Friday, April 30, 2010


One of the other mothers in Beanie's ballet class e-mailed this to me - taken at the dress rehearsal for her recital, which will be held tonight and tomorrow night.

Beanie is the smaller one in pink.

How can she look so little and so big to me at the same time?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

From the trenches of Higher Ed

There are times when – typically, in the evening, at the end of a day especially filled with frustration on multiple fronts – StraightMan and I look at each other and sigh a single word: “Thwarted.”

It is a word that StraightMan and I not infrequently use.

While it can apply to parenting (e.g., our plans to enjoy a deliciously spiced dinner become thwarted by our daughter’s preference for plain butter pasta with anything and everything else on the side…), we typically use it to describe our teaching and especially our scholarship. As in: The lecture and discussion that we have prepared meticulously and even enthusiastically for a reading that especially fires our ire become thwarted by the fact that the sun shining this afternoon means that too many students will have skipped their assignment for the next day. Or as in: Our goals to prepare an article or a book chapter or a research grant become thwarted by everything else.

On days of thwart, StraightMan and I frequently follow our sighs with a question: “What happened?”

By which we mean: What the hell are we doing, mucking around in the trenches of Higher Ed? By which we mean: Were we not trained – nay, formed – for the idylls of Academia?

StraightMan and I teach, respectively, at a small, private liberal arts college of which neither of us had heard until he applied for the job, and at a middle-sized public comprehensive college that until recently had been known primarily as a party school.

I will take the risk of sounding arrogant: I confess that these were not necessarily the kinds of jobs that either of us had imagined for ourselves. I see this now not so much as hubris and more as naivete. StraightMan and I met in the final days of our senior year at a small, private liberal arts college that appears regularly at the tops of lists that “rank” schools. He and I received our PhD’s from the top programs at private (his) and public (mine) research universities. At such places, one is sheltered - and one feels, rightly or wrongly, that one is being cultivated for Academia.

So, this is not a complaint about the quality of our colleagues or even our students. At our respective institutions, StraightMan and I have colleagues with impressive credentials as scholars and inspiring gifts as teachers. (Then there are the ones whose retirements are awaited eagerly, I acknowledge.) We have students whose parents I hope to meet because I wish to congratulate them on raising such thoughtful, kind, motivated, and diligent children - and ask them how they did it. (Then there are the ones who make us mutter darkly about the good old days when a high school diploma might have sufficed.)

I could be describing almost any college or university in America today.

Sitting in my Ivory Tower, I had little inkling of the existence of Higher Ed until I began to work in it. It is a lot harder work than anyone in Academia ever advised me.

This brings me to a recent post on the anthropology blog, Savage Minds, which muses on what happens now with the contraction of Academia / Higher Ed:

One concern that I’ve heard which seems almost equally universal is that in a shrinking job market the most likely people to get shafted are the newly-minted Ph.D.s from ‘not-the-top-schools’. I’m not sure this is exactly true.

The blogger then describes where the jobs are - or rather, what the jobs are today: Not Academia, but Higher Ed.

Now, I am not sure that I am right about all this, but if I am then I think we can see what the implications are: although Top Schoolers might be best positioned for jobs in terms of their cultural capital, the best people to meet the demand for new jobs might be the Second Stringers of people who come from perfectly decent but not spectacular schools.

Leaving aside any distaste or disagreement with the blogger's terms themselves, I see the issue as less about Top Schoolers and Second Stringers - and more about underestimating and under-appreciating the skill required to be effective, productive, and successful in Higher Ed.

Not to mention - dare I even say it - the skill required to be happy.

On days of thwart, StraightMan and I occasionally invoke the names of Academics we have known, either as our teachers or as our fellow students. Most of them, we figure, never could do the jobs that we do in Higher Ed. Or be happy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


The mind boggles.

A colleague in my department forwarded the slide, which I initially thought came from The Onion.

Then I followed the link to this article in The New York Times today.

