“Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner”

  I interrupt this Hiatus with this brief bloggy update, aka Random, Amusingly [well, to me] Related Bullets of….. Summer:

1. Yes, it’s finally summer, after the coldest, wettest spring in Pacific Northwest history (or 117 years).

2. A good friend of mine, who retired last year, is rereading Middlemarch. Sudden recognition that I do not have time to reread Middlemarch, despite having the next 2.5 months “off” from teaching.

3. Related to #2 above, finally visited my physician for both my annual and to see if she could figure out why my foot has been swollen for 2 months (two xrays and visits to “specialists” led to nothing). Three results of interest: one, I am not in the midst of menopause despite a variety of symptoms, highlighting the fact that I have many years to go before I can reread Middlemarch; and two, a bone scan reveals I have a stress fracture of one of those metatarsal bones. And three: I am vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D?  Oh, yes, lack of sun. Got it. See #1 above. Soon to be cured: see #4 below.

So the walking and spurts of running I’ve been doing over the last few weeks, with the encouragement of those doctors who found nothing wrong with me, have not been exactly helpful to the healing process.

4. Related to #3 above, I started taking Deep Water Running classes at the gym last week.  I’ve only tried a few classes yet have discovered that with the exception of another 40 something professional, athletic woman with a foot injury, most of the participants have plenty of time for rereading Middlemarch.   And while I push myself to get my heart rate up (sometimes it works), for the most part, I’m still in the stiffling giggles stage: Despite the name, the classes are basically aerobics in the water, but everyone is wearing hats and sunglasses instead of leg warmers and leotards.  I just can’t help thinking of those scenes in Dirty Dancing (remember, 1986ish?) at Kellerman’s in the Catskills where the women do aerobics by the pool.

And interestingly, the instructors always play music from Dirty Dancing.  Which just makes me laugh more.

Community College Instructors, Hollywood Style

There’s a new movie coming out (with the very uninspiring title, Larry Crowne) that features a community college speech instructor who clearly doesn’t want to teach, who pours vodka into her yogurt shake, and who falls for a student.

Oy vey. Alcoholism. Anti-intellectualism. Sexual Harrassment. Covers it all.

See for yourself:

A Little End of Year Film Nostalgia

My college friends and I have two touchstone films–those films that we watched again and again (thanks to that newfangled thing called HBO) and that resonated with us. We still, today, quote lines from these two films to each other, effectively alienating those spouses, children, friends who have no idea what we are talking about, and warmly embracing those that get it.

Which films? Can you guess? I’ve quoted from them both several times on this here blog.

One film is The Big Chill, a 1983 film that was repeated, almost nightly, on HBO by the spring of 1985, the year we graduated. And, somehow, we English, Soc and Psych majors had time to watch the film repeatedly (Kevin Carey, who graduated from the same college a mere 3 years later, has some ideas about while we were able to relax through much of our coursework).  In case you were living under a rock on the 1980s, it’s a film about a group of 30 something friends from college are get together for the funeral of a classmate.  Clearly, in our fears for the future,  my college roomies and I were feeling nostalgic for our college years before we even graduated because we simply loved this film. We had a ritual: we’d all get in our pjs, make some brownies or cookies, famously humming as they got closer to being cooked, partook in some recreational enjoyments, and then sat in our usual spots in the small living area waiting for the movie to begin. 

What was it about this film that moved us so?  The characters didn’t necessarily reflect us since we were a good 12  years younger and had no idea what we were going to BE in our 30s.  I suppose one of us was on her way to becoming the Nick/William Hurt character: a brilliant drug dealer with some issues with sex, but really those issues were a Jamesian wound from Vietnam, and we certainly weren’t facing any possible war in 1985.  And maybe one of us, admittedly me, was definitely on track to becoming the powerhouse professional Meg, but I was quite clear, even then, that I didn’t want kids, and all the women characters either had kids or, like Meg, desperately wanted kids. 

Except for the 20 something Chloe/Meg Tilly, who found the suicidal Alex/Kevin Kostner’s body in the bathtub, and eventually went to bed with Nick/William Hurt.  We all wanted to be her, but she was a bit too new agey and lithe–we were none of us her.

