Monday, January 30, 2012

How are those goals coming?

It's been something over a month since I posted a list of goals to achieve before 40 on here. Not surprisingly, I haven't achieved any of them yet. Am I working towards them?

Be able to walk across a slackline: I'm waiting for warmer weather on this one.
Do macaco: I told my mestre yesterday that I want to learn macaco, and he said we'd work on it. But I need to be doing more on backbends on my own, like dropbacks.
Be fluent in Portuguese: Listening to a conversation among native speakers the other day showed me how far from fluent I am. I can pick out a lot of words, but not follow the conversation.
Travel to Brazil: We're supposed to be doing that as a capoeira group this summer. I have the time and am working towards the money.
Have a novel published: Getting writing done.
Do the Annapurna Circuit: Nothing at all. I figure the Brazil expense is enough for this year, so it can wait.
Hold a handstand for a minute unaided: Still going to handstand class weekly, but making very slow progress. I'm not sure if it was heartening or disheartening when our teacher said the other day that it took her 7 years before she could tuck-up.
Successfully traverse the swing-a-ring: Another one I'm waiting for more cooperative weather on. I did go out and buy a chin-up bar, but, alas, my walls are too thick for me to mount it on the door. I should be doing more things like push-ups and dips.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Teh feminists got to me! Oh noes!

After reading Nicola Griffith's Ammonite and Sarah Hall's The Carhullan Army, I'm totally ready to go join a fightin' lesbian commune.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Circumnavigating Central Park

Walking her dog by TheTurducken
Walking her dog, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
I've signed up to do a circumnavigation of Manhattan with a local hiking meetup in April. That's 32 miles, paved and mostly flat. While I'm in reasonable shape from doing other things, I've really only done two hikes since July, so I need to get back into hiking form.

Also, I figured I better practice circumnavigating things, just to be safe.

So on Sunday I decided to walk around the perimeter of Central Park. That's 6 miles, plus .5 each way to the park.

It's an interesting walk. Of course, you can see the park on one side, starting from the North Woods in my neighborhood, down past the reservoir, around past the zoo, back up to the Meer, and home. On the other side is mostly residences and a few nonprofits. There are very few businesses - nearly all on the north edge, which doesn't have the prestige of the other parkside properties, plus hot dog carts. The rest are expensive condos, museums, the Dwight School, and a few churches.

The advantage of urban "hiking" is that you don't really need a pack. Thirsty? Buy hot chocolate from a vendor. Tired? Use your metrocard to get home. But it's nearly impossible to find a bathroom on that route, especially in the winter. You can't exactly go behind a tree, even though there are plenty of those, unless you want to be arrested for indecent exposure.

Even in my weakened, debilitated state, 7 miles wasn't a challenge, although the 20-something temperatures were. It was too cold for my Five Fingers - not because of the thin soles, but I honestly think because of the toe separation. Only my toes got chilled; I assume it's the same reason gloves aren't as warm as mittens. But I don't own any tennis shoes or hiking boots at the moment.

So, next week, closer to 10 miles.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Loose threads

On working toward your goals.

What are you looking forward to reading this year?

A great article about what it means to be categorized in a particular genre, which was obviously on my mind in my previous post. (Only point I might pick at: "If you enjoyed "Visit From the Good Squad," you might like to read more about the music scene in America in the 90s." Good lord, that's the last thing I want to read anything about.)

Typewriters and India.

Professors doing yoga.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Space needs women

A batch of books on my hold list all came available at once: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (the second Hunger Games Book), and Among Others by Jo Walton. The first two books are young adult (YA) and the third is about a young adult, although it is ostensibly aimed towards regular adults. A lot of the interesting stuff by women in the speculative fiction space these days is being done in YA, which is different from it was back when I was the target market. For example, there is sex now, and sex that isn't automatically used as a warning about teen pregnancy or Something Awful.

Still, there are YA books that don't really hold up to adult reading as well (I'd say Cinder belongs here) and those that do (the Harry Potter series). Then there are adult books about teenagers that can be enjoyably read by young adults (Sunshine) and those that probably shouldn't or can't (Hogg comes to mind).