I use PowerPoint in my teaching, mostly as an organizing tool to help me keep my thoughts connected as I talk and to provide a "map" for students to follow - I think it helps them maintain focus. Also, I admit, I sometimes like to have them look at something other than at me.

I do not, however, regard PowerPoint as imaging information any more than I imagine myself necessarily conveying information. I see myself as a guide in the process of learning how to ask and think and answer. In other words, I see part of what I do in my teaching as arguing and persuading. So, I found this striking in the Times report:

Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point.

As a college professor who received an undergraduate degree in English and aspired (and still aspires) to write, it warms the cockles of my heart to read such complaints, coming from the military chain of command.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cursing and swearing

Although it could, the title of today's post is not necessarily intended to describe my current state of mind or being.

Rather, it is referring to the class that I am preparing to teach. For Friday, I plan to have students in Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology read an excerpt from Jesse Sheidlower's The F-Word, which is a dictionary (published by Oxford University Press) of f-words, beginning with absofuckinglutely and ending with zipless fuck.

"The word fuck definitely did not originate as an acronym, as many people think," Sheidlower writes. So much for what you might have heard about the f-word's purported origins as "fornication under consent of the King" or "for unlawful carnal knowledge," which I think I remember hearing from, believe it or not, a CCD teacher. "In reality, fuck is a word of Germanic origin," Sheidlower tells us. "It is related to words in several other Germanic languages, such as Dutch, German, and Swedish, that have sexual meanings as well as meanings such as 'to strike' or 'to move back and forth.'"

Why is it that the f-word has come to be considered "cursing" or "swearing"?

Linguist Timothy Jay, in his book, Why We Curse: A Neuro-Psycho-Social Theory of Speech (2000), reminds us that cursing "refers to several uses of offensive speech. Technically speaking, [however,] cursing is wishing harm on a person (e.g., eat shit and die). But the term cursing is used comprehensively here to include categories such as: swearing, obscenity, profanity, blasphemy, name calling, insulting, verbal aggression, taboo speech, ethnic-racial slurs, vulgarity, slang, and scatology" (9).

Anthropologist Ashley Montagu, in The Anatomy of Swearing (1968), reminds us: "Swearing serves clearly definable social as well as personal purposes. A social purpose? But has not swearing always been socially condemned and proscribed? It has. And that is precisely the point. Because the early forms of swearing were often of a nature regarded as subversive of social and religious institutions, as when the names of the gods were profanely invoked, their use in such a manner was strictly forbidden" (1).

Fan-fucking-tastic, no?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring cleaning, part 3

During my break, I indulged in a little spring cleaning of the small stack of magazines that I have not read: Back issues of Bon Appetit (for which I confess to having not much taste, but which we felt forced to accept when Conde Nast shuttered Gourmet, after we had renewed our subscription), The Nation (which I read for Katha Pollitt, for arts and books coverage, and for the occasional need to feel righteously enraged), and The Economist (which might be the last newspaper standing to cover international news and science journalism in any meaningful way).

I skimmed. I clipped. I recycled.

It was from The Economist that I clipped an item on “The rise of the handyman” in Britain. The Economist reports:

Domestic help has long been a mostly female preserve, involving nannies, cleaners and laundry maids. That is changing, according to a forthcoming study by Majella Kilkey of the University of Hull and Diane Perrons of the London School of Economics. The pair reckon that nowadays 39% of domestic helpers in Britain are men, up from 17% in the early 1990s.

Now, the article, in its lede, gives the impression that professional men themselves are hiring handymen to take on odd jobs so that they can spend more time with their children. Not until the penultimate paragraph does the report note “it is mostly mothers who contract and supervise the workers.” (The article also adds “for the most part fathers do – whatever the cynics suspect – spend the time thus liberated with their families, rather than in the office, at the gym or in the pub.”)

