Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving thanks

I'm thankful that my family traditions don't include football on Thanksgiving or shopping on Black Friday.

I'm thankful that Woodland Wine Merchant always makes good recommendations, and that they saved me a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.

I'm thankful I get to teach a class of my own next semester, and I even get to write the syllabus.

I'm thankful I have credit cards.

I'm thankful I have people to push me to do things I don't think I can do.

I'm thankful that Jeff Bezos and co. created the universal Amazon wish list.

I'm thankful my mom taught me how to cook.

I'm thankful that Vanderbilt is generous in its support of doctoral students.

I'm thankful that I don't have any roommates.

I'm thankful for Samuel Delany, Jennifer Crusie, China Mieville, and Thomas Pynchon.

I'm thankful for online shopping. Make that the internet, period.

I'm thankful to all my yoga teachers.

I'm thankful that fools sooner or later open their mouths and reveal themselves.

I'm thankful I have things to be sarcastic about.

I'm thankful that not every series has been ruined by too many sequels.

I'm thankful I have pie.

Monday, November 22, 2010

ASHE 2010

I saw some good and some bad at ASHE this year. I'm getting better at picking sessions, so there wasn't as much bad except
  • The presenter who read from notes.
  • The presenter who gave a great presentation … and then gave it again the next day in a different session.
  • The discussant who spent a good five minutes describing his/her background and research interests.
The symposium I was a part of was the last session of the last day, in the farthest away room in the hotel, and a lot of folks leave before the end of the conference. We didn't expect much of a turnout, in other words, but I at least was pleasantly surprised. It ended up being pretty good.

There was also some movement on the job front, which I won't detail here.

As usual, I caught up with colleagues from across the country. Not as usual, since ASHE was in Indianapolis, I returned to the scene of the crime and saw some old haunts and old acquaintances. I also made my usual spontaneous book purchases (50% off all JHUP books on the last day) - I picked up this and this.

We also recepted ("going to receptions" isn't quite adequate). Receptions at ASHE aren't as fabu as those at AERA, because they're all at the same hotel. That means each school has either the canapes or the desserts, but the same assortment at each. Penn and Vandy reliably have open bars, Michigan gives away logo gear, and Iowa has music and dancing. If you ever want to crash ASHE, casually drop those tidbits into conversation, and no one will catch on to your outsider status.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I just saw this headline, and I couldn't even be bothered to read the article - "External commercial forces are not destroying higher education -- administrative bloat and the pursuit of reputation are."

The idea that these are separate forces is silly. Administrative bloat and pursuit of reputation are responses to external forces, and they in turn influence the environment. It's a complex, interdependent cycle.

Any attempt to isolate and treat just one part of it (assuming we subscribe to the notion that higher education is, in fact, being destroyed) is doomed to failure.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Capoeira in Baton Rouge

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
The Capoeira Angola Palmares group in Baton Rouge hosted a training with Mestre Gulliver last weekend, and a group of us from Nashville went down there for the occasion. This photo is of the bateria (the musicians) right before a roda at a city park.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Looking for financial advice

I wanted financial advice.

So I went to some websites like CNN that offered it, and I found nothing.

Now, understand, these websites had content. Well-written content. Possibly even helpful content, for someone else. But for me? Nothing.

I don't have a 401(k). I am not remodeling my home. I don't itemize my taxes. I'm not investing. I don't have children to co-sign a loan for.

I get that wealthier people are more likely to pay for financial advice, so if gurus are writing books, they would want to target that market. But on free websites? What's up with that?

Apparently, for folks like me (and remember, I have the median income for single people, so there's a lot of people at least as broke as me), there is no advice. Oh, wait, I forgot, we are told to "budget." But if we spend more than we earn? We should get rid of our luxury vehicles, stop buying season tickets, avoid buying full-price furniture, and stop paying someone to mow our lawns.* Ha ha ha, they weren't actually talking about me! Oops!

The sad truth of the matter is that, once you get down to a certain income, there is only one way to spend less: Cut back on necessities. Buy unhealthy food, forego seeing the doctor, let your phone get cut off … Now, I'm not there yet. I could get a cheaper living situation (which would mean a roommate, realistically - anything else would burn as much gas as I'm saving in rent). But for all the folks out there who are poorer than me - who wants to give them that kind of depressing advice? Who wouldn't rather say, "Oh, just give up your daily latte," than "Yeah, sorry, you're going to have to give up fresh fruits and vegetables"?


One of my fellow capoeristas has the apelido "Alicate," which means "pliers." Supposedly, our mestre gave it to him because his tesoura, which means "scissors," looked more like pliers. Pliers sound more clumsy than scissors, but otherwise I hadn't given the difference much thought. But last night in capoeira we worked on tesoura and responses to it, and suddenly it made sense - the legs cross over each other, just like scissor blades. (All became clear in an unfortunate moment when another student was struck in the ladybits because she wasn't doing that.)

