilders at work, and also sat next to a reseacher who was working on historic textiles: she was hand weaving Viking wool on a loom. Oddly fascinating. For a dork like me.

You can't see this too clearly, but it's a cityscape built and partly demolished entirely out of white Lego! This is in the Radhuspladsen--the 'city square' in the centre of Copenhagen.

So I'm walking along a canal through Kongens Nytorv, another public square, when my coffee and I lean out over the water. I nearly drop my tiny, six dollar latte when I look down and see people! frolicking! under water! But, phew, it's a statue. Random art terror!

Can you believe I found another city that has paving stones built out of wood? It makes my noise-sensitive heart glad. I imagine it felt nicer on the feet of the horses, too.

The reason for the trip: 400+ sociologists and little ole me, gathered together to make ponderous proclamations about Internet culture, in a gorgeous Danish Modern technology school. Where the wireless Internet conks out by the time you hit the 3rd floor.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Big Thinky, Straight From Scandinavia ...

The diary-style blog is a distinct subcategory of the blogosphere. It is marked by long, discursive posts detailing aspects of the diarist’s daily life, a paucity of outbound links relative to political or punditry blogs, and a generally small number of commenters who tend to respond regularly to posts and whose own blogs, in turn, are read by the blogger. Diary-style blogs are tremendously more prevalent than their news or current events counterparts, and they are overwhelmingly female-authored.

Despite their statistical dominance of the blogosphere, these texts have not drawn very much critical attention within digital media studies. Why? Helen Kennedy cites Mark Dery, Sherry Turkle, and Howard Rheingold’s early work as setting a particular precedent for the examination of community online; while valuable, such texts concentrate on aggressive textual flaming, experimentation with alternate identities in MUDs, and very public modes of interaction on Bulletin Board Systems, respectively. This emphasis on ‘public texts’ persists in the Web 2.0 era. Susan Herring et al propose that a focus on these texts “indirectly reproduc[e] societal sexism and ageism, and mispresent[] the fundamental nature of the weblog phenomenon”; they ultimately argue for “more research on weblogs produced by women and teens,” blogs that are overwhelmingly the personal musings on private lives overlooked by prior research Auto/biography scholars have also noted this lack, and have flagged as well key intellectual and methodological challenges posed by a shift in emphasis to an examination of more private online spaces. Analysis of the diary-style blog offers ample opportunity for methodological innovation, then, as well as the more immediate practical benefit of opening another set of texts to critical view, texts that are perhaps more representative of popular practice than what earlier scholarship suggested was the case.

The diary-style blog, I contend, is a hybrid genre, at once public and private, and this hybridity mediates how authors and commenters relate to each other in this format. The diary-style blog is, obviously a public space, published on the broader internet, a space where bloggers actively solicit feedback—opinions, advice, experience—from a community of readers; where commenters may respond to each other as much as to the original post, returning multiple times to the thread to see where it leads; where traffic statistics and variously flashy ads are displayed; and where other sites are referenced through links, blogrolls, and badges. Diary-style bloggers who enroll in directories or add social media tools like Kirtsy or Digg understand their writings to be public texts, in that they seek to disseminate them more widely through these means. The diary-style blog is also, though, a private space, a location over which a blogger has undisputed agency: setting access levels to posts and comments; choosing a site title and URL; publishing, organizing, and deleting posts at will; selecting and personalizing a design template; composing and displaying autobiographical profile information; and asserting intellectual property through licensing or copyright statements. Bloggers who deliberately misspell oft-searched terms (some bloggers who breastfeed type ‘b00bs’ for ‘boobs’, for example), who remove sensitive posts after a short period of time, or who keep their writings a secret from their ‘real life’ friends and family treat their texts as private, in meaningful ways. As Miller and Shepherd note, then, “[b]logs can be both public and intensely personal in possibly contradictory ways.”

I propose that an ethic of hospitality infuses much of the writing in the one subset of the diary-style blogosphere: I will demonstrate by way of reading examples of how one mommy blog manages disagreement not by recourse to flaming and namecalling but rather by compositional and interpersonal strategies that manage conflict and reinforce community.

