Sunday, May 24, 2009

New Mascot

The Freudian Petticoat has a new mascot:

That's right, a Bobble-head Freud, who came to me all the way from New York, a surprise gift from a dear friend. Although I'm sure Southern culture would perplex him to no end, Freud isn't staying in the South- he's coming with me to Turkey and Israel, because I think it would be funny to photograph him scowling in front of various exotic backdrops. Maybe I'll even smuggle him into the Kotel tunnels! Watch this space for his thrilling adventures.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Not Biden Our Time

I'm coming out of thinly veiled anonymity to say that Vice President Joe Biden was our Commencement Speaker this year. And that it was my first commencement at Selva Oscura U., and I went only to cheer the MA student whose thesis I was honored to supervise. But I was surprisingly charmed by the experience.

I normally find such pomp and circumstance tiresome, full of dull people taking themselves far too seriously (my boisterous and ridiculously over-the-top graduation from Crunchy Chocolate U being the major exception). But today was different. My colleagues and I poked fun at how much this pageantry felt like a "Renaissance Faire". There I was in my Quill & Stylus regalia, looking like an early modern scholar (or girl dressed as boy scholar) and I nearly launched into "The quality of mercy is not strained" as we trudged across the quad to the accompaniment of a brass ensemble playing 16th century tunes. But we had fun doing it, despite having dragged ourselves out of bed at an uncouth hour. And some small part of me, (the part that wanted to be Queen Elizabeth I at ten and a Shakespearean actress at fourteen) was secretly delighted.

Biden did not eschew political rhetoric. He called on our students to enact change. And he cited the "terrible beauty" in Yeats' "Easter 1916" to suggest that change is inevitable for us. And, probably because I was sitting about 5 feet away staring at him, he smiled at me. Twice. Swoon! (Confession: okay, so if it had been Rahm Emanuel, I probably would have clutched my colleagues and screamed like a teenager in 1963. He is one hot, foul-mouthed Jewish politician.).

That said, a little less than one third into the awarding of the undergraduate degrees (and yes, all 1000 of them marched up one by one and shook the presidents hand, and yes it did take FOREVER), I decided that one full commencement ceremony was plenty for the next three to ten years.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I tried changing the bed linens this morning, but soon encountered an obstacle.

It's pretty clear who gets the last word in this relationship.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Diamonds and Coal

Crunchy Chocolate U (my undergraduate college) had a daily newspaper that would award figurative "diamonds" to the people who made good things happen, and "coal" to those who allowed bad, along with the occasional Cubic Zirconium for mediocrity. Here's my own list, and I think it's pretty balanced:

I didn't get any short or long-term fellowships this semester (coal), but I did get a piano and am going to spend a month in the Mediterranean (diamond).

My article got rejected from ELH (coal), but my panel got accepted for MLA (diamond).

Number of times I've been to my local coffeehouse in the past 3 months: 4. Number of times I've been hit on while there: 4. Weirdos: 1. Guy who blatantly hit on me in front of my then-boyfriend and not for the first time: 1. Cute, interesting potential dates: 2. (2 coal; 2 diamonds)

I'm not eating out (coal) but I'm becoming much more conscientious about what I eat and where it comes from. I've already lost 7 pounds by eating more healthfully (local organic veggies) and working out more intensively. I find I have much more energy (diamond).

Last night I made this wonderful dish from my new favorite food blog, Orangette, both of which my friend hd introduced me to last summer. It's called "Pasta with Five Lililes" and is composed of caramelized sweet onions, sauteed leeks, scallions, red onions, all melted until sweet (I braised them in a little white wine which makes them tangier) and tossed with pasta, ricotta salata, fresh chives, and a squirt of lemon. All of these bulbs are in season right now. I found everything except the red onion either in my garden or at a farmer's market. (yummy diamond)

And I'm really excited about my little heirloom vegetable garden. When I first placed these tiny, vulnerable plants and seeds in the ground I became really nervous. Aside from the odd pot of herbs, I've never grown anything edible before. Would they grow? I was positively paranoid. Then, mirabile dictu, they all grew, every one of them, even the seeds I put into the unadulterated dense clay soil, and I'm finally able to relax.

