Archive for April, 2006

This morning I woke up hopping mad. Admittedly it was in part because we are experimenting with letting the dogs sleep in the bedroom with us and Lenny has decided that 6 a.m. is a magical hour. As far as I am concerned there's nothing magical about anything that happens before 8.

Mostly, though, I've apparently been stewing about this and this and this and this all night.  Also, about what Angela continues to have to go through in order to tell a truth nobody wants to hear.

Two are about adoption, one is about sex preference, one is right-wing bigotry, and one link is to a woman speaking the truth about welfare. But what they (in all but one, the criticized, NOT the blogger) all have in common is the fallacy of the status quo. The fallacy runs like this: I am white, heterosexual, middle-class, married or about to be, and a Christian. My way of life is right. I chose my way of life. I got here by being righteous. If you are outside this paradigm, you are outside of the will of God and must be punished/changed/ostracized/marginalized. If you are pregnant out of wedlock, on welfare, gay, live in a third world country or, well, dress funny, you deserve my rebuke/pity/help/rejection/infantilization.

Here's the problem. Being white, middle-class, heterosexual, married or about to be, Christian, etc. are all accidents of birth. OK, so maybe you were born in the ghetto and have pulled yourself up or whatnot. Yes, maybe you worked hard, but you also had opportunities that were matters of chance or accident or grace that most of your peers didn't. You were born liking girls or boys or both. Your parents and community have encouraged marriage and have provided opportunities for you to meet compatible partners. From the cradle you have learned about Jesus. Or don't say it's an accident; but my God! don't pretend like you have any inkling about the vast, infinite, unknowable wisdom of God. You were not chosen to be heterosexual because God loved you more. You just are.

The infuriating sense of entitlement I see on a daily basis in my peers, my students, and people I read and read about is the result of confusing accomplishment with circumstances of birth. Entitlement is about thinking you deserve something (a baby, health insurance) based on something that has little to do, at the end of the day, with your actions or personal moral fortitude. The assertion of entitlement usually comes when your privilege is threatened. Opposition to gay marriage and gay adoption has nothing whatsoever to do with the weakening of marriage (puleeeeese) or harming children. It is about upsetting the carefully orchestrated hierarchy of race, class, religion, and sexual preference that puts some of us (me) in the privileged class and some of us on the outside of law and dinner parties.

Jim Goad is in many ways a whackjob but one thing he says is right-on: everybody's got a n*gger. In our fucked-up culture, everyone has someone to look down upon in order to remain smug in whatever privilege one has had the grace or luck to possess. Maybe it's birthmothers, or the locals in your college town, or welfare recipients. And you know what? I've got one too. It's the dolt. I absolutely despise stupid people. What I forget is that beside the fact that there are about a thousand different kinds of intelligences, I had so much trouble reading when I moved from Illinois to Pennsylvania that I needed tutoring to catch up, or that I was in the 'dumb' math group in fourth grade and probably still should be, or that when I was a cashier for a short three weeks my drawer didn't come out right one single day. I was lucky enough to have a remedial reading specialist! as a mother, a personality that somehow repulsed my peers but delighted teachers, and the background and education that allowed me to get a better-paying job than that cashier's position at Rossi's. My intelligence–which is a very particular kind of book-smarts, very carefully nurtured by a particular environment–has nothing to do with my righteousness. It entitles me to nothing. And I am not better. I have to work hard on this, all the time. Almost as hard as I do on not hating rich people. I don't do a very good job but I do know that the first step is owning up to your privilege and all the arrogance that goes with it.

When you can admit that who you are is largely an accident of birth and circumstances so complex you will never be able to untangle them, you realize that you are always a mere breath away from being "outdoors" (read The Bluest Eye). Think you are too good for welfare? Think again. The death of a spouse, a fire, an illness, an accident…you are always one or two steps away.* Don't forget that. And if you do go on welfare, it isn't a failure. It just is. You are not suddenly morally inferior. You're fucked, but you're not sub-human. So while you're not on welfare, don't regard someone who is as sub-human. And if you think you don't, listen to yourself talk about welfare recipents. Examine what you really think.

She says it better.
There. Now I can take a shower and grade.


*Molly, this isn't about our conversation this weekend. Attic Man pointed out that you might think it is so I wanted to let you know that I know you get it. 🙂


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Exchange with my two-year-old nephew, James, on the playground:

Me: James, please do not throw dirt.  It can get in someone's eyes.

James throws another handful of dirt.

Me: James, look at me.

James: (covering eyes with hands) I am hiding!

