Thursday, December 29, 2005


Image hosted by

The night before your interview, you meet a few people for dinner. As you stand in the lobby, you recognize someone you've lost touch with, someone you used to consider a friend. She is talking on the phone like an actor, making facial gestures and grandly pacing back and forth. You want to run up to her, but you feel shy. Then you realize she has probably seen you and is pretending she hasn't. You feel confused for a minute before you realize you, too, are hiding, positioning a tall person in your group in front of you so your old friend can't see you. Then an older woman comes down to the lobby. She and your old friend hug, and their body language says advisor/advisee. The older woman walks by and checks out the woman standing next to you. It is clear she recognizes her, but can't decide whether or not to say hello. You watch her physically, visibly decide not to say hello, and you think not-so-nice thoughts about academic generations.

Just as you stand there feeling bummed out, an old friend of your girlfriend who you've only met once runs up to say hello. He doesn't have to say hi. Your girlfriend isn't even there, and besides, they lost each other taking sides in a divorce. He says hello to you anyway, even though you are the Other Woman. He is making an effort, and your mood brightens.

At the dinner, you drink too much wine. Darn! You said you wouldn't, but it was tasting so good.

You wake up the next morning feeling fuzzy. Oh no. Order room service, start drinking coffee and water. Lots and lots of water. Lasso a friend and make them ask you questions about your book, your teaching philosophy, your next project. Take a shower. Put on a suit. Use concealer to hide those bags. Change your shirt three times.

Polish your shoes with the hotel polisher cloth. Pee, again.

Take a taxi. Walk across the main conference hotel lobby. Watch people run up to each other and ignore each other. Go to Starbucks and get a double espresso. Pee one more time.

Call up ten minutes before your interview. Panic because no one answers. Call a minute later. And a minute later. Finally get hold of them four minutes before your interview. Listen to them tell you to go all the way across the world to the hotel tower on the other side of the building.


Go up, go in, go on. Realize that they are genuinely interested in a conversation. Lap it up like a thirsty plant. A plant with a tongue. Shake hands. Help someone in the elevator who is lost find her interview. Go down to the lobby and take note of your irrigated armpits. Decide not to take your jacket off. Go home. Change. Get lunch and a beer. Make it three beers.

Darn! Tipsy again. Time to go to the cash bar party. You meet What Now and her girlfriend and enjoy talking to them. You go into your university reception and it feels like a high school reunion, only more fun. The same faces you went to grad school with show up a little kinder, but still ready to dish. Some of you have gotten famous, others have lost jobs or never gotten them. People are frantically happy to see each other and wish each other well. The same profs who used to have a little too much to drink at the wine and cheese receptions are still dancing around wearing lampshades. Everyone is friendlier than you remember. Enthusiastic. Jovial. This is not just because of the wine. You feel a strange sense of family, of cousins under one roof again.

Seven o'clock comes too soon. People start to drift away. You turn in the doorway to watch the last groups cling, undulate, and break apart down the red carpet hallways, washed out on the tide of another year.

You are still smiling as you walk through the lobby and into the night, thinking that sometimes the nicest things get passed down academic generations.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Interview Suit

Image hosted by
"We would like to interview you at the MLA." The hoped-for words flashed across an email one evening, and I grimly savored them for a tiny private moment before turning to my Person seated at a chair on the other side of our shared office. "I got the interview."

"What???" She squawked, kicking her chair away as she dashed to my side. She silently mouthed the contents of the very short email. Her first words sounded panicky. "What will you wear?"

It tells you something important about her that this was her response to my kind-of triumph. After all, I was a girl that had been asked to dance at the last minute. I wouldn't have to cancel my prom plans. Some university out there thought I was attractive enough to ask to the MLA. But like the girl she is, she immediately starts worrying about the prom dress.

She wasn't wrong to worry. I bought my first and last interview suit 12 years ago this month, and I haven't exactly kept my shape since. Fifty pounds--yes, that much--stands between me and the Liz Claiborn pinstripes I pulled off the rack back then. I still go to the gym, even run three or four miles a couple of times a week, but 50 pounds sits on my 43 year-old shoulders in a way it didn't when I was 31, although I remember, way back then, thinking I probably needed to lose some weight. That suit is long gone, as is the girl with the shining face who thought it all would somehow, magically work out for her in the end. Those pounds weigh on me like a metaphor, like the years that have dragged down my flesh and my heart until I ceased to care much about either. How could a suit fix these pounds, years, sadnesses? What did it matter what I wore?

"What are we going to do?"

I assured her that I had dressed myself for years and could continue to do so. She told me she just wasn't sure. I told her to stop treating me like a baby. She told me she just worried I wouldn't get around to it. We stopped the conversation at that point. After a few minutes she told me I could go shopping on my own and I told her I appreciated her interest, and would be grateful for her company and shopping expertise.

How did I come to this pass?

She is an expert, that must be granted her. I have never seen a woman move around a mall with such swimmerly confidence as that California girl breast-strokes through racks of clothes. The problem, when we finally got to the mall, was which department to start in first. Men's or Women's? Casual or Career? Plus Sizes? That one was easy. Should I find something funky and bohemian or invest in a suit I could wear in court, should I end up in law school next fall?

Since I wear men's clothes, my first instinct was to shop in men's, but I could see her getting agitated at the thought of too much tailoring and long, baggy, boxy cuts. I agreed to go to women's, much as I hate the undignified cheap lines of most women's clothes, which seem to me to have been designed to enforce castration rather than decorate it, which usually means making women's thighs and asses look so balloonlike and ponderous as to rob them of all grace and beauty. As soon as I tried on my first women's blazer, cut long and roomy, GF smiled. "It fits you," she said happily. "It actually fits you." Feeling like I was shopping with my mother, which I was, I determined to find the most mannish, no-nonsense suit I could, which I did. It was black. It was that polyesterish suit material, but at least the pants had a front fly. GF found a snappy shirt on sale. We both began to breathe easier.

She nearly had to go and ruin everything by mentioning bras, a four-letter word if ever there was one. But I had already recognized my own denial and negativity. I knew I had to carry on the masquerade of masquerading to the bitter end.

There is no moral to the story. After trying on bras that seemed to bite and scratch as I struggled to squeeze them on, I finally agreed to just one as a sort of tribute to the 350 dollar suit I wanted to look nice wearing. The bra cost more than I used to spend on a week's worth of groceries (50 pounds ago) and points me forward like twin missiles on the verge of a launch, but I figure their sculptural effect will give me a sense of direction. Upward! Forward! On to better things!

The suit is getting altered. Sadly, I am not, though my snappy suit will help me pull off the embodiment I drifted away from years ago, the together, genderbending young academic woman going places, thinking up a million projects, imagining thousands of different job scenarios, places to live, lives to lead. My on-the-market suit will hang in the corner of my room at MLA, like an older, yet newer, self, and when I take her off her hanger and put her on, she will remind me, sadly, of the girl I left behind long ago, the lighter, younger girl who believed, who still believes. I will have only to look down at my new suit, at my reanimated self, to remember her strength, her confidence, and her faith that things might just work out after all.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Slam Dunk Santa

Image hosted by
Here's the Santa at the top of our tree. We got it last year in part because gf loves women's basketball so much. Especially Pat Summit's Lady Vols.

This year there are at least four reasons to be happy about Santa's slam dunk.

1. Rene Portland is finally going to get hers. ESPN's web site is covering the story of Portland's long reign of hate, and this coverage is going to reveal, even to Portland, that the times have at last caught up with her. She can't wreck any more young lives just because she thinks players might be lesbians. She can't take away their scholarships, chance to play college ball, chance at a career in women's sports, or chance, even more simply, to get a college education. Even if it isn't yet ready to grant queer people their full rights, America doesn't support this kind of discrimination anymore. Score!

2. I got an MLA interview. It's only one, but since I'm not anywhere near a beginning Assistant Professor, and since there were only three Advanced/Associate jobs out there this year in my field, I'm pretty psyched that I got an interview at one of them. Score!

3. I got my first law school acceptance of the year today. Score!

4. What Now got tenure. It's true that her president gave her tenure then asked her to resign from her Catholic school in the next breath, but she should get to savor her victory, at least for today. Score!

Finally, for the anonymous commenter who wanted to see the snow out my livingroom window, this picture below is for you. Happy Holidays!
Image hosted by

Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy Season

Image hosted by

The tree is up. What else matters? GF decided on Friday that the tree had to be hunted down. I think she imagined that Saturday would be some sort of Tree Rush day. So to beat the rush, off to Home Depot, site of last year's tree. Last year's tree was reasonably priced (35 bucks or so) but died within two weeks and proved to have been painted to cover brown tendencies. This year, although many cars with trees strapped to their roofs could be seen on many streets, Home Depot hadn't yet gotten its act together. Its gates were closed, its trees were all bound up, and there was almost no help to be had binding and tying up the tree of one's dreams. After fruitlessly walking up and down several aisles, trying to imagine what various trees looked like inside their net stockings, gf and I gave up and drove home. It was bitter cold. She was cross. It wasn't working.

Next day was much nicer. We decided to try again, this time closer to home. So much closer to home, as a matter of fact, that the temptation to go out to lunch first and have a beer could not be avoided. As we ate it began to snow. By the time we emerged on our errand once more, the streets were truly festive. We went to the garden store down the street, one with what I have always thought of as an unfortunate choice of name--Gethsemane. Why in the world would someone name their garden store that? Doesn't that name alone suggest that someone could get their ear cut off by your bird bath? Or that your backyard barbeque guests will claim not to know you?

