Saturday, May 31, 2008

Liberation from Gmail: An Essay on Memory.

I have a new laptop. It is awesome. I transferred all of my old files and then deleted them from my old laptop, to give to my sister. I also, for the sake of privacy (which I do have), deleted everything in my Outlook 2007 on that old computer. I log into my Real Life Alter Ego account in the Gmail webclient. ALL the emails in my web inbox, and we're taking 3,000 over the last three years, are GONE. I check my Outlook 2007 on my new laptop. The inbox is also empty.

WTF?! How did this happen?! How did a bunch of folders on an Outlook email client on ANOTHER laptop get deleted too?! I thought I had rigged my Gmail to keep a copy in the inbox, even if it is downloaded through an IMAP elsewhere. Damn the IMAP server! POP servers were better, even if duplicative! Where are all of my emails?! Most of the communications were mindless (and there are too many of them) and some where oversharing (so maybe it is good that they were deleted), but still...I kind of feel like a huge archive of my life has been taken away from me. I am sad.

Well, while I'm currently pissed, maybe this is good for me. This is no different than the huge .uci.edu wipeout of years ago, or the huge .law.___.edu wipe out of just a few years ago. I keep wanting to hold onto things, or think I do, but I don't miss them when they're gone, and am probably better off without them. The secret about sentimentalists who want to hold onto every love letter from Pretentious College Dude is that we don't actually want to keep those letters. You may want to mock them years later, but you don't want to keep them. Being a sentimental nut and aspiring minimalist means that you actually hope that you don't get more things of emotional significance, because then you have to keep them and carry them with you. Even data, which are so intangible and almost imaginary, must be transferred. Storage space is getting cheaper, but mental space is not. I am glad that I don't have boxes of love letters from old boyfriends to read through and think about, and so maybe it's good that I don't have a gigantic 2 GB of email to keep around either .And even though Gmail had this awesome hook of "never delete an email message again," well, maybe that wasn't a bad idea. If I have something, I tend to re-read it, or think about it, or rely too much on its background existence. It is not good for me to keep things, whether good or bad. I am a creature of the past and enslaved to memory, whether mine or my computer's, and it's hard to move forward. Part of the cleansing of Horrible LL.M Year was deleting every message from the Awful French People.

So, in a way, this is cleansing. This, at least, is my positive spin on the irreversible deletion. I will miss some of the missives from Amber, but fortuitously, most of them are saved in my "Sent" folder when I replied to her (this folder wasn't toggled to my IMAP server!) but almost everything I have from this year, while good, has been intangible and unrecorded. TD is not the emailing type. Ironic, yes. Much like many of the awesome memories, almost everything is unrecorded, and it comports with my theory that sometimes, you don't want to record the good stuff for posterity. Who cares about the posterity? Somethings you should keep to yourself. The good stuff may fade from memory and you may have no proof of it and no ability to relive through pictures and written record, but that's what makes it special. Who among us is not an archivist of our lives, and who among us isn't an archaeologist of fading memories? I used to think that I needed a picture, a letter, some written or pictorial record of the event, or it didn't happen. Now, as I'm trying to lighten up the stuff I carry around literally and figuratively, sigh, I am trying not to need such things.

I'm in the last weekend of visiting my parents, and I have drawers full of bad term papers which I cannot touch, and boxes full of mash notes and hand-made cards from girl friends and crushes/boyfriends from high school to college. I am thinking that I should chuck everything. It's an easy crutch to use your parents' house as physical and emotional storage.

Really, not only do I need a LifeHacker, but also a MindHacker.

I was going to post this poem I wrote back in college, but oh look, I already did.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

the institutional culture and "reputation" of liberal arts colleges

Lots of interesting organizational issues in this essay by Prof. Tim Burke (Swarthmore):

It’s really hard to accept change in an institution that you cherished as it was. (Yet more declension narratives!) If alumni have a useful role, in fact, it’s as guardians of the essential traditions and values of their own institution.

“Essential” is the tricky thing here. No college or university in the United States is anything like what it was seventy-five years ago. In the early 20th Century, most private universities and colleges were far more strongly tied to a religious denomination. They were shabbily genteel places that educated a small fraction of a social elite. They were nothing like the multimillion dollar institutions that inspire dread and frenzy among high school juniors and their parents every spring.

The stereotypical personalities that most individual colleges and universities are known for today came together fairly recently, partly invented or distilled by the first generation of consultants, guides and counselors who appeared as a byproduct of the growing selectivity and centrality of higher education after 1960.

I think most selective colleges and universities today feel some ambivalence about their reputational brand. Swarthmore is sometimes uneasy about its reputation for seriousness, over-intellectualism and masochism, for example. The stronger your perceived niche or character, the more it limits the pool of potential applicants and matriculants. Moreover, the institution’s personality can become more and more exaggerated as it attracts more and more of the same kind of prospective student.

When I was looking as a prospective college student in the early 1980s, I was sure of a few things. I wanted to be in a small college rather than a large university. I wanted to be on the East Coast, largely because of my Californian-derived romantic (and mostly inaccurate) conception of the East Coast. Other than that, I was fairly open to the possibilities. Like many teenagers on their college tour, I let my impressionistic reaction to each place guide my later decisions. I liked the look and feel of Wesleyan, and I liked my interviewer. (I hated my interviewer at Swarthmore: he was a supercilious jerk.) What I also liked at Wesleyan was a vague, funky sense of weirdness and eccentricity.


Of course, I went to a big anonymous state school, so I don't really have any experience with this. But I find it fascinating how certain schools develop a reputation bordering on a persona: U Chicago is for grinds, Swarthmore is for masochists. I was actually very happy at UCI, but perhaps my personality is built for that--I liked the anonymity and incredible size of the university, and I liked being able to carve niches for myself. I do that now, by latching onto other departments I don't even belong in, since I have no cohort of my own. It's nice to have that option. I did it by doing two honors programs and by choosing one slightly smaller major, or taking a series of courses (almost minoring) in weird concentrations and joining funny clubs (Latin Honors Club!). I also liked bucking the whole "UCI is apathetic" rep by doing lots of campus feminist activism. UC has no personality, per se, but it felt like I could have anyone I might want to create, and that was a nice feeling. I could be a weird liberal arts major (which I was) or a gigantic lecture hall anonymous social science major (which I was) and hang out with the science kids (which I did) or bum around with the drama geeks (which I totally did). But I must say, part of me wonders what it would have been like to go to a school with a more coherent identity, and a smaller student body. It certainly would have had a stronger institutional culture, and perhaps the subjective/public values would have been more coherent and better articulated. But as most org theorists know, a strong culture does not make for a cyborg like student body that marches lock step, and nor is such a culture immune to the pressure of change. Still, very interesting.

What was your college experience like? Did you go to a school where everyone very clearly identified with the school culture and the "type" of person who went there, or were you an institutional misfit? Did you big state schoolers have a different experience? Or are school experiences more dependent on institutional structure (size, resources, types of majors offered, curricular strengths) than institutional culture (subjective values, practices, identity). Of course, whether culture flows from structure or vice-versa is the debate for the ages. I always thought that experience variation depended on structure more, but I have a black and white conception as schools come in only "big" or "small" to me, since I've only known big schools. I never really knew there was so much variance among the liberal arts schools, and that each had their own character and reputation, be it for rigor, quirkiness, toolishness, or what have you.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

are you sure you want to be a big firm lawyer?

A BIGLAW survivor tells her story in "Private Practice: What Went Wrong?":

Law firm culture (at least at the three firms I worked at), regards the assignments you get as an evaluation of your skills and capacities. The useless associate who doesn't get assignments because they're more trouble than they're worth to work with is a familiar character, and that was the pattern of the assignments (or lack of assignments) I got - while I was billing, in some years, half of what a very busy, but not really out-of-the-ordinary associate might bill, I was billing that low because that was all the work I had. By the time you're a senior associate, you should be some partner's (or some group of partners') go-to guy, and that never happened for me. (Well, annoyingly, in my last year at my last firm I was starting to get repeat work from one guy, but that didn't start happening until I was already mentally out the door, and into the interview process for my current job.) Further, I never managed to build the kind of relationship with a partner where I could reasonably have brought these concerns to them.

To the extent that I understand what happened to me, I just failed somehow to successfully project whatever attitude was necessary to convey that I was competent and available and eager to do work; doing a good job on the assignments I did get and hassling the assignment partner for more assignments was insufficient. So I ended up spending eight years terrified about how low my billing was, insulted by the implicit evaluation of my work product (and completely confused by the contradiction with the explicit evaluations of my work product), and wildly under-experienced for my chronological seniority in terms of the type of work I'd done, not just the amount. While I was in theory senior enough that I was eligible for partnership by the time I left my last firm, you would have had to be insane to make someone with my experience (let alone my billing history), a partner.

