Thursday, January 29, 2009

why Facebook is awesome (and you can win a Spa Day)

Facebook is awesome, and even more awesome now that both my parental units are on it. (Maybe my dad will be a more faithful Scrabble partner than Mom? I can only hope.) But in case you're still not convinced, (Joe Hays), here's another reason to love Facebook: it will tell you things about people you've known all your life that you didn't know before (perhaps in an itemized list of 25).

And it lets you participate in people's lives in ways you might not, without it.

Until this morning, I didn't know this was happening. I rarely get to see these cousins 'o mine any longer (a shame!!!) but I have fond memories of spending some formative growing-up years on Archer Ave watching Rob on skateboard and saggy homemade ramp made of discarded plywood from the heap in our adjoining backyard with the Beastie Boys blasting loudly from the boombox. Rob was just older than me enough to be untouchably cool. Now, of course, we're all grown up, with spouses and kids and jobs. The kind of life that often gets all-consuming even while it is very contented, or perhaps because it so very contented. Except--like others I know--my cousin and his family aren't content to be consumed with themselves. Instead, they are full of the unbounded love that spills out over family walls, washing over the whole rest of the world. I love it that I am connected--however virtually--to people like this. And I love it that I can--however slightly--help make something this important and life-changing happen.

And you can too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

thinking ahead

Trying to be practical puts me in danger of seriously straining the ol' gray matter, and since it is the gray matter by which I eventually propose to make a living, I usually try to avoid practicality at all costs.

Today however I am trying to think practically about several different things.

1) Clare's parent-teacher meeting. The most important practical question was about potty training. She's got all the skills she needs, and the concepts, the bottom line is--she's just totally not interested in going all the way. I wanted advice from toddler experts on how to cross the finish line here.

2) I meet with my advisor tomorrow. A lot of the meeting I expect will be feedback on the chapter, but I also want to chat about my timeline, set some concrete goals, and maybe even hammer out a prospective date for defending (sometime in the 2009-10 school year).

3) Thinking about next year, and the need to pick up some adjunct work. Gathering info about local schools, writing emails, networking, reworking the CV, reviewing and finetuning my list of teaching competencies. This is the part of academia I hate. I mean, despite the hum-drum routine of sitting in front of a computer, thinking and writing all day--this is really what I like to do. Interrupting real work with the ugh-work of job-hunting is...blah. But utterly necessary. As is the long-term thinking ahead, and networking. Which I--in all honesty--do my best to avoid.

4) Thinking about money. I'm a reluctant spender of money, to be honest. I am fanatical about menu-planning and grocery-list making. (Whether preaching or shopping, I follow a script. To the letter.) And I will stand in a grocery aisle and stare and stare until I find THE cheapest can of tomatoes on sale that day (if you have done this, you know this takes some time. There are always a bajillion different brands and sizes and sales on canned tomatoes.) Beyond that, I normally don't think twice about money. But all the economy scare talk has me, well, scared. So I'm thinking about where to cut corners. And that's kind of hard, when you generally try to live without corners to cut already. I'm sure there is plenty of unnecessary expenditure going on, but it's not intentional--so the question is, how to catch it and stop it.

5) thinking about what practical steps to take in the coming year to green this household. I've gotten good at remembering my tote bags when shopping. We take full advantage of Summit's amazing recycling opportunities. We do little things, like the swirly light-bulbs and laundering in cold water, turning lights off, etc. I have found that the Ideal Bite emails are pretty helpful (especially the new "Mama Bites")...and as always in this matter, Marti Stanley is my guru. I'd like to 1) drive as little as possible; 2) eliminate ziplock bags from my life; 3) do some sustainable gardening in the spring; 4) look into joining a CSA.

All this practicality has interfered with doing any writing today on personhood theory, philosophy of identity, postgender posthuman stuff, or epistemology. But I did do some good practical thinking about the larger structure of the dissertation and how to communicate that to my professor, and that's certainly good. One of the struggles I constantly have while writing is keeping that larger structure and purpose firmly in view while digging down into the nitty-gritty of each individual section in a satisfyingly thorough way. Sometimes you get lost in that stuff, and when I get lost, my writing loses focus and direction. That's when I start hitting the delete key as often as I complete a sentence. And that's just maddening.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

watching it, part 2

Brent's laptop battery died at that point, so it was just as well that being overcome with emotion I couldn't really concentrate on commenting.