I warned gf that this store tended to be pricey, and that we could pay as much as double Home Depot's price for a tree. I wish.

The trees we were shown started at 65 dollars. GF wanted a tall tree. I wanted a fat tree. The trees got taller and fatter. 85 dollars worth, and still not fat enough for me. At last, I saw it. The tallest, fattest tree of my dreams. Ten feet worth of tall, and 100 dollars worth of fat. We looked at each other. It seemed a ridiculous price to pay for a tree. But it smelled wonderful, like the forests where I'm from, and where my family will gather this Christmas without me. Its Frazier Fir needles were firm, soft, and blue. When I held it, I got sap all over my hands.

GF eyed me. "You like it?" she asked. "It's too much money," I answered, nodding my head yes. "You got it," she said, all five-foot two of her lipstick femme self. "Wrap it up." She added that at that price there probably wouldn't be much to put under it, so she hoped I was happy. I was.

And so in this season as we wait for the MLA interviews that may never come, and spend the holidays apart from family because of the possibility of MLA interviews that may never come, and wait to hear from law schools that may say no, and apply for adjunct sections, two of which pay as much or less than unemployment, we sit at the feet of our tree, surrounded by our friends (and maybe a roast chicken or two), and celebrate its fragrant greenness in the midst of winter, and its bright lights in a season of early darkness. Good luck to everybody on the market, and everybody hoping not to have to go on the market, and good cheer, and good friendships. May your trees be the tallest and fattest of trees, and may the many lights on them remind you that brighter days are just around the corner.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Abolish the Tenure System

One of the hottest debates this week in academe--at least, academe as defined by Inside Higher Ed-- seems to be about whether or not the tenure system should be abolished. Inside Higher Ed features an article about David Horowitz's campaign to abolish tenure because he fears it discriminates against conservatives, and also links to Critical Mass, which points out that the growing number of adjuncts proves that the tenure system is already being phased out. I started to write a comment on the lively thread at Critical Mass, but it turned into a rant which felt more like a blog entry. So here goes.

I have maintained since the first day I was hired as an Assistant Professor that tenure should be abolished. It appeared to me even then that it was a system designed to weed out individuals who were smart enough and useful enough to hire and exploit for six years, but not "good enough" (i. e. "enough like us") to keep. When I said as much in one of my first faculty meetings in my first tenure-track job, my words were met with horror by a dean who remembered the Vietnam era and claimed that only tenure had allowed professors against the war to keep their jobs. Since the dean was raising the question of the relationship of adjunct professors to the tenure system, I thought I should say what I thought about a system I already had deep misgivings about. Having spent four years on the job market chasing a tenure-track job, it seemed to me then that the entire tenure-track system was unfair, biased, elitist, and ridiculous as a marker of intellectual "excellence." I sensed then that such a system would never tenure me, having barely allowed me in in the first place. I thought then that if the process was opened up to have some adjustment between the pathos of the grossly underpaid adjunct and the terror of the tight-lipped, head down tenure-track junior professor, we might eventually get a system of fair work for a fair wage not premised on the weeding-out processes of hiring and tenure.

The truth is--and my apologies to those adjuncts who feel as if their positions are tenuous--I never felt freer than when I was an adjunct. I knew I could be fired for my opinions, sure, but I also knew there were other jobs out there like the one I had, and that if I was a good teacher, I would either be retained where I was or find work elsewhere. I felt as if I could say what I thought, write or not write as I chose, pick projects that interested me, and lead my life. i would be poor--very poor--but my thoughts would be my own.

Not so in a tenure-track job. One of the first things my chair in my second job said to me was that I would have to write a literary book in the field in which I had been hired in order to be tenured. Immediately my horizons narrowed. I was not free to follow my inclinations, or even the trends in a publishing industry moving away from literature monographs. No, I had an assignment. If I wanted to keep my job, I had better write what they wanted me to write.

On the social front, the real story of tenure is that its process allows departments to blur the boundary between the personal and the professional, as fear of not getting tenure forces nontraditional academics (working-class people, single mothers, people of color, queer people) to desperately try to fit in in order to keep jobs they know are very rare. In smaller departments junior faculty are forced to socialize extensively with their colleagues. Is your family-oriented department going to like you if you are a single lesbian? Is your all-white department going to view you as a minority hire with a chip on their shoulder? Are the old men in your department going to read your feminism as strident if you are a woman, or your effeminacy as threatening if you are a man? Can you come out as transgender? When that one faculty member asks you to cover his classes AGAIN because of his trips to Italy, and "jokes" with you about how he'll be voting on your tenure, do you ever have the freedom to say no?

Now that I don't have a job, I feel my horizons expanding again. I find myself interested in more things, and projects suggest themselves to me all the time. Without the job to support the research, the research may never get done, which is one of the conundrums in this problem of academic freedom and the tenure system that supposedly supports it. I know my situation is far from ideal. But even though I could not be more different from him politically, I feel a certain sympathy with Horowitz on the question of the "star chamber" tenure system. Tenure cloaks the personal preferences of individual faculty members, and allows blatant discimination to go on in the name of, of all things, academic freedom. It's time it was abolished, its secret meetings suspended, its fagging practices dismantled, and all of its biases subject to the clear light of day. Only then, I truly believe, will we have some standard of fairness and something that resembles academic freedom.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

First Snow

Image hosted by

In what seems like only a week the leaves went from sunset orange to afternoon gold and dropped away. Color gradually leeched out of the world, leaving pale tatters on the branches, wet charcoal streets, and dirty skies. I don't write much in my blog these days because I don't really go anywhere or do anything that seems exciting or conversational. Mostly I sit at home day after day and write law school applications, academic job applications, part-time work applications. My friends complain about classes to plan, papers to grade, books to order, and I remember what that feels like, but only from a faraway place. I plan freelance work, and money comes in, but only a trickle. My family writes to ask about Thanksgiving in the northeast, and I tell them maybe Christmas. Maybe. The days drag sluggishly on and nothing seems as if it will ever happen. I need a winter coat but can't decide what kind would do the most all-around work.

Now today the first snow dusting of the season sits on my car, its little bits of styrofoam in that valley between the windshield and the hood where the wipers sit and the leaves and twigs collect. I can see it from the livingroom windows. The wind is blowing hard. Inside is cozy, but also a trap, and I feel overcome with the desire to keep going nowhere, keep staying inside. The windows rattle softly. The midwest has become a land of little golden interiors, little places to gather in the dark afternoons, its windows spilling out onto what's left of the prairie, and I know, finally, that even if tomorrow or the next day happens to be warmer than this, the last surprising days of soft air and warm weather are gone and fled, and when they return, none of us will feel as if we remember them, and they will seem completely new, and deeply strange.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

People Are Nicer Than You Think, or, How a Conference Can Make You Remember That You Are a Human Being

Image hosted by

I admit that I wanted nothing to do this year with the conference I had attended faithfully for the last five years. I did not volunteer to give a paper, even though the conference was coming to my town. I have traveled to England and Canada for this conference, to the northeastern and southwestern U. S., but now that it was on my doorstep, I refused to take part. I wasn't sure how I'd feel having to write a paper if I didn't have a job, or how I'd even pay for the conference. I could imagine standing up in front of people and feeling stupid, like a fraud, and ashamed. I imagined how I'd have to dodge the inevitable questions: "Where are you now? What are you doing? What are you going to do?" I felt tired. I had done enough. I wasn't going.

I gave my partner input as she wrote her paper, listened to various versions, and helped track down images for her presentation, all with serene detachment. I had moved beyond this now. I was professionally dead and I had to let go, move towards the light, and not look back.

Then the conference came to town. My ex had brought an entourage of graduate students and wanted me to meet her for dinner (sans my current partner, who she has yet to forgive for taking up with me). A scholar I admired was giving a plenary. My partner was viewing and reviewing the program on line.

She noticed that some of my old colleagues were all in the same reading group together on Sunday night, and wondered aloud why they would want to clique up at a conference instead of just talk in the hall at school. I wondered if I would see them at the conference, and shuddered inwardly.

I decided I would sneak in for my partner's evening presentation, and sneak out. I would sit in the back and no one would see me. I could remain removed, yet benignly share in my partner's triumph. Let the young and enthusiastic partake as I passively passed the torch.

The train in to the city was quiet on a Friday evening. That was good because my heart hurt. I had ridden the train for so many mornings to work. I had listened to homeless people quote Bible verses and sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in return for donations to their paper cups. I had watched the city unfold and fold up again like a beautiful diorama as I sped by its storefronts and bedroom windows.

I walked in the hotel and sailed by the conference registration desk, badgeless. Upstairs there was a reception. I lurked behind a column and waited for my partner, sullenly watching people I recognized plunge through a doorway into the sea of voices beyond. My partner saw me and trotted over, all smiles and conference excitement. She stopped twice on her way across the room as people she knew collared her for conversation. One of my ex's graduate students came over to talk to me. Then two more of them came over. My partner brought her friends over. Eventually we were all a small group in the middle of the room. I excused myself and fled into the reception I had been avoiding, thirsty for a drink. No sooner did I have a bourbon in hand than my partner found two nice lesbians for us to hang out with. I recognized one of them from previous conferences. They were nice, funny, rueful, and sarcastic without being bitter. One of them had just gotten a tenure-track job after years of commuting 90 minutes each way to an adjunct job. They knew what life was like for academics, for women on the market, for lesbians, for junior faculty trying to get tenure and keep their relationships from unraveling in the face of commuting and distance and job loss and homophobia and low pay, and they were still cheerful. Jolly and optimistic, even. I suddenly felt much, much better.