To conclude, MOMMY BLOGS KICK ASS. Thank you, and um, where's the coffee?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Giving thanks

What a weekend: 0kt0berfest on Friday, excursion with houseguests Saturday, cooking and consuming Thanksgiving dinner with my sister and her family on Sunday, Thanksgiving parade with them on Monday morning. Monday evening? Overnight flight to Denmark.

I'm in Denmark now, having joked that I had to go to Europe to get a good night's sleep--last week was a helluva week, you see--and I miss them terribly. How can it be that I'm so glad to be here--enjoying who I am when I am a traveller, something I've had a chance to experience quite a bit this year--and aching for home?

What I am thankful for, this year, then, are my commitments and my freedoms: my family, this family that Pynchon and I have built together, which we continue to build every day is the stabilizing force in my life; my work, with its selfish insistence that I follow my own intellectual interests and its requirements that I travel far and wide to learn and to teach, is my freedom.

It's balance, where I am usually complaining of being off-kilter.

Here's a little of our Thanksgiving, a little bit of a life that is, both bracingly and sadly, a whole continent away from me:

Here's Munchkin, playing in some leaves we raked up together: I couldn't find a kid-sized rake, so I got her a shrubbery rake, which has green tines and wooden handle, just like my rake. She loves it. What she loves more? Jumping in the pile and demanding to know where her feet have gone to. Grabbing piles of leaves by the armful and moving the whole shebang 7 feet north. Lying flat on her back and flayling like mad, yelling HOORAY!

Munchkin and my sister: we are all laughing because Munchkin has just soundly sneezed into the bowl. Twice. We didn't tell anyone, but we baked the hell out of that broccoli casserole, I tell you!

If your toddler wants to help prepare Thanksgiving dinner, get her (or him!) to shred bread for stuffing. Toddlers love destroying stuff, and they are in fact very good at it. Toddlers can be very methodical, and Munchkin at least loves 'cooking'. She only ate about half a (very stale) piece, and dutifully and cheerfully shredded the rest. No sneezing!

The cousins at the parade: I love that they look like siblings. It makes the age difference (13, 7, 2) seem less jarring, somehow. They adore each other and it just fills my heart. It does.

Well, if you've made it this far, thanks for indulging my long-distance sappiness.

You know, I was just looking at my recent posts before I started this and I noticed something odd. There are several posts right up there on the front page where my baby doesn't appear at all. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'll give it a think.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Campus notes

Campus is really at its best this time of year. For the most part, the weather is crisp, bright, and cheerful. The leaves are Crayola-bright and swirl overhead and underfoot in a pleasing way. The crowds of the first couple of weeks have thinned, which is convenient for my rushed walks between the far-flung buildings in which I teach back-to-back classes--but I probably shouldn't be cheering what is essentially the onset of of widespread absenteeism. My own students are still showing up, although more frequently in their 'studying clothes' than in their colourful, new back-to-school outfits of the first weeks. Everything settles into its routine: I learn names, review notes, grade assignments, and reconsider ideas I'd begun to take for granted as I learn something new absolutely every day.

Campus is at its best this time of year.


I'm such a dork. Today, taking a shortcut through an empty classroom to shave 10 seconds off my commute to the ladies room--it's almost as if I'm a medical doctor, rushing to the ER, so precious are my counted footsteps!--I walked into a door frame. You see, as I breezed through, something on the board from the morning class caught my eye, and I got a little more engrossed in reading than in, ahem, looking where I was going.


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you know you're in the right career ...


I gave blood today. I was in the student centre anyway, dropping off my precious, precious MacBook Pro to have its topcase replaced (this is what you need to do when, out of the blue, the keyboard and mouse just don't work anymore). I was absolutely adrift: what the hell to do? I thought I might grade my undergrads' midterms, which are obviously on paper. But the answer key? On the laptop. Edit my recently-accepted article on You've Got Mail? On the laptop. Do the readings for my grad class? On the Internet, linked to from ... my laptop.