So glad they used his full name. Liked hearing the Hussein as part of the oath-swearing.

Liked that they had a little liturgical oops, too. Clearly, Obama wanted to get it done right. Not just a "say the words after he says the words" routine matter. It's an oath, let's take it seriously, let's get it right. Words really can mean things, if you let them.

Liked the poem, but I found listening to it sortof like hearing James T. Kirk's long-lost twin sister at a poetry recital. Probably had to do with her instructions about acoustics or whatever, but I was very distracted by the halting nature of the phrases as delivered, even though I quite liked the poem as a text. Will have to read it again as text.

Was bummed that no prayer was being led by a woman until Rev Joseph Lowery prayed. That man made me weep (again) and then laugh. Like Dolly, "laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." What a perfect, perfect way to end it. Brilliant.

Now: to get to that world-changing business...

watching it (not quite being there)

Like other transformative moments--weddings, funerals--I sense a hyper-real, intense focus on the meaningless bits and minutiae of the day as they stream by, because a focus on the meaning of the thing just can't be sustained. Car exhaust, is the hat coming back?, lemon-meringue color, Cuban-American designer, cold weather. The crowd watching the motorcade pass takes a bit to register its presence and meaning before waving their flags and whooping and hollering.

I'm on my couch, Obama T-shirt, knitting at hand, fire in fireplace, happily breakfasted and enjoying a fresh new pot of coffee. Peaceful and a sense of physical well-being. Clare again went to bed easily and slept well and was supremely happy this morning. Yay for school. Should have put her in her Kids for Obama Tshirt this morning, but it's so cold...

Chris Matthews thinks George W. is "not interesting."

I adore Rachel Maddow.

David Gregory look like he wishes feeling that "sense of history" would keep his feet warm.

Text from a friend: the national nightmare is almost over. Text back: Amen.

Wow. America can do "spectacle" too. Though there is an absence of multicolor-costumed acrobats.

Bush Sr. apparently looks old. Or is just walking old. Maddow: he's just bundled up--that's how I walk when I'm bundled up for the cold.

Clintons arrive. "President Clinton looking unusually somber."

Perfect sunny weather. No divine tears today I reckon.

introductions: "...and Mrs. Roslyn Carter." Interesting. No "Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy"? Are we finally done with the archaic and horrible practice of formally obliterating ALL of the wife's name? "...and Mrs. Barbara Bush." "and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton." AWESOME. She gets to be introduced with her OWN FULL NAME. Yaaaaaaaaaaah!

Brent's breaking out the wine glasses. Must drink coffee in the next few minutes in preparation for our celebratory beverage.

Okay I really like that dress. It remind me a little of the classy get-up my mom wore at my wedding: very flattering but not fussy.

Booing President Bush? Maddow: not classy--not what I expected. Agreed. People, make this an event we can be proud of. If you want to protest, do it in some substantive way, don't just be obnoxious and ugly.

This just in: Brent says Obama told Katie C. that he'll be wearing long johns, because he gets cold easily.

Who is the dude with the voiceover? It sounds like a football game voice! Couldn't we get a version with more pomp-n-circumstance to it than the alma mater fight song? Plus he stumbled over "Mitch McConnell"--not exactly a difficult furriner name.

"this is all really happening"--Keith O. See what I mean? We push the moment away and focus on the meaningless--until it overwhelms us, and we push it back down.

Barack H. Obama. Damn! Where's the Hussein? I changed my Facebook name for you!

There's a part of me even now that resists the name-chanting. Too much adulation? Too much blind faith? Too much mob-mentality behind it?

He looks pensive.

Brent: can you imagine being George Bush in the middle of all this? Ouch.

Here comes Rick Warren...hold your horses folks...Almighty God has balls...God loves all he has often does one pause for applause in wording a prayer?...there's shouting in heaven...are those sirens in the background??? while Warren prays for God to protect him & us to share, to serve and to seek the good of all (except gays who want to marry?)...what's with the Jesus-of-many-names (bookend to +Robinson's "God of many understandings?)...ending with Lord's Prayer.

Whooo! ARETHA!

this is it.

That's a Big Ol' Bible.

We have a new VP.

Aretha, then chamber music...I love the plaintive but serene quality of this arrangement, moving into happy chipper mode, very celebratory and optimistic. Good choice: American folk song, classy folksy. Gorgeous.

pleas stand...but how will I blog it???