There are blossoms and tiny green nubs on the 'Early Girl' tomatoes, and the other heirlooms have shot up two feet. I've got "straight eight" and "lemon" 'cukes (which will be round and look like tiny yellow basketballs), and 11 heirloom tomato plants with wonderfully folksy and fantastical names, and what promises to be a whole spectrum of colors: Black Seaman, Mr. Stripey, Lemon Boy, Black Brandywine, Green Grape, Yellow Pear, and Stupice (which I have taken to calling "Stupid" and "Stultus" and sometimes "Doofus"). Of course none of these will be ripe until July and/or August, but it's fun to see them grow so fast. Expect to see more photos and blog-posts about gazpacho, caprese salads, and casual bucolic dinners over the next three months. (future diamonds in the rough)

I tend to make the most progress when I'm balanced, and not when I'm euphorically happy or woefully sad. I guess I'm in a kind of "tolerable tropic clime," to re-appropriate one of my favorite Donne elegies. Bring on the work! (Cubic Zirconium?)

Saturday, May 09, 2009


So there's this great, dirty anecdote about Samuel Johnson. He wanders into a room looking perhaps more unkempt than usual with his breeches unbuttoned and an uptight lady squeals something along the lines of "Sir, your penis is sticking out!"

To which Dr. Johnson replies, "You flatter yourself, Madam . . . it is hanging out."

Such a useful anecdote. But I wish there were a girl version of this.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Omnia Mutantur, Nihil Interit

I have no name
I am but two days old . . .

But the Freudian Petticoat is actually three years old, as of yesterday. I can't believe how much space I've filled with (to bend Sidney), this pixel-wasting toy of mine. And how much my outlook has changed. Well, changed in some ways, strengthened in others.

Like many blogs, this one was born out of change. I started it because I needed a space to deal with my move from Montreal to the South, my change in status from postdoc to tenure-track professor. And though my status and location have not changed in almost three years, I'm happily surprised by how much adaptation, growth and change is actually documented here.

It's enlightening to reread my first few posts about moving to the South- my anxiety over Southern Slowness and conservative football games, my delight at Southern quirkiness. Each of which, I suppose, has reversed or dissipated. As an academic, I hardly find life here slow- instead, I'm desperately trying to catch up on work, friends and obligations. And campaigning for Obama and turning the state "blue" this year really opened my eyes to the wonderful collective liberal spirit awakening here. But the cutesy, quirky charm I once saw has become saccharine and ordinary.

I guess I'm most amazed at how my voice has changed over the past three years. I just sound so much more innocent in the beginning. I'm not at all sad that I'm less so- I mean, I was frightfully innocent when I was younger. And I yearned for wryness, irony, and sagesse. (Probably yearning for it in itself is pretty innocent). Have I attained that darkened level of wit and perception I so craved? OMG I so hope so!!! . . . Or maybe it's like Blake's Songs (one from Innocence is pictured above): we can only talk about innocence from a position of experience, and experience is always haunted by innocence.

Over the course of three years, I've blogged about attending five conferences, throwing four parties, and obliquely charted the courses of two romantic relationships. Somehow the numbers seem so small, compared to the amount of text and emotional, intellectual output.

{Four parties? Is that all? For someone who professes to like entertaining, I haven't thrown a dinner party in almost two years. We all have our tastes, but the blog tells a different story.}

Here are my 5 favorite posts in the history of this blog, from earliest to most recent:

1. "Strindberg in the Kiddie Room": Ikea Trip
2. Jew in the South = Hispanic? Indian?
3. The Grammatology of Anthropologie I, II, III
4. My best conference liveblog (SAA 2008)
5. "A Bracelet of Bright Hair"

Bonne Anniversaire, blog.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Weird . . .

So I get alerts now from certain sites I'm registered with (like when people google my real name. It's ordinarily just business stuff- they're looking for someone else with my name, or they're looking me up because they lost my e-mail.

But this one site sends me an e-mail any time someone googles me with the search terms entered. And just today someone entered "my real name + blog." And apparently someone entered multiple search terms related to my name at 5:30am yesterday.

Should I be flattered, or . . . ? I'm not sure I like knowing that people are searching for me in this way. I mean, we all google people we're curious about. But no one should know that everyone is doing it for real. Suddenly it's creepy!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sincerity v. Flattery

I once wrote a grad paper about the ethics of flattery in Renaissance culture. Or lack thereof- flattery was always characterized as a negative thing, a manipulative rhetorical stance devised to get the flatterer something. It was described as effervescent, cloyingly sweet, embodied in the tongue, and exerting a feminizing, emasculating force on any and all who were tempted by it. Hamlet says as much to Horatio, spelling out their Platonic love (married souls) as one beyond materiality (though I've often thought he's being rather rude to Horatio too, by drawing attention to the difference in their classes):

'Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee,
That no revenue has but thy good spirits
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flattered?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. "

So Renaissance flattery is a sweet, poisonous kiss that conceals an ulterior motive (usually a financial one). And I think flattery today still carries that sugary venom, though the motives are frequently less clear.