They asked me what I was doing and I told them, but they only nodded, shrugged, and congratulated me for keeping my options open. Nobody edged away, or changed the topic, or abruptly began talking to someone more promising, the way my graduate professors had at MLA cocktail parties when I or someone I knew had expressed doubts about an interview, or the job market, or the sanity of hanging on year after year hoping for that elusive tenure-track job. Instead, these people I had just met knew what the profession was like. They knew that success was a crapshoot, a turn of the wheel, often coming down to being in the right specialty at the right moment. It didn't mean you were brilliant or worthless. It didn't brand you forever as a star, or a loser. Too often, success or failure wasn't about you.

They seemed like some of the sanest people I had met in a long time.

The whole evening was like that. The whole weekend, really. My partner's paper was fabulous, the audience was enthusiastic, and people I had known from grad school were in the audience. We all were genuinely happy to see each other. They had carved lives out for themselves. Some of them had families and had made career compromises for their children's schools or their spouse's jobs. All of them were really, really happy to hear papers, talk about ideas, and catch up. All of them were encouraging, and kind. How was it that we hadn't been better friends when we were young? They seemed so balanced, so mature, so wise.

A few of us went out to a pub and drank beer. We talked for hours and told stories. We analyzed politics. By the end of the evening, I felt so happy. I realized I hadn't seen my ex colleagues, the ones who were convening on Sunday night, anywhere, because they weren't going to actually attend the conference. They were going to duck in and duck out, only going so long as to discuss their own work among themselves. Maybe they thought they were too busy. Maybe they thought they couldn't get anything from the people around them. I realized that even though I was no longer one of them, I had wanted to insulate myself from contact with other people in the same way. I realized that I was really glad I had stuck it out today, instead, with the ones who tried to go to other people's papers, who still believed in attending panels on writers and topics that interested them. I think I got, for the first time in a long time, that being part of an audience is a huge gesture of generosity and good will, and that that kind of energy is worth magnifying and setting loose in the world, to everyone's benefit.

I don't know if I will attend another academic conference or not. This time next year I could have another job, getting ready to write a paper for next year's gathering, or I could be on my way towards something else entirely. But one thing I learned from this conference, this meeting that I was dragged to kicking and screaming, where I took away so much cameraderie and good will. What I learned is that despite the bad meetings and bitter differences and pompous self-presentations and ideological splits of many departments, despite the hirings and firings and anxieties, despite the therapists and xanax prescriptions, the public hunger for fame and the private sniping for power, and the tendency to isolate one's self from one's colleagues, most people in academia are not fancy, or elite, or talking heads, or snobby, or judgemental. They don't think they're smarter or better educated than their colleagues. They don't necessarily look down on you, or me. They are trying to stretch low paychecks, keep gas in the car, have a lover, stay informed and enthusiastic, get tenure, write something, make a difference, raise kids. They are, most of them, really, really nice people who just want to remember why they got into this business in the first place, which is to go to papers, schmooze, drink beer, and swap theories. They still believe in a community of ideas, which is why they schlep across the country to these conferences in the first place, sitting at panels hour after hour, sometimes deep into the evening, taking notes, squinting hard trying to think up questions to help the presenters and their audiences take a thought, a beautiful idea, further, further, further.

They--and the conferences they loyally attend, year after year-- are, actually, really, really important, and really, awesomely nice.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Image hosted by

The LSAT scores are out and I'm happy to report mine went up by three points, to 160. This puts me in the 82 percentile--not high enough to be firmly in the pool for most of the top ten schools, but high enough to be at or almost at the next tenth to fifteenth. Berkeley starts at 161, Duke at 162, Minnesota and Illinois at 160, Michigan at 164, UCLA 163. It's hard to say whether one can overcome the score and argue one's way in past the rigid barriers that maintain the school's ranking; many people just get in to the best school they can, try for stellar grades, and transfer a year later. So we'll see. Still, cause for minor celebration! The kicker is that neither failure nor success is assured; instead, there is ample room for hope and disappointment.

But the Job Market prepares you for that, doesn't it? It's time to anxiously leaf through possible writing samples, tailor that letter to each different job description, and make wild claims about your next project. In this season, hope flickers like the candle in a jack o' lantern, its warm light shining even inside life's more menacing forms.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Howard Hughes Had a Point

Image hosted by

In the gym today I go into the bathroom and somebody has peed all over the seat. I think maybe if I have to clean off one more toilet seat in one more bathroom, anywhere, I am going to lose it. Women's room or unisex bathroom, it doesn't matter. The world is full of people who think it's ok to pee on seats and walk away.

This particular bathroom is unisex. I'm washing my hands, and a guy walks out of the stall next to mine and out the door without washing his hands. He is going to go out there and touch all the machines and weights. I try to stop my mind. I think maybe I will lose it sooner than I thought.

Job letter

Image hosted by

Dear Chair:

I'm writing to apply for the literature job you advertised in the MLA Job Information List and in the Chronicle. I've been combing the ads obsessively for months now, and I was really happy to see a job with less than a 4-4 load come open. Who am I kidding? I was just happy to see a job, period. I sounded your name out and tried to imagine what you look like, but all I see is a manila folder on a table in a conference room.

See, I'm unemployed. I've done lots of stuff, and I've taught lots of classes, but right now, no job-o! Funny how that can happen. Anyway, I'm super-over-qualified, way too old and entitled, disturbingly savvy edging on bitter, and basically disbelieving that anybody who isn't young and feminine and push-around-able and exploitatively, naively enthusiastic can get a job in an English department nowadays. Heck, who am I kidding? In any department. But I thought I'd apply anyway.

I should tell you about my cv and publications because I know you won't read them. I've published lots of stuff, smart stuff and really crazy dumb stuff, and my book will be out next spring. I've taught for forever, and I mean, forever. I'm theoretical, psychoanalytic, and close-readerly. I've taught composition (I actually love teaching composition), Thackeray, Derrida, Woolf, Rushdie. I can recite the entire script of the film "Paris is Burning" by heart. I know enough famous academics for them to run away when they see me making a beeline for them with a drink in my hand at a cash bar.

I would love to work at your university. I haven't heard anything especially exciting about your town, but everyone knows you are a nice department, and I figure I could have some sort of mini-farm on the outskirts if I moved there. I get fat eating out anyway, so lack of restaurants isn't a problem. I'm happy to teach anything you want, serve on orals and dissertation committees, and generally help the department pretend that it's ok to train grad students for jobs that won't be there. I promise to pretend that what we do is relevant, and I'm prepared to certify that I believe these dark days of political conservatism, religious intolerance, homophobia, privatization, and intelligent design are just a blip on the radar screen of democracy, allowing us to go on doing what we do pretty much as if it's 1965. Oh, and I know about the monasteries you are building out there for the End Times, to preserve the books and all in the Dark Ages to come, and I think it's a great idea. As our Aristophanes, Tom Wolfe may need transcribing by someone at some point, and I have pretty good penmanship.

So I hope you'll consider my application. I plan to go to MLA in DC in December, how I have no idea because my car will never make it, but maybe my dad will give me one of his I'm-a-guy-so-I-don't-give-presents Christmas checks a little early and I'll get a ticket. Please, please interview me. Please. Oh, and I can't really afford an interview suit unless I know I'm going to use it, so let me know in time hit Lane Bryant for blazers, will ya?

Good luck reading through 500 applications. I'll be lighting candles to the Goddess and checking my email every 20 minutes until I hear from you.

Sincerely, Sfrajett

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Happy Birthday, Oscar

Image hosted by

A very happy birthday going out tonight to the father of modern homosexuality, the one, the only, Oscar Wilde, born October 16, 1854. We all know the stories about Oscar--his dandyism, his epigrams, his affection for Robbie, his tortured love for the beautiful and despicable Bosie, his deep love for his wife and children, who were forced to renounce his name in order to move freely about the world with some shred of respectability after his imprisonment and death. We know Oscar the wit, naughtily waving a cigarette at audiences mad for his plays. We know the self-made man, the tragically proud genius brought low by his belief in the invincibility of art, the sorrowful and wise poet in prison, the broken victim of his culture's homophobia killed prematurely by a penal term of hard labor. We know the poser, the connoiseur, the flamer.

The side we often forget, or are encouraged to forget, is the Wilde who loved children, wrote for them, took them seriously, and was kind to them. Natalie Barney writes of meeting Wilde when she was a very young girl:

"My first adventure of the mind took place in a resort near the Atlantic, when I, hardly out of diapers, ran across a hotel room to escape a pack of vacationing children. Among the empty chairs awaiting an event there was but a single figure. He lifted me out of my terrified course to his considerable height. I was reassured by his eyes which had sympathetically witnessed my flight, by his hair which was as long as mine, and especially by his voice which swept me into a story.

As the two of us sat together on a raised throne facing the arriving public, he never stopped astonishing me; and even when my mother, who had been searching for me, lifted me from his knees, all the while apologizing for us, he finished his tale with compliments on my paleness, my lace dress, and my precious attention.

When I learned, as an adolescent, that my friend had just been imprisoned in England, I wrote to him at Reading Gaol, hoping to comfort him as he had comforted me, reminding him of his marvelous protection of me against the pursuits of other little people.

