Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Punk Women

The internet: slow. Me: searching the library's online databases for any source at all that might help me get through a 15-page essay on the women of the punk movement. We read this book for class, Please Kill Me. It's an "oral history" (meaning it's composed entirely of excerpts from hundreds of hours of interviews) of the punk movement. At first it was fun. Everyone was so blase about all the sex and the drugs. After a couple hundred pages it got a bit redundant.

But I'm interested in the women who were present during that whole time. My class has been trying to define "punk," and we've been doing a great job of it. We've come up with lots of definitions: it's an attitude (rebellion, apathy, experimentation, whatever. Really: "whatever."), it's a musical/artistic style, it's a state of economic poverty (i.e. Is Green Day, with all of its lucre, actually punk?), and on and on. Regardless of the basic definition, it's apparent that much of the movement was dominated by men.

Quick: think of a punk rock group.

Did you think about the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Clash, Iggy Pop? All men.

Yeah, the Velvet Underground had Nico, for a while (and frankly, she sounds a little masculine). Yeah, Patti Smith is iconic. Yeah, there were groupies.

Wait: groupies. Tons of them. Everywhere. The book is filled with women's voices. Mostly groupies. But let's not demean the groupie. The more I think about it, the more I realize that groupies are inextricable from any responsible interrogation of the punk movement. But why? If punk was/is by definition a musical phenomenon, women were largely uninvolved. But sex. Sex was so important. In fact, many of the female punk bands had sexual names: The Raincoats, The Slits.

These women were tough. They had attitudes. Connie Ramone was always beating the living hell out of someone. But they also had sex. Lots of it, whenever they wanted. With whomever they wanted. It's probably not a coincidence that the rise of punk - and the presence of all of these tough, sexual women in the midst of it - coincides historically with the strengthening of the feminist movement. In some ways what these women did was completely antagonistic to feminism: they defined themselves according to who they slept with. And there's this anecdote somewhere deep in the book about Patti Smith being proud about "washing her man's clothes." But part of what made Patti Smith punk was her androgyny, her rejection of a "feminine" appearance. There's this feminist/anti-feminist dualism in the attitudes and the lifestyles of these women. That's what I want to write about.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


I just finished editing application essay number one down to the bone, and I have to draft two more of the things before I can sleep tonight. I'm getting very tired of writing about myself. And to prove it, I will now end this post.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Brain Soup

It's such an easy principle: do one thing at a time. That is, when your to-do list stretches from here to the driveway, just go methodically down the list. Only worry about one task at a time, since you can't work on more than that at a time, anyway.

An easy principle. But try telling that to my irregular heartbeat and compulsive stress-induced tears.

My schedule:
Monday - Fill out Ph.D application form. Write presentation assignment. Plan class for Tuesday. Harass recommenders, since I haven't received any of their letters yet.
Tuesday - Write two short essays for Ph.D application (about which I had no warning whatsoever). Teach. Collect essays to grade. Take GRE practice test. Revise longer essay for Ph.D application.
Wednesday - Take the GRE. Celebrate, briefly. Hold an office hour. Finish reading Kathy Acker. Choose a topic for my 15-to-20-page Punk and Post-Apocalyptic Literature paper. Read through the essays I collected on Tuesday.
Thursday - Research for Punk and Post-Apocalyptic paper. Teach. Start grading essays. Begin fasting.
Friday - Get fasting cholesterol test. Eat. Put application materials in the mail. Celebrate. Outline Punk and Post-Apocalyptic paper. Finish grading essays.
Saturday - Write.
Sunday - Write.
Monday - Write.
Tuesday - Write. Grade presentations.
Wednesday - Write. Hold an office hour.
Thursday - Grade presentations. Hand in Punk and Post-Apocalyptic essay. Celebrate, for real this time, with friends and fun instead of just sighs of relief.

Ahhh, the end of the list looks good. But I'm at the top. And that presentation assignment should be so easy: just a matter of wording. But the other things are looming over my shoulder, pressing against my skull, squeezing my brain, making the right words for the assignment ooze out through my ears instead of blasting across the synapses, through my fingertips, into the keyboard, onto the computer screen.

Also, the snow is working up a 10-12-inch tantrum outside my windowless office, and I should really get out of here, get home, as soon as possible.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Three

Three people came to my class today. In other words, twenty people didn't bother. But I was (and am) surprisingly okay with that. I expected a small class, since this was the last day of classes before "Fall Break," and I had set the day aside for workshopping drafts of the essay they're working on. Only about 10 or 15 people came to our last couple of workshops, and those weren't on the day before a break.

But it turned out to be kind of a nice class. The four of us sat in a circle and after each of them read their essay aloud, we took turns giving feedback. And then I gave them each ten points just for caring enough about their writing to show up.

I wonder what it would be like if all classes were like that: small, intimate, composed solely of people who give a shit. Tuition would be insanely expensive, since the university would have to pay so many more instructors to teach those miniscule classes. But it might be worth it. Everyone in the class would actually be forced to think every day, instead of just piggybacking on top of the people who do the work and participate in class discussions. We might all be more intelligent, more capable people. Or we might all be incredibly exhausted from all that thinking. Hard to say, I guess.

