Our sweet, velvet-bellied whippet Jada died last night. She was fourteen or so and had congestive heart failure, but was in pretty decent shape until the past day or so, when her system just seemed to shut down. Last night we made a bed for her on the floor in the living room and took turns sleeping next to her. When JM woke up and didn't hear her rattly breathing, he knew she was gone. She was still warm when we wrapped her in a sheet and put her in the back of our car.
At left, she is pictured at a lake in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, listening to a loon.
When my niece and nephew were little kids, they gave her the giggly nickname "Jada Potato," and it stuck. She made all these crazy moves with me, as our two expanded to five--from State College (where I brought her after I rescued her), to Champaign, where our friends sweetly (and mostly) indulged her love for licking human skin, to Pittsburgh, where she would race JM to the top of Frick Park's stairs, (back) to Urbana, where we acquired Tillie, with whom she begrudgingly learned to share us, and then back to State College, where she loved to lie on the chaise longue in the morning sun.
She kept me company through two books, countless articles, and now three revisions of the textbook. She would always lie around while I read dissertations (see here, here, and the photo at right, with her beloved octopus).
When I was very pregnant--even in early labor at home--she quite literally propped me up on my side, tucked in behind me, warm and firm.
When we brought the baby home, Jada took one lick, scooped up the octopus, and began pacing around with excitement. She surprised us by making it through the first year of baby Bean's life, the past few months exchanging her gentle licks for bean's (mostly gentle) practice pats and subsisting on the tasty morsels of meat, macaroni, and peas that Bean cast off her tray, and even sometimes taking food right from her hand--always gently, eyes wide with pleasure.
So long, J. Potay. Our lives were fuller and happier with your company.
At the end of a recent Tribune piece focusing on Bailey's response to the controversy generated by his, er, guest speakers, is this gem of rhetorical criticism:
Bailey also said he has not heard convincing arguments against what happened, echoing Morton's statement when he said arguments such as that the demonstration "was troubling" are too vague.
"If I were grading the arguments against what occurred, most would earn an 'F,' " Bailey said.
There are a number of things that are deeply troubling about the fact that you allowed a live demonstration using sex toys in front of your class, Professor Bailey. I will just name the one that I find the most enraging:the sex toy in question that the man used to penetrate the woman on the stage of your lecture hall was in the form of a POWER SAW that has a phallus-like protrusion instead of a blade.
This normalization of violent sex games is of a piece with the bland acceptance of violence against women in this culture, and it calls to mind this airtight argument about the sort of domestic violence Charlie Sheen has been allowed to get away with while people everywhere shake their heads and have a good chuckle over the drug addict from Bueller. Yes, presumably this demonstration was consensual, and yes, perhaps some couples find this sort of violent theme enjoyable. And yes, this issue sets off interesting arguments about academic freedom that I'm inclined to entertain.
The pedagogical gains from such a demonstration remain to me unclear, but I am certain about one thing: to eroticize violent acts toward women in front of a group of 18-22 year olds in an educational context is both irresponsible, and from my vantage point, reprehensible.
"Debbie notices that 'family' is sometimes deemed a sentimental category at times when it is really a category of labor."
But I quickly realized that this was too cryptic, and that the update probably belonged over here at blogos. What I mean is this: JM and I are unable to meet requests to do work-related things on weekends [updated to add: and] between the hours of 5 and 7 pm (because this is when we are feeding and putting the Bean to bed, and that process is best handled by both of us and pretty much has to involve me at this point). My most immediate colleagues get this limitation, and we work around it. As an example, I am taking the Bean over to a colleague's house tomorrow afternoon (a Saturday) to talk with that colleague about promoting the English major. This is how we planned it from the beginning (at the colleague's suggestion).
Even so, others don't get it, and I suppose they wouldn't really have any good reason to get it. Weirdly, though, the way they don't get it is by claiming to get it, and then saying something about the sacredness of family. Sacred my ass. It's work.
Departing from carefully divided weekend childcare routines is not only difficult, it is often unfair in that it leaves the other person trying to take care of house-related stuff while keeping a toddler from falling down the stairs, and it means leaving the other person to do that without a break (which in our house means a break to go do work). It is difficult because "trading" time means losing double the amount of time one spends doing whatever one has committed to do. That childcare time needs to be made up in the name of equity. And without equity this whole family thing does not work--not for us, anyway.