But did he ever receive my letter?" (Natalie Barney, Adventures of the Mind)

I hope you receive this one, Oscar. Thanks for giving us a model of funny, smart, devil-may-care queerness as an alternative to stuffy bourgeois respectability. Happy 151st Birthday.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Keeping Vigil

Image hosted by

It's almost 5 a.m. and I've been up for three hours. I can't sleep. In my head I keep hearing words from our quarrel that morning. One or two windows have lights on, but the street is dark. It's Saturday morning now, so the lost sleep doesn't feel quite so tragic. One could have been up all night at a club with friends.

The moon is waxing. Draw good things here, good fortune and good energy to me and mine. In the dark, the rabbits nibble the grass. Urban rabbits, they hardly run when I surprise them mid-bite when I come around the back of the apartment building.

Except for the worries that woke me, it is a lovely time of day. No sign of dawn yet. No cars, no voices. For those that are asleep, it is the deepest part of sleep. The nights are getting cool, so most of the windows are closed. I see the wind ruffle the trees outside, but I can't hear it. In this quiet, one must be vigilant. Just being awake is a job worth doing. Thinking about things feels like action. In the quiet, you can think, even if it's only about thinking itself.

In old times people would stay up all night in chapels praying over their armor, or swords, or troops, or spouses-to-be. As if consciousness and yearning in all their power and urgency might make a potent enough mix to influence the course of events, and assure happy endings.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Will Nobody Stop This Woman?

Image hosted by

Rene Portland has been one of the most well-known homophobes in women's sports for years. The coach of Penn State Lady Lions basketball has had an anti-lesbian policy in place for players and recruits for over two decades, which means that she tells her players and their parents that lesbianism will not be tolerated on her team. She has players suspected of lesbianism followed, harassed, and thrown off her basketball organization, which at the very least traumatizes young women just coming to terms with their sexuality, and at its worst means the end of their sports scholarships, good relations with their families, and for many, the end of both their basketball careers and their hopes for a college education.

I first heard about Portland when I came to Penn State in 1984, not sure what I wanted to do with my life, doing what many English majors do when they're not sure what to do with their lives, which is to get an MA in English. The sports culture of State College was a shock to me after my small liberal arts college feminist years, where I had absorbed the idea that sports were bad to women and sports culture sexist and redneck. What I discovered at Penn State in the eighties was not only a college town mad about sports, which I expected, but a sports culture that attracted more lesbians than I had ever seen living in one place. The women's teams, the sports medicine and exercise physiology programs, the wholesome culture of health and competition--all of these brought players, coaches, and the lesbians who love them to central Pennsylvania's Happy Valley in droves. I came there hoping to withstand the atmosphere and leave quickly. I stayed for five years--longer than I should have-- because I found the largest and nicest lesbian community I have ever known and ever would know.

I like to point out to people who express surprise that I once lived there that it was a time in my life when my social circle was so large, I couldn't invite fewer than twenty lesbians over at a time without offending someone by leaving them out. And the parties--the parties attracted hundreds of people, people from all over the state and beyond who had once attended school there, or dated someone who did. Many of the social gatherings revolved around football games. But the best part of the year was women's basketball season, when the dykes came out in droves to support the Lady Lions.

I remember standing in a bar in State College one fall friday night in 1984, listening in horror to two former basketball players who had long since left town telling their stories about being thrown off Rene Portland's team because they were gay. Both of them had lost their sports scholarships; one of them had never gone back to college and was permanently estranged from her family. They were nice people, soft-spoken women who had learned that talent and drive and discipline were not enough in a world that loves lesbians in theory, especially in porn, and hates them in practice. Other lesbians at the bar listened, and many of them nodded. They knew about this already. It was part of what it meant to be gay, and a woman, in mainstream America.

I'm sure lots of lesbians still go to women's basketball games in State College, as they do all over the country when the season starts. Every few years a story surfaces about Portland, and my hopes rise that this time something will be done about her. But nothing ever happens. Her teams are fairly successful year after year, and at a school as conservative as Penn State, it seems unlikely that a winning coach will be fired any time soon for homophobia. Now a former player has spoken up, a woman who claims that she was forced to transfer after two successful years on the team because Portland's harassment had grown unbearable. The story appeared on gay sites two days ago, on National Coming Out Day, but seems to be receding once more. Will nobody stop Rene Portland from harassing young women, ruining their careers, and wrecking their families and hopes for an education in the name of her hate and intolerance? WiIl nobody ever stop this woman?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Epistemology of the Blogset

Image hosted by

Remembering that today is National Coming Out Day, I've gotten a kick all day asking my friends, gf, etc. "Is there anybody you need to come out to?" and having them chuckle, "Nah. You?" The joke, of course, is that we have all of us been out so long that nobody DOESN'T know we're gay at this point. In my case, even people I don't know would never think for a minute that I was straight. Every day is National Coming Out Day for me, and no day is. If anything, due to my short hair, wide shoulders, baby face, and swagger, I have to come out as female, over 40, and well-educated quite often, whereas anybody anywhere looking at me figures pretty much immediately that I like the ladies.

That said, as I contemplate this year's academic job market, there is another closet whose benefits and dangers I find myself thinking about over and over, and that closet is the blogger's closet, or blogset (because 'clogger' is a whole 'nother identity to circumnavigate). Daniel Drezner's denial of tenure at Chicago is just the latest example in a conversation dating back at least to "Ivan Tribble"'s arguments last summer in the Chronicle and subsequent follow-up blog discussions that blogs hurt job candidates and untenured academics. The latest from Inside Higher Ed actually argues that anonymity is impossible to maintain, even for those who blog under pseudonyms, as Drezner did not. Arguments range over whether faculties are justified in thinking that anyone who has time to blog should be spending more time in the stacks and less time trolling the net, to some bloggers actually defending their blog time as the equivalent of what their colleagues with families spend with their children.

This argument is both chilling and, I think, aptly gestures to the queerness of blogging, which apparently enjoys that same status among many of our colleagues that masturbation enjoyed a century ago. This means that we bloggers are imagined as pale, palsyed, bloodshot-eyed wankers furtively getting off at our desks before rushing, late and unprepared, to teach another anemic class. As our strength ebbs and our hands shake we turn ever more frantically to our solitary vice, which in turn makes us further unfit to lead the nation's young people towards literacy.


And so we learn, much to our surprise, that free speech on the internet, like queerness, or maternity, is a great way to eliminate that pesky problem of too many candidates for too few jobs. We note yet another special issue of some journal devoted to asking "What Happened to Queer Theory?" as if Queer Theory ever had a chance to begin with, as if there were ever reliable listings on the level of, say, Victorian or Romanticist, of Queer Theory jobs, jobs where academics doing queer work have a snowball's chance in hell of getting hired, or published, or tenured. We find out, much to our surprise, that women academics who want careers must, unlike women doctors and women lawyers, forgo children and families, mostly because motherhood is all too often seen as a no-no for a gal on the tenure track. In a Chronicle of Higher Education article titled "Rigid Tenure System Hurts Young Professors and Women, University Officials Say" the first sentence reads: "Officials of 27 major research universities who met here in late September to discuss ways to make the tenure track more flexible said the lock-step, up-or-out nature of academic careers not only leaves no room for young professors to enjoy their family lives, but also hampers women's efforts to advance in the profession." A Harvard investigator quoted in the piece puts it more succinctly: "We have structured an academic workplace for men of a bygone era."

It is worth noting, as Margo, Darling smartly points out, that few of the leisurely-published old boys of yesterday's academy could compete in today's job market. So even this can't be right. This tenure system isn't to keep bygone men in the club. It's to keep many--most--of us out of it.

Maybe rather than defend one's childlessness as a reason that one be allowed to blog, we should all look at the things bloggers, queers, and mothers on the job market or trying to get tenure have in common. These are that we have lives that diverge from the Fifties "norm" that cultural conservatives seem hell-bent on bringing back, the norm where successful job candidates and junior colleagues shut up, toe the line, and pretend to be whatever they need to seem in order to keep their jobs. Maybe all of us need to look harder at the closet every jobless and untenured person is asked to stay in, a closet defined by a professional ideal of normativity where communicative, sexual, and procreative creativity is expected to take a back seat to the safest and most conventional kinds of intellectual production.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Goodbye LSAT

Image hosted by

It's over for good. I've taken it three times, and this time was the last time. This time, I reviewed all the concepts until problems danced in my sleep. This time, I took the test over and over and over. This time, I let myself believe that i could overcome the panic and the pressure. This time, I did it for myself, because maybe I still won't get a high enough score, or into a good law school, or into a place I can afford, or that makes itself affordable. This time, I may turn around and take an academic job in Texas, or Boston, or California. This time, it could be that I simply wanted to prove the LSAT wrong in its assertion that you don't improve much, or that standardized tests are true measures of aptitude.

So I chewed cinnamon gum like a madwoman, checked my timer every few minutes, attacked the end of sections strategically, guessed "D" for the Logic Games questions I didn't have time for and "E" for Logical Reasoning questions I was unsure about. I chewed my roast beef sandwich thoughtfully at the break (no brain-deadening carbs for me) and tried to muster enthusiasm for the writing sample. I tried to use having badly to pee as a concentration tool. I bought cigarettes on the drive home, and let myself have only one.

I like this test. I'm sad it's over. I feel if I had one more try, I could do even better. I'm reluctant to stop doing an afternoon section or two just for fun.