I am curious to know about whether or not the trend holds in the United States, but I can imagine that here, too, not only are traditional men’s odd jobs being “outsourced” (e.g., the task formerly known as mowing the lawn being assigned to landscaping companies that employ migrant workers), but the outsourcing itself creates another form of house work (i.e., domestic management) for women. In my experience, it is typically the women who trade suggestions and recommendations and circulate the names and numbers of plumbers, electricians, contractors, and so on. Not to mention the women who make the arrangements to be at home for the service call or take the car for the oil change or the repairs.

In other words, as odd jobs become outsourced, the task becomes "shopping" for service, which falls into line with already existing ideas, in American culture and society, about what men do and what women do.

(For the record, StraightMan and I look on this type of home management as work that we share. Like laundry and meals and parenting. Which is part of the reason why I like him so much.)

In fact, StraightMan and I talk about the fact that as much as we need a wife - the kind who packs lunches for her Brady Bunches - we also need a husband. The kind with a tool belt. StraightMan seems secure enough in his masculinity to admit to the fact that while he is handy enough, he is not especially handy. Also, coupled with the demands and pressures of working in Higher Ed, he is not especially inclined toward doing odd jobs on the weekends. He really sees as his priority to be with Beanie and Bubbie (and with me).

So, I see parallels between the devaluing of odd jobs and, say, cleaning. The devaluing of odd jobs both shapes and mirrors shifts in ideas and practices of what it means to be a man today. The devaluing of odd jobs for professional men is not unrelated to their outsourcing to other men - for example, migrants and immigrants who are paid less and seen or heard little.

I think about Beanie and Bubbie: If children grow up with parents who do not clean the gutters, regrout the tub, and so on, then they learn nothing about the existence of gutters or the need for grout, much less about the tools of the trade, to say nothing of the skills required. They lose not only appreciation, but the ability to appreciate at all the effort and energy expended and the practice gained. They simply do not know or even notice.

I also see a distinction that is made between these kinds of work and, say, cooking, knitting, and woodworking, which arguably always commanded at least a bit of respect as "craft" and today have become revalued. (As an aside, I think there is much more to say about the interest in "craft" in academia - for example, The New Yorker published this review of the books Shop Class as Soulcraft and Richard Sennett's The Craftsman.)
By revalue, I do not necessarily mean a "return" to previous value, but the assignment of still other (new-to-them) value.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring cleaning, part 2

Having been raised as an American and a female, too, I find that accessorizing improves my impression of almost any task at hand. For example: On a whim, I have enrolled, with a few friends, in a cupcake decorating workshop. If you know me at all, then I might as well have said that I will be taking a a class in organic chemistry or a seminar on strip tease. In any case, the point is that the workshop requires that I bring a cake decorating kit, which I do not, or until last week did not, own because I am more the butter-knife-and-a-can-of-Betty-Crocker type. So, I bought said kit because I started to think that a significant reason why I have no frosting / icing skills (aside from the availability of artfully decorated cakes for purchase, not to mention my complete lack of interest until now) is exactly because I do not own the right tools.

The importance and meaning of accessories do not end there.

Recently, I replaced our indoor broom with a Casabella animal print broom that I admit I had eyed for a time. The broom says: I sweep, but I also have a sense of style and humor. Grrr.

But wait, there's more!

I confess also that when we lived in a place with a Whole Foods, I spent inordinate time in the home products aisle, considering the virtues of bamboo-fiber scrubbers and the like. At our local natural foods market (formerly known as a health food store), I like to browse the bottles of Life Tree Home Soap and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day All Purpose Cleaner. In my office on campus, I keep an Eco-Cloth in my desk drawer.

I am a fool for "design" and the marketing of consumer items pertaining to the green-and-simple house and home. Like other domestic arts that became reframed as drudge work that are becoming re-reframed as crafts - knitting and cooking come to mind - cleaning, too, is being packaged and sold.

