trees, brisk wind, bagels…and route one.

New Jersey.

I love it.  (I heard that. Quit snickering.)

Maybe instead of trying to publish the dissertation I’m supposed to write, instead I’ll write a love letter to the Garden State.  Or a bit more broadly–the tri-state area.  Or the entire Northeast Corridor.

It’s good to be back, and already it feels too quick.  I’ve consumed more bagels in the last couple of days than in the past few weeks.  All the best things about this place are tough to keep as souvenirs.  Bagels, hoagies, leaves, breeze, accents, blunt-yet-efficient servers.

The NYC jaunt might have been better but for the rain (cold, slanted rain).  Not one to complain (ha!), though, the day/night up there was great…seeing friends from Kentucky, gathered in Harlem is a bit trippy.  Over the Rhine were fantastic…so classy, snazzy and on.  After hearing them sing and talk about the new album, I appreciate it even more.

Today might have been the picaresque northeastern day.  I got up and went to read and have breakfast (bagel, cream cheese, fruit, tea) at a quaint cafe in Lawrenceville.  A bit of work done, then snuck food into Across the Universe (perhaps some more thoughts pending….I liked it though.), took a lovely run through the University, down Prospect Street (Eating Clubs), and back to Alisa’s apartment via Nassau Street (quintessential northeastern shopping).  Then we made dinner and pies.  Two pies.  Apple-butter-pumpking pie, and some quasi-created-apple-crumble-gooey-goodness.

It is totally fall.

heart full

things that made me smile and/or laugh today:

  • enjoying being in a roomful of freshmen
  • not being afraid of the needle when having to have blood drawn (while being annoyed at the nurse who told me “you got stingy at the end!”)
  • finishing the NYT crossword. In pen.
  • beautiful weather–and girls in ear muffs (Texas.)
  • being called a neo-con by my professor
  • contemplating (hoping for) the future invasion/occupation of Canada into the U.S., imparting socialism, thereby ‘liberating’ us from our oppressive regime. (Turns out Michael Moore already did that.)
  • watching our dog do acrobatics because she didn’t know how to deal with being on a leash
  • making a great meal to celebrate a wonderful friend and roommate
  • packing all my things for a week in the northeast in one large backpack
  • the phrase “lie balls”

now taking applications

for my personal assistant.  anyone?  (I’m really nice)

I’m not complaining; I’m not, I swear. Somehow this semester took off, full speed ahead.  It is sunny (mostly) and hot (very) still, so getting out of summer/beginning-of-the-year-mode is hard.  Growing up with seasons has me hard-wired to plan according to weather.  Right about this time is should be brisk, chilly, getting me up and moving in the morning.  By the end of the semester it should be a bit greyer, darker, and colder, making it infinitely easier to stay in the library, in a cardigan, in front of a computer.

My dose of Fall is coming, though.  New Jersey–Garden State–here I come.  I made a little vacation out of it, and I might be killing myself a bit when I get back, but this is just the homecoming I’ll need.  Serendipitous scheduling is allowing me to see more old friends than I thought—PTS is holding an Alumni Gathering–and Over the Rhine is playing (with Rosie Thomas) in NYC on Friday night, so I’ll get to see old friends Karin and Linford (plus my real-life friends).  Crunchy leaves, slate sidewalks, brisk runs, layers, scarves, late nights with old friends…

(p.s. you can see my dorm room in this picture)

Also, did I mention I’m teaching next semester?  Religion and Society.  I need a book list and syllabus.  Any ideas? (no seriously.)

backup plan

Roommate and I just decided no more teaching for us; instead we’re re-vamping Kerouac.  Two wanna-be hippies instead of Beat poets.  And we’re taking our small dog instead of a big dog.  Done and done.

still in skirts

I pick up the New York Times every day. I flip through, then do (read: attempt) the crossword.

I digress. The following Op-Ed piece ran in Monday’s paper. Got me thinking more about feminism on college campuses, especially among females students. Here is the link.

Here is the text:

Politeness and Authority at a Hilltop College in Minnesota

Published: October 15, 2007

Last week I spent a couple of days in western Minnesota, giving a talk and visiting some classes at Gustavus Adolphus College. The campus covers a hill above the small town of St. Peter, and the wind cuts across it like old news from the west. Gustavus Adolphus is a Lutheran college. I asked a couple of students how it differs from St. Olaf College — another Lutheran institution in a small Minnesota town, where I once taught — and they said, “They’re Norwegian. We’re Swedish.”

Once, a town like St. Peter would have seemed like destination enough. After all, small farm towns with good colleges are not that common. But now, more and more of the faculty live in the Twin Cities, an hour and a half away, and, as one professor told me, the college describes itself to new recruits in terms of its distance from a city, not its presence in a town.