Yesterday gf and I sat in a lesbian bar all afternoon long. We drank and watched the White Sox beat Cleveland. Today we hung around the house. Tomorrow I have to start writing a job letter for academic jobs. I have to schedule an interview at the law school where I want to apply early decision, and begin strategizing my personal statement. I have to turn my cv into a resume so I can pay bills when the unemployment runs out. I have to imagine many outcomes, many victories, many incremental improvements.

But right now, I'm still savoring the end of the LSAT, forever. And I'm actually sorry it's over. But the beer--the beer tastes really, really good.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

LSAT at Midnight, with apologies to Coleridge

Image hosted by

I've spent the past month frantically studying for the LSAT. The LSAT has become a personal affront to me, a challenge to my pride, a tiny, strange, meaningless yet momentous element that invites discipline and eludes mastery. In my uncertain world, the LSAT offers focus, a goal, an elusive promise that everything can be a meritocracy, hard work can pay off, and wanting something badly enough means you have the chance of getting it. How else to explain why a sane person with a prior career could spend hours trying to diagram logic games with a stopwatch as the last summer days sink into their reddish embers? They tell you on the law school sites that the LSAT is only one indicator among many of how a prospective student might perform, and that they take many factors into consideration when screening applicants at the most prestigious law schools. Don't believe it. The LSAT is everything. A PhD, an academic career, a book, fabulous letters of recommendation, and an earnest but sensible application essay are nothing if the LSAT isn't cracking 160-plus. I know. The best I could do last year with all of the above and a thoroughly mediocre 157 was get into NEXT year's part-time night program at a school --a decent school, to be sure-- ranked about 65th. It takes more than accomplishment, focus, discipline, age, or a political commitment to LGBT issues. As the lady who interviewed me last year sternly warned me, you gotta respect the test.

So how to crack 160? Well, there are 4 sections: reading comprehension (yay!), 2 sections of logical reasoning (sigh), and logic games (oh lord). There are 24-28 questions per section, and you have 35 minutes. Assuming you'll get 3 questions wrong out of 28 or so on the reading comp because of time pressures, and 5 or 6 wrong on each logical reasoning section because of mental exhaustion and time running out, that leaves a do-or-die logic games section where you need 13 or more right to crack 162. That means you've got to diagram three out of the four problems and answer most of the questions correctly, then guess at the rest and pick up a point or two from that. You will get only one question wrong on each problem if you do well. That leaves 5 or 6 right, maybe. In order to get 4 problems done, you need to spend 8 minutes on each. It takes me twice that long. Decide to do 3 and you've got 12 minutes to diagram the thing and answer all the questions.

Why do this? you ask. The joblist is out, with at least 10 jobs out there to go for, all of them far away from here. You are planning to apply for them. So why do this crazy LSAT? Why spend hours arranging people at a table, or placing dog show contestants, or figuring out the kinds of birds in a forest, or determining the exact order of colored Christmas lights on parallel streets?

You have taken it twice before. This is it for you. It is a taunt you must throw back, unbowed. It structures your days, every morning and afternoon. Getting things right makes the day worth while; failing is a personal shortcoming, a failure of attention, diligence, care. You can control your life, on your terms. There will be a second act. Going back to school, you'll be becoming something again, instead of ending everything you hoped for.

It is an illusion, of course, this dream of a simple road to happiness, but it is YOUR illusion, for now. You sit up late in bed, reading diagrams. Your cats stir and shift at your feet. Your lover sighs in her sleep beside you. This is where you live. Do you want to leave this for a job alone in Boston, Kentucky, California? The room is quiet, filled only with the sounds of creatures breathing. You click your mechanical pencil, clear your timer, and study on.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Happy 100th Birthday Greta Garbo

Image hosted by

It's time to remember one of the most beautiful Virgos of all time--and one of the most beautiful lesbians EVER. Greta Garbo was born exactly one hundred years ago today, and I have to say, the world is a brighter place for her having appeared in it. I don't swoon over many movie icons, past or present, but Garbo caught my imagination when I was still a teenager, and when I finally saw her in Queen Christina, I thought my heart would break. Watching her cool beauty melt makes it hard to breathe. Once you've seen that magnificent face, how can you admire any other actress half so much? Happy Birthday, Greta wherever you are. Your beauty is timeless.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Virgo rising

Image hosted by

A beautiful post by Camicao prompted me to write about September, the season of Virgos. September evokes my mother, whose birthday, like mine and my brother's, falls this month. September is always melancholy because it is the end of summer, but it is also the most beautiful month, the month when tourists have left but the weather is still summery, when school has started with its bustling promise of springtime achievement: degrees earned, papers or books written, classes done. When I was growing up it was the end of haying season, when fields everywhere were dotted with second or third cuttings drying in the sun, or baled in neat blocks that stretched on over the horizon. I learned to stack a truck so it would hold four or five layers of bales lifted right from the fields by the browned boys who hoisted them up to me in a smooth, swinging motion, bemused looks on their faces at my freakish strength. I loved haying. I loved the smell and the sunlight and the scratchiness and how afterwards my mother would let me and my sister have a beer, just one, in celebration.

The last birthday I spent with her, my sister and I flew to North Carolina, where my parents retired. We flew from different directions. Normally we might not have seen Mom on her birthday, especially after I moved to the midwest, but that year was different. She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in June, and the doctors told us that no matter how often they operated, the tumor would come back. They wouldn't tell us how much time she had, only that there wasn't much.

When I saw her the first thing I noticed was that she had started walking with a cane. The second thing I noticed was how bloated she was from the medicine. The third thing I noticed was how cheerful she was.

Now, my mother could be very dark. She could make you feel like you had really let her down, or that you had behaved badly in some way that might take her years to forgive. She was witchy, too. Years as a nurse had made her a sharp judge of physical and mental health; she could tell within seconds of seeing most of the people she cared about whether they were happy or sad, healthy or sick, optimistic or depressed. She was moody and narcissistic, and loved nothing more than to chatter for hours about the lives of people I had never met or hadn't seen in years. When she felt as if she had money she gave it away; when she felt broke she brooded and obsessed about making ends meet.

The tumor had made remembering words difficult, and so my mother's greatest joy, which was talking a LOT, was reduced to monosyllabic commentary. Still, she crowed like a happy bird when she met us at the airport, and she crowed all weekend long simply because my sister and I were both there. We went to lunch at an inn on top of a mountain, and we ate at her favorite fried food shack. We bought a basket of crackling fresh apples from a farm on the way home. We talked about experimental treatments, about my other brother and sister, who were coming to visit another weekend. Mom had given up smoking and wine, her other two great joys, because they reacted badly with her medicine. She laughed about this, and laughed, too, about having worried about smoking and cholesterol and fitness in the last couple of years. You worry about these things for ages, she said in her halting words, and then you get a brain tumor. You might as well just live and enjoy yourself.

She kept a journal of her treatments in a little notebook, and wrote down words she was having trouble saying. She kept her words--as many as she could think of--on little bits of lined paper, as if keeping them there would insure against their loss. She said "monkey monkey" when she wanted a banana. She laughed about her growing aphasia. One afternoon the neighbor from down the road stopped in, and my mother got on a ripper about how all she wanted was for my father to weed wack the front path, and he wouldn't because his weed wacker had broken and he was too cheap to spent forty dollars for another one. She got angrier and angrier, and it was clear that she was having other issues with my father as well, as sick people often do with their primary caregivers. "Forty bucks!" she kept trying to say. "I just want a man with forty bucks!" Instead what came out was "Forty dicks! I just want a man with forty dicks!"

The neighbor lady defused the situation in a flash of sudden brilliance. "Oh honey, that's what we all want!" she said in her soft drawl. Mom looked bewildered, then cracked up laughing.

My sister's plane left first on Sunday; mine was delayed for several hours. I remember telling them to go and how they insisted on waiting with me until my flight boarded. I remember sitting in my seat and trying to wave at them as they stood, craning their necks to try to see. My father leaned against the glass, shielding his eyes. My mother stood beside him, leaning on her cane. I felt my throat swell. They looked so old and small and full of longing.

Or maybe the longing was mine. The Towers fell in New York a week later, and my mother was gone by Christmas. I think of her at this time of year, though, when the sun slants its yellow light in the shorter afternoons of autumn. September afternoons, when she celebrated hers and my and my brother's birthdays, she seems so near, when the days balance once more between summer and winter, and what we are losing every day seems somehow, impossibly, to also hold what we as yet are unable even to imagine.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Babs: Now underprivileged can eat cake

Image hosted by

Remember when Bush senior stood flabbergasted at the price of milk in a grocery checkout line? Because he had no clue what milk costs? Because he had never, ever stood in a checkout line to buy milk? Well, wifey has shown once more how stupid the face of privilege can be. Babs thinks the refugees are better off sleeping on someone else's floors than they would have been in their own homes, because they are underprivileged. And wouldn't you rather be in the great state of Texas than a godforsaken Gomorrah like New Orleans?

Kudos to Christine Francis, a New Orleans woman displaced by Katrina with her family to Austin, interviewed on NPR news today. Francis corrected Robert Siegel when he joked that her family practically needed MBAs to understand the bureaucracy of filing for FEMA aid, politely informing him that in fact, her sister already had her MBA and that she herself was three classes away from finishing the degree. When he mumbled something about how her neighbors probably didn't have MBAs even if her family did, she corrected him again, telling him that her neighbors were all professional people, and that the 9th ward, where she lived, was mostly black homeowners, the highest percentage of African American homeowners in the city. She bemoaned the misrepresentation of her neighbors as poor slum-dwellers and rightly blamed the news media for ignoring the black middle class. Siegel thanked her for the interview, but was reduced to near-speechlessness, and quickly ended the conversation.