Anyway, that's water under the bridge. I'm at my new job, handling cases independently and successfully, and functioning at the level I should have been functioning at in private practice (and doing about three times as much work while spending about 75% of the hours I used to spend in the office). But I'm still kind of wrecked about the experience (which is why this long, pointlessly selfpitying post).


Lots of good comments to the posts, too, including suggestions that LB was possibly mommy tracked, or institutional sexism was at work. Take heed, young grasshoppers.

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the last word on emily gould and female confessional writers


by Rebecca Traister
:

What provokes such fury, over Carrie Bradshaw, and -- for a flash -- over Gould (barring a book deal and TV show that will turn her meanderings into cultural furniture) is that in a media landscape in which there are a severely limited number of spaces for women's writing voices, the ones that get tapped become necessarily, and deeply inaccurately, emblematic -- of their gender, their generation, their profession. More annoying -- and twisted -- is that those meager spots for women are consistently filled by those willing to expose themselves, visually and emotionally. And not accidentally, by those willing to expose themselves in a way that is comfortable, and often alluring, to many of the men who control the media, and to many of the women who consume it. There is a storied history of bright women writers (many of whom are mentioned in a New York Observer article this week), from generational confessionalists like Joyce Maynard and Elizabeth Wurtzel to cultural critics like Katie Roiphe to novelists like Lucinda Rosenfeld and Marisha Pessl, who have been raised up as media darlings, photographed in appealing poses or in titillating features, and then ripped apart by critics (including, on more than one occasion, me).

When we are fed -- and gobble up -- stories by or about single urban working women, those exotic and potentially threatening creatures presented to us are often doing things like confessing their self-doubt, discussing their sex lives, lying on rumpled sheets looking pretty.

Any suggestion that this is anything other than a double standard is false. When magazines feature stories about writers like those smart young men over at N+1 (as the Times magazine did a few years ago) those men are not typically photographed blogging in their beds; when, as the Observer suggested, we read a first-person confessional by Philip Weiss (who wrote recently for New York about his extramarital sexual yearnings) we are not treated to a bare-limbed image of him, or any image of him at all.

We are mired in a repetitious pattern of hate, jealousy and resentment toward those who are plucked by media powers and come to stand -- however inefficiently -- for the rest of us in the cultural imagination, securing the top spots, the best exposure, the prime media real estate in exchange for openings veins of feminine vulnerability.

No matter how angry you felt about Gould's piece, it was almost impossible to read the comments and not feel terrible: for her, about her, and about yourself for having even peeked. The process is exhausting, and not good for anyone, especially women who get stuck with some lame avatar they feel does not represent them, but whom they do not particularly feel like burning at the stake just for having been clever, lucky or talented enough to wind up drawing a spotlight.

We have to remember: There is nothing wrong with women writing about themselves, their youth, their indiscretions, their habits and values and personal development. Men have been writing about this stuff for thousands of years; they call it the canon.

And like their male contemporaries, a lot of this writing disappoints. When it does, there is nothing wrong with criticizing it. The thing that is wrong -- really wrong -- is when we forget that these kinds of stories are not the only ones that women have to tell.

So rather than being troubled by the fact that Gould -- or Bushnell, or Bradshaw, or whoever -- has the spotlight, why not question why so few other versions of femininity are allowed to share it?

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

quote of the day

"Hipsters are just yuppies without money."

--TD

(a comment made to my description of the latest lame-o DIY projects in ReadyMade)

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have passport, will travel

Well, I dug my passport out of the family safe. Apparently, it doesn't expire until Jan. 2009! So, should I renew it now, or keep it handy and renew it around December, when I probably won't travel anywhere due to finals and Christmas break?

I never had occasion to drag it out before--see, supra, impoverished childhood under strict parents, etc. I just never got out of the country in college or law school. I have one of those sad passports with no stamps, and a terrible, terrible picture of me at 17, when I didn't wear any makeup at all and look, therefore, all of 12 years old.

So yes, your poor Belle, while certainly cosmopolitan and worldly in other ways, is woefully untraveled. I backed out of LSA 2007 in Berlin because there was no way I could afford it, and didn't go this year to Montreal. But no, never have I had that slutty tour through Europe in my wild college days, and never have I even gone to Mexico. Or Canada! Dude, what kind of wuss has never been to Canada?! Time to change all that! I have made rationalizations before about blah blah traveled the world through my eyes and ears with books and music blah blah, but you know that's a bunch of hooey.

Where do you suggest a newbie like me travel? TD is incredibly well-traveled and the type that goes off the beaten path, eschewing tours and even guidebooks. Like, whatev. Give me some suggestions for cheap, relatively safe, travels. I don't usually have more than a week off, though. And TD certainly doesn't. Where would be a fun, interesting compromise for an intrepid adventurer and a timid first time traveler?

I disprefer boring resort places. I like places full of history and visual interest. I like to move about and hike and tour. I do not just sit in the hotel, or heaven forbid, a cruise ship or resort thing in a cabana, I believe it is called. I do not travel in search of night life, since that usually means clubbing, which you can do anywhere and is just as lame anywhere, except with different pervy guys rubbing against you (perhaps it is more fun for men, I don't know). I can imagine one night at a discotheque would be a fun, interesting experience because it will be in different accents. But I prefer the ancient bibliotecas. Suggestions need not be for the immediate upcoming season--travel tips are always welcome. I am ready for adventure.

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now this is TMI

Really, I'm not that bad, folks. At least, not compared to others. We were first introduced to Lena Chen in this article in the NYT, in which Ms. Chen debated sexual morality with the president of the Harvard Anscombe Society, aka chastity club. Amber blogged about it here.

Now, I am all for sex-positive, liberal feminism (and neither pre- nor post-feminist, as feminism is a continuum and not merely historically contingent), but...eeeeesh. And, ew. Yes, fellow sex-positive liberal feminists, both male and female, this is why you shouldn't do sex blogging. There are other ways to empower yourself and own your body and sexuality and demand an end to the double standard of sexual morality. Just, you know, not so publicly and certainly not so graphically. And really, while the personal may be political, I'm kind of sticking to my more policy-oriented focus on increasing access to contraceptives (especially for teenagers), the HPV vaccine (especially for teenagers), and the right to choose (for everyone, but yes, for teenagers without parental consent). But uh, I suppose there are other ways of going about this.

In other news, This Dude posts an Emily Gouldish essay about being unemployed in the Washington Post, but no boudoir pics and it's kind of boring, unless you're interested in employment issues like I am. But the writing, it is not snappy. He just comes off as emo. But, I'll cautiously posit, without betraying my sisters, that 'tis better to be considered emo than slutty. Ack, the double standard. I'm sorry--I didn't come up with it!

Update: An example of male sex blogging! Yeah, still bad. And more emo than anything, still. Don't do this at home. It makes for bad writing and rather useless insights, if they may be called that.

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orange county boredom watch

(checking watch) Still bored. Trying to work on an edit of an article when I'm not using my two bachelors and two (and a half) graduate degrees to be a nanny to several children or a receptionist/office manager/secretary of the corporation for my sister's dental office.

The suburbs are quite convenient, but part of me wonders how I'll feel living in one again. I have a high boredom threshold having grown up in the 'burbs and having been raised by parochial, strict parents. And it's not like I am the city girl type who lives it up. You have to drag me to any place that might be referred to as a "club," for example. But there's something nice about living in a college city that is full of young, annoying people, even though I now live in the suburb slightly to the side of it. I like the idea of spending hours in cafes full of young urban professionals (aka, "yuppies") and students, and the idea of hanging out in independent used bookstores (even though I buy most of my books on Amazon) and the idea of cool, casual college bars and pubs, even though I'm not much of a drinker. I also like the idea of living the hell away from everyone in some beautiful and remote place from which it takes an hour to get anywhere useful, until I remember that I hate driving windy mountain roads or commuting more than an hour. But while I could imagine raising my family in the suburbs, I now get the whole "I'm not ready for that suburban life yet" angst that people get when they go off to have wild city adventures when they go to college. See, I never did that. I stayed in the suburbs, living at home with the parents, and commuted to my college, which was in the suburban city next door. Blah. I am really quite eager to return to my college city full of bookstores, cafes, and pubs on Monday. Even if I rarely go to bookstores, cafes, and pubs and work from home.