Not production, but consumption - and I seem to be buying it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spring cleaning, part 1

From my wise and wonderful friend’s blog, I followed a link to wise and wonderful words from writer Anne Lamott – on how and why we need not be over-connected and over-busy. “Time is not free—that’s why it’s so precious and worth fighting for,” she writes.

I enjoyed Lamott’s musings about making time for living until this bit near the end:

Will they give me one hour of housecleaning in exchange for the poetry reading? Or wash the car just one time a month, for the turtles? No? I understand. But at 80, will they be proud that they spent their lives keeping their houses cleaner than anyone else in the family did, except for mad Aunt Beth, who had the vapors?

I would like to defend cleaning. Social anthropologist Mary Douglas described dirt as “matter out of place.” Cleaning, for me, is putting in place. At the end of the day, I sweep the Cheerios under the table into the dustbin, wipe clean the kitchen counters of coffee grounds, pick up the wooden train tracks and the building blocks on the living room rug and return them to their baskets.

Indeed, the tracks and blocks have baskets because everything must have its place - if not, then I will find or make one for it.

So, I am not talking about cleaning of the back breaking, shoulders aching, bones creaking, and clean squeaking kind, at least not on a regular basis :) The fact that we hire help on that front has contributed to the balance of 2 jobs + 2 kids.

I find the work of cleaning, and certainly its effects, satisfying. I take pride in having my house "clean" - that is, in order. It will be a fine thing to remember me by - or it would be, were cleaning not so belittled.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Keeping up with The Times

I took this weekend "off" (i.e., a quick trip there-and-back for Beanie and Bubbie to visit their cousins) - I am paying for this now (i.e., prepping classes, writing an exam, offering extra help to students confused about material for said exam).

Never got around to reading last week’s magazine story, “Can Animals Be Gay?” Let me take a guess: Yes.

However. I understand how and why it might contribute to thinking about human sexual behavior to look at the range of behaviors among non-human animals, but I also question whether or not it helps us to talk in particular about animals as "gay." Human sexual behavior can include a range of activity. Homosociality (e.g., same sex / gender friendship) seems to be as much if not more the rule in history and across cultures and societies. Not to mention that “gay” and for that matter “straight” identity is constructed.

All of which is a long way of getting around to saying that I just started reading this week’s magazine story, “The Estrogen Dilemma.” Before I even realized it, I found myself at the bottom of page 2 of 7, about to click on Next Page. Then I remember about having to teach class.

The article is about the science and experience of being a woman of a Certain Age. For the record, I am not yet at that Certain Age. I believe that I am at an Uncertain Age. Not young, I guess, but not old enough even to be Middle Aged. So, I apologize to every person over the age of 35 to whom I ever referred, in my youthful ignorance, about a decade ago, as Middle Aged. (For more on this, see the George Clooney movie, “Up in the Air.”)

I liked this observation:

I managed a surprising level of public discretion about what was going on; competence at the cover act is a skill commonly acquired by midlife women, I think, especially those with children and work lives. If the years have taught us nothing else, they have taught us how to do a half dozen things at once, at least a couple of them decently well.

Ah, covering. I feel like that is a lot of what I do as a parent. Also as a scholar / teacher.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What I plan to read

Last night, StraightMan and I finally got around to opening the crate of books that he received as an honorarium for reviewing a manuscript. (For those unfamiliar with the practice, a university or scholarly press might offer, say, $100 in cash or $200 in books. Typically, we take the books.) With all that goes on, the box sat unopened all weekend and into this week! So, it was like Christmas morning for us. StraightMan generously requested more than half the titles for me. (Now, that is love!) Including Branches by Philip Ball, which turns out to be part of a trilogy. Having no time at the moment to read more than the dust jacket, I am in danger now of imagining what this book, and the other two, should say and how and the kinds of thoughts it might provoke.