So I figured I'd kill the service time giving blood. I mean, I'd already pretty much had a limb amputated when I handed over my Mac. What's another 500ml of blood? Yeesh.


I gave blood today, surrounded by bored nurses and nervous university students. I've done this a ton of times, except for a five year period where the timing of various piercings and a tattoo rendered me serially ineligible. I used to give blood a lot at York, where I did my undergrad. The clinic was always set up in the Bear Pit in Central Square. To be honest, I was easily induced at that time to participate in any activity that would result in me being fed. Once, as I lay there trying not to look at my arm (leads to fainting, every time), the nurse leaned over me and remarked:

"You look just like Uma Thurman! In that movie!"

She meant Pulp Fiction. You remember--naturally blonde Uma with a short, stark black bob, dark red lips and a white shirt? Check, check, check, and check. You remember of course that she was drug addled and nearly died in the film. So I answered, joking:

"Awww, you're just saying that because I've got a big needle sticking out of me."

She didn't laugh.


Campus is at its best this time of year. Students begin to buckle down into the real intellectual work of it, as midterms loom, arrive, and then pass. The tone is a little more serious, but not desperate like before finals, not exhausted and snowy and dark like the new semester in January will be.

I'm writing this post in the Student Centre--my laptop has that 'new computer' smell again, and my arm is stained nicotine-yellow from the iodine swab. Students around me are variously discussing 'hot chicks', travel home for Thanksgiving, and what happened in class.

It's all pretty good.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Your moment of baby zen

Because there's nothing better for morale than babies dancing to 1980s vaguely obscene popular 'rap': what you can't hear in the background is Salt 'n' Pepa's seminal hit, "Push it". Please try to catch Munchkin's attempts at the lyrics.

This is her favorite song, and we're doing an after-dinner dance by request. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Do you ever really grow up?

My parents came. Another lightning visit, but one that had promised to be a little longer than it actually turned out to be. Friday 3:30pm to Sunday 8:00am.

The highlights? My parents actually seem to like the 'new' house (and that's right, I've been here since May and this is their first visit, and they're an afternoon's drive away). Mom is particularly impressed that it's so old and has brick and oak and squeaky floors and such. My parents adore Pynchon. Mom came to daycare to surprise Munchking, and the looks on both their faces were priceless. Mom and Dad read the special nursery rhyme book to Munchkin; she, in turn, helped them to 'unpack' all their belongings in the guest room. My sister came and we got a sitter: Pynchon and I and Mom and Dad and my sister went out for dinner and drank too much wine; my sister and I went out to Starbucks after. The babysitter put Munchkin to bed.

The low points? My parents arrived with all their own food--they don't seem to trust me to be provisioned. They were rarely here and seemed to get out of the house as fast as possible when Munchkin was awake, and to mysteriously reappear to read the newspaper at naptime. They cut a whole day from their visit to take off with my sister back to her house, her kids. The guest bed needs my dad, apparently, to fix it. There is too much dog poop lurking on local sidewalks to ensnare my dad.

I'm keeping score: hours of a visit, compliments paid versus critiques made, time spent with the granddaughter, time spent with me. Time shopping rather than being with family. I'm snappish about it: I want so badly to see them, and yet, when they're here, I'm annoyed. It feels like nothing so much as being a teenager again. Come closer, go away.

I reread what I'm writing and think: it's not so bad? They came, right? I guess I have this idea in my head of parents too eager for more of me, of their granddaughter. Overinvested and overinvolved. I want to roll my eyes and mutter, "oh, my parents are coming AGAIN, I don't think Munchkin can handle all the attention and I'm perpetually busy drinking tea with my mom and looking at landscaping with my dad." But I guess not everyone gets those parents (I know that many of you have lost your parents entirely, and that's a sobering thought). I guess what gets me, actually, is that my sister has those parents. No, wait. That's not it. It's that her kids have those grandparents.

Ah, you see. It's multigenerational sibling rivalry.

I'm so mature.