Things I have rediscovered: romantic comedies and women's magazines will be the intellectual death of me. Not even bonding with the sisters is worth such brain atrophy. Yes, blog citizens, I actually watched 27 Dresses (I don't recall this movie--did it go straight to DVD?), and am reading, if you can believe it, Redbook, Women's Health, Self, and Glamour. If anything, this has made me anti-wedding and militantly against being made to feel insecure about my body and relationship skills. Hence, I am eating Milk Duds right now. Of course, I am not getting married myself, and perhaps that state of engagement does something to warp a girl's mind, but dude, the wedding-industrial complex is so insane (especially with coverage of celebrity weddings) that I am all for the backyard barbeque in a short dress with flowers stolen from neighbors' yards.

Of course, I have bad relationship skills, and am a bad partner, so that explains that.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

stagefright

I think that it would be an awesomely fun date to go to a karaoke bar and watch people sing. I've never been to a real one--you know, the ones in white people movies, with a proper stage for public humiliation. You know, like in "My Best Friend's Wedding," where the once-attractive Cameron Diaz sang "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" terribly, or in that treacly movie I just saw, "P.S. I Love You," where the extremely attractive Gerard Butler sang "Mustang Sally" with aplomb and brio.

However, knowing that TD would probably force me on stage prevents me from ever seriously suggesting this. Knowing also that his singing/performance skills vastly upstage mine also make me hate the idea of women throwing panties at him when he inevitably rocks the mike singing some Tom Petty song. My preference is for a no rae bang, where humiliation is private and shared among sympathetic, similarly drunk and badly singing friends. Occasionally, there will be an awesome singer, but it is unanimously acknowledged that the truly talented who hog the mike are just showoffs. It is the time for the craptastic singers to shine--drunk on soju, and foolishly believing that the door and thin walls are sufficient to muffle their bad singing and conceal their humiliation. I have a lot of good memories of singing George Michael's "Faith" with more irony than talent. Also, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," with me singing the Neil Diamond part. Seriously, I can't sing. Weak, thin voice, can't hit the proper notes, can't go high, so I tend to sing the male parts of songs and hum off-key.

How about you guys? Who among you has gotten up on stage at a karaoke bar? Who among you with no talent, pitch, tone, or chutzpah has done it? Should I bite the bullet and do it? Should one risk public humiliation at least once in life, just because it's good to do something out of your comfort zone and have fun with it?

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Games

I celebrate summer by throwing dinner parties and showing a movie that everyone has already seen, or a foreign movie with subtitles, so that people can drop in and out of attention to the movie and conversations with others. My parties, they are popular, especially '80s themed ones. Especially since I am finally learning the fine art of figuring out a guest list so that certain personalities do not have the potential to clash.

Anyway, I am looking for fun board games that will do well with or without alcohol, but probably there will be some alcohol involved (non-drinkers are nevertheless polite hostesses), and so nothing too taxing on the brain. I was originally thinking Diplomacy, Risk, and Quo Vadis, until I got slammed down for being a tool on all sides. Amber suggests Settlers of Catan. I am packing Taboo in my suitcase, if it will fit next to all the books I'm already bringing up for TD and TM.

TD, ever the cool guy of my dreams, suggests Bridge. OMG. Party like it's 1899! Alternately, poker, he suggests, but I hate gambling and can't even suffer five seconds in a staring contest, much less keep a poker face. I am thinking, that since Brayden plays it, for another old school parlour game, how about Euchre? Another possibility is my favorite game from high school, Tien Len, or 13. Yeah, I used to be Vietnamese.

Any suggestions?

I am thinking of throwing a Big Lebowski dinner party, incidentally. Yes, with disgusting white russians. Eww.

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oh no you di'n't

Sigh. And yet I did.

Because I am an alcoholic working in a bar (i.e., academic), in an attempt to increase non-existent productivity and avoid procrastination, particularly during the unscripted summer hours, I have installed Leechblock.

As Jeremy Freese says, this is not for the faint of heart.

People, this means no blogging or surfing or shopping between the hours of 9 am to 7 pm, except for 10 minutes every two hours. OMG. And also, since I am trying to stay offline at night and cook and spend with TD, that means I can only surf/blog while dinner is cooking or in the early morning before work starts. Or in the 10 minutes every two hours. Or during days he's busy, which is when I have been blogging anyway. So really, what I'm doing is cutting out mindless surfing and long comment threads (cough Unfogged cough).

This means shorter posts, or longer ones that you can anticipate late at night or early in the morning.

I still have to limit checking email though, because blocking gmail is less of an option. I will figure that one out later.

Sigh. I think I am starting to understand how alcoholics, smokers, and druggies feel. I haven't ever been addicted to any habit forming substance, but I'd have to say, this is a contender.

Also, to my pen pals, this means less spam that comes in the form of "look at this thing I read," which may help your productivity too. But I'll still write you emails. Wait, I have to fix that habit too. Damn it.

Sigh.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Summer Resolutions

I don't really do New Year's resolutions. A new semester isn't as much of a fresh start when you're on an academic calendar. I think of Fall and Summer as being times of potentially great, life improving change.

My life has changed in various, mostly positive ways already. Moving three times in 1.5 years has made me eschew any tchotkes and knick knackery, and has me going to libraries for fiction/pleasure reading and to school libraries for trial runs of research books. If I really like that novel or really need that book, I'll buy it. But now I have less stuff than before, and I like having less stuff. Actually, I want to keep getting rid of stuff.

While I like to look polished and don't believe that my selectively buying into the beauty industrial complex is a betrayal of feminism, I've given up perfume and most makeup. And no more heels. Well, I still wear a little makeup, I just don't look like a reject from an '80s music video. I also don't wear jewelry much, and certainly not on a daily basis. Whether this is a product of living in a crunchy granola city where fashion goes to die and polar fleece swims up the river and spawns, or being with TD, who seems to prefer me unadorned and unpainted, I don't know, but I kind of like it. So long as I still define my eyebrows and warm up my cheeks with blush, that is. Powder/lipstick is optional, although if I am going anywhere of importance, it helps me not to look like a corpse. This is going to shock my high school and college friends, who remember me as a glittering magpie in red lipstick and heels and swishy skirts.


So I've simplified my life a little, and I'm happy about the above changes. But here are more resolutions. I wish that I could do what Jeremy does and promise to donate $25 to the Bush Memorial Library for every day that he fails to meet his target of working out 200/365 days in 2008, but I can't afford that. Still, privacy considerations notwithstanding (since when do I have that high a standard of privacy anyway), here are some public resolutions:

1. Stop surfing the internet so much. This is my biggest problem. A post on how I am going to control this later.
2. Stop emailing so much. This is going to be harder to control.
3. Run 10-15 miles a week again. I was down to 0-5 for the past couple of months. Bad. I need to not get winded on easy hiking trails.
4. Cross-train to avoid injuries. I hate, hate doing muscle work. I don't know how to do this.
5. Cook 2-3 times a week during the week. Saves money, relaxes me, dinner is ready for us at the end of a working day, and it makes going out on weekends feel special. Also, leftovers are better than bowls of cereal for lunch.
6. Do more fun things in the area on the weekends. I have no idea what this means to me or TD, but I am sure we'll figure it out, especially since I haven't been anywhere, really. But it'll be quality time.
7. Write at least two pages a day, whether it's dissertation prospectus, lit review, an article, anything academic work related.
8. Read at least an article a day, dissertation related or not, but definitely legal/organizational/sociological.
9. Read least two books a month, one work related, one for pleasure.
10. Sleep 6-7 hours a night.

Those are my summer resolutions. I have no accountability system other than public shaming. We impoverished grad students have it tough.

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Hooray for LSA!

To all of my friends going off to Montreal for the Law and Society Annual Meeting, I wish you a safe trip! Rock those Powerpoints! Enjoy the camaraderie and academic bon homie of the largest international interdisciplinary conference on law and social science! I wish that I could be there with you all. While you eat pomme frites and canapes, I will be shuttling kids around Orange County to various sites of local interest, like the duck pond at Irvine Park, where resides the one duck at which my seven kids throw a loaf of bread until it flys away, and there remains a loaf of bread soaking in the lake. Take pictures for me!

In the fashion of the teenage local radio station dedication, here are a couple of songs to send you on your way. The first from Camera Obscura, one of my fave bands . The second from a band called Of Montreal! Quelle coincidence!



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Memorial Day thoughts...


A photo from Arlington West in Santa Barbara, as supported by the Veterans for Peace.