This reminded me of a story I read a few days ago in the New York Times about the architecture of New Orleans as a terrible casualty of Katrina. While the writer mentioned the 9th ward, talked about the house he owned there, and praised the community spirit of an area where back folks and white folks lived happily side by side, the article made it seem as if whites were moving in to gentrify the place. He mentioned that his neighbor, Miss Marie, had been born in the house he now owned, but then he went on to characterize her own house nearby in the most condescending terms, as little more than a shotgun shack.

But I guess he and Barbara Bush would see Miss Marie as better off now, anyway.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Unemployment Line

Image hosted by

The Illinois Department of Employment Security, inaptly named, looks kind of like the Alamo. When I mention this to my gf as she drops me off there at 2pm one afternoon last week, she says, "I hope you have better luck in there than they did." It is hot and bright outside; inside the building is cool, gray, colorless. My eyes adjust to the dimness and I see two people sitting talking amidst three or four long rows of empty tables and chairs. I walk to the front desk and sign the clipboard. It is 2:05. The two figures are a woman and a man; he is clearly some kind of security guard and she is talking with him to pass time while she waits for someone to attend to her. I get my paperwork and begin to fill it out.

I am faced with the problem of academic jobs before I even choose which tray to take paper from. There are three trays. One is labeled "Quit," one "Fired," and one, "Laid Off." I know I didn't quit my job, but what does it mean to deny someone tenure? Was I fired, or was I laid off?

The desk guy, a thin graying white man, hesitant to the point of apology, resembles the eighth-grade teacher who lets himself slide into a disastrous affair with a student for lack of anything better to do. When I explain my situation to him, he tells me in a furtive voice that I was probably laid off. I take my paperwork and go back to my seat.

What is your education? How long did you work for your employer? What was your job title? What were your reasons for leaving? Do you belong to a union, and if so, are you in good standing? Do you believe you lost your job as a result of discrimination?

Each question seems like an essay topic, a basis for philosophical reflection, an accusation. How could I be so educated and not have a job? How could I work for someone so long, be so qualified, and be treated so shabbily? Why don't I belong to a union, and have a union rep standing up for me? Why did I fail to attribute a miserable workplace climate to the institution's disregard for the happiness and wellbeing of skilled employees? What did I think would happen? How, how could I be so stupid for so long? These questions swirl in my head. Every memory of compromise flits through my brain: the years of paying for professional clothes, airplane tickets, and conference fees on a TA salary, in the era before Graduate Travel Assistance funds (what there are of them). Years of paying for MLA, gambling on a vanity career that ran up my credit cards, ensuring I wouldn't be able to make it on a starting salary even when I got one. What are your reasons for leaving?

At 2:30 I'm still mulling these questions over, so I don't mind that no one seems to care to wait on either me or the woman talking to the security guard. At one point a woman blows in the door, storms up to the desk, and demands payment for a check that seems to have bounced somewhere and cost her money. Her voice rises with every sentence. Heads begin pop out of cubicles, more and more with every minute of this arresting drama. At one point angry woman begins to yell, and it looks as if there might be an ugly standoff between her and the pink-blazered middle manager trying to calm her down. Angry woman storms out, transforming the cubicle inhabitants behind the "help" desk into a swirl of clucking, arm-waving chickens who gather in various piles behind Pink Manager. Pink Manager tells her side of events to chickens, who disappear and reconvene in small animated groups behind the desk/gate. At some point we learn that angry woman has tried to cash an illegal unemployment check at a currency exchange, which bounces the check and charges her a fee. Chickens everywhere shake their heads.

Three o'clock passes. Neither of us has been waited on in the interim. The other woman turns to me and says, "This is the worst fucking unemployment office in the whole damn city." I nod cautiously and smile, trying not to look prim but unsure of what my exact response should be to a stranger saying "fuck" to me in a loud voice. I realize I have screwed up one of my sheets, and I go get another paper from the desk. When I come back, I say, "It's a good thing I DON'T have a job, 'cause I'd lose it waiting around here all day," and she throws back her head and laughs loudly. I feel happy about not being too uptight to communicate with strangers, but inside of course I am ready to cry with the grimness and stupidity of this place. I call my gf to tell her they still haven't seen me, and she tells me to stay and get it over with, since I've already lost the whole afternoon to it. Pink manager comes back and calls to my laughing friend, who explains her situation, which seems to involve someone else using her social security number to file a claim. "Sir?" Pink Manager calls to me. "Sir?"

When I realize she is talking to me I tell her I'm a Ma'am and that I simply want to file. Pink Manager says someone is on break but will be back, and disappears. AT 3:25 I call my friend in Texas and tell him as loudly as I can that I've been waiting an hour and a half in an empty office. Someone from the cubicles is speaking to us again, and I hear my new friend telling him that we are both women and that no one has helped us. They call her and she gets up and goes back to the cubicles. A Latin guy with a goatee harrumphs his way to the "help" desk, flings himself on the chair, and "Honey"s me over to him. "I am telling you, these PEOPLE!" he announces to me. He hates his colleagues. I realize happily he is sooo gay.

"Paperwork!" he demands. He looks at my information and tells me I'm at the maximum rate, which is--get this--$336 dollars a week. Three thirty-six! I quickly calculate that this is what I would bring home if I worked full time for ten dollars an hour. I realize another thing about other professional jobs in so-called dreadful corporate America, which is that they usually give you severance pay when they fire you. Forget the bonuses you put in the bank for moments like these. And I get $336 a week.

"I need to leave this office and get me some drinks," Latino Queen hisses at me. "I need me a bunch of drinks right NOW." He hands me a red, white, and blue booklet and tells me that all the information I need to report every two weeks for my check is in there. "When you call in your report, the phone prompt will ask you these questions," he explains impatiently. "When they ask if you've been looking for work, I don't care if you've been in bed all day with the newspaper, you say YES. And here they'll ask you, here, oh, just give it to me!" He rips the booklet out of my hands and starts furiously circling YES after every question.

"Now Girlfriend, you are OUT of here!" he exclaims triumphantly. "Go get yourself some drinks! I know that's what I'm going to do!" I laugh and he waves me out of his presence. I gather my things and leave the Alamo. I am thinking about how I couldn't not apply for jobs even if I wanted to sit around, since living for long on $336 a week is out of the question. I'm thinking about all the people in this country working minimum wage jobs for whom ten dollars an hour would be great pay, and I'm thinking how lucky I am not to have kids, or a mortgage, or car payments. I'm thinking about jobs I'll apply for, and wondering if I can manage to convince myself anymore that academic jobs are possible, or happy, or desireable, or wise. I think about using September to study for the LSAT and maybe get a better score. I think about all the lawyers who hate being lawyers, and wonder whether anybody likes their job, really.

Most of all, Girlfriend, I'm thinking about where I can get me some drinks.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Image hosted by

Just got back from a short, bleak trip to Southern California to visit gf's people. Saw up close the daily despair of a small family sliding away from any hope of middle class life. Property values are skyrocketing, and even rentals are impossible for people trying to raise kids on one salary, if you can call a mechanic's wages a salary. The meth epidemic is raging, cocaine is plentiful and relatively cheap, and regular people are tweaking their lives away because they can't face a world where all they are good for is cannon fodder in Iraq. And what is our government doing? busting pot farmers and dealers. After I got back I got caught up on my premium cable shows. If you visit places like SoCal, where economic disparities are unbelievable and the despair is so thick you choke on it, you realize that shows like Showtime's Weeds and HBO's Six Feet Under are not so much about, say, drugs and death as they are about people haunted by everyday terrors like whether or not they can hang on to their homes and lives. Weeds, where a single mother must reinvent her pot business every week to keep her family afloat in the style to which it has become accustomed, lampoons the shallow "necessities" of suburban luxuries like housekeepers and Range Rovers, but speaks to the very real strain of trying to keep up appearances when there is no traditional security--a husband who earns good money, for example--to fall back on. That America, the one where families are one death or job loss or health problem away from utter catastrophe, is the America more and more of us are living in every day. And if you wonder why our television shows are getting darker and darker (Six feet Under has been almost unwatchably sad this season), it might be because it's getting harder and harder for a lot of people to watch what's going on in this country and find something to be cheerful about. It's enough to make you thankful for the cheerful banality of the midwest, which I confess, I am.

Monday, August 08, 2005

travelling light

Image hosted by

Be patient with me for a minute while I get sentimental about my office furniture. See, I always wanted to steal this one particular chair. When I first got my job, I saw this great little modern chair sitting in my hallway outside someone's office door. It looked a lot like the picture above, only the legs were just four metal bars instead of the nice intricate chrome in this picture, and it was covered in dark green leather. It actually is a fabulous little chair. It fits the 1969 anti-riot architecture of the school, and I loved its saucy modernism. I whisked it away, and it has sat in my office these seven years now, under my Xena poster. Students often sat on the chair when they came to my office hours. That chair has a lot of excited-to-be-reading-modernism in its vibe. It has a lot of queer-theory-is-cool, too. It is so modern, yet so dark and unassuming. Its leather is worn, humanized, customized to a living presence. I just always liked it.