This wonderful thing happened to me at the Shakespeare conference last month: an old friend who also happens to be a newly distinguished Shakespeare scholar came up to me out of the blue, gave me a hug and told me I was absolutely gorgeous. He wasn't hitting on me- he has a brand new baby - he wasn't just being "nice" because we haven't been in touch so he couldn't possibly have known that my self-esteem was floundering. He simply wanted to tell me this. It was so deeply sincere and compassionate and charming, that I was sort of bowled over by it. And then it happened twice more, at the same conference- various people told me I was beautiful. People I've known for years who never said it before, and people I'd just met.

The thing is that I rarely feel attractive- I'm still 15 pounds overweight, my clothes don't fit the way they should, and I'd been dealing with a lot of frustration over the past two months.

But I soared on those words. I know it's silly to let something superficial like a compliment on my appearance lift my mood, and it's not as if I haven't heard the same words many times before (given the choice, I'd much rather be told I'm smart). But this was different- it was not in the least flattery. This wasn't about him wanting something from me. This was sincerity. And it was magical: it conjured respect and joy out of sorrow and insecurity.

There's something about people being truthful and guileless at the right moments that I find incredibly refreshing, though it's rare- I can't tell you the number of kind, well-meaning things that have been spoken or written to me that conceal other intentions. Though it frequently takes me a while to get there, the truth always comes out with me, even when it's not wise or useful. But now I think this is a good thing.

The upside of stress

Roses beginning to open outside the bedroom window.

I'm losing weight- I had to remind myself to eat today, ate only some veggies and smoked salmon. This is really good because normally I crave a bagel with lox and cream cheese on the weekends (a bad habit I developed with my New Yorker and Montrealer exes) and if only one of those three ingredients is in my fridge or freezer, I usually go out and buy the rest. Especially because my garden is now full of fresh herbs in pots and the ground (oregano, tarragon, thyme, cilantro and fennel) and wild chives, which are actually a nuisance, but which go really well with the cream cheese.

But today, I had to force food down. And I nearly threw myself out doors to get to the gym this afternoon, where I knew peace of mind was waiting for me. Maybe I'll even get back to my normal weight, the weight I had before I moved here to this barren, sidewalkless suburban city and put on 15 pounds driving everywhere. I've got to get into good hiking and city-walking shape anyway, because in a month I'm off to Turkey and Israel with my family for three weeks!

So the plan right now is weights plus cardio every other day at the gym, plus yoga and belly-dancing 3 times per week. And any and all hikes I can wheedle my friends into going on. This area is great for hiking and I've explored only three of the excellent nearby mountains and trails. Between that and tending to the tiny organic vegetable garden I've started (heirloom tomatoes, yellow and purple bell peppers, herbs, spinach, radishes, cukes and swiss chard- ok, maybe not so tiny), the review and article I've got due at the end of the month, I should be fairly busy.

My tiny heirloom vegetable garden in the back of the house.

I'm a little sad about the doves and fig tree, though. The mourning doves have moved out of their urban loft on my porch. The babies grew up and the whole family took off. It's probably best for them, given the nest's proximity to the porch railing and the neighborhood cat. But the garden doesn't lack for bird activity- I've spotted at least 8 or 9 different species and calls in the late afternoon. And I think perhaps there is a bit of a Robin overpopulation problem- they're everywhere! I had to drive them out of the upper garden the other day, where the spinach and radishes are growing. I'll try to post a picture of one of the more enterprising ones.

Alas the fig tree that was so productive last year has fallen victim to the late snow and ice storm that consumed my birthday. The entire trunk has split in several places, there are no new leaves, it's wobbly and hollow and grey and most of the upper growth turned black. I cut off the black parts, but I think it's pretty much gone. Thankfully there are a few tiny shooters coming out of the base of the trunk, so it's not entirely dead, but the yield will be much smaller this year. And so there's this sad, dead looking tree in the middle of my lush front garden.

So the doves have apparently moved out for good. The fig tree is mostly corpse-like, but for a few tiny green shooters at the base.

I'm trying not to see this as a metaphor. Like the tree, I've had a rough couple of months. Man, sometimes I hate being a literary scholar.