There are times I really wonder if this war is a part of our national consciousness, or whether it is merely an inconvenience - like a writer's strike, a recession, or an election. To be frank, I am not a fan of the military - but as the son of a Vietnam veteran and the best-friend of someone who served in Bosnia, I try to view these sorts of issues in ways other than black and white.

The fact is that I am a humanist before I am a nationalist. While there won't be tributes like Arlington West for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who perished, I can't help but think about the 4081 casualties of our U.S. troops and wonder why they had to die without being cynical about the answer.

That's what I'll be thinking about today. That, and the price of gas...

And as an aside, today marks the 100th Anniversary of the first major oil find in the Middle East - because life is just too frickin' strange sometimes.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

What the pho?

Thoughts upon returning to Orange County on this 24th of May, most of them gastronomical:

  • No one makes pho as good as your mom. Pho restaurants may try very hard, and name themselves annoying slangy names like "Pho Shizzle," or "Pho Good" or "Pho Real" (these are all real and I could tell you the cities), or names like "Pho Kim Long" that inadvertantly invite juvenile and unfortunate jokes from the gringos much in the way "Long Duc Dong" did back in the '80s (and oh yes, this is a potentially real combination of names, as are the lovely Vietnamese names "Bich" and "Phuc"). But they're just not as good. It's the way you make the stock from the beef bones over a low simmer for like 6 hours, and the bundle of herbs and aromatics, the names of which I don't even know in Vietnamese, except that it does involve anise and cloves. I ate a big bowl as soon as I got to my parents'. With barely cooked thinly sliced beef and cilantro. And a grass jelly drink.
  • Incidentally, it's pronounced "phuh," not "phoh." Puh-leeze get that right. Also, imagine a little question mark accent mark on top of the "o,"and yes, you are supposed to sound like you're asking a question when you say it. "What the pho?" is the perfect way to remember how to say it, and also not really say a cuss word and be actually funny, unlike saying "fook," which I just do not get.
  • I also ate half a Vietnamese banh mi. I couldn't eat much more than that, even though I wanted to, especially since it was a dac biet "special" sandwich with Vietnamese bologna, lpork liver pate, jalapenos, cilantro, and pickled daikon and carrots on a French baguette with Vietnamese (French) mayo. I can find those in the city next to Liberal College City, but I am really lazy about going anywhere that is not between my apartment and school. This sounds awful, I know. I actually was taken to a new restaurant last night by TD, and it was new because I had not yet gone that far (south? I think?) on the Bourgie Ave running parallel to my street and a half mile away. That was delish! I really connected to my French/Indochine roots as I enjoyed a kir royale, pate (I started the re-Vietnamization early), and mussels. And I'm not allergic to mussels, unlike my sad allergy to shrimp, so I am not the Worst Vietnamese Person in the world! Well, I only ate six. But one bite of shrimp will send me into a spiral of physical pain and emotional guilt over betraying my fisherman village father in yet another way on top of being a liberal assimilated humanities major civil rights law professing person. So, hooray for mussels, an item found at every Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant you may want to try! Now I can be all WASPy and eat clam chowder, too. Oh, crap.
  • Every country in Asia has a different type of mochi/rice flour sticky sweet dumpling. Ours is the best. I have now offended the entire country of Japan.
  • I hate raisins and dry coconut, but raisin coconut bread is the bomb.
  • There is no slushy like a cherimoya/sour sop/mang cau slushy. 7-11, take note.
  • I can't eat anymore.
  • This is good, because I immediately felt fat upon disembarking the plane. Ah, Southern California. If Liberal College City is where fashion goes to die, then Orange County (which tries to imitate Los Angeles) is where it goes to lose all discretion and good taste. A combination of blinged-out heeled flip-flops (cannot bring myself to say "thong"), incredibly expensive t-shirts (3 Dots, Michael Stars, C&C), hot pants from American Apparel (augh!! and they're not running marathons!), tight jeans, stilettos, and exposed mid-sections. I am not going to complain about the granola crunchiness of Liberal College City anymore. I love that LCC uniform of jeans and a fleece jacket. More than I realized. I miss it terribly already. Especially light-wash jeans in an unfashionably relaxed-fit cut. Not that I'm buying back into that blinged out look. I went through three years of stilettos, big earrings, and strapping on 20 lbs of laptop + books, which was painful and lame. But right now I'm rocking my college hooded sweatshirt, and remembering why a gigantic applique U-C-I across the chest is not totally flattering unless you're as skinny as most of the OC girls. Vicous circle.
  • Eight of the nine kids totally love me as their favorite aunt, and it is the perfect Machiavellian combination of being both feared and loved. This is pretty much why I go home. The ninth one doesn't love me because he was born when I moved away to Liberal College Law. He recoils from my touch. This kind of breaks my heart.
  • My CD collection from high school and college is so embarassingly bad. A post on that later.
  • I now remember why I am not allowed to connect my TV to an antennae thing, and why I don't have cable, much less premium. Or why I don't buy a bunch of movies.
  • That "Sea of Love" scene in Juno makes me cry every time. I love that song, and especially when sung by Cat Power. Also, I have now seen this movie three times.
  • I can't bring myself to watch a violent movie before bedtime, if ever. TD thinks I am such a wuss for this. Sorry, DVD of "No Country For Old Men."
  • I really miss TD already, but because this is not an Emily Gouldish personal blog, I can't admit that here.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Maybe it's the hair?

Ending the week on an up note...

I always wondered what happened to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - and while they are still around, Jon Spencer has also teamed up with Matt Verta-Ray to form Heavy Trash. I can't seem to stop watching this video. The redhead haunts my dreams...

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This is a REALLY AWESOME idea.

Debategraph -- a wiki dedicated to gathering the arguments. Period. From the site description:

Our goal is to make the best arguments on all sides of any debate freely available to all and continuously open to challenge and improvement by all.

In pursuit of this goal, Debategraph is:

(1) A wiki debate visualization tool that lets you:

* present the strongest case on any debate that matters to you;
* openly engage the opposing arguments;
* create and reshape debates, make new points, rate and filter the arguments;
* monitor the evolution of debates via RSS feeds; and,
* share and reuse the debates on and offline;

(2) A web-based, creative commons project to increase the transparency and rigor of public debate everywhere—by making the collective insight and intelligence of the global community freely available to all.

* Every debate map is provisional and open to iterative improvement by anyone who participates.
* Over time, the debate maps will mature into the definitive articulations of each debate.
* Every change you make—whether correcting a text, adding a new argument, or starting a new debate—contributes towards the fulfilment of this social promise.
* So be bold as a first time visitor—and safe in the knowledge that a full editing history provides a safety net. And if you are interested in playing a more systematic editorial role in the community, we would love to hear from you.

(3) A global map of all the debates that enables us to visualise and deepen our understanding of the ways in which different debates are semantically interrelated, and ways in which these interrelated debates shape, and are shaped by, each other.


This is BRILLIANT.

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Here's who all of the fuss is about...

Emily Gould on CNN's Larry King Live (hosted by Jimmy Kimmel).



I'm believe she referenced this appearance in the NYT piece, but, frankly, I only skimmed it. And apparently Belle's Carrie Bradshaw reference wasn't coincidental.

One of the major issues I have with her is her total distortion of the term "citizen journalism". There is such a thing as real "citizen journalism" - which involves citizens exposing and vetting issues within their own communities that have meaning to those who live within those communities. Tracking celebrity whereabouts is not "citizen journalism" - and describing it as such is an insult to real citizen journalists. Of course, angry celebrities aren't going to confront her on that point (because they, too, are part of the problem), so now it's an entire waste of time on two fronts.

Incidentally, JRO could go on at length regarding the price real community journalists pay in politically unfriendly climates - but why bother going somewhere useful with this discussion.

Gould is clearly in WAY WAY WAY over head, in both the NYT and on CNN - and criticizing her is like shooting fish in a barrel. Ultimately, the issue has nothing to do with Gould. Case in point - where was the outrage when the New York Times, in covering the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War last March, asked nine "military and foreign affairs" experts to reflect on their perspectives in 2003?

Quoting
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:

The neoconservative American Enterprise Institute provided three columnists: Richard Perle, Fred Kagan and Danielle Pletka, all of them among the strongest advocates for the invasion. The Times also gave space to the Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack, another strong supporter of the invasion.

Featured as well were former Iraq envoy L. Paul Bremer and Paul D. Eaton, a retired general who served as a trainer of the Iraqi military early in the war. Former Marine Nathaniel Fick of the Center for a New American Security, who took part in the invasion of Iraq as a platoon leader, also weighed in.