Friday, January 16, 2009

thinking about parenting today

Any ideas on how to keep Clare in her bed at night that don't involve shackles?

This morning, Clare wore a "new" shirt (she is growing so fast! nearly all her pants are too short, esp. for cold winter weather, so I hit the thrift store yesterday--3 pairs pants, 3 tops, $18). She was so excited about the bling-bling heart on the front that as soon as she got to school she ripped off her jacket, found her BFF, threw her arms out wide and squealed, "I'M A PRINCESS!" (while I groaned in the background, "but I'm a feminist.") What she doesn't know is that two pairs of her new pants are "boy pants." Including the ones she is wearing today. Hahahaha! Gender subversion will occur at every opportunity around here, princess.

Clare does a great "villain laugh." I wonder where she got that.

She has, for reasons still obscure to me, started proudly proclaiming that she's got "a big ol' belly." I like her big ol' belly, and mine too. We like to compare. Mine is bigger.

Yesterday afternoon one of the teachers asked what we were doing re potty training, since apparently most of the time they check Clare's diapers at school, she's dry and clean. She certainly gets the whole potty thing, and willingly perches on the potty (esp. when she wants an effective excuse for getting out of bed), but generally, she still comes to me to announce she's poopy after the fact. She likes the whole plop-plop poopy-in-the-potty thing (we have our own little song for this), but she seems to prefer plopping it in the potty from her diaper rather than poop direct. We were making slow but steady progress till December, when everything went topsy-turvy in terms of daily routine. Now our slow but steady progress seems to have stalled.

We caught a couple episodes of an unfamiliar cartoon on Noggin the other day, Spider Something Sunny Patch. I've been "Mommy Spider" and Clare, "Baby Spider," and all her teachers, "Teacher Spiders," ever since. We eat Buggy Snacks and drink Buggy Water and go to our Snuggy-Buggy Bed. I've been wondering if I should try to explain this to her teachers, so they won't be offended when she calls them spiders, or alarmed when she tells them she's drinking Buggy Water.

We got a mid-year progress reoprt from St. Stephens and have a parent-teacher conference scheduled for next week. It's interesting to look at the items checked off on Clare's developmental skills list--some things she does at school that she doesn't at home (perhaps pottying?), and some things that she's always doing at home that she apparently doesn't at school (communicate in short sentences, sing parts of songs. At home, the girl is talking nonstop, unless she's eating, and sometimes then too.) It's nice to see that she is on schedule with all the physical and social stuff. It's even nicer to get a glimpse of how other people perceive your child.

Personally, I have discovered an absolutely necessary strategy for maintaining my sanity in the face of mounting frustration during Clare confrontations: the Jesus prayer. At first I resorted to something like, "God give me patience to be a good mother to my child" but that was too connected to my sense of frustration to be helpful--it focused on it rather than alleviating it and making it possible to redirect my energy in interacting with Clare. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," for whatever reason, works. I think it has to do with the way it simultaneously reminds me that 1) taking frustration out on my daughter, no matter how frustrating a 2 1/2 year old can be, is sinful, unhelpful, pointless, and harmful; and 2) I am forgiven for being so frustrated. Somehow, that does the trick of producing heretofore unknown powers of transcending the frustration, thinking creatively, and communicating love while negotiating acceptable compromise with my precocious Clare. I'm no mystic by nature (something I sort of lament); but stuff like this is my experience of the reality of the Spirit and her power to transform.

Mothering, as always, defies my analysis when I contemplate it. No wonder no parents could say anything coherent about it to me while I was pregnant, other than the promise "it will change your life." It does, but not just because you will be chronically sleep-deprived for the next eighteen years (minimum). It is its own sort of ontological change--without the choirs and prayers and laying on of hands, of course.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This Sunday on the train back from the city I noticed a poster advertisement in the train car. A lot of times these posters are for TV shows, or just some random product. It's the kind of advertising you stare at mindlessly for awhile before it sinks in that you're staring at it and your brain is absorbing it for no reason--other than that you're on NJ Transit bored out of your skull. This time, though, the poster wasn't for some new Fox show or whatever. It was a poster advertising surrogacy. This piqued my interest because the topic of surrogate motherhood is one of those places where all my various interests intersect: biotechnology, birthing and motherhood, feminism, social justice, genetics and ties of kinship, categories of same and other.