I sat in on four classes, which were marred only by politeness — the deep-keeled Minnesotan politeness that states, as a life proposition, that you should not put yourself forward, not even to the raising of a hand in class.

Things always warmed up, but those first lingering notes of hesitation were something to behold. I tried to think of it as modesty, consideration for others and reluctance in the presence of a guest — from New York nonetheless. And yet I kept wondering just how such bright, personable students had become acculturated to their own silence. I had grown up in a similar place and knew a little how they felt, but that was a long time ago.

Midway through lunch one day a young woman asked me if I noticed a difference between the writing of men and the writing of women. The answer is no, but it’s a good question. A writer’s fundamental problem, once her prose is under control, is shaping and understanding her own authority. I’ve often noticed a habit of polite self-negation among my female students, a self-deprecatory way of talking that is meant, I suppose, to help create a sense of shared space, a shared social connection. It sounds like the language of constant apology, and the form I often hear is the sentence that begins, “My problem is …”

Even though this way of talking is conventional, and perhaps socially placating, it has a way of defining a young writer — a young woman — in negative terms, as if she were basically incapable and always giving offense. You simply cannot pretend that the words you use about yourself have no meaning. Why not, I asked, be as smart and perceptive as you really are? Why not accept what you’re capable of? Why not believe that what you notice matters?

Another young woman at the table asked — this is a bald translation — won’t that make us seem too tough, too masculine? I could see the subtext in her face: who will love us if we’re like that? I’ve heard other young women, with more experience, ask this question in a way that means, Won’t the world punish us for being too sure of ourselves? This is the kind of thing that happens when you talk about writing. You always end up talking about life.

These are poignant questions, and they always give me pause, because they allow me to see, as nothing else does, the cultural frame these young women have grown up in. I can hear them questioning the very nature of their perceptions, doubting the evidence of their senses, distrusting the clarity of their thoughts.

And yet that is the writer’s work — to notice and question the act of noticing, to clarify again and again, to sift one’s perceptions. I’m always struck by how well fitted these young women are to be writers, if only there weren’t also something within them saying, Who cares what you notice? Who authorized you? Don’t you owe someone an apology?

Every young writer, male or female, Minnesotan or otherwise, faces questions like these at first. It’s a delicate thing, coming to the moment when you realize that your perceptions do count and that your writing can encompass them. You begin to understand how quiet, how subtle the writer’s authority really is, how little it has to do with “authority” as we usually use the word.

Young men have a way of coasting right past that point of realization without even noticing it, which is one of the reasons the world is full of male writers. But for young women, it often means a real transposition of self, a new knowledge of who they are and, in some cases, a forbidding understanding of whom they’ve been taught to be.

Perhaps the world will punish them for this confidence. Perhaps their self-possession will chase away everyone who can’t accept it for what it is, which may not be a terrible thing. But whenever I see this transformation — a young woman suddenly understanding the power of her perceptions, ready to look at the world unapologetically — I realize how much has been lost because of the culture of polite, self-negating silence in which they were raised.

 

admitting it: first step

Things I’ve been addicted to…  (Or for the NPR crowd, things to which I’ve been addicted)

  • crossword puzzles
  • my couch at night
  • hot tea at night
  • taco tuesday at rosa’s
  • reading in bed (finished Eat, Pray, Love, just started History of Love, want to read The Kite Runner)
  • watching our dog run around the house
  • The Office
  • music from A Fine Frenzy, Andrew Bird, Bishop Allen and the Decemberists

dear mr. president

(A friend recently introduced this song to me. I love it. There is truth here.)

Dear Mr. President,
Come take a walk with me.
Let’s pretend we’re just two people and
You’re not better than me.
I’d like to ask you some questions if we can speak honestly.

What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street?
Who do you pray for at night before you go to sleep?
What do you feel when you look in the mirror?
Are you proud?

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?
How do you walk with your head held high?
Can you even look me in the eye
And tell me why?

Dear Mr. President,
Were you a lonely boy?
Are you a lonely boy?
Are you a lonely boy?
How can you say
No child is left behind?
We’re not dumb and we’re not blind.
They’re all sitting in your cells
While you pave the road to hell.

What kind of father would take his own daughter’s rights away?
And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?
I can only imagine what the first lady has to say
You’ve come a long way from whiskey and cocaine.

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?
How do you walk with your head held high?
Can you even look me in the eye?

Let me tell you ’bout hard work
Minimum wage with a baby on the way
Let me tell you ’bout hard work
Rebuilding your house after the bombs took them away
Let me tell you ’bout hard work
Building a bed out of a cardboard box
Let me tell you ’bout hard work (Hard work)
You don’t know nothing ’bout hard work (Hard work)

How do you sleep at night?
How do you walk with your head held high?
Dear Mr. President,
You’d never take a walk with me.
Would you?

–Pink (feat. Indigo Girls)