So what I think we liked the most about the film were the lines.  This was definitely a common conversation in our rented house on weekend mornings:

Michael: [Michael enters the kitchen, sees Sarah standing in front of the open refrigerator] You know, that’s the problem with these things. You have to watch them every minute.
[Takes a small carton of milk from the refrigerator]
Michael: Oh, hey, did I miss Karen and Richard?
Sarah: No, just Richard; Karen’s staying for the weekend.
Michael: But not Richard?
Sarah: Went back to be with the kids.
Michael: Oohhhh, interesting. What did Richard have to say about that?
Sarah: Michael, if you’re going to sleep this late, you’re going to miss a few minidramas.
Michael: I just hope you’ll wake me for anything really ugly.

And, as several of us were English majors, we cracked up easily over this one:

Sam Weber: [Sam enters a room where Nick is up late watching TV] What’s this?
Nick: I’m not sure.
Sam Weber: What’s it about?
Nick: I don’t know.
Sam Weber: [Sam shakes his head, pats Nick on the shoulder, then sits in a nearby chair] Who’s that?
Nick: I think the guy in the hat did something terrible.
[shot of TV shows a man being thrown through the glass window of a door]
Sam Weber: Like what?
Nick: You’re so analytical! Sometimes you just have to let art… flow… over you.
[Sam rolls his eyes]

But this one made us nervous:

Sam Weber: Hey, Nick? You know, we go back a long way, and I’m not gonna piss that away ’cause you’re higher than a kite.
Nick: Wrong, a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It’s not surprising our friendship could survive that. It’s only out there in the real world that it gets tough.

Several years later, when we were all in the midst of graduate school, we’d still watch the film together, and by then our favorite lines reflected that reality:

          Nick: [on not completing his PhD at the University of Michigan]: I could have. I chose not to. I’m not hung up on this completion thing.

But the film I’m thinking of this week, as it gets closer to New Year’s Eve is When Harry Met Sally (1989).  My college friends and I also watched this movie many times, even though by the 1990s, when it was available as a video, we no longer lived together. Two of us were married, two of us were living with boyfriends, three of us were living within a few miles of each other in Brooklyn.  My favorite visual scene in this movie, one that I reenacted each December, was when Harry and Sally buy a Christmas tree and drag it along the streets of New York to their apartment.  The Woody Allen-esque autumn in Central Park scenes are lovely also. Now that I live thousands of miles away, where the trees are always the same damned green color, watching that scene has become a tear jerker for me.

But in the early 90s, the film’s power in its depiction of the struggles between men and women, friendship and marriage, for professionals in their 20s and 30s–the same age we were, going through similar issues. 

I’m thinking of it this week because it’s almost new year’s eve, and the party we were so looking forward to attending has been cancelled because of a death in our host’s family–an issue not really addressed in either movie, neither of which shows mothers, fathers, grandfathers, siblings, or any other family tie but spouse or friend.  The pivotal scene is when Harry finally confesses his love for Sally during a  New Year’s Eve party:

Harry Burns: I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

It was so romantic then, and it still is. But I am thinking of those two films, and their contexts for me, because I’m feeling somewhat edgy, nostalgic, at a loss this new year’s. Grumpy even. Old.  Not entirely content. 

Happy New Year?  Yes, it will be.  An end of year self reflection isn’t a bad thing especially with images from these two films to accompany my thoughts, films that I know are now dated, that no longer have the same impact on me except in retrospect.

Painting Identification?

So, does anyone know who did the painting in this 1979 movie, Starting Over (a movie I watched only because a dear friend of mine said it was her FAVE movie–it reminded me that my FAVE movie, with a very, very similar plot et al, When Harry Met Sally, will soon, if not already, feel as horribly dated). I love the woman in bed, with the cat, reading what could even be an ipad…

Whip It

“Princess Leia is really feeling the force now!”

[M.C. describing Babe Ruthless and the Hurl Scouts’ offensive against the opposing Holy Rollers during the roller derby championship.]

The best part of this surprisingly engrossing film is the depiction of friendship, and women’s strength. And, not for nothing, but Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis, and Drew Barrymore are fabulous. 

Love Pray Eat

That’s right. I changed the order after reading Roger Ebert’s review the other day, a review that concludes like so:

The audience I joined was perhaps 80 percent female. I heard some sniffles and glimpsed some tears, and no wonder. “Eat Pray Love” is shameless wish-fulfillment, a Harlequin novel crossed with a mystic travelogue, and it mercifully reverses the life chronology of many people, which is Love Pray Eat.”

I haven’t seen the film, though I will, probably sometime next year on Netflix.  But I have read the book, twice. The first time I read it as a beach read when it came out in paperback in 2007 or so, mostly because of the Italy chapters (I was planning a trip to Italy), which I still like the best because of the descriptions of Rome, Venice and the yummy food (I, too, went on a quest for the perfect gelato, though if I ate as much as Gilbert ate, I, too, would have gained instead of lost weight. Yes, I lost weight in Italy–all that walking everywhere). 