Friday I took down Xena, dollied my books to the parking lot, and left the key on my desk, as if I was leaving a hotel. I looked longingly at the chair, imagining how I could get it out the door on the dolly, surrounded by framed prints, or wrapped in bags, and scurry it to my car. I imagined turning it on its side to reveal bits of gum stuck underneath, or in any case, the dirt of decades of careless use. I stroked its dark, strange leather, noting for the hundredth time the place at the top of the back where the skin was splitting along the frame. I sat down on it, cooly cupped. I liked it better than the chairs I had brought there: the Ikea lounger, the blue butterfly chair, the plump leather desk chair. I was leaving all those. Why take this one?

I thought about taking things, stealing souvenirs, and why people feel comforted by theft. Does it give us the illusion of control, of continuity, to carry from place to place the objects we have absorbed into our daily consciousnesses and our dreams? Why do people take bathrobes and towels from hotels? Why do people take forks from restaurants? Was wanting this chair like that, or was it some other desire? Would I think of my old job everytime I looked at it, and would its little green turtle self in some corner of a room taunt me with my failures or cheer me with my escapes? I imagined it at home. I imagined it in some future office. I imagined it in a different setting altogether, one I hadn't even considered yet.

I touched its worn seams, turned off the lights, and walked out for the last time. The door clicked. There was no going back. I felt good for not taking it, good for leaving it behind in the time and place proper to it. It's not that I felt at all moral or just about stealing or not stealing it, it's just that I don't want to be Jacob Marley, too weighed down from where I've been to get to where I need to go. But I am still thinking about it. Not the job, or the place, or all the sadness, but that little chair, what--if anything--it might have meant once to take it as mine, and what it means now (if anything) to leave it behind.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

To Market

Image hosted by

Because I'm interviewing for a one-year teaching position today, my thoughts inevitably turn to self-fashioning. If a summer away from your university has made you realize--as I have--that maybe you don't loathe academia quite so much as you simply hate where you've been, you, too, are ready for the Fall Job Market. It helps to be unemployed, or facing unemployment. Bankruptcy is ok only if you've gone through it and have nothing to fear. Once you have nothing--no job, no dream of tenure, success or financial security, no hope of children or a house or even a car that is less than ten years old-- what is it that you want? If you could choose, would you still want a job in academia? This is the kind of question one could pay quite a lot for in therapy, so I'm pleased to offer it here for free, in hopes that it yields you an epiphany on the cheap, sans my 4:30 a.m. night terrors. If you answer yes to my last question, your inner monologue immediately becomes less existential, your task narrower and more focused. As well as more desperate.

So now that you want a job, how do you get one?

1. Wear many hats.

This means that if you do 20th-century and contemporary literature and culture on more than one continent, they will read you as a British literature person and expect you to teach Aphra Behn. Prepare to discover the intricate joys of the incredibly long Eighteenth century.

2. Wear many dresses.

If you talk about women, gender, or sexuality, English departments will read you as a Women's Studies person. Women's Studies, on the other hand, will think you teach Interpretive Dance. You must learn how to dance with your social conscience on your sleeve. Consider having your sophomores revive "Hair" in time for the awards banquet.

3. Love Literature.

"I love Literature. Literature is over, but I love Literature." Repeat until this makes sense.

4. Love-Hate Theory.

I love theory. I mean, I used to love him. We broke up. Now I hate him. I know all his passwords, though. I could tell you them if you want.

5. Love teaching.

I love teaching. I mean, it's a great opportunity for dialogue, right? The best part is how hard it is to pick out something nice to wear every day when they don't pay you enough to even buy new underwear. It's a challenge, and I LOVE a challenge!

6. Love teaching writing.

No sentence too cryptic or convoluted for the sentence doctor! No paragraph too short or long, no topic too rambly, but I can find an idea buried deep within its maze! You're almost there. Now, take the idea you ended with, put it in the first paragraph of your paper, and see if you can go through and support your argument! Wasn't that easy? B.

7. Love everyone.
Example: "I look forward to working with you on the ten-year-old curriculum revision project." Practice tone and eyebrow control until you can sound convincing.

8. Love everywhere.
You can always say: "Houses must be very affordable here."

Now you're ready for that job, no matter where it is. Good luck in the interview, and remember, BE YOURSELF.

And wish me luck.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Cher Man

Image hosted by

I just wanted to add my two cents about the "man as chair of women's studies department" story . While it did not have a doctoral degree, our women's studies program had a prominent gay historian as its Head for a couple of years, until he stepped down for health reasons. He was as fair and reasonable and kind as you hope your colleagues could ever be. He led job searches for men as well as women candidates, and was more open to queer studies than I have found many, MANY women to be, especially in women's studies, where there seems to be a great deal of fear that queer means men (woman, of course, too often means straight). His presence helped neutralize THAT kind of ongoing homophobia, and as a lesbian trying to make a place for queers in what I found to be a very straight curriculum, I thought he was a blessing. He was efficient about meetings, took the responsibility of power when it was his job to figure things out, and happily left things to the larger group to decide if they were so inclined. He helped make a smooth transition in the program from a "women's" studies focus to one more inclusive of "gender" studies, and I think the program will be stronger for it.

Plus, he wrote me a terrific letter, and that goes a long way.

Was he more fair because he felt less entitled in his role, and felt more, too, the need to accomodate others and make them feel comfortable with his leadership? Maybe so. But while I concede that it worked because of the very real power women held in the program--power that he knew he had to recognize and work with-- it really worked. SO maybe the question is not whether or not men should head women's studies, but rather, how do we make better progress empowering women throughout universities so that when men are Chairs, they experience this same kind of need to cultivate womens' good will as part of their everyday strategy of leadership?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Her Books

I knew it would be hard to pack up my office. That's why it's the end of July and I'm still putting it off. Every day seems too good to wreck by driving down Lake Shore Drive, taking the Balbo exit and turning right, then left onto Harrison. Down past the post office, past Canal just below the train station, west until the tower of University Hall comes into view, a building that looks like a cardboard shoebox set on end, nibbled by rats. Sprinklers spray the street in a vain attempt to make the campus cheery with green grass. Dazed students scurry from building to building, while maintenance workers move slowly, conserving energy.

My girlfriend angrily accosted me at 2 a.m. the other night, demanding to know when I was going to get my act together. By "act," she meant a host of things starting with but not limited to cleaning out my office. The next day my best friend who teaches in Austin agreed that it was perhaps time. "You must DEAL," he told me severely, blowing cigarette smoke at me through the phone. Even so I dawdled my way through the morning, ran a bath, finished reading every section of the paper, and gathered things I had to drop in the mail. When I couldn't put it off any longer, I put on a bra. Putting on a bra is always the last, the final unpleasant thing I have to do before leaving the house. I hate bras. I hate wearing bras. Hating bras is a good way to put off ever going outside. Still, one must deal.

Driving down, I marvel at how familiar the route is, the timing where one changes from one lane to the next, anticipating the big curve at the Drake Hotel, getting over to the right, but not too far right, at Monroe, at Jackson. I try to remember how I used to feel driving this way, when I first came here. I remember how this drive anchored me with its familiar routine when my life itself started getting rough. It was familiar by time my girlfriend left for Boston for good, and this drive was all that was left of our days together in this city. It was familiar when there were new girlfriends, familiar when I was told I couldn't keep my job. Today driving this way feels a lot like it feels when you visit your childhood home and drive to the high school you couldn't wait to leave. You hate it and feel fond at the same time.

Feeling like a spy, I park and march, head down, across campus. No one around. Up the elevator to my office, key out and ready. My door the same, still with a piece of paper that lists my office hours. My office the same, cool and dark, an Ikea rug on the floor, shelves lined with books.

The books daunt me. Many of them belong to the ex that left town, the ex that just got married, the ex I went to graduate school with and moved here with. I don't know what to tell you about why her books are still in my office-- I work at home and needed my books there, she left academia but remained unsure about her attachment to her work, her books, her former life, me. This spring she emailed me that she would like some of them back, if possible. I look at my shelves. This should be as efficient as possible. But the books menace me with their dark little teeth. I unfold a box. Books to send. Books to keep. Books to give away. The tape squeals as I pull the roll against the box seam. The old guy in the next office, the one who hasn't published anything in years but likes to put in a nine-to-five day every day of the week doing God Knows What in there, clears his throat. Good, I think. Let him hear the sounds of packing as he checks his email for the 50th time.

The books should be dead, or sleeping, but they startle me when I hold them in my hands. Iola Leroy, by Francis Ellen Watkins Harper. She used to say her whole name always, as if careful to show that she wasn't talking about any old Francis Harper. Oh, and this nice old edition of Alcott's Little Women. I remember this. And Our Nig. And a book about the Civil War called The Romance Of Reunion. These books are breathing still, alive.

Does she really need an old Norton edition of The Scarlet Letter? But here's her name and the date--1987. Must have been a college book. And the complete Margaret Fuller. She loved Margaret Fuller.

One hour leads to two, and I can't believe how the time has flown. I have been in a time machine with her books and her dreams and her bitter intellectual disappointments--disappointments I couldn't deal with very well at the time because I was too preoccupied trying to hang on to my own precarious academic identity. You don't have to hate academia just because you're leaving it, I remember telling her. Being an entry-level Book Rep is demeaning and humiliating, but it's just a job, and it doesn't take away who you are and what you've accomplished. You can't imagine what it feels like, she would tell me. I want to move on but I have to visit these horrible professors in their horrible offices, then I have to come home to you and your academic colleagues for dinner, for socializing, and your academic worries and preoccupations. I just want to read books again and be happy. I just want it all to feel ok.

