Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Have I mentioned capoeira? Have I?

So, yeah, capoeira. One of my recent Facebook status updates was, "Trying to learn capoeira makes me feel like Harry in The Blue Sword, except without the supernatural talent but with the racial angle. Also, fewer horses. Portuguese is kind of like Damarian, right?"

For those of you unfamiliar with capoeira, it's a Brazilian martial art/dance/game. The classes I take are in the Capoeira Angola Palmares lineage, lessons twice a week and a roda once a week(ish). Already, you may be thinking that, for a definition, that has a lot of words that need defining in their turn. I'll let you use the magic of Google for that.

The thing about it is, studying capoeira isn't like learning most martial arts - not that I've studied one myself, but I have done ballet and yoga; the immediate parallel between these and capoeira is that the movements are named in a foreign language, French and Sanskrit, respectively. But you don't need to know French or Sanskrit, or anything about French or Indian culture. Capoeira retains tight cultural connections, though, and you can't play capoeira well without understanding those. You have to learn several different skills all at once:
  • The moves, of course
  • The history and cultural context of capoeira
  • Portuguese
  • How to play the berimbau and pandeiro.
So I set out to try capoeira, and now I'm talking back to Pimsleur in the car: "Com licensa, o senhor fala Ingles? Eu entendo un pouco de Portogues. Eu nao falo Portogues. Sim, eu sou Americana."* I have an iPhone berimbau, although I'm under no illusions that it approximates reality even as well as the Wii approximates real sports, which is to say, not at all. And, yeah, I'm gingaing in the living room. This immersive aspect of capoeira is half of why I referenced The Blue Sword. The heroine, for those unfamiliar with the book, is kidnapped and thrust into a new culture, where she must learn swordplay along with a new culture and language - no musical instruments, though.

But the other reason it came to mind is that I'm pretty obviously made of northern European genes, and the closest any of my ancestors came to Brazil, Africa, or even Portugal was ... Germany. Capoeira is not "my" culture. The Blue Sword was a book I loved growing up, even after I became aware of the issues with the white-girl-saves-brown-people plot that plagues both the Damar books. It wasn't until I after was up in arms about Avatar that I sat down to reread it, though, and found I just couldn't. The only difference between James Cameron's movie and Robin McKinley's book is in the quality of the execution, and there's no use only getting offended at things that are aesthetic tripe.

But as my post said, not only are there fewer horses in capoeira - but I also don't have a magic gift waiting to be awakening so I can master in a few weeks what takes most folks a lifetime. And having no supernatural powers that boot me to the front of the capoeira class goes along with not being the savior of anything. My contribution is just a few bucks a week to help rent the room, same as any other student. I'm not going to end up saving Brazil from a demon invasion or marry the handsome king. So, any second thoughts I have can be read as, "Hey look! I want to make sure you know I'm cool enough to do capoeira, and I'm aware enough to worry about cultural appropriation! I'm sure swell!"

Which takes you down a rabbit hole where the only logical conclusion is to stop wasting time announcing on social media what you're doing and just do it. I'm going into withdrawal just thinking of that.

*Yes, the accents are missing. I can't consistently get accents to show up properly on here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

If you look around and see that only the men are laughing at the speaker's knowing comments about how men and women are different, while telling a story about the subordination of women, it's probably just because the women are all humorless feminists.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Capoeira is hard, part II

When we started middle school in sixth grade, we had to select a music class instead of taking the generic elementary music course. Our choices were chorus, band, and orchestra, and there was a definite class divide - chorus was for kids who couldn't afford an instrument (not, alas, for those with divine voices). Violins didn't appeal to me, and most of my friends were in band, so off to band I went.

In sixth grade I played the flute. The flute is an affordable instrument, meaning are always too many flutes and clarinets in a middle-school band, so in seventh grade I switched to the bassoon. My talent was underwhelming, despite taking extra classes with a very gifted teacher from the North Carolina School for the Arts. The family referred to it as my "dead cow," which was wishful thinking on their part, dead cows being much quieter than dying ones.