So that's what I mean: it's not about a sentimental or sacred protection of time with family, it's about work and an insistence on familial equity. Which are, come to think of it, sacred.
1. Yesterday before class began, I asked my students for product advice: "can anybody recommend a pair of headphones with a mic on it, you know, that you would use to talk on an iphone?" As they stared at me blankly, I slowly came to the realization that they don't need microphones for their thumbs.
2. While trudging up Pugh Street just downhill from a heavily cologned young man, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, the cologne is some kind of subconscious effort to make up for his behind, left bare by his sagging jeans.
3. State Patty's day (held on a Saturday) is a totally watered down version of The U of Illinois Unofficial Saint Patrick's Day (held on a Friday). This year, the people on my neighborhood listserv are trying to "take back" the weekend by taking their kids out and doing family stuff. Maybe when The Bean is older we will participate in both efforts by setting up a stand in our yard and selling bottled water, changes of clothes, and cologne top ups.
4. On the flip side of #2 and #3 are the students in my class. They are giving speeches on really interesting issues: on the uprisings in Egypt, on Wikileaks, on China's one-child policy, on Wisconsin, on Arizona's anti-immigration laws, on unisexed children, on same sex marriage. They are bursting with questions for each other after the speeches, even though we don't have time for questions (note to self: need to build in time for questions). And they also go easy on the cologne. Perhaps this is because their pants are in the right place.
CDD FLASH FORUM: Collective Bargaining in the U.S.
The recent swell of protests in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states signals the continued life of labor unions and a strong belief in the importance of collective bargaining. The controversy over collective bargaining matters for more than union members: it cuts to the heart of deliberation, of democracy, and the livelihoods of workers everywhere. In response to these protests, the Center for Democratic Deliberation presents a “Flash Forum”—an event organized with due speed to respond to the exigencies of the moment—to give members of our campus and community an opportunity to consider what this issue might mean for people in Pennsylvania and especially for students at Penn State.
We have invited a group of people who know something about unions, labor, collective action, and/or collective bargaining to briefly share their thoughts on these matters, and we invite you to join our discussion.
John Marsh, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Emma Gaalaas Mullaney, Graduate Student, Geography & Women's Studies
Paul F. Clark, Professor and Chair, Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations
Samuel Zucker, Undergraduate Student, College of Liberal Arts
Dominic Sgro, Director, Southwestern Pennsylvania Public Employees Council 83, AFSCME
Date: Tuesday, March 1
Time: 2:30-4:00 pm
Place: Memorial Lounge, Pasquerilla Spiritual Center
Summer Smith Taylor passed away today. She was in palliative care, a term that is usually only circumstantially good (in that it focuses on providing comfort) after being stricken last month with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) that resulted in insurmountable and systemic complications, including extensive brain damage.
Just typing those words makes me cold.
Word only started to get out this past week about the gravity of Summer's condition, and as I scrambled to contact our friends from graduate school, overlaying grief with clinical description, my mind crowded with images of Summer from her graduate school years.
Summer darting around downtown State College--she was small but quick--running errands, taking care of stuff. Her signature thick, strawberry-blonde hair. Her combination of warmth and drive. Her phenomenal end-of-term presentation in Chris Haas's research methods seminar. Summer's work was so stellar that Chris stopped everything after her presentation to explain to the rest of us how we could do better, be more like Summer. Summer's blush. (Those last two memories came in rapid succession.) Summer running a meeting at the Leonhard Center Technical Writing Initiative, which she directed. And boy, could she run a meeting: she taught me how. She was ever organized, always brimming with ideas, and she tolerated my and Blake's joking around with a sweetness to be cherished.
Summer with her parents, again downtown. They would walk all around together, and she always looked so happy and relaxed when she was with them. Summer at graduation (above right), gown flowing, hood neatly draped over her arm.
Blake and I squealed with delight when he told me that CCCC featured a panel focused exclusively on Summer's work, her full name in the title and everything (I can't locate the title, but I think it was something like "Calling Summer Smith"), and how Summer stood up in the audience after the panel and began her question with "I'm Summer Smith." I'm sure that got good laughs. And I am equally sure she blushed when it did. And then proceeded to say something worth heeding.