An hour has passed. The clock on the wall that needs a battery ticks, its long hand beating feebly against the short hand, yearning up towards twelve. The room is strange, and the thin light filtering through the barred windows is late afternoon light. All her books are in boxes. My books are on the shelves still, and the books I don't want are on the floor in a big pile. My labor is done for today; I can come back and carry stuff out without thinking about it too much. I flee this room, this building, this campus, this part of town, this late afternoon. Her books are closed again, and soon these bits of her life will be on their way back to her. I can almost hear them in their boxes, circling around and around again before settling down, like little dogs.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Greatest of These

Image hosted by

The plight of a gay boy named Zach whose blog told the world about his parents' decision to force him into "reparative therapy" has spawned lots of talk about Christianity, anti-gay and ex-gay programs, and the contemporary war on gay culture. Salon has a story about a reporter who pretends to be gay so he can experience a session with a conversion "therapist." Kind of interesting that Salon couldn't find an actual gay or lesbian person to write this. Was it because this guy stepped forward? Because no gay or lesbian journalist felt like putting themselves through the horror of even one hour with these types of people? Or because there just aren't that many queers affiliated with Salon? I'd love to know. This reminds me a bit of the straight female reporters who signed up for male makeovers in the early 90's; you could practically hear them scream "Eew!" during the part of the workshop on packing and sock-stuffing. You had to be a strong butch or tranny not to feel shame (or disassociation from your packin' sisters/brothers) when you read thier "normal" reaction to female masculine drag. This guy isn't quite so bad, though he keeps reminding us that he's married and that he's a father and that he's LYING about having homosexual feelings. Are you sure? Eew.

Anyway, there's quite a heated discussion going on in Salon about Christianity and it's role in all of this, with some blaming religion wholesale and others defending it. All I know is that I am haunted by a story I read on page 16 in the July 19th issue of the Advocate called "Dying to Oppose Robinson." It appears to have been taken from a longer piece in the July 8 Washington Times reporting how "many Anglican bishops in Africa are refusing life-supporting donations from the American church" because they oppose the consecration of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson. It quotes a man named Bill Atwood, who "met with some archbishops [in May], and they were saying how painful it was, with people starving to death, to make these choices." So it's painful to watch people starve to death all day every day, and as you watch them getting last rites, with flies buzzing in their eyes and their chests heaving, their hearts so weakened by starvation that every breath is a labor, you repeat over and over in your head how much better it is to hear death roaring in their throats than it would be to fill their bodies with bread from a church with gay bishops. Then you get in your car and go home to your fat wife and your fat children and your nice house and your warm supper. And right before you slide into your clean sheets you thank God for making you such a righteous and compassionate man.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Tribble Trouble

Image hosted by

Just got back from a short vacation to find the news awash in information hysteria. A journalist goes to prison for a story she never wrote, police swoop down on unwary consumers whose crime is that they purchased the new Harry Potter before its official release, and a supercilious midwestern academic writes a maddening column (even by Chronicle of Higher Ed standards) smugly defending his department's right to eliminate bloggers as job search candidates, based on the things they say in their entries. And we like to point the finger at China for controlling information? "Ivan Tribble"'s Chronicle column is getting a lot of attention in the academic blogs right now, but I wonder if his column might not serve as a lovely object lesson about the naivete with which even academic readers approach the blogosphere. "Tribble"'s argument is that blogs too often reveal objectionable opinions, enthusiasms and personality quirks best left to private obscurity in the job candidates who write them. Once you see the "real" personality of a blogger, his argument goes, you might strike them from your short list of tenure-track candidates. "Tribble" doesn't give his real name, which further ratifies his sneaky ethos.

I like "Tribble"'s column. I like it a lot. It is either the stupidest thing I have ever seen the exceedingly-stupid Chronicle print, or it is one of the subtlest satires exposing the totalitarianism of tenure-track academe to come along in a while. Let us suspend the idea of authorial intention for a moment, and give this piece of writing it's performative due. The fact that "Tribble" has written under a persona radically deconstructs the argument he seems to be making about the "realness" of blogger personality. Is he too real to sign his real name, or does his "Tribble" persona point to the necessary impersonality of all good writing? How can this foregrounding of authorial masking not call attention to the strategic positioning of any authorial address? By posing as the cowardly man behind the curtain operating the sadistic and intimidating Wizard-machine, doesn't he expose the cowardly hypocrisy of an academia that on the one hand defends tenure as that last bastion of free speech, while on the other uses the gruelling job market, periodic review, and tenure processes to regularly screen, study, and eliminate nonconformists and freethinkers from its ranks?

Then there's the lovely choice of his name. Tribbles, as any Star Trek fan knows, are the most innocuous of creatures--that is, until they multiply like rabbits and clog up your ship's ventilation shafts. Ivan Tribble may be the small-time gate-keeping, standards-bearing dweeb you hope never to have to work with, but "Ivan Tribble" is an academic everyman, one who serves as an eloquent warning to all of us of the darker side of tweedy, self-replicating mild-mannered professors.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ex In White Satin

Image hosted by

So my ex is getting married this weekend. I only know this via the grapevine from my ex-ex-ex, or like, my ex to the fifth power. One of those girlfriends from so long ago you forget you actually once knew what they looked like naked, or cared, and now they're more like your sister, only less fucked up. So you care a lot more, or at least, a lot more comfortably. She calls to tell me my ex is getting married, which she knows NOT because she was invited, though she should have been, since she helped ex leave academia and get into publishing, where ex is now reportedly making a mint. Meanwhile, I declare bankruptcy, but I digress.

So ex to the fifth knows because ex has invited mutual friends of hers and ex(5), because ex has a habit of stealing friends, though eventually they figure things out. So ex(5)'s friends, stolen by ex briefly, were invited. But not ex (5), because of the perception of loyalty to me. Do I have to tell you we are in a dyke drama here, or would you know just from reading this? Immediately know? There are condos involved in Provincetown, just to let you in on how really gay this soap is. So ex (5) tells me ex is getting married, but not, for some reason, in Massachusetts, where ex actually now lives and works, and where it makes a smidge of sense, but in Maine, where ex's woman lives. Why, Lord, why?

Let's consider this closely. When you say the words "gay wedding," and mean them to describe an act you are about to perform upon yourself and all those unfortunate enough to be sucked into your orbit, you are already 95% sure of looking ridiculous. Straight people think we're just pathetic wannabees, most states don't validate the sentimental ceremony with legal status, and worse, most weddings are tacky affairs pulled together on a shoestring budget masquerading as "classy" minimalism. Straight weddings are like this, right? Cash bars, pale blue bridesmaids' dresses, grooms hell-bent on a "let's relive the prom" tuxedo, brides in white getups, looking like JonBenet Ramsay in a computer-aged photo. Gay weddings are even more sincere, even shakier in their dignity, desperate to shore up legitimacy under assault from all sides. And lesbians, mostly, are poor. Or at least, not so rich.

I'm just saying that the chances of lameness are extraordinary.

So the ex isn't getting married in Mass. Why? And they've decided to have a Quaker wedding, even though they were both raised Catholic. Maybe BECAUSE they were both raised Catholic. But the clincher is that they are supposedly going to all sit in a circle and read the Massachusetts high court decision out loud. While choosing not to get married in Massachusetts.

I'm not sure why I care. Maybe I just suspect the ex is getting railroaded. After all, the person I knew shared a suspicion of marriage but an appreciation of the open-bar, huge banquet blowout, complete with swing band and endless martinis. Maybe she's capitulated to someone else's tastes. Or maybe, worse, she's changed. She's gotten more sincere, less ironic, more idealistic, less bitter. And maybe that's the hard part. Maybe I still want to protect her from embarrassment, from people smirking who in reality have no right even to polish her shoes, much less pass judgement. Maybe I'm jealous. We were together 11 years through graduate school and the job market and cross-country relationships, but we never got a wedding, or took one for ourselves. My family seemed to take eight years to accept us as a couple, and by the time we broke up, family disapproval on both sides just seemed too hard on top of everything else. Sure we threw many Christmases, but our relationship meant no grandchildren in my mother's eyes. Sure we babysat her mother through a lonely widowhood, until she met another man and married again, but then we became inconvenient and illegible, a difficulty for the new husband. When we split up, it seemed to me that her mother, who had always been very kind to me, was actually relieved, thinking maybe Mary would marry late in life, as she had. That hurt.

Well Mary is getting married at 40, though not to a man. Somehow she has stayed out, stayed alive, found love, been successful. She is probably quite happy. She will try to have a meaningful ceremony because her life matters, and whether or not her family gets it, she knows she matters. So here's to you, faraway ex. Good for you, for standing up for yourself enough to look ridiculous, or to have dignity, which are sometimes the same thing. Sit in a circle of your friends, think about a place for love in this world, eat good food, and play for hours through one of summer's long golden days. This weekend, which is gay pride in many cities around the country, you are going on with your life, and your dreams, and your vision of what love and family mean across the miles, and political divides, and bitter religious disputes. Have sex. Go for a walk. Make a big dinner. Get tan. Drink a whole bottle of wine--or better yet, champagne. Dance. Be proud. Live long, as Tuvok says on Voyager. Live long, and prosper.