The second time I read it was last week: I’m teaching a Memoir course this fall, and I’m anticipating at least a few students will ask me why I didn’t include Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on the syllabus.  (One student  already has emailed me about the book, interestingly.)

It reads better the second time, mostly because I’m already over the “she’s so full of herself” response that many readers have to the self she presents us (beautiful, talented woman with a book contract gets to travel the world and eventually meet Felipe, who seems to be a combination of the Old Spice Guy and Antonio Bandaras).

Or, maybe this time, just two weeks before I’m required on campus and the whirlwind of academic life begins again, I was just more willing to enjoy the ride.

I’ve spent  months reading dozens of autobiographies and memoirs in preparation for this class, and this one was one of the few (Under the Tuscan Sun comes close) that was such pure fantasy.   The Italian twins (one shy and scholarly; one more stereotypical Italian). The all-knowing yet still dripping in sarcasm Richard from Texas.  The Australian hotty who thinks e-mail is too impersonal. And, of course, Felipe, the Brazilian gem merchant who spends hours physically pleasuring our Elizabeth.  Add the lovingly detailed food of Italy, skim the Pray sections, pausing only when Richard’s name is mentioned, and leap to the sex in Bali and this is a great end-of-summer read.

In keeping with the romance/fantasy plot structure of the story (not that there’s anything wrong with that), our Elizabeth remains celibate for most of the book, with moments of sensual release through food in Italy, yoga and meditation in India, and finally, after months of such foreplay, including an aside on the sudden ineffectiveness of her usual masturbatory fantasies involving firemen or Bill Clinton, sex with our Antonio Bandaras/Old Spice man in Indonesia.

On NPR last week, I heard an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert where she discussed her new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage*, and while her marriage to Felipe (aka Antonio) sounds sweet, she had no problem admitting that he is, on a daily basis, quite boringly consistent.   

I’m guessing few students will ask me to add that one to the reading list.

*Time magazine’s Mary Pols has an interesting comparative analysis between Gilbert’s and Julie Powell’s (of Julia and Julia) books on marriage, preferring the more self destructive Powell to the tedious Gilbert–Powell’s is called Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession).

Tenure: The Movie

Hubby and I watched the indie movie Tenure (2009) the other night.

Haven’t seen it? I hadn’t heard of it, until I read about it at Post Academic. And since summer is the season for academic fiction generally (as Ink blogs), I immediately added it to my Netflix queue.

Though it’s not a great movie, the trailer doesn’t do it justice:

Luke Wilson plays a schlemiel-like man, but an engaging English professor at what is described as a second tier college (filmed at Bryn Mawr,  a beautiful campus, fyi).  The plot is fairly unrealistic for the most part: there’s the Anthropology professor who is a Big Foot specialist, denied tenure early fall term, then Luke, the English professor,  goes up for tenure spring term, at the same time the Chair (nary an administrator in sight) hires a Yale graduate who begins spring term and is immediately put in competition with Luke Wilson’s character, Charlie Thurber.  (Thurber is at his 2nd or 3rd college, and has yet to earn tenure; on top of that, his father is a retired Princeton English professor who knows full well his son’s failures as an academic.) The new chick from Yale (played by Gretchen Mol) is beloved by the Chair because she publishes (Luke gets many rejection letters), but she’s a lousy teacher, unlike Charlie.

Naturally, they begin to fall for each other, and Gretchen  asks Charlie for some teaching advice, and here’s the rub:

  • “Remember, you’re the smartest person in the room.”
  • “Stop preparing so much and just wing it.”

The first line is ridiculous: the scenes when he is teaching make it quite clear that he respects his students’ own intelligence and that he does not at all treat them as if he even thinks he is the smartest person in the room. Yeah, he may KNOW more than they do, but smarter? I’ve never felt that way, and I’m not sure I want to. I love when I get brilliant students who make me rethink ideas or see them in new ways.  Besides, Prof. Yalie may actually be the smartest person in the room, but since she is a pitiful teacher, that “reminder” is useless.

The  second piece of advice may be, admittedly, useful to Prof. Yalie who spends hours preparing but who just freezes when in front of the room trying to engage the students.  So, I’ll go with that as initial advice to her, specifically. But I think preparation allows one to just “wing it” well: I know that most students can figure out quite clearly the difference between a professor who “wings it” because s/he isn’t prepared, versus one who is flexible and allows a good discussion to take off despite any “lesson plan”.