Those of us who knew Summer, especially those of us from Penn State and her long-time colleagues at Clemson where she worked for 10+ years, not to mention--dear God--her husband Rob, daughter Eva, her parents and in-laws, struggle with the magnitude of this loss. Summer was a leader, a questioner, and above all a sweet and happy person.
It is both comforting and disconcerting to wake up in a city you lived in for a year, a city you fell in love with instantly and left abruptly.
JM, the bean and I woke up in Pittsburgh, to its snow-spitting skies, its ash-tinted slush, its gray, taupe, and brown buildings. We trudged over to the Rite Aid on Forbes, through the bottom floor of the Cathedral with all its gorgeous arches, where JM confessed he never went past the fifth floor (those elevators are pretty scary); by the little restaurants where we had drinks or an occasional lunch; by the bus stop where we shivered under coat hoods with other people heading to the east end, the other side of Frick Park.
As we walked, and the Bean stared with wide eyes at the store windows and buses and stone, we tried to work out what happened here, why we left, what might have happened had we stayed, whether we would have ended up exactly where we are now, whether we would have had the bean.
All these questions are as unavoidable as they are unanswerable. I tend to agree with the horse dealer in True Grit: "I do not entertain hypotheticals. The world as it is is vexing enough."
Even so, we sure do miss the food trucks, the baseball, and the bridges.
This term I am teaching a newish course called Liberal Arts 101H: Rhetoric and Civic Life. It combines oral, written, and visual communication. How does it do that, you ask? By means of the digital. I will not touch paper this term, and yet my students will probably write double or triple what they write in a typical FYC course.
The course has two platforms: our classooms (in the plural because we have two different locations we meet--a regular classroom on Tuesday and Thursday, and a computer lab on Friday for our short lab session), and our blogs. Penn State has a typepad-based blog system. It isn't perfect--in fact I still have a damn rooster as the lead image--but we are all starting to get the hang of it.
I would position my technology skills directly at the midline of some imaginary spectrum, where the one side is very, very, very advanced (this side includes my buddy Spencer), and the other is "what's a URL"? So I'm not particularly good at this, and it took a lot of time to re-train myself on the blog system after my parental leave. But the thing is, students are both forgiving and helpful. Today in class, for example, we did some collective troubleshooting on the blog comment features. Two students, J and S, showed us how to allow people to comment. (But, "Air Jordan Shoes" or "Gucci bags," if you spam me and my students, I will lose it.)
I imagine the chaos of such collective finding-our-way would be offputting to a lot of teachers. But if you like to think of teaching as learning, then this might be a cool direction for you. Yesterday's class, for example, met at one of the campus's multimedia commons labs. We had a tour and an introduction to garage band (during which S and R laid down some goofy tracks), and to the video recording studio with a green screen (how cool is that?), the collaborative spaces, little cubicle-like rooms equipped with overstuffed chairs and/or conference tables, and more recording and editing equipment, and the whispering booths, little soundproof booths which are for recording podcasts, not for making out. And I learned about all of this right along with my students.
The chaos of getting settled in to the course is already giving way to focused collaboration. The students had a draft workshop today, conducted in our computer lab, using the blog comment features to respond to peer writing.
This class, in essence, is one semester-long experiment. I am looking forward to seeing where it ends up.
The recent shootings at an Arizona “congress on your corner” meeting have lent a new sense of urgency to conversations about the state of civic discourse in the United States. When Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik cited “vitriolic rhetoric” as a factor in the shootings, he sparked debates about the metaphors, images (think crosshairs), slogans, and commonplaces that comprise American political discourse. In response to these debates, the Center for Democratic Deliberation presents a “Flash Forum”—an event organized with due speed to respond to the exigencies of the moment—to give members of our campus and community an opportunity to consider the issues raised by the tragedy in Tucson.
Does language matter? Are violent metaphors partly to blame for the tragedy? Are the calls for civility misguided or on point? What traditions offer helpful approaches to the debates about language and action, about individuals and communities, about freedom and responsibility?
We have invited leading scholars on campus from a wide range of disciplines to share their thoughts on these matters, and we invite you to join our discussion.
Matthew Jordan, College of Communication
Jeremy Engels, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences
Ellen Dannin, Dickinson School of Law
John P. Christman, Philosophy, Political Science, and Women’s Studies