When I started high school I stuck with band, but when I got to school before the semester began - band started early because we had to prepare for the marching season - I found out that bassoons don't march. I was put on the bass drum, the smallest of four.

Even at the bass drum I was something of a disaster. I mastered the notion of right-left-right-left, but the cadences and even "School's Out" left me confused when the drum line was anything but one-two-three-four. I went back to the bassoon once the season was over, earned one of my two B's from high school, and dropped out of band after that year. (The other B was in geometry. Music and math are related, yes? Also, I wasn't a very motivated student my freshman year.)

The lesson from all this was that I find any instrument more complicated than the triangle a challenge, and I may be underestimating the triangle.

So, naturally, I have now picked an activity that involves learning to play multiple instruments. "The berimbau is easy," Cojacki tells us. Not as easy as the bass drum, I think to myself.

What I'm not doing on my summer vacation

There's an ad I see repeatedly on Facebook to encouraging me to study Spanish and yoga in Costa Rica (and perhaps combine it with surfing and fire dancing!). Not wanting to encourage the advertiser by following the link, I Googled it and four or five schools came back - one in particular with the same tag line.

I'm trying to figure out why I would want to go to another country to hang out with a bunch of white, middle-class Americans when I can do that at home for free.

I suppose the fact that Spanish is the language of Costa Rica gives it a veneer of authenticity, although I could immerse myself in Spanish right here in Nashville if I find the right crowd. But who wants to to risk ending up hanging out with immigrants who "should be" learning English when I could be catered to by locals who make a living off of being nice to tourists?

I tend to think of inclusive, see-the-sights-but-not-the-life trips as catering to middle-aged and older folks, but this is a brilliant way to capture the youth market.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A list of things I did today

  • Went to yoga
  • Talked to my mother
  • Complained about the weather
  • Was frustrated by interpersonal relations
  • Ate pancakes
  • Stayed up late
  • Hula hooped
  • Did something futile
  • Cleaned the bathroom
  • Saw the abyss staring at me and glanced furtively away
  • Went grocery shopping
  • Laundry
  • Had a nice stout
  • Had another nice stout
  • Failed to meditate
  • Facebooked
  • Conserved water
  • Reassured my neighbor I wasn't stalking her
  • Thought about renting a movie
  • Listened to birds fighting
  • Stared at the living room ceiling
  • Had a rich fantasy life
  • Sliced cheese

Saturday, May 15, 2010

One book, One Twitter

I think the choice of Neil Gaiman's American Gods for "One book, One Twitter" to be really odd. I would think that a very high percentage of Twitterers have already read it. Why not choose something that nerds don't already know they like?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


As you may know, I've started taking Capoeira classes. This is a bad idea on many levels, given that I have no rhythm, no reflexes, and no musical ability, and it requires upper body strength. But it's a challenge, and hey, there are worse things to do on a Monday night than look deep in the eyes of hot men. (No, that's not my motivation. I'm just trying out jokes for my new chick lit novel.) (Yes, that's also a joke. An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a pun, that's me.) Our instructors came back from a workshop in Denver full of new ways to torture us, and even before class was over my back and shoulders ached. (The answer to the question of "How many cartwheels can you do?" is "More than I thought." But none of them well.)

Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of hours helping a friend move. Her third-floor apartment sans elevator sustained some ceiling damage in the flood, and she was moving to a place without a gaping hole. Honestly, the effort was, in the immortal words of Kenny Wayne Shepherd, "a whisper on a scream." But then I went to ashtanga class.

I mean, look, I do ashtanga. I can get through the ten sun saluations without crying. But last night, I went into the first one and discovered I couldn't even do up dog. My triceps just wouldn't hold me up. (Those of you who don't do yoga - and can't be bothered to follow the link - it's not an advanced pose. Maybe not first-time material, but pretty standard stuff.) I had to step back instead instead of jumping back. And forget arm balances.