But I quibble. If you are one of those who spends summers re-reading academic novels, this movie i perfect for a summer evening.

Where No Annie Has Gone Before

So, I go on the first long weekend of my 20-year academic career, rush home on this MLK celebratory day to do a phone interview with someone on the other side of the world on my now-ancient dissertation topic on which I may be one of the few living experts (it was a fabulous interview/conversation, and more on that another day), start three loads of laundry, open the wine, and finally respond to Inktopia, one of my bloggy peeps, who gave me a homework assignment that I think she wanted me to complete on my long weekend, but alas, she had to wait.

So here goes the Seven Things I Haven’t Said on This Here Blog:

  1. I twirled the baton in elementary school, and the rifle in the “color guard” in the high school marching band. For those not in the know, that means very short skirts, and quite the sexy arms.
  2. Yet, I tried to get a position playing the drums for the marching band, but was turned down because, get this, the drums were just too heavy for a girl like me, despite the strong, sexy arms. Sigh. This was 1976, ladies: read it and weep.
  3. I’m the first member of my family to complete a B.A. (one uncle, a cousin, and my brother earned A.A’s). My niece and nephew are on track to be the 2nd, and 3rd. Needless to say it’s a bit difficult to explain what I DO for a living during family gatherings; yet, my family includes vet assistants, bookkeepers, machinists, hair dressers, cooks, firemen, computer techs and at least one mobster. 
  4. I named my first cat after Holden Caulfield’s little sister, Phoebe.
  5. I once lived with a man who looked and sounded like James Spader, circa Sex, Lies and Videotapes and Crash (the sex/car crash movie, not the L.A. one). I loved him. But he had issues.
  6. I do not like to cook. Yes, I teach a class in food fiction, and I love to eat (there are not many foods I will not eat), but cooking? No. Never liked it, never will. I have not so fond memories of my poor mother, herself a reluctant cook, fighting with whatever meal she forced herself to make that night, and demanding that I learn to make a pot roast.  Yes, I remember now. That’s one food I do not like: pot roast.
  7. I painted the walls of nearly every room in the house we bought over 5 years ago: one room is Tuscan yellow, another is a pale yellow; another is a light blue, and two are peach.  But I have never figured out what color to paint the hallway connecting all of those rooms: any advice?

If you’re reading this and haven’t been tagged by someone else in our nearly incestuous little bloggy world, consider yourself invited to play.

High Enrollment, High Maintenance Students

For the first few weeks of the term, we suffer crowded classrooms, since most of us did, despite ourselves, take in a few extra students on the first day knowing that once the financial aid checks were mailed, we’d lose a few.  And then again, once the first essays are graded (next week) we’ll lose a few more.

Next week is week 4 of the term, and they are starting to flit away. Those who were just enrolled for the checks have vanished already, and those who are starting to realize that there is actual work involved outside of classtime are starting to complain, loudly,  already.  Others are anxious, but plugging away.  I hold 5 scheduled office hours a week (per unspoken campus rule) and I’ve been swamped during most of them.  Prep and grading time is now clearly the province of nights and weekends.  So many more students, so many more high maintenance students.

  • The older, returning student, who is appalled that her quest for an accounting degree requires communications and writing classes. She makes a point of grabbing me after each class to complain (in a very “church lady” sort of way, which makes me stifle giggles) about something: the workload, the vulgarity of the Anne Lamott essay we read (“Shitty Rough Drafts”), or the total waste of time peer evaluation is.  I’m stuck with her till the end of the term: goddess give me patience.
  • The veteran who visits me during office hours every day, but only for 5 minutes or so, to ask me a question about an assignment (he seems to have some internal censor that makes him get up and leave even if we are in the middle of a conversation).  He’s a nice guy, though, so I’ve just come to expect my daily chat with him.
  • The student taking a colleague’s Anthropology of Religion class who wears a giant cross around his neck, carries holy water (which he was caught sprinkling, not so surrepticiously, around the classroom), and who can’t help not contesting nearly every comment my poor colleague utters. 
  • The various children of fellow faculty members who are taking classes this term: how incredibly DIFFERENT they are away from their parental units!  I’ve had longer conversations during classtime with these teens than I have for the last 15 years as I watched them grow up. They now want to chat–often and regularly.  The conversations are exciting and passionate, but, alas, time consuming.

The most frustrating kinds of students? The ones who think they are low maintenance but are really high maintenance.  Like Sally: