Saturday, November 22, 2008

Conferencing la la la

I'm at a nice, young conference, in a lovely East Coast city. It's been incredibly busy but basically a lovefest. I get to see my dear friends, talk scholarship and collaboration, get inspired by brilliant but short papers, and pass notes with friends when the papers are less than brilliant. One paper was particularly dull (or maybe Veralinda and I were just sleepy after our delicious vegetarian dim sum lunch), but when the speaker said something that sounded like "their semi-autonomous wombs" and I wrote "semi-autonomous womb"? on my notepad, Veralinda drew a round belly with little feet and I nearly fell over trying to suppress my giggles. It felt a bit like summer camp in high school- giddy and silly and fun. And utterly naughty. We were told we looked like we were up to no good. We won't do it again, I promise. Not at a serious conference, anyway.

My talk and panel actually went quite well, it seems. All of the talks on our panel seemed like great fun to listen to, though I was particularly nervous because my adviser from QSU (Quill & Stylus) was sitting in the front row wearing her serious listening face, which does not include a smile. This is not a conference I usually get nervous about- it's full of short papers, grad students, and down-to-earth people, genuinely interested in new scholarship and collaborative activities. A friend calls it "the little conference that could."

And yet when I saw my adviser, I became anxious. I think it's a little funny that she can still intimidate me like that, even though she is perhaps the most devoutly supportive senior scholar I have known (also the most rigorously critical, but I believe that's part of her being supportive). Thus I found myself making eye contact across the room with complete strangers, especially when I got to the dirty joke in my paper, rather than confront her face of intense concentration. Thankfully, she was encouraging and enthusiastic after the talk, reminding me to send her more of my manuscript, so I was able to relax and finish the evening off with delicious sushi and conversation with a dear friend and two new ones, and then several drinks and general camaraderie in the swanky hotel bar.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Voice of the Voiceless

When I was growing up, my parents had a game they played: my mother would talk to one of the pets, and my father would answer for the pet, not in a high pitched or animal-like voice, just in his own voice. He called it the "voice of the voiceless."

About two and a half months ago my cat Saffron literally lost her voice. At first it sounded like she was a little hoarse. And then, I thought, maybe she was meowing silently- opening her mouth and puffing out her chest - deliberately, as a kind of cat-like politesse. As if she were trying to say: "I really want this, but I'm too polite to cry for it, so I will just indicate my interest with a gentle, unvoiced bleat."

But in fact, much to our consternation, she was unable to produce any sound whatsoever. She would wheeze and rasp but nothing would come out. Then she would exhaust herself. This went on for a week or two, and thus began the first of many visits to my local veterinarian, who took a blood test, listened to her chest, sedated her and looked at her larynx, took x-rays, gave her antibiotics, listened again to her chest when I noticed wheezing, and finally referred us to a cat-internist a month and a half (and $250) later. There was talk of cancer, of laryngeal paralysis, both serious conditions requiring thousands of dollars of surgery and no guarantee that the cat would survive.

The specialist was wonderful, but she ordered a few of the same tests since she didn't trust the family vet's interpretation of the results. She also ordered general anaesthesia, a tracheal wash, and several diagnostics on cells she collected from the wash. $757 and a zonked, partly shaved cat later, the diagnosis was probable mycoplasma-induced feline asthma. Saffron was put on 3 weeks of liquid doxycycline and I had to switch to a less dusty litter.

So I did so, and- miraculously, it seems -her voice has finally returned in full. It started out as tiny, faint, mews, and then gradually matured into what someone close to me recently described as a touch-tone phone's beeps.

Saffron got her voice back around the time Obama won the election, and I started spending time with someone new (sometimes I wonder if this is more than coincidence). There is no sign of asthma and no sign of infection. We have been very happy ever since. But we are switching vets and we are getting pet insurance. I'm trying not to think about the $1000 it took to put my cat on liquid antibiotics.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Observations

1. I didn't think I'd actually react so emotionally when Obama won. There were tears. There were hugs and cheek smooches. There was shouting and wahooing and jumping up and down and delirious texting. I must have embraced at least 8 or 9 people I have never met before. Unfortunately, I was suffering from an awful case of anxiety-induced indigestion which made it feel like there was a phantom lump in my throat the whole time, so I didn't enjoy the Obamalove as much as I should have. I should have let a certain person kiss me.

2. It was also a night to bridge generations, a night for all the parents who fought for peace and civil rights to share with their kids. I saw a very sweet neo-bohemian middle-aged mom (You know, with scarves and boots) with her arm around her hipster teenage daughter at the election results party I attended. The mom couldn't have looked prouder to be sharing this night with her daughter. Right before Obama's speech I was on the phone with my own neo-bohemian middle-aged mom (in another swing state that went blue) marveling about Obama's big win, and most of my friends took jubilant cell-phone calls from their moms too, well past the bedtime of most moms, neo-bohemian, middle-aged or not. Yay moms!

2. My state went Democratic all the way (Senate, Prez and Gov) for the first time since I was eight months old. I don't know if this changes how red-statey it still feels on a day-to-day basis, but only time will tell. If my formerly red state is now main-stream blue state, will that affect the conservative students on campus? I've only been here 2 years (minus the summers), but I tend to think of my students as mostly conservative- but more pedestrian and politically apathetic than anything else, which I attribute to our state (and country) having been conservative for the past eight years. With the country democratic, will blue be the new pedestrian? One can only hope . . .

3. Despite the wonderful progressive sweep across the nation, I am so saddened to learn that 52% of Californians voted to ban gay marriage (along with Florida and Arizona). Although it shows that Rovian tactics won't work this time as they did in 2004, when the five states with an anti-gay marriage refferendum all went for Bush, it is disheartening and truly disappointing. Add to this Arkansas' decision to diminish the rights of gay and lesbian couples to adopt, and we have a strangely divided country still.

4. I highly approve of Obama's first promise: to get a puppy.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Next Chapter in Academic Clothing

A colleague sent me this link. I think it says it all:

The English Department