The idea of surrogacy doesn't freak me out. Sure, it's "unnatural" but I don't use that word in the "bad way" that reactionary folks seem to. But the more I consider it, the more uneasy I become about it as a potential social reality. See, I can imagine becoming a surrogate mother as a kind of gift to another woman--someone who longs for a child but for whom that isn't biologically possible in the "natural" way. Especially since--unlike some women--pregnancy was a almost completely positive bodily experience for me. But in that imagining, there are some parameters assumed: that it is my decision, that it is a gift, that it is based upon or itself creates a relationship between me and the mother, that there is no question of a beloved and secure future for the child. And that may indeed be beautiful, but it dreams up an isolated gift economy for the context of this imagined surrogacy. And we don't live in a gift economy. We live in the good ol' US of A.

Coming down from my dream high, it strikes me that the first problem with a widespread practice of surrogacy is the way in which our capitalistic economy has always defined bodies. We "own" our bodies as the irreducible unit of economic exchange: our bodies are what enable us to work, to become wage-earning labor. As we gain skills we increase our value as workers and blah blah. Those without skills--unskilled laborers--have just their bodies to market as their basic exchange. Those who have nothing else to offer the job market in exchange for the necessities of life sell their bodies. Physical laborers. Migrant workers. Prostitutes. Biotech advances don't change that--they simply open up new markets. Selling organs on the black market. Surrogacy seems to fit that pattern all too easily; yet another way women's bodies are particularly exploitable.

That's serious enough, but as I sat on the train and thought about the motives someone might have for entering into surrogacy on both sides, I realized that surrogacy also serves to further our cultural preoccupation with genetic identity. Why would you opt for surrogacy rather than adoption, if not to secure the genetic identity of your offspring? Why would this matter so much? I observe that it does, but I have ceased to understand it. It seems to me at this point that genetic identity is just another arena in which we inscribe the "we are the same so I love you" and "we are not the same so I don't have to care" dynamics that poison so much of our society already.

So despite my technophilia and my fascination with pregnancy, I am becoming more doubtful about the beneficence of surrogacy as a widespread social phenomenon. It is, after all, being advertised on train posters as an economic opportunity in a time of worldwide economic crisis. Surrogacy: biotech's newest twist on the world's oldest profession?

Friday, January 02, 2009

same and different

Clare's really into this now: same, and different. [I'm not; in the "game time" segments on Noggin, invariably the different object is always missing something. Not just different, but deficient: an implicit message that to deviate means to be lesser. To be different is to lack. "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong"...we've updated the words nowadays to be less harsh, but the message is still there.]

She really likes having two pink pacifiers, so that she can point out that they are the same, but the blue and the pink 'fiers are different. Yes, my daughter chose to abbreviate pacifier into "fire" instead of "passy." Hmmm.

She has been doing this for a long time with her stuffed animals, though without the categorical labels of "same and different." Awhile back she started intuitively grouping them into "families" by kind, and then defining their familial relationships by relative size. Daddy Tick and baby Tick were the first. (In case you're wondering, The Tick was--is--my favorite cartoon, dating back to college days and one of the few happy legacies of an ill-fated relationship. I have two Tick figurines, one large and one small.) Then the trend spread to other groups, like The Elmos, of which we have three: Mommy Elmo, who despite her diaper is still the largest, Brother Elmo and Baby Elmo. And her doggies. And her bears. And well, anything at all really. I'm always having to explain that the categories of "big" and "little" are expressed as "daddy" and "baby" in Clare-ish.

Recently, however, Clare has bucked the trend and announced cross-stuffed-species familial ties. Two frogs now have a baby duck. (She has also started using a gender-inclusive word for sibling relationship: brister, though Brent doesn't believe me.)

Donna Haraway would be proud. And so am I.

Maybe I'm overthinking it (oh, who would believe that? of course I'm overthinking it! why else would I have a blog?), but I find in this the same evidence for openness to relationship and capacity to identify with the other that I saw in Clare's unhesitating finger when she points to the little black boy holding his daddy's hand and says "that's Clare, that's Daddy." Does it matter that she's female, blond and blue-eyed and looks nothing like that little boy? Does it matter that two frogs will never beget a duck? Only if we make it matter. Only if someone comes along and tells Clare, "no, honey, that's not you. you're a white girl." Only if someone comes along and tells her that frogs could never love baby ducks. Because they're not the same, they're different.

I won't be. I won't be telling her anything, because on this matter I think she's telling me.

And now I'm telling you.

Frogs can love baby ducks.