I have Tim Ingold's Lines on my desk at home. It has a short subtitle of explanation, but is this a sign of the "simple" movement belatedly making its mark on scholarly publishing?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Notably quotable

I am breaking my post-break silence with this observation from The Economist (March 20):

The doubters tend to focus on specific bits of empirical evidence, not on the whole picture. This is worthwhile - facts do need to be well grounded - but it can make the doubts seem more fundamental than they are. People often assume that data are simple, graspable and trustworthy, whereas theory is complex, recondite and slippery, and so give the former priority. In the case of climate change, as in much of science, the reverse is as at least fair a picture. Data are vexatious; theory is quite straightforward.

Although this comment describes the controversy surrounding climate change today, I think it applies to so much more - including human biological evolution and "intelligent design," not to mention the persistence of the fallacy of biological "race." The theory of evolution is elegant and the data tedious. Why is there an assumption that it should be otherwise?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Anthropologizing like a parent

It was from martinimade that I found my way to this blog post on how / why having babies might make you a better writer.

First off, I am so glad to see someone else reacting to The Guardian’s 10 rules for writing fiction, which it collected from the likes of Elmore Leonard and Margaret Atwood – in particular to the list from Richard Ford, which begins:

1. Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.

2. Don't have children.

I am not a writer of fiction – or at least, I am not supposed to be, as an academic anthropologist (and a former newspaper reporter) – but I felt that a number of the rules for writing fiction might apply just as well to what I do.

Ford’s 1st rule might be one of the more important and meaningful suggestions that I have seen made because it acknowledges that a person does not, in fact, write or accomplish any other work in a void, but does it with the seen and unseen support of others.

Despite his misgivings, StraightMan supported my decision to leave a good job in journalism for, of all things, graduate school, so apparently he thinks my being an anthropologist is at least not a bad idea. Which it could be.

By the by, a 2008 survey by the University of Washington Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education, found that women receive 45 percent of the PhD’s in the social sciences (specifically, anthropology, communication, geography, history, political science, and sociology). We are less likely than men to be married 6 to 10 years after the PhD. When married, 34 percent of us are married to partners with PhD’s. Anecdotally, I feel like the non-PhD partners of women with PhD’s whom I know are among the most supportive, self-assured, relaxed, and confident men I ever met. Which I think speaks to Ford’s 1st rule.

As for Ford’s 2nd rule.

I admit that there are days when this makes complete sense to me. Or at least, if one has children, one ought to have a good, old-fashioned wife. I need a wife. The kind who likes to pack lunches for her Brady Bunches, to paraphrase Nelly McKay.

However. Were it not for having become a mother (not just once, but twice), what would I know? I mean specifically what would * I * know?

As an anthropologist, I find myself taking more interest in more things, not less and not fewer, as I move along. Over time, also, I am learning to be more patient with other people – possibly even with myself.

Anthropology Sidney Mintz – who happens to have been one of StraightMan’s teachers – once wrote that fieldwork requires watching people do what they do and listening to them. “Do not expect them to be consistent,” he advised.

For me, having children has made me less demanding of consistency, more accepting and even appreciative of how much contradiction we live with, big and small. I have learned to care more and to care less.

On the care-more front: I think what drew me first into journalism and then into anthropology has been the idea that everyone has their stories to tell, and they deserve to be heard. Which, by the way, I read a thoughtful reflection about “objectivity” in journalism – by Christiane Amanpour in Eric Alterman’s April 12th column in The Nation: “There are some situations one simply cannot be neutral about, because when you are neutral you are an accomplice. Objectivity doesn’t mean treating all sides equally. It means giving each side a hearing.” I think this is what anthropology does especially well.

With varying degrees of success, I try to practice while I preach to Beanie and Bubbie about manners and civility – to respond, in talk or in kind, so that people feel included and respected.

Also, I am obsessed with composting, individually and collectively, and I covet a rain barrel for our house. (See image above. Sigh.)

On the care-less front: A friend and I were chatting over breakfast the other day. This is a treat that we have ritualized, dubbing it “break fest” because we only have it during college breaks (not vacations). I will call this friend Maker because she is so accomplished as a maker of things like books and sweaters and children and home and so on. As a journalist, Maker said she thought that having children made it easier for her to ask impertinent questions. “What’s the worst you can do?” she said. “Yell at me?”