Me: (giggling) James, I can still see you.  Please do not throw dirt.

James resumes play in the tree stump.  Thwarted in his attempts to disappear, he discontinues the throwing of dirt.

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When Teaching Is TEACHING

Monday's lecture went very, very well. It wasn't so much that I was comfortable, and that my ease in front of 75 students showed so well that it made it into my professor's letter (yay!) or that I was more prepared than I've ever been for class, or that I fielded student responses effectively (including one that identified Morrison's point as the need for the black community to stop complaining about external racism and take responsibility for its own problems…arg), or that I threw in some good ad lib stuff to keep it fresh when their eyes started glazing over–all that is a matter of style and frankly of having taught for four years at the college level. It's observation, practice, feedback. I'm proud of it, immensely, but gaining approval from colleagues is not why I teach.

I teach because students who can effectively analyze a novel or poem are not only able to enjoy and be enriched by literature but stand to learn some incredible things from it as well; they are in a prime position to have their thinking transformed by it. The process of close reading opens a student's mind to alternative ways of interpreting and challenging cultural practices. On Monday, I was able–I think–to offer them a way of reading The Bluest Eye that would confront a common mental framework regarding the way racism functions in our culture; I asked them to consider, as I believe Morrison does, a way of thinking about racism that goes beyond blame and demands, to the discomfort of every good reader, collective responsibility for and implication in what happens to Pecola. And they got it. I had a list of summing-up type statements with which I would end the lecture, but before I could get to them the students were coming up with eerily similar statements of their own. The close reading worked; they were realizing, on their own, with a bit of guidance, another way of looking at race. And because most of my students are white, it was most exciting, most gratifying.

I'm not a great teacher; at most I'm a good teacher trying to be great. All I do, really, is to read according to my training and come to class with that reading, prepared as if I were another student. For this class I had to be a bit more structured because it was a lecture. I did find that I was too directive at points. My professor suggested alternating the "fishing" type questions with more open-ended ones. As soon as she said it I could see that the rough and slow parts of the class could be explained by the lack of variety in the way I elicited responses. As I mentioned in my last post, it was this tension between structure and openness that I was worried about, and with good reason. No sweat, though; it was a good learning experience and I will be able to tweak my teaching accordingly.

Gotta go–date tonight with a handsome attic-dweller.

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This morning I had the most amazing breakfast: two-egg omelet with goat cheese, fresh basil, and baby spinach.  YUM.  Last night Attic Man man a Roulade of Chicken thing  (rolled up chicken with goat cheese and veggies inside; he made it in peppers for me) so there were some yummy leftover ingredients. I was more than happy to dispose of them.   We also walked the dogs, and I read half a Harper's article, in which the author appears to have actually read Foucault instead of just throwing his name around for attention (a rare treat), so it has been a splendid morning already.

I'm hoping this afternoon will follow suit.  Today I'm giving my lecture on The Bluest Eye.  On paper, it's a damn good lecture.  Here's an exerpt from a close reading of the prologue that is a brief snapshot of what I'm doing with the text: 

it’s not about one monster who does something awful to a child, but about a culture that creates monsters; the discourse of blame misses the point entirely—if we could put it all on Cholly we’d be able to dismiss the problem of the novel completely—but Morrison doesn’t want us to think that it’s a simple as there being ‘good’ and ‘evil’ people, but that there can be an evil we all participate in.  The whole culture, black and white, is implicated in her story.

I'm happy with what I have to say about TBE but I'm quite nervous about the lecture format.  Actually, it's the mixed format that I'm concerned about.  Straight lecture is nearly all performance; the way my professor has been teaching the course there is a lot of room for class discussion, which I like, and I'd like to continue it in this class.  The problem is that my own teaching technique is really just doing a careful reading of the text, making a list of what my concerns are, and beginning the class with, "so where do you want to start?"  Then it sort of goes where it goes.  This back-and-forth stuff is harder, as is the timing.  So I'm nervous.

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I've been perfecting classic beans and rice over the past few months to reflect our increasingly demanding taste buds and to keep us away from the old fallback, going out on a weeknight. Rice and beans at our house started out as a cheap dish made with white rice, canned beans, and a few sauteed veggies. It is still cheap (going from canned beans to cooking vast quanities of dried beans and freezing them more than makes up for the lime and fresh cilantro) but now it is healthier with brown rice and positively bursting with flavor. I almost never go a day without lime or lime zest in something. Our zester has been in constant use ever since I discovered the floral, aromatic, and lovely character of lemons, limes, and oranges. Lime zest is particularly good in home-made salsa, which you can make simply by omitting the beans in this recipe. In fact, I did the opposite tonight; I took the salsa I whipped up at lunch and turned it into rice and beans in the evening. I only had to clean the kitchen once and dinner came together quickly. Enjoy!