Another columnist was Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who served as an on-air defense analyst for ABC News. Cordesman often warned of planning or logistics problems with the invasion, but nonetheless suuported the Iraq War: "I endorse this war, but I do so with reluctance and considerable uncertainty," Cordesman declared in testimony prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (2/12/03).

Emily Gould and her narcissistic angst are piddle's feet. Under the current political circumstances, it's a total waste of space that could have been devoted to anyone more deserving.

On a side note - any of my fellow Santa Barbarians care to chime in on the failures of a local media and the destructive role it plays in the community?

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Conference Envy

Unfortunately, my travel budget is such that I am unable to travel out of the country for conferences this year, so I won't be seeing you all in Montreal next week. Why? Because my law school doesn't fund me anything (well, a one-time of $100, which I am saving for LSA 2009). Now that I've advanced to candidacy, though, I can apply for a one-time grant of $500. I'm also saving that for LSA 2009. I think I should join LSA, because then I can apply for travel grants. So you spend money, but you can get money--maybe. But yeah, this year I'm missing out on LSA and ASA. I'm waiting for 2009, when all of my conference money will be blown on LSA, ASA (well, that'll be cheap, because I'll just get a visitor's pass), and AALS.

But what I really wish is that I had funding for conferences at which I don't present. Conferences where I could go just to learn stuff. American Sociological Association, American Political Science Association, etc. I would learn a lot, I would spread my interdisciplinary wings. This would be most valuable to grad students and young scholars.

Really, I wish there was a way for grad students to get around more in terms of academic conferences. They, of all people, need the exposure to good papers and presentations (not everything is good at these conferences, but the great variety in quality is good for a young scholar to observe, as is the distinction between good and bad). They are more likely to benefit from the networking opportunities and it is good to be socialized into the world of academia by observing academics at their nerd meccas. You learn a lot by watching people interact with one another, and the LSA is like the world's biggest faculty lounge. Plus, we are more likely (though not always) to be unencumbered by family, so traveling isn't as much of a burden. Leaving for a week isn't so bad if you don't have a kid. Students could learn from people more established in their field. The established people in the field would get a revitalizing jolt from the future whippersnapper/usurpers. Everybody wins.

So what I'm saying is that travel grants should be more generous, and they should just waive the registration fees for grad students. Especially if you're a grad student presenting. Especially if you're not presenting. Why do they have fees, again? In the name of all that is nerdy, I say that this is a great idea. True, more grad students will go, filling up the seats in the rooms and asking all sorts of questions. But again, this is a bad thing? We'll support the local economy, even if we cram 4-5 to a hotel room and pack peanut butter and bread. I mean, there's always that happy hour you have to go to.

I vow, when I become a professor, that I will somehow figure a way to get grad students funding to travel to conferences, and will pay myself for dinner for a grad student or two at each conference. Not that peanut butter isn't good.

Also, any Belle-friendly non-psycho blog buddy (particularly those I know in real life) planning on going to APSA, MPSA, or WPSA in 2008-2009 should email me, because I really hate paying for singles at hotels.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Media Economics as Stochastic Process, OR: Perhaps Richard Posner Was Right About Something After All...

One of everyone's least favorite Posner screeds is his critique of the media, published (where else) in the King of All Media, a.k.a., the New York Times. The article prompted so much annoyance that Bill Keller was moved to write, and then print, a letter to himself in response.

And yet what Keller calls Posner's "trademark theory of market determinism" is starting to look more and more appealing as an explanation of some of the sillier aspects of the media today. And status in general, particularly the sorts that require the uninformed public to buy in to things.

Consider the question on the minds of many today, including my two very favorite bloggers (Helen and our own Belle), to wit, Why The Hell did the NYT publish that horrible atavistic driveling snot-nosed vapid putrid and profoundly self-indulgent in a way that only those who are Young and Talented and in New York City and have been told that they are Young and Talented and in New York City for So Very Long by so many Sexy, Sexy People that they think they can turn contents of their garbage can into Writing That Reveals Essential Truths About The Essential Human Condition All The While Maintaining A Properly Ironic Attitude Because All The Other Cool Kids Are Doing That Too And Anyway Some Professor I Vaguely Remember From My Elite Undergraduate School Once Said Something Cool About Modernity piece from Emily Gould (no, I will not link it). For that matter, Why the Hell, one might ask, does the NYT publish that modern love column? And Why Gawker? For that matter, WHY?!?

And the answer, my darling friends, readers, google searchers, and criminal stalkers, is really quite simple and Posnerian: because people read that shit.

Why, perhaps, is the more interesting question, is it that people read that shit?

But the answer to that question requires a level of coldness and trademark Posnerian market determinism that I'm not sure I can handle.

Let's see.

ooom
ooom
om mani padme hum
rational choice rational choice rational choice
f(u)= β1x1+ β2x2...βnxn
homo economicus
ooom


There. I feel better. NOW:

Suppose that ordinary people, call them media consumers, have a very poor grip on quality in media production -- they know they have preferences over the sorts of things that famous people produce, but they don't know very well what will satisfy those preferences ex ante (that is, the public has no taste). Media institution endorsement serves as a signal for media consumers that they'll like a given product. Moreover, media consumers have a taste for status: some part of their utility function for the sorts of things that famous people produce is increasing in endorsement of the famous person in question by some media institution.

Now suppose that there is a strict ordering of people by status (Sp), where status is endorsement by media institutions, measured in probability of being endorsed by a given institution (Πi), weighted by the influence of that institution, measured in Readers (Ri). That is:

SpiRii+1Ri+1... + ΠnRn

where p indexes people and i indexes media institutions. (I imagine R itself will have to be weighted by status, i.e. of readers, too, but that'll be a different variable, and can probably be proxied by income... at any rate, we can drop that for -- HAHAHAHA -- simplicity.)

Now let Tp=person p's talent, and suppose that for all p, i, Πi, p=Tpi, where epsilon;i= media institution i's error. Further assume that theΠi, ps are correlated such that for all i, p, if Πi, p increases, so does Πi+1, p, etc.

Then all we need is for εi to be high in one, or a very few, influential media institution. Suppose that the errors work as follows: in each time period (sliced however one likes) media institutions do a search of the available writers (actors, models, etc. -- call them Potentially Famous People (PFPs)). Each institution selects the best available PFP, with the noise in its judgment modeled by εi. Say that εi is a draw from some suitable probability distribution whose bounds depend on the competence of i.

Then, in each time period, there's some positive probability that someone totally worthless gets published somewhere highly correlated with high influence institutions. That person's status goes through the roof, and, as a result, media consumers form a demand for his/her output. Media institutions being aware of this demand, and market driven, they have an incentive to publish that person. Said person's status increases accordingly. Keep iterating, until Fame.

There. Cory Kennedy, Emily Gould, and... dare I say ... Richard Posner. Explained. You may send my Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in care of Satan. (I'm sure the economics committee has his fedex coordinates on speeddial.)

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stuff that bothers the hell out of me

This is rehashing every race essentialist/race betrayal argument I have ever heard throughout high school, college, and law school by white and Asians alike. It is a subject that turns family dinners into shouting matches. It also reminds me of that awful movie, Something New. The best movie on this remains Guess Who's Coming For Dinner (1967! We are still talking about this, and will for generations more!), and I refused to see the execrable Guess Who. Am I missing any other movies on interracial dating? Save the Last Dance? Sorry, I only watched it for the last five minute dance scene.

Mildred Loving died very recently. California just ruled against the ban on same-sex marriage. I'd like to think that we're in a post-____ (fill in the blank) world and one in which identity politics and essentialism don't transform every personal choice into a political debate, but very clearly we are not, and I wonder if we are ever going to be. I am not saying that my Asian identity isn't important, or that Asian American political/cultural/legal issues are not distinct and worthy of attention. I definitely am not saying that. But as the daughter of immigrants, I've long resigned to having this specific debate be something I have still have to deal with (although I hate the fact that there are still public conversations about this as if this mattered on a policy level).

But I really hope that my kids won't be having the same conversations among friends, in student organizations, and in school newspapers. Oh yeah. I was about to link to a bunch of articles on interracial "trendspotting" (why do Asian women date white men? Why do white men fetishize Asian women?Why aren't Asian men desirable? Asian men are angry! Wait, Asian men are the new trend among White women seeking "respectful" partners!) but they are all stupid articles full of bad arguments, and I have real work to do.

Without getting too much into it, this does remind me how I've come round to my friend Jim Chen's position on this issue.

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If everything is culture, what isn't?

So, by now everyone knows about the structure-agency debate in organizatoins. You don't? Wikipedia to the rescue. Although I trust Brayden King of OrgTheory on this more, for obvious reasons.

