Happy Birthday, E.L.!

It’s the birthday of author E.L. Konigsburg, author of the 1968 award winning classics, novels that greatly influenced me as a reader, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and Jennifer, Hecate, McBeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth.

From the Mixed Up Files did to the Metropolitan Museum of Art what Night at the Museum did for the Museum of Natural History: it became the place to be. Siblings Claudia and Jamie run away from home and camp out inside the museum. And no, the statues don’t start walking and talking, but the art becomes alive as seen through Claudia’s eyes and thus mine (we were the same age).

I lived only 50 miles from Manhattan, but no one I knew actually visited the “City” regularly, and no one I knew had actually been to the Met.  That’s right: I might as well have been living thousands of miles from New York City.

But the ex-nun who taught 4th grade at the local Catholic school turned public school by the time I was there, and who had introduced the book to us, made sure we had the chance to see the film version that was playing only (for some reason I don’t know) at Radio City Music Hall.  She planned a field trip to the Museum and to see the film.

A memorable day.

Celebrate E.L. Konigsburg’s birthday (she is still writing!) by sharing this book with a 10 year old girl or boy.  And then take them to the Met for a special Mixed Up Files tour. Make his or her day.

Women, Wikipedia and Flat Tires

A recent New York Times article reports that only 15% of contributors to Wikipedia are women.  As a result, entries on “The Sopranos” or “The Simpsons” are in-depth analyses, while those on “friendship bracelets” and “Sex and the City” are a meagre few paragraphs.

Where’s Camille Paglia when you need her? She writes several possibly ground-breaking essays on Madonna in the 1980s and she is still vilified for her dilettantism (among other flaws, I know).  And now there is the call for more women writers beafing up those important entries on Jimmy Choo shoes and the  Tantric sex episode. The goal is to have 25% of Wikipedia entries written by women by 2015. 

Despite my wee sarcasm, I recognize the need for at least some alarm that women are not participating in one of the most widely read publications on the Internet. Why aren’t we? Do we prefer to give away our writing talents in other forums, such as blogs?  Is the gender gap the same for those other encyclopedias that actually pay a nominal, quite nominal, stipend, and praise us with an actual byline? 

I’m almost motivated to develop/originate a few of those Wikipedia entries myself.  I checked out Louisa May Alcott’s entry, and while it is filled with good links, references, footnotes, etc., it’s rather brief for a woman who has had three  biographies written about her in the last few years. (Her contemporary, Mark Twain, has an entry that is more than double the length.)  If, as the New York Times article suggests, this is true of many of the entries on women, topics of interest to most women, women’s issues generally, then it’s a notable, if also somewhat amusing, problem.

Not unlike the problem a young colleague had last night. She’s a brilliant psychology professor, in her early 30s, athletic, outgoing, and independent. But when she got a flat tire last night, who did she call?  Another colleague/friend, who threw a coat on over her pjs and tried to figure out how to change a tire (undoubtedly Googling instructions), but then gave up in frustration (and, admittedly, lack of a flashlight).

And who did she call? My husband, who, infused with male pride that came upon him despite himself, immediately got off the couch at 8pm, wine glass still half filled, whipped on his shoes, grabbed a flashlight, with extra batteries, and rushed to the young damsels’ aid.  Thirty minutes later, he was back on the couch, and the young psychologist texted on Facebook the following confession: “Nothing like a flat tire to take away all that sense of female independence.”

This is a woman who teaches both the Violence and Aggression class and the course on Positive Psychology, so she has a wonderful sense of irony.

FYI: I stayed home, finished my wine, and read blogs on the Internet while hubby was changing my colleague’s tire. You see, I would have called AAA, a service I can now easily afford, which also affords me that sense of female independence.

I rejoined hubby on the sofa when he returned and we both noted the odd connection between the Wikipedia stats and the Feminist Psychologist’s Flat Tire Plight. A woman needs to revise the How to Change a Flat Tire entry, stat!

Added 2/7/11: WikiProject Women’s History is one response to the gender imbalance at Wikipedia! Read all about it at Cliotropic’s place.

Temporary Lack of Inner Resources

I went to high school right at that pivotal moment when those who argued to require students to memorize poems lost that argument. However, lucky for me, some of those teachers persisted.