Made sense mentally, that is - understanding something and doing it consistently are separate things, as I proved a few minutes later when I jammed my hip as I am prone to do by landing without my left foot straight forward when coming out of a cartwheel. I know better, and I know that my hip will hurt for a couple of days from one bad landing. But when my focus is on doing a one-handed cartwheel over someone else without getting head-butted and while maintaining eye contact and without landing on them … well, I don't have everything internalized yet, and the concentration on something is bound to slide.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Money III of III: Trust fall

The first rule of writing is "Don't use too many exclamation points." The second is, "Show, don't tell":

I had a friend in college who worked on the paper with me. He wanted to be a fashion designer, but his parents wanted him to pursue something that reliably paid well, so he was majoring in one of the many flavors of engineering we offered.

A couple of years after graduation, he was working in Detroit in the business that made the city famous. That would have been a decade ago; I don't know what he's up to today. I don't know if he ever made a leap to something else. And I don't know how reliably Detroit is paying him now.


At Kroger, there is one clerk that I usually stop and chat with when he's working. This gentleman is probably a decade older than I am. The last time I was in there, he told me this:

Last year, he was bit by a brown recluse spider. While this is never a pleasant experience, his was worse than most. He was in a coma for five weeks, nearly losing his leg.

But he saw the upside in this; during his six-month convalescence, he was able to finish writing three novels and a lot of short stories. (He writes science fiction. Not the kind with zombies or vampires , he says, and no soft-core paranormal porn.) He's in the process of revising the first book to submit it to publishers.


My yoga teacher can testify that it took a long time before I got over my fear of handstands enough to even try them against a wall.

Now that I study capoeira, nearly every class brings me face to face with something I would be terrified to try on my own. Walking in a handstand. One-armed cartwheels. Rolling somebody over my back. Now I'm being threatened with backflips.

Capoeira is the first time I've had to face some of my fears in an ongoing, sustained way. It's a very particular set of fears; nobody asks me to battle spiders or jump off a ski lift. Nobody asks me to go up for tenure.

But capoeira is supposed to be a way of life both in and out of the game. It's not just that there is a lot to learn and that one's fellow capoeristas are a family. It's that the lessons you learn in the roda are also supposed to carry over to your life. This is one of the reasons that in Brazil it's used as a lifeline for kids growing up in less than ideal circumstances, just as team sports are in Anglo culture.

My capoeira lineage is Capoeira Angola Palmares, and it is based on four pillars: Safety. Respect. Responsibility. Liberation.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Money II of III: Being average

I call myself poor.

My income last year was almost smack-dab on the median single-person household income in this country.

I have all of the following:
  • A car that runs
  • Credit cards
  • A checking account
  • Clothes for fancy occasions and job interviews
  • No roommates
  • The expensive granola bars
  • A new laptop
  • Contact lenses
  • Frequent flier miles
  • An iPod
  • Yoga classes
  • Francine the pretty cruiser bicycle.

I don't have:
  • Dependents.
We have administrative assistants in my department that make less than some of the PhD students do.

I have friends who have never had a checking account. I have friends with no credit cards.

I have friends without cars, although for most of them it is a lifestyle choice.

There is a student in my department whom I believe subsists entirely on free food.

I need my laptop to do my job, and the old one was nearly inoperable. I couldn't justify selling my interview clothes or my iPod in a cost-benefit analysis.

I could get a roommate, wear glasses, and buy the cheap granola bars.

I could eat out less.

I could get a job doing research for six figures annually. No, really, I could, although none of those jobs are in cheap places to live.

I could hold my breath and put my new clutch on a credit card.

I could quit whining.

Money I of III: Eight years on a grad-student stipend

I am tired of being poor.

If I wasn't poor, when my friends said, "You should come to Brazil," or Costa Rica, or Italy, I could say, "Yes." Not, "The only reason I can afford to go home for Christmas is because the plane ticket is my parents' Christmas gift to me."

If I wasn't poor, I wouldn't feel guilty because I could only afford to buy eggs laid by hens raised in cages under inhumane conditions. I could buy the Dagoba cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate for these cupcakes I'm making instead of getting the Kroger cocoa and wishing there was a house brand for the unsweetened chocolate instead of just Baker's.

If I wasn't poor, I could say, "I'm excited about trailbuilding this weekend, because I'll have fun with my friends while doing good," and not add, "And get fed for free."

If I wasn't poor, when I complained about my finances I would feel guilty for being okay in this recession, instead of feeling guilty because I have friends making the same money as me and supporting dependents.

If I wasn't poor, I'd have a savings account, not nearly five digits of credit card debt.

If I wasn't poor, I'd buy a pair of black pants that fit me. I wouldn't wonder if a slip and tights are actually in my clothing budget.

If I wasn't poor, using up my prescription benefit before the end of the year wouldn't send me into a panic.

If I wasn't poor, I wouldn't have to budget to afford that new $150 part for my car. Instead, I would get a new clutch when they tell me to.

If I wasn't poor, unexpectedly going out to dinner with friends wouldn't blow my budget; I would actually have a budget to blow.

If I wasn't poor, "sprucing up my apartment" would mean "replacing my decade-old sheets" instead of "taking out the recycling."

If I wasn't poor, when I went into campus to work, I wouldn't think, "Well, I'm spending money on gas, but I'll run my laptop with free electricity once I'm there."

If I wasn't poor, I wouldn't wonder if I can afford to do what I want with my life.