But I've been reading lots about culture, and can't figure out if culture is epiphenomenal or if it derives from structure, and whether agency does anything to define culture. I mean, Bordieuian (sp?) habitus does determine who has the symbolic power to affect action/change within an organization, and culture is more than just the articulated values--it is what is done and how people mediate/negotiate the social/organizational space. And which direction is the arrow--does structure affect culture, or vice versa? Is structure distinct from culture, really? Arrrrgh.

All very confusing. If the structure-agency debate is interminable, adding a confounder like "culture" is just making it worse for this newbie. I am trying to wrap my head around it, but so far it's all a muddle. I feel like I have to go back and re-read the structure/agency literature and then try to figure out where all the culture literature fits in, and does it? Would it be easier to clear up the fog in my head if I was better trained in sociology and OB/IR? Probably, but then again, since this debate is unresolved and interminable, I don't feel too bad about not being able to figure it out and decide what's what.

This is not unlike approaching one of the big questions/problems in constitutional law (or any type of law, really). If the best and brightest of all the generations that have ever come before you or after you will not have resolved the problem, then I am content that if I make any sort of contribution to the debate (and not even towards its "resolution"), I will be a happy scholar. It's all in how you define contribution. If I can apply it to some interesting part of employment discrimination law or say something new about a belabored legal doctrine/statutory interpretation, that'll feel pretty good. I don't have to resolve the greatest debates in org theory (or con law), or fix the intractable problem of organizational compliance with this and that EEO law. If I keep telling myself this, I will feel better about my work, and probably be a happier, more productive scholar.

So, thus far, I'm thinking I like the idea of culture being epiphenomenal. I may change my mind though. My dissertation is theory-generating, after all.

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Augh!

Read this. Although I'm nowhere near as bad. But, wow. I thought it was bad enough blogging about work/life balance and my assimilationist immigrant childhood in the suburbs. But, whoa, people do dish about their personal adult lives in ways far more than "working late sucks" and "I celebrated the end of an oral exam by getting the flu and cutting my hair." Lesson: relationship/breakup blogs are in general a bad idea, as is talking about sex in a public forum. I blame Carrie Bradshaw.

Hmm. Back to blogging about law and organizations. Goffmanian front stage, not backstage.

Hat tip: TM.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday Poet: Richard Siken (Part II)


Here is the first post on Richard Siken, with my favorite--Scheherezade
.


Saying Your Names


Chemical names, bird names, names of fire
and flight and snow, baby names, paint names,
delicate names like bones in the body,
Rumplestiltskin names that are always changing,
names that no one’s ever able to figure out.
Names of spells and names of hexes, names
cursed quietly under the breath, or called out
loudly to fill the yard, calling you inside again,
calling you home. Nicknames and pet names
and baroque French monikers, written in
shorthand, written in longhand, scrawled
illegibly in brown ink on the backs of yellowing
photographs, or embossed on envelopes lined
with gold. Names called out across the water,
names I called you behind your back,
sour and delicious, secret and unrepeatable,
the names of flowers that open only once,
shouted from balconies, shouted from rooftops,
or muffled by pillows, or whispered in sleep,
or caught in the throat like a lump of meat.
I try, I do. I try and try. A happy ending?
Sure enough — Hello darling, welcome home.
I’ll call you darling, hold you tight. We are
not traitors but the lights go out. It’s dark.
Sweetheart, is that you? There are no tears,
no pictures of him squarely. A seaside framed
in glass, and boats, those little boats with
sails aflutter, shining lights upon the water,
lights that splinter when they hit the pier.
His voice on tape, his name on the envelope,
the soft sound of a body falling off a bridge
behind you, the body hardly even makes
a sound. The waters of the dead, a clear road,
every lover in the form of stars, the road
blocked. All night I stretched my arms across
him, rivers of blood, the dark woods, singing
with all my skin and bone Please keep him safe.
Let him lay his head on my chest and we will be
like sailors, swimming in the sound of it, dashed
to pieces.
Makes a cathedral, him pressing against
me, his lips at my neck, and yes, I do believe
his mouth is heaven, his kisses falling over me
like stars. Names of heat and names of light,
names of collision in the dark, on the side of the
bus, in the bark of the tree, in ballpoint pen
on jeans and hands and the backs of matchbooks
that then get lost. Names like pain cries, names
like tombstones, names forgotten and reinvented,
names forbidden or overused. Your name like
a song I sing to myself, your name like a box
where I keep my love, your name like a nest
in the tree of love, your name like a boat in the
sea of love — O now we’re in the sea of love!
Your name like detergent in the washing machine.
Your name like two X’s like punched-in eyes,
like a drunk cartoon passed out in the gutter,
your name with two X’s to mark the spots,
to hold the place, to keep the treasure from
becoming ever lost. I’m saying your name
in the grocery store, I’m saying your name on
the bridge at dawn. Your name like an animal
covered with frost, your name like a music that’s
been transposed, a suit of fur, a coat of mud,
a kick in the pants, a lungful of glass, the sails
in wind and the slap of waves on the hull
of a boat that’s sinking to the sound of mermaids
singing songs of love, and the tug of a simple
profound sadness when it sounds so far away.
Here is a map with a your name for a capital,
here is an arrow to prove a point: we laugh
and it pits the world against us, we laugh,
and we’ve got nothing left to lose, and our hearts
turn red, and the river rises like a barn on fire.
I came to tell you, we’ll swim in the water, we’ll
swim like something sparkling underneath
the waves. Our bodies shivering, and the sound
of our breathing, and the shore so far away.
I’ll use my body like a ladder, climbing
to the thing behind it, saying farewell to flesh,
farewell to everything caught underfoot
and flattened. Names of poisons, names of
handguns, names of places we’ve been
together, names of people we’d be together,
Names of endurance, names of devotion,
street names and place names and all the names
of our dark heaven crackling in their pan.
It’s a bed of straw, darling. It sure as shit is.
If there was one thing I could save from the fire,
he said, the broken arms of the sycamore,
the eucalyptus still trying to climb out of the yard —
your breath on my neck like a music that holds
my hands down, kisses as they burn their way
along my spine — or rain, our bodies wet,
clothes clinging arm to elbow, clothes clinging
nipple to groin — I’ll be right here. I’m waiting.

Say hallelujah, say goodnight, say it over
the canned music and your feet won’t stumble,
his face getting larger, the rest blurring
on every side. And angels, about twelve angels,
angels knocking on your head right now, hello
hello, a flash in the sky, would you like to
meet him there, in Heaven? Imagine a room,
a sudden glow. Here is my hand, my heart,
my throat, my wrist. Here are the illuminated
cities at the center of me, and here is the center
of me, which is a lake, which is a well that we
can drink from, but I can’t go through with it.
I just don’t want to die anymore.


Road Music

1
The eye stretches to the horizon and then must continue up.
Anything past the horizon
is invisible, it can only be imagined. You want to see the future but
you only see the sky. Fluffy clouds.
Look—white fluffy clouds.
Looking back is easy for a while and then looking back gets
murky. There is the road, and there is the story of where the road goes,
and then more road,
the roar of the freeway, the roar of the city sheening across the city.
There should be a place.
At the rest stop, in the restaurant, the overpass, the water's edge . . .


2
He was not dead yet, not exactly—
parts of him were dead already, certainly other parts were still only waiting
for something to happen, something grand, but it isn't
always about me,
he keeps saying, though he's talking about the only heart he knows—
He could build a city. Has a certain capacity. There's a niche in his chest
where a heart would fit perfectly
and he thinks if he could just maneuver one into place—
well then, game over.


3
You wonder what he's thinking when he shivers like that.
What can you tell me, what could you possibly
tell me?
Sure, it's good to feel things, and if it hurts, we're doing it
to ourselves, or so the saying goes, but there should be
a different music here. There should be just one safe place
in the world, I mean
this world. People get hurt here. People fall down and stay down and I don't like
the way the song goes.
You, the moon. You, the road. You, the little flowers
by the side of the road. You keep singing along to that song I hate. Stop singing.


Little Beast

1
An all-night barbeque. A dance on the courthouse lawn.
The radio aches a little tune that tells the story of what the night
is thinking. It's thinking of love.
It's thinking of stabbing us to death
and leaving our bodies in a dumpster.
That's a nice touch, stains in the night, whiskey and kisses for everyone.


Tonight, by the freeway, a man eating fruit pie with a buckknife
carves the likeness of his lover's face into the motel wall. I like him
and I want to be like him, my hands no longer an afterthought.