I remember one of the poems I memorized.  It still resonates with me:

“Dream Song 14” by John Berryman

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) “Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.” I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Clio’s recent posting about “living with these three goblins of dread, demoralization, and futility”  reminded me of the poem.  But while Clio describes classic burn out syndrome, I’m more bored. I’m heavy bored.

And I’ve tried to fight it.

Professionally: I’ve revamped my composition courses with new assignments and new approaches to evaluating student writing. I’ve volunteered to serve on not one, but TWO newly formed, potentially powerful, task forces. I’m trying to focus on a writing project (and I have so many fabulous ideas).  I’m spending time planning and daydreaming about one of my favorite literature courses that I will be teaching spring quarter.

Personally: I’ve signed up for another half marathon and will once again join the weekly “training” group with what is usually a great group of women.  I’ve added new novels to my Kindle, ones that I’m excited about reading.  I make sure I’m staying social, and not crawling under the covers with chocolates and Mad Men as Clio describes (though frankly, that sounds utterly wonderful).

Seasonal Affective Disorder? Perhaps. But the weather is oddly spring-like these days.

Our college will soon have several administrative-type positions open, and I am being actively courted by a variety of people to apply. I mean actively: phone calls, emails, asides in the hallway, chats over wine during happy hour, invitations for more chats during happy hour.  It is, naturally, quite flattering, and I’m finding myself somewhat intrigued.

And after spending the last 2 days grading papers for 8 hours a day, I find myself very, very interested.

But in my current state of utter boredom, my obvious absence of inner resources, do I have what it takes to even make it through the application process?  Would a new position really save me from my boredom? Or, as Berryman’s mother says, do I just need to go find some damned inner resources?

Ophiuchus

Ophiuchus. 

My life as a Sagittarius is no longer. I am now, alas, an Ophiuchus.

I went to bed thinking I was driven, stubborn, good natured, not entirely reliable, passionate, adventurous,  dedicated to learning, fiery, honest to the point of bluntness, and that  my sign was  the fabulously strong, masculine this:

And I woke up learning that I am poetical, wise, a seeker of fame, a beloved of authority and fathers, a builder, one whom others envy, who likes to wear—plaid?–and  my sign is a weird this:

Yes, there are certain overlapping qualities between the two signs, seems those born between Nov 29 and Jan 20 in general are potentially brilliant and self absorbed leaders, but “wears plaid”? Really?

It’s disconcerting.

Especially since I was going to lean on that “unreliable” Sagittarius trait as an excuse for the lazy blogging.  It seems, my fellow bloggers, I’ve been kidnapped by the Tweeters.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Well, I wish it were a jet plane, but I fear it may be a propeller plane for at least the first part of my travels to MLA 2011 in Los Angeles.

I’m done complaining about the date change (and yes, I know not everyone is complaining, but at least some others concur) and I’m ready to leave the icy chill of winter and experience the relative warmth of L.A.

Instead of an MLA blog this year, you can follow along with what’s happening via Tweets. And no, you don’t have to enter the Twitter world to follow. Just go to the MLA home page  or to the #MLA11 Daily  to see what’s happening at least amongst the Twitter elite.

Or just read Inside Higher Ed. Or the Chronicle. Though I’ll be curious to see if the change of dates means less media converage: the MLA is no longer going to provide titillating humor for a slow news week not that the world is back on schedule post holiday.

Since I’ll be missing classes while gallivanting in LA, I’ll probably use my free time to say many Hail Mary’s, bury myself in the prep and committee work I would be doing if I were staying home, and attending as many sessions as possible to justify to all my colleagues why I must miss the first week of classes.

Besides, it seems a cab to the beach costs $57.00 and a bus ride can take several hours for the 15 mile trip.

Instead, I believe there are some Starbucks near the Evil Hotel That Still Charges A Ridiculous Price for Wi-Fi, in which I can nurse my non fat chai latte for as long as it takes.

And while I may not be blogging the MLA this year (well, unless I hear/see something really juicy), I certainly will attend all those social media sessions that seem to have taken over the MLA Program Committee this year (you can see a non password protected program here). I’m so looking forward to meeting Roxie’s Typist!

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.