Monday, November 21, 2005


So now I can explain the not breathing/not sleeping phenomenon that I documented a few weeks ago. I have asthma. Which is reassuring, even though it kind of makes me feel like damaged goods, because it means I'm not crazy. I really thought I was just stressed out, and too aware of my breathing. But if it's a physical problem, that's so much better, because I can just throw drugs at it and it'll go away.

I am not a naturopath.

I spent a lot of today kind of wishing I was, though. I had to go through this unpleasant hour-long breathing test, and I'm pretty sure the apparatus I had to put my mouth around made me look like a monkey. And my cholesterol was slightly high when they drew my blood a week and a half ago (I think I had a hot dog for lunch that day), so I have to have a fasting cholesterol test. I usually go to the doctor once a year and mostly avoid it for the other 364 days. And I've always been more or less healthy, so I could get away with that. Now that I'm defective, I'm shooting for like 4 times in one month. And the worst part is that I don't really feel like I have time for all of these appointments. Blah. I guess you make time, huh?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Math Whiz

That's me.

I've been doing math almost every day this week. Up until this week, the only math I've done since my freshman year of college (calculus - blecch, and chemistry - blecch blecch) has been for the purpose of budgeting money, or calculating grades. Addition, subraction, multiplication, division, percentages. These are the forms of math with which I'm comfortable, and since I'm not at all confident in my ability to do math in my head, my calculator - the one my mom bought me for $9.99 when I registered for pre-algebra in seventh grade - is my friend. But my friend cannot accompany me into the GRE testing room. This makes me very anxious.

So I've been practicing like crazy. I worked through the math review on the software the GRE test makers sent me: arithmetic, algebra (The only form of math I ever had any love for; it's such a mystery, like, "Damn, what is x?"), geometry, and data analysis. I've spent about 12 hours doing math problems this week, and now I remember why I've been so careful to avoid math over the past five years. It makes me hostile. I have little patience for calculations to begin with, and when I go through several steps of calculations only to discover that my solution to the problem is incorrect, a frustration rises within me that I have never felt in any non-math situation. My muscles tense, my face gets hot, my leg jiggles, and I understand why someone might break a pencil in half.

In the textbook that I use to teach my class, the author suggested that someone might write an essay defining math anxiety. At the time, I laughed a little, and found it hard to believe that math anxiety might be a real thing. Now I remember.

But I'm done with math for tonight. Whew. More tomorrow. Small doses. For now, I'm going to do yoga and read Kathy Acker. Who, by the way, is a strange author to be reading for a class. A lot of her writing is pretty much pure pornography. Should be an interesting class discussion.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Experiments in the Kitchen

I smell pheasant. Actually, I smell bacon, because I wrapped the pheasant's breasts in bacon, per Emeril's instruction.

Eric returned home from last week's hunting trip with eight pheasants, and when he put them in the freezer, he threw away last year's bounty (only two or three birds, I think). But I felt this pang of guilt that we were those people who kill animals and then don't eat them. I've always been kind of intimidated by wild game, so I've never attempted to cook it when we've had it. I mean, if Rachael Ray doesn't address it in her cookbooks, how can I be expected to know what to do with it? So either Eric makes something of it, or it goes the way of last year's pheasant: freezerburned, into the garbage. But today I got ambitious. I got on the Food Network website and typed "pheasant" into the recipe search. And I decided that, even though all of the recipes involved things foreign to me, like stuffing and roasting, I could probably give this a shot. If I screw it up, there's a pizza in the freezer, and seven more pheasants too.

So I did it: I stuffed a pheasant with oranges and whiskey. And thyme. And I skewered it shut.

I even removed the foot that the guys had to leave on to prove that it was a rooster. Snapped the joint right in half. (Don't tell: I closed my eyes.)

I'm pretty proud of myself, and yet humbly aware that this could taste like cardboard. I'll let you know.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Holding Court Over Memories

I have to finish grading essays today. It's fine, I don't hate it, it makes me feel good to write responses that might actually flip a light switch in a student's mind. A lot of learning can happen within a context that actually matters to someone. Not just "Look at this published essay, and how it demonstrates this and this and this," but "Look at this part of your essay; this is wonderful, but it could be better if...."

Could be better. I always feel uncomfortable saying that. Better. In some cases, "better" is the right word. When the paper is riddled with grammatical errors and an entire phase of the argument is one sentence long, or two. Then, yeah. Better. But to take organization, focus, and support into account when the ideas are all there, and the ideas are good...feels...not arbitrary, because it isn't...not wrong, because it's my just makes me feel uneasy. Yesterday I graded an essay defining the word "hero," and in the strongest part of the essay, the writer discussed his dad's fight with cancer, and his death. But it was a three-page essay, and he didn't get to that until the third page. The first two pages were sort of general statements about sports heroes, and firefighters, and Red Cross volunteers. So the section about his dad seemed underdeveloped and the essay as a whole seemed unfocused. And he's getting a B.