Black Beans and Rice (1 hr.)

If you're using white rice, simply begin the rest as soon as you put it on to cook.

1. Put one cup brown basmati rice, 1 3/4 cup water, a generous pinch of salt, the zest and juice of 1/2 lime, and 1 tsp. olive oil in a small pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for one minute. Then lower the heat to the lowest setting and put the lid on. Set the timer for 50 minutes.

2. Get the latest on Delay and Jolie.

3. When the timer says the rice has 20 minutes to go, chop and sautee the following in olive oil on medium heat: 1 medium onion, 1 large green pepper, 3 cloves garlic, and 1 jalapeno (remove seeds to control heat). Add 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. salt, and black pepper to taste to the sautee.

4. When the onions are translucent, add 1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, 1 tsp. dried oregano and either 1 15-oz can of black beans or 1 1/2 cups cooked beans. Bring to a boil and lower heat to simmer.

5. When the timer for the rice goes off, turn off the heat and let sit. Do not remove the lid. Set timer for 10 minutes.

6. Chop 1 tsp. fresh cilantro (or more, if you're like us) and 1 scallion, all parts. Add these with 1/2 cup frozen corn and the juice and zest of 1/2 lime to the black bean extravaganza. When the corn is heated through (only a minute or two!) take off heat.

7. When rice timer goes off again, mix rice and bean stuff together or serve separately.

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Sster's Orange Spice Cookies

Experimentation with cooking has led me to try my hand at a few innovations while baking. Since baking is a more exact science, I've been working on modifying existing recipes. Tonight I tried putting a twist on chocolate-chip cookie dough by omitting the chocolate chips, adding some spices, upping the vanilla, and putting our zester to good use. The result is a soft, sweet cookie that reminds me a lot of carrot cake. The cardamon really enhances the citrus flavor of the orange zest.

1. Cream together with mixer: 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter and 3/4 cup evaporated cane juice (or just refined sugar if you like) until fluffy, about five minutes.

2. Add 1 egg, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla and beat for another minute or so.

3. In a separate bowl sift together 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, a pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp. cardamom.

4. Add dry ingredients to wet one-third at a time. Switch to a spoon if your mixer gets cranky.  Fold in the zest of 1 medium orange.

5. Do not be like sster and add water to make the dough more workable. Your cookies will spread out too much.

6. Drop with spoons on cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

7. Pour glass of milk and enjoy the smell of your kitchen as they're baking. These would be good ones to make if you were showing your house to prospective buyers.

Wishing you all a delicious evening.

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Holy Smokes! A Post!

Hey, there, oh faithful three or four of my remaining readers!  I'm back!  For good, too, I think.  I do have things to say.  I've just been, um, lazy.

First things first: the office is done.  It is finally back together and in no way resembles a baby's room.  Perfect.  Everything is in its place and ready to go.  Now I can go about my three tasks: teaching, preparing my summer course, and the Prospectus.  Also an article.  Maybe.  Stapler, clock, drawer full of printer paper, library books all in one place (poor librarian is going to have to halt progress on the mansion, I'm afraid.  library fines are one area of my life in which one can expect absolute consistency), mandala hanging, lotion next to the computer, trash can lined.  I'm ready to go.

I'm thinking about Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye this week in preparation for a lecture I'll deliver next week.  Right now the only coherent thought I can muster is damn.  I'm allowing a few days of that before I intellectualize it into something I can use to engage my whitewhitewhite (with a few exceptions) students.

The bark collar: brilliant.  Has been, hands-down, the best training tool we've used for any of our dogs.  Heidi got the picture in a day and a half.  We've been using it for about a week, and while we get an occasional bark (followed by confusion and sneezing), we are now able to put her outside without very shortly wanting to strangle her.  And that is a very, very good thing.  Hooray for my readers!  I call, you answer!

Also, while fooling around with silly-talk during My Name is Earl (with The Office, Thursday nights rock again), we have discovered that Lenny responds to the name Merle.  It's baffling.  His ears perk up and he stops whatever he is doing.  Given that this dog only comes about 40% of the time he's called, and very often goes in the opposite direction, I'm considering changing his name.

Enough with the diary!  Tomorrow, something to blow your mind. Or, provide you with fresh text for your book about how blogs are mindless navel-gazing drivel.

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