Friday, April 9, 2010

On my Netfllix queue

The reviews seem so-so, but Kenneth Turan et al see movies for a living, so I imagine the irony will be lost - married couples hiring sitters to see "Date Night" on their date nights.

Looking at this image inspired the revelation that in a movie version of our lives, Steve Carell should play StraightMan. You see it in the eyebrows...

I wish Tina Fey could be me, but I would have to be funnier and hotter or at least be able to work the faux-hot like she can (which I think really is hot - I love Tina Fey). Also, she would need to be Asian.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Enjoy the silence

No, this post is not a tribute to the band that dominated my life's soundtrack in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Alongside Erasure, The Smiths, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, The Cure, and other Screamers of the Week featured on WLIR.

As I was preparing dinner, I was listening to an interview on "Fresh Air" that considered the importance of silence. The interview was with George Prochnik, a journalist and author of a new book titled In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise.

This is from the article posted on NPR:

Prochnik says that on trips to a Quaker meeting and a monastery, he learned that absolute silence doesn't exist but that quiet spaces are essential because they "can inject us with a fertile unknown: a space in which to focus and absorb experience."

"What surprised me is degree to which the monks don't associate silence with gloomy overhang," he says. "There's sense of joyfulness of turning themselves down to be conscious of greater things."

Calgon, take me away!

Or at least, I think I need to get this book on my Kindle.

By the by, dinner was farfalle with asparagus sauteed lightly in olive oil with garlic, then tossed with black olives and corn (both leftovers in the fridge from separate occasions) and with fresh tomatoes and basil and a crumble of grey sea salt. I know, I know - how bougie, but I love grey sea salt. I even love to spell it "grey."

Naturally, Beanie and Bubbie had farfalle with butter and Parmesan cheese, with carrots and ranch dressing on the side.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sophomore slump

Miserable is the ABD anthropology graduate student. Approximately as miserable is the PhD who seems to have no second project.

That would be me. The latter, I mean.

I have a few irons in the fire, but with a 4/3 teaching load - yes, you read that correctly, and no, I do not teach at a two-year / community college - the fire burns low and slow.

A project with which I am flirting is the anthropology of spas, in particular looking at contemporary American ideas and practices surrounding hydrotherapy (water) and balneotherapy (baths).

In my random readings, I found an article titled, "The Bath: A Nursing Ritual" by Zane Robinson Wolf (1993), which considers the importance and meaning of bathing (especially others, but also selves) for the profession of nursing. "The nurse who learns to perform the bath artfully is proficient, knowing, subtle, and able," Wolf wrote. She concludes with a reflection on the importance of the bath as a ritual of knowledge and healing:

Consequently, it may be professionally hazardous for nurses to discard the bathing ritual by giving it up to nonprofessional personnel. The bath is more than a standardized and repetitive series of activities; it may be required by the rules of nursing (Gluckman, 1975). The bath can be viewed as a healing rite with great healing power; it may symbolize order, solidarity, and purity (Douglas, 1970).

This calls to mind the emphasis placed on the newborn's first bath (which nurses perform after the birth) and on the need for parents to learn how to bathe the infant properly - that is, safely and hygienically and so on. Following the cutting of the cord, the first bath in the hospital seems another step in the process of individuating (infant from woman), but also of socializing.

A bath is not always just a bath.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Keeping up with The Times

I knew it, I knew it! In her "Well" blog today, Tara Parker-Pope confirmed what StraightMan and I long had suspected:

Working parents perpetually agonize that they don’t see enough of their children. But a surprising new study finds that mothers and fathers alike are doing a better job than they think, spending far more time with their families than did parents of earlier generations.

As half of a dual-full-time-academic-career couple with two kids, I feel vindicated.