2
Someone once told me that explaining is an admission of failure.
I'm sure you remember, I was on the phone with you, sweetheart.


3
History repeats itself. Somebody says this.
History throws its shadow over the beginning, over the desktop,
over the sock drawer with its socks, its hidden letters.
History is a little man in a brown suit
trying to define a room he is outside of.
I know history. There are many names in history
but none of them are ours.


4
He had green eyes,
so I wanted to sleep with him—
green eyes flecked with yellow, dried leaves on the surface of a pool-
You could drown in those eyes, I said.
The fact of his pulse,
the way he pulled his body in, out of shyness or shame or a desire
not to disturb the air around him.
Everyone could see the way his muscles worked,
the way we look like animals,
his skin barely keeping him inside.
I wanted to take him home
and rough him up and get my hands inside him, drive my body into his
like a crash test car.
I wanted to be wanted and he was
very beautiful, kissed with his eyes closed, and only felt good while moving.
You could drown in those eyes, I said,
so it's summer, so it's suicide,
so we're helpless in sleep and struggling at the bottom of the pool.


5
It wasn't until we were well past the middle of it
that we realized
the old dull pain, whose stitched wrists and clammy fingers,
far from being subverted,
had only slipped underneath us, freshly scrubbed.
Mirrors and shop windows returned our faces to us,
replete with the tight lips and the eyes that remained eyes
and not the doorways we had hoped for.
His wounds healed, the skin a bit thicker than before,
scars like train tracks on his arms and on his body underneath his shirt.


6
We still groped for each other on the backstairs or in parked cars
as the roads around us
grew glossy with ice and our breath softened the view through a glass
already laced with frost,
but more frequently I was finding myself sleepless, and he was running out
of lullabies.
But damn if there isn't anything sexier
than a slender boy with a handgun,
a fast car, a bottle of pills.


7
What would you like? I'd like my money's worth.
Try explaining a life bundled with episodes of this—
swallowing mud, swallowing glass, the smell of blood
on the first four knuckles.
We pull our boots on with both hands
but we can't punch ourselves awake and all I can do
is stand on the curb and say Sorry
about the blood in your mouth. I wish it was mine.


I couldn't get the boy to kill me, but I wore his jacket for the longest time.


You Are Jeff


1
There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond
the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which twin you are in
love with at the time. Do not choose sides yet. It is still to your advan-
tage to remain impartial. Both motorbikes are shiny red and both boys
have perfect teeth, dark hair, soft hands. The one in front will want to
take you apart, and slowly. His deft and stubby fingers searching every
shank and lock for weaknesses. You could love this boy with all your
heart. The other brother only wants to stitch you back together. The
sun shines down. It's a beautiful day. Consider the hairpin turn. Do not
choose sides yet.


2
There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road. Let's
call them Jeff. And because the first Jeff is in front we'll consider him
the older, and therefore responsible for lending money and the occa-
sional punch in the shoulder. World-wise, world-weary, and not his
mother's favorite, this Jeff will always win when it all comes down to
fisticuffs. Unfortunately for him, it doesn't always all come down to
fisticuffs. Jeff is thinking about his brother down the winding road be-
hind him. He is thinking that if only he could cut him open and peel him
back and crawl inside this second skin, then he could relive that last mile
again: reborn, wild-eyed, free.


3
There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond
the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which Jeff you are. It
could have been so beautiful—you scout out the road ahead and I will
watch your back, how it was and how it will be, memory and fantasy—
but each Jeff wants to be the other one. My name is Jeff and I'm tired
of looking at the back of your head. My name is Jeff and I'm tired of
seeing my hand me down clothes. Look, Jeff, I'm telling you, for the
last time, I mean it, etcetera. They are the same and they are not the
same. They are the same and they hate each other for it.


4
Your name is Jeff and somewhere up ahead of you your brother has
pulled to the side of the road and he is waiting for you with a lug wrench
clutched in his greasy fist. 0 how he loves you, darling boy. 0 how, like
always, he invents the monsters underneath the bed to get you to sleep
next to him, chest to chest or chest to back, the covers drawn around
you in an act of faith against the night. When he throws the wrench into
the air it will catch the light as it spins toward you. Look—it looks like
a star. You had expected something else, anything else, but the wrench
never reaches you. It hangs in the air like that, spinning in the air like
that. It's beautiful.


5
Let's say God in his High Heaven is hungry and has decided to make
himself some tuna fish sandwiches. He's already finished making two
of them, on sourdough, before he realizes that the fish is bad. What is
he going to do with these sandwiches? They're already made, but he
doesn't want to eat them.

Let's say the Devil is played by two men. We'll call them Jeff. Dark
hair, green eyes, white teeth, pink tongues—they're twins. The one on
the left has gone bad in the middle, and the other one on the left is about
to. As they wrestle, you can tell that they have forgotten about God, and
they are very hungry.


6
You are playing cards with three men named Jeff. Two of the Jeffs seem
somewhat familiar, but the Jeff across from you keeps staring at your
hands, your mouth, and you're certain that you've never seen this Jeff
before. But he's on your team, and you're ahead, you're winning big,
and yet the other Jeffs keep smiling at you like there's no tomorrow.
They all have perfect teeth: white, square, clean, even. And, for some
reason, the lighting in the room makes their teeth seem closer than they
should be, as if each mouth was a place, a living room with pink carpet
and the window's open. Come back from the window, Jefferson. Take off
those wet clothes and come over here, by the fire.


7
You are playing cards with three Jeffs. One is your father, one is your
brother, and the other is your current boyfriend. All of them have seen
you naked and heard you talking in your sleep. Your boyfriend Jeff gets
up to answer the phone. To them he is a mirror, but to you he is a room.
Phone's for you, Jeff says. Hey! It's Uncle Jeff, who isn't really your
uncle, but you can't talk right now, one of the Jeffs has put his tongue
in your mouth. Please let it be the right one.


8
Two brothers are fighting by the side of the road. Two motorbikes have
fallen over on the shoulder, leaking oil into the dirt, while the interlocking
brothers grapple and swing. You see them through the backseat
window as you and your parents drive past. You are twelve years old.
You do not have a brother. You have never experienced anything this
ferocious or intentional with another person. Your mother is pretending
that she hasn't seen anything. Your father is fiddling with the knobs
of the radio. There is an empty space next to you in the backseat of the
station wagon. Make it the shape of everything you need. Now say
hello.


9
You are in an ordinary suburban bedroom with bunk beds, a bookshelf,
two wooden desks and chairs. You are lying on your back, on the top
bunk, very close to the textured ceiling, staring straight at it in fact, and
the room is still dark except for a wedge of powdery light that spills in
from the adjoining bathroom. The bathroom is covered in mint green
tile and someone is in there, singing very softly. Is he singing to you?
For you? Black cherries in chocolate, the ring around the moon, a bee-
tle underneath a glass—you cannot make out all the words, but you're
sure he knows you're in there, and he's singing to you, even though you
don't know who he is.


10
You see it as a room, a tabernacle, the dark hotel. You're in the hallway
again, and you open the door, and if you're ready you'll see it, but
maybe one part of your mind decides that the other parts aren't ready,
and then you don't remember where you've been, and you find yourself
down the hall again, the lights gone dim as the left hand sings the right
hand back to sleep. It's a puzzle: each piece, each room, each time you
put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, your ear to the
wound that whispers.
You're in the hallway again. The radio is playing your favorite song.
You're in the hallway. Open the door again. Open the door.


11
Suppose for a moment that the heart has two heads, that the heart has
been chained and dunked in a glass booth filled with river water. The
heart is monologing about hesitation and fulfillment while behind the
red brocade the heart is drowning. Can the heart escape? Does love
even care? Snow falls as we dump the booth in the bay.

Suppose for a moment we are crowded around a pier, waiting for something
to ripple the water. We believe in you. There is no danger. It is not
getting dark
, we want to say.


12
Consider the hairpin turn. It is waiting for you like a red door or the
broken leg of a dog. The sun is shining, O how the sun shines down!
Your speedometer and your handgrips and the feel of the road below
you, how it knows you, the black ribbon spread out on the greens be-
tween these lines that suddenly don't reach to the horizon. It is waiting,
like a broken door, like the red dog that chases its tail and eats your rose-
bushes and then must be forgiven. Who do you love, Jeff? Who do you
love? You were driving toward something and then, well, then you
found yourself driving the other way. The dog is asleep. The road is be-
hind you. O how the sun shines down.