Students open their lives to me, and then I pass judgment on them. This must have been meaningful to you, since you're writing about it. But you haven't shown me the significance. C+. That's a lot of power, and a big responsibility. It's easy to be overwhelmed by that. But, to do my job well, I have to shake that feeling and turn the essays into something less than they are: a combination of points on a grading rubric.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


delusion angel
(David Jewell)

daydream delusion
limousine eyelash
oh baby with your pretty face
drop a tear in my wine glass
look at those big eyes on your face

see what you mean to me
sweet cakes and milk shakes
i'm a delusion angel
i'm a fantasy parade
want you to know what i think
don't want you to guess anymore

you have no idea where i came from
we have no idea where we're going
lodged in life like branches in a river
flowing downstream
caught in the current
i'll carry you you carry me
that's how it could be
don't you know me
don't you know me by now.

I just watched Before Sunrise for the first time (the guy in the video store looked at me funny when I asked for it; he was pretty sure I meant Before Sunset), and that poem was in it. A bum in Vienna, instead of asking for money, offers to sell Jesse and Celine an impromptu poem that includes any word they choose. Their word was "milkshake." Beautiful. I'm going to bed now.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Last Night

For two hours, unraveling the knots in my skein of wool yarn, I was fine. But when I stopped, around one AM, to brush my teeth and wash my face, it started. The wheezing and the shortness of breath. I coughed to try to open my lungs, but only irritated my throat. More coughing. A light massage to help me relax - after all, this must be psychological. Feeling panicky. A shot of brandy. Breathe into a paper bag. A word game to distract me. But talking only increases the urge to cough. Turn out the lights, try to be still, try to breathe shallow breaths, try not to cough, try to melt into the mattress, loosen my muscles.

3:00. Still awake. Still tossing, gasping, coughing. I really don't want to keep Eric awake any longer. Sit up, lotus position. Lean forward, forehead against my hands, folded in front of my legs. For some reason this opens my chest. If only I could sleep in this position. But I can't sleep at all. So I pick up my pillow, go downstairs, unfold the blanket draped over the couch. God, the numbers on the VCR are bright. Lay my feet alongside the sleeping Siamese. Toss, turn, gasp.

5:30. Awake again. I slept, but I'm not sure it counts. Dreamt of fighting, always conscious of a rasping throat. We saw Macbeth at the University today. In my dream, I was sometimes Macbeth, sometimes a tangled and knotted mass of scratchy wool yarn. Every muscle in my body stiff as bone. Can't will myself to relax. Toss, gasp.

8:17. Pounding on the front door. Twice. Get up, consider answering. But who would it be? The neighbor left town early this morning to do some work for his cousin. Probably someone at the wrong house again. Lay back down on the couch. Louder pounding. Wrap the blanket around, open the door, peek around the edge. It's the neighbor. He doesn't have a phone right now, and needs to borrow mine. He got to the next town over, and his transmission went out. Drove the fifteen miles home in first gear. 25 miles an hour. Take the phone from him when he's finished, say goodbye. Lie back down. Fall asleep immediately.

10:04. God, I hate sleeping past nine. Chainsaws a huge chunk out of the most productive part of the day. Pick up my pillow, go back upstairs, where the sun shines brightly through the white blinds. Make Eric scoot over. Lie down. Lie awake.

Finally, give up, get out of bed, take a hot shower. Go to breakfast, eat an omelette, have a cup of tea. Relax a little. But my throat is still sore, my neck is sore, my eyes are heavy, my stomach is sloshy, my hearing is dull, my brain is lax. Lipton instant soup helps a bit.

Now it's time to read for class and make sugar cookies for the hunting party.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I set out to practice my Spanish (which I'm learning both in preparation for the Ph.D, which requires that I have a reading knowledge of two foreign languages, and as sort of a side project). But I only looked at the online exercise for a few seconds before deciding that it was too much to ask of my poor, tired brain at 9:30 at night.

It was a good day, but a busy one. I worked on Spanish a little this morning, taught a rockin' class (except that I had to chew out the same group of people three times for talking too much while others were talking, and I forgot to give the reading assignment for next time), graded writing exercises, read two critical essays on Riddley Walker, and made a rough plan for my own essay on it.

And I finally requested my third, and last, letter of recommendation today. This professor is making me jump through extra hoops: I have to write him an email to suggest things I want him to emphasize in his letter. "Don't be shy," he said. You might think that tooting my own horn would be an easy task for me. But I sat down to make a list of all my admirable scholarly qualities, and quickly realized that I could only come up with insipid generalizations about things like "my intellectual curiosity." Blah. Nobody gets accepted to grad school based on that crap. I had to read over all of my essays from the class I took with him last year, on rhetorical theory. I think I finally developed a reasonable, and reasonably specific, list. But I'm going to wait until tomorrow to send it off. Let it incubate.

For now, all I want is to make a cup of hot chocolate and sit under a blanket with my cat and read Main Street, with its cozy quaintness.

Don't tell Sinclair Lewis I called his satirical rip on small-town life quaint.