With all due respect and affection to my parents (in particular to my mother, the primary caregiver) - and meals together in our house were the rule, not the exception - I remember a lot of the time we spent together as benign inattentiveness. For example, my brother and sister and I were encouraged to play together, in the backyard, or to read in our rooms on our own.

We kids had our own ways of getting along (or not). Something that I encourage Beanie and Bubbie to develop and explore, too.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A break

That describes this week for me.

Not a vacation. Which is perhaps what my students take and what other people working in the real world claim as a benefit.

Not true in Higher Ed.

Back to grading...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Prep Personae

This might be a shameful admission, but I am delighted to learn about plans for an update to The Official Preppy Handbook.

I still have my copy of the original, which I bought when I was in 7th or 8th grade. Then, I had only the foggiest notion that the book was satire. There are actual check marks penciled in on page 59, “The Basic Reading List,” which listed “books about Prep schools, books read in Prep schools, books by Preppies, books about the joys and miseries of being Prep.” The two titles leading the list – The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace, both of which I considered my favorite books at the time – seem to say more about being an adolescent and feeling out of place. I mean, I just knew that I would be much happier attending a boarding school in New England than mixing with the hoi polloi at a suburban high school in New Jersey. (I tell you, Curtis Sittenfield’s Prep captures truths that are not often spoken.) In New Jersey, I stayed.

By the end of my time there, however, I had become practiced in the kind of sarcasm and irony that occasionally rises to wit. Or at least I started to recognize it in other sources, like The Official Preppy Handbook. In my mind, I was Dorothy Parker stuck among mall rats. Or at least I knew who Dorothy Parker was. (Who was, I believe, not a preppy and certainly is not included in “The Prep Pantheon” features on pages 196 to 199.) Eventually, I attended one of America’s 20 preppiest colleges where I met actual preppies and still other wonderful, interesting, and clever people. (Including StraightMan, who other people assume is an actual preppy, in part because it is true that Brooks Brothers seems to have proportioned their trousers and shirts to fit him exactly.)

I think that my early interest in The Official Preppy Handbook alerted me to thinking about “class” in the United States as not wholly or even significantly defined by money – which I find that my students, as an example, will assume. To which the preppies raise their bloody Mary’s in agreement. On the other hand, I am not talking uncritically about that other notion of “class” as good breeding and so on.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu made the study of “class” and its reproduction in education and in language central in his life’s work. Is it possible to engage in a productive consideration of class in the United States a la Bourdieu?

Apparently, the new book, to be called True Prep, will include material on gay prep life and black preppies (e.g., the Obamas). I think it will be interesting to see what will be the so-called preppy take on changes in American life between 1980, when The Official Preppy Handbook was published, and today. It seems safe to say that there have been changes in the climate or environment of humor – I wonder how that will affect the production and consumption / reception of True Prep as satire? What can we say about "class"?

To be continued.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Stand-Up Anthropology

This morning, I derive entertainment from the caustic self-derision of anthropologists who were blogging on April 1:

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) made the announcement today that its Joint Committee for Publishing and Employment Services unanimously recommended the immediate dissolution of the AAA, stating there was nothing left to study.

See the full story here.

See a response to it here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

2 jobs + 2 kids = 2 much

Every night, after the kids have been tucked in, StraightMan and I give each other winks and nods and nudges - from across our adjacent desks in our home office, i.e., the back area of our living room, which is blocked against children by a couch and a baby gate, and where we dig in the trenches of Higher Ed, reading, grading, answering e-mail, and preparing PowerPoint slides.

Not romantic, but I have to say, rather comfortable and companion-ly.

Last night, there erupted much guffawing over this story in America's finest news source.

I am trying to decide whether or not I am "in" on the joke or if the joke is on me. Which seems to be a common thread in this blog b/c it seems to be the warp and woof* of my life.

*That is a shout out to my fiber crafting friends who are reading this occasionally. See? I get your images and metaphors.