(Not to mention back somersaults and shoulderstand were out because I had whacked my head on the floor Monday night. But let's not talk about that. I wouldn't want my mom to worry about brain damage.)

My yoga teacher sees the upside, though. "You'll only hurt for a few weeks of doing this!"

Friday, May 7, 2010

Two down, eight to go

I'm now two books into this year's best translated book short list.

The first book I read was Robert Walser's The Tanners. It follows the Tanner siblings in their everyday lives for a few years.

I really don't know what to make of this book. The characters in it don't have conversations; they make speeches, and they say hateful, long-winded things to each other. The first brother we meet, Simon, is a complete jackass, and yet everyone he meet seems to be charmed by him. I feel like I don't have the tools to evaluate whether Walser expected the reader to be charmed by Simon or to be befuddled. It feels as if Walser has a great deal of control over his prose, but to what end?

And yet Kafka and Hesse both greatly admired his work, and who doesn't like Kafka and Hesse? (Which is code for, "I like Kafka and Hesse.") Maybe it's worth noting that this was the last of his books to be translated into English, even though it was one of his earliest.

The second book didn't fare much better with me. José Manuel Prieto's Rex is, in his words, "magico-scientific realism." I'd call it, harshly, "magico-boring realism." I was a third of the way through before I developed any interest in what happened to the characters. And if a reader doesn't have interest in the story, the reader ought to at least enjoy the language - and I didn't. Maybe it's just because I haven't read In Remembrance of Things Past, which the book revolves around in many ways, but the metaphors and descriptions made me yawn.

My lack of pleasure in these books makes me feel unpleasantly reactionary and Philistine.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

AERA, part II

My cohort
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
This photo was taken at the Vanderbilt reception Saturday night; it's my cohort, or at least the four of us who were there for the conference.

Today is the last day of AERA, and there aren't any sessions I'm interested in, so I'm going down to Boulder to have lunch with a friend. (And to go to the Lush store.) Yesterday I did go to two good sessions, one with a paper on giving and another on prestige, and a panel session on minority-serving institutions.

Now I have to finish my submissions for ASHE - they're due Saturday - which has suddenly been complicated by the fact that I have to go down to an undisclosed location to collect dissertation data on Thursday. Tonight I go back to Nashville and see if my roof leaked. Between AERA and this dissertation trip, I completely am missing the great Nashville flood.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Welcome to AERA 2010

So far AERA has been relatively quiet, aside from bears menacing the Convention Center. Folks here have been complaining about the random snow flurries (nothing is sticking), but my feeling is that I'm better off here than I would be in Nashville, where they are having tornadoes and flooding.

I've gone to two sessions so far, one not very good, and a much better one on the organizational identities of Hispanic-serving institutions. I also attended my own poster session - the same could not be said for about 1/4 of the poster presenters. Seriously, I think AERA should penalize no-shows in some way, if they simply fail to show up. Perhaps not allow them to present the next year? That will never happen, of course, because no one wants to adjudicate which excuses are valid, or walk around being the poster police.

I went to the exhibitor's hall. Neither of the books I had intended to buy were for sale. Instead I picked up an old philanthropy book I really should have already owned and a book that has nothing to do with my research.

Last night some Vanderbilt folks went out to happy hour and dinner. I've also caught up with colleagues from other institutions. Tonight my cohort, or what's here of it, is supposed to go out after the big Vanderbilt reception.

Being in Denver feels a little strange to me. I did live in Denver for a summer, when I interned at the University of Denver, but did not live or work downtown and never spent much time down here. I really don't know the area very well. The location seems to be working; my experience with AERA seems to be that getting around is so much easier when we use a convention center, like here, instead of having everything in hotels. Also, there is a ton of food within easy walking distance.