13
This time everyone has the best intentions. You have cancer. Let's say
you have cancer. Let's say you've swallowed a bad thing and now it's
got its hands inside you. This is the essence of love and failure. You see
what I mean but you're happy anyway, and that's okay, it's a love story
after all, a lasting love, a wonderful adventure with lots of action,
where the mirror says mirror and the hand says hand and the front
door never says Sorry Charlie. So the doctor says you need more
stitches and the bruise cream isn't working. So much for the facts. Let's
say you're still completely in the dark but we love you anyway. We
love you. We really do.


14
After work you go to the grocery store to get some milk and a carton of
cigarettes. Where did you get those bruises? You don't remember.
Work was boring. You find a jar of bruise cream and a can of stewed
tomatoes. Maybe a salad? Spinach, walnuts, blue cheese, apples, and
you can't decide between the Extra Large or Jumbo black olives. Which
is bigger anyway? Extra Large has a blue label, Jumbo has a purple
label. Both cans cost $1.29. While you're deciding, the afternoon light
is streaming through the windows behind the bank of checkout coun-
ters. Take the light inside you like a blessing, like a knee in the chest,
holding onto it and not letting it go. Now let it go.


15
Like sandpaper, the light, or a blessing, or a bruise. Blood everywhere,
he said, the red light hemorrhaging from everywhere at once. The train
station blue, your lips blue, hands cold and the blue wind. Or a horse,
your favorite horse now raised up again out of the mud and galloping
galloping always toward you. In your ruined shirt, on the last day, while
the bruise won't heal, and the stain stays put, the red light streaming in
from everywhere at once. Your broken ribs, the back of your head, your
hand to mouth or hand to now, right now, like you mean it, like it's split-
ting you in two. Now look at the lights, the lights.


16
You and your lover are making out in the corner booth of a seedy bar.
The booths are plush and the drinks are cheap and in this dim and
smoky light you can barely tell whose hands are whose. Someone raises
their glass for a toast. Is that the Hand of Judgment or the Hand of
Mercy? The bartender smiles, running a rag across the burnished wood
of the bar. The drink in front of you has already been paid for. Drink it,
the bartender says. It's yours, you deserve it. It's already been paid for.
Somebody's paid for it already. There's no mistake, he says. It's your drink,
the one you asked for, just the way you like it. How can you refuse
Hands
of fire, hands of air, hands of water, hands of dirt. Someone's doing all
the talking but no one's lips move. Consider the hairpin turn.


17
The motorbikes are neck and neck but where's the checkered flag we
all expected, waving in the distance, telling you you're home again,
home? He's next to you, right next to you in fact, so close, or. . . he isn't.
Imagine a room. Yes, imagine a room: two chairs facing the window but
nobody moves. Don't move. Keep staring straight into my eyes. It feels
like you're not moving, the way when, dancing, the room will suddenly
fall away. You're dancing: you're neck and neck or cheek to cheek, he's
there or he isn't, the open road. Imagine a room. Imagine you're danc-
ing. Imagine the room now falling away. Don't move.


18
Two brothers: one of them wants to take you apart. Two brothers: one
of them wants to put you back together. It's time to choose sides now.
The stitches or the devouring mouth? You want an alibi? You don't get
an alibi, you get two brothers. Here are two Jeffs. Pick one. This is how
you make the meaning, you take two things and try to define the space
between them. Jeff or Jeff? Who do you want to be? You just wanted
to play in your own backyard, but you don't know where your own yard
is, exactly. You just wanted to prove there was one safe place, just one
safe place where you could love him. You have not found that place yet.
You have not made that place yet. You are here. You are here. You're
still right here.


19
Here are your names and here is the list and here are the things you left
behind: The mark on the floor from pushing your chair back, your un-
derwear, one half brick of cheese, the kind I don't like, wrapped up, and
poorly, and abandoned on the second shelf next to the poppyseed dress-
ing, which is also yours. Here's the champagne on the floor, and here
are your house keys, and here are the curtains that your cat peed on.
And here is your cat, who keeps eating grass and vomiting in the hall-
way. Here is the list with all of your names, Jeff. They're not the same
name, Jeff. They're not the same at all.


20
There are two twins on motorbikes but they are not on motorbikes,
they're in a garden where the flowers are as big as thumbs. Imagine you
are in a field of daisies. What are you doing in a field of daisies? Get up!
Let's say you're not in the field anymore. Let's say they're not brothers
anymore. That's right, they're not brothers, they're just one guy, and
he knows you, and he's talking to you, but you're in pain and you can-
not understand him. What are you still doing in this field? Get out of
the field! You should be in the hotel room! You should, at least, be try-
ing to get back into the hotel room. Ah! Now the field is empty.


21
Hold onto your voice. Hold onto your breath. Don't make a noise,
don't leave the room until I come back from the dead for you. I will
come back from the dead for you. This could be a city. This could be a
graveyard. This could be the basket of a big balloon. Leave the lights
on. Leave a trail of letters like those little knots of bread we used to
dream about. We used to dream about them. We used to do a lot of
things. Put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, pick up the
bread and devour it. I'm in the hallway again, I'm in the hallway. The
radio's playing my favorite song. Leave the lights on. Keep talking. I'll
keep walking toward the sound of your voice.


22
Someone had a party while you were sleeping but you weren't really
sleeping, you were sick, and parts of you were burning, and you
couldn't move. Perhaps the party was in your honor. You can't remem-
ber. It seems the phone was ringing in the dream you were having but
there's no proof. A dish in the sink that might be yours, some clothes on
the floor that might belong to someone else. When was the last time you
found yourself looking out of this window. Hey! This is a beautiful
window! This is a beautiful view! 1 hose trees lined up like that, and the
way the stars are spinning over them like that, spinning in the air like
that, like wrenches.


23
Let's say that God is the space between two men and the Devil is the
space between two men. Here: I'll be all of them-Jeff and Jeff and Jeff
and Jeff are standing on the shoulder of the highway, four motorbikes
knocked over, two wrenches spinning in the ordinary air. Two of these
Jeffs are windows, and two of these Jeffs are doors, and all of these Jeffs
are trying to tell you something. Come closer. We'll whisper it in your
ear. It's like seeing your face in a bowl of soup, cream of potato, and the
eyes shining back like spoons. If we wanted to tell you everything, we
would leave more footprints in the snow or kiss you harder. One thing.
Come closer. Listen . . .


24
You're in a car with a beautiful boy, and he won't tell you that he loves
you, but he loves you. And you feel like you've done something terr-
ible, like robbed a liquor store, or swallowed pills, or shoveled yourself
a grave in the dirt, and you're tired. You're in a car with a beautiful boy,
and you're trying not to tell him that you love him, and you're trying to
choke down the feeling, and you're trembling, but he reaches over and
he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your
heart taking root in your body, like you've discovered something you
don't even have a name for.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

everyday superheroes



Thanks to Bully, who runs a cool blog and helped me reboot my iPod! Bully saves the day!!


Image: they will never know who i really am, from exploding dog.

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Bourdieu is Funny

Or, at least the way Tim Hallet describes him in "Symbolic Power and Organiztional Culture":

The habitus plays an important role in interaction because it is so unconscious. Upon presenting a certain self, it is too difficult for the actor to monitor every movement he or she performs, even a highly conscious, manipulative actor. Therefor, the actor unwittingly interacts in ways consistent with the habitus (dispositions). This way, the actor does not risk betraying his/her performance, because the unconscious signs given off (reflective of dispositions of the habitus) are consistent with the act. Hence, not "just anybody" can become a movie star. The process of becoming a movie star involves not just learning how to "act," but also an inculcation of the dispositions that make the act credible.* The same can be said for Goffman's (1952) con men. Con men are successful, not simply because of their impression management, but also because, through their positioning in social space and experiences in the life course, they have acquired the dispositions needed to be a good faker. For a typical person to disregard the dispositions of the habitus--to engage in practices that are totally foreign--is to risk humiliation on the part of signs given off, manifestatinos of the habitus that is rejected. aS such, the habitus shapes impression management, but the self-presented remains situated. The habitus enables and constrains impression management, but the self remains characteristic of the situation. The habitus is not a "self," so to speak, nor is the body an "empty peg."

*Evidence can be found in the horrendous movies that often mark the early careers of stars.


Okay, so it is not hi-larious, but when a footnote makes me laugh out loud in the middle of a (good) but rather dense article on symbolic power and culture, and is rehashing Bordieu and Goffman like I don't know (okay, I don't)--I am appreciative. I actually laughed out loud on the train. Whether this is a mark of how funny the footnote is, or my depreciating standards for humor ever since I became an academic, or my general loserliness--hard to tell.

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