Walton's book is an oddity, though. I should mention that her Farthing is quite brilliant, and I would recommend starting there. None of her books are YA, but as I read Among Others, I couldn't figure out why it wasn't marketed as such. It's the story of a 15-year-old girl who, after her twin sister dies and she runs away from her mother, ends up in a posh English boarding school. Our heroine - Welsh, bookish, and crippled by the event that killed her sister - is an outcast in a place where social success means adhering closely to conventional mores and the school's culture, which revolves around sports. Eventually (spoiler alert!) she makes friends with one sympathetic adult at the school and finds free-thinking friends outside of it, including a young man who becomes her boyfriend.

The book reminded me strongly of Madeleine L'Engle's And Both Were Young.* I highly doubt plagiarism has anything to do with it; it's more a matter of what a certain kind of school was (or is?) like for an bookish, aspiring writer. Unlike ABWY, where the heroine secretly develops a talent for skiing, Walton's protagonist was a sports aficionado before being injured, and her taste in books runs to SF.

There's an irony in both novels that the heroine, who is into books and doesn't whip out her compact the moment she leaves the campus grounds, who looks down upon her superficial peers for their boy-craziness, ends up finding true teen love - at least, a relationship that is still happily intact on the final page. Because I guess women need men? In some ways, Among Others has a strange tone of misogyny. Our heroine's boyfriend seems like a jerk to me, even after the "misunderstanding" that makes him an outsider has been cleared up to her satisfaction. I couldn't tell, based on the first-person narrative, if we were supposed to see through her rose-colored vision of him or whether the author intended for us to cheer them on.

The book reinforces, unintentionally I think, some gender cliches. Witches are female-only, and, whether they are trying to become evil queens or simply keep their conventional lives squarely conventional, their effects are bad. Non-witches are just conventional and uninteresting. Men are either misunderstood (her boyfriend) or oppressed by women (her dad). Fantasy is the province of women, and sci-fi that of men, and in the end, she chooses the latter. It's not quite as neat as all that: Fantasy aligns with women, but she loves (male) Tolkien, and we can see her nascent recognition of sexism at work in the SF book club she joins. Then there's the fact that her father attempts to sexually assault her at one point. This doesn't seem to affect her relationship with him - maybe after your mother has tried to kill you, it wouldn't seem like much - but it didn't encourage me to join Team Masculine.

The thing is, having read some of Walton's other books and many of her columns on, I am quite certain Walton is not sexist or trying to prop up tired gender stereotypes. And when I did a brief survey of book reviews (one Google search-results page deep), I didn't see anyone else mentioning any of this. They focused on whether she nailed the voice of a teenager, whether not having read the SF novels she voraciously devours is a problem, and whether the plot falls a little flat. (My answers? Yes, probably, and yes again.) Which leaves me not knowing what to do with my observations. To what extent are we supposed to see more than the heroine does and reach different conclusions?** I am a reasonably observant reader, but hardly more perspicacious than WaPo reviewers or fans geeking out at the exhaustive sci-fi backcatalog listed in the book's pages.

[Insert something about Stanley Fish and reader-response theory here, just so you know I'm down like that.]

Seriously, though, the book left me confounded - not in intellectually pleasurable way of solving an author's puzzle, but unsure of whether the author was in control of her material.

*If you see the cover I linked to and have read the book, you'll probably be enraged. Why on earth do publishers put pictures of people that are clearly contemporary on novels that took place over 50 years ago? But notice what happens if you "Look Inside" at the cover.
**The only review I saw that delved into that vein at all only suggested that perhaps the "magic" was all in her imagination, since there was no proof anyone else could see it. This struck me as way off-base, since her boyfriend does see the fairies.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

News from the MLA

News flash: Faculty jobs are scarce in the humanities. If there's one thing a humanities PhD can't do, it's be picky about institutional type, location, etc. So, as in many fields, the bar is creeping up. Community colleges want you to have teaching experience. Universities want strong publications. But what the article doesn't explicitly point out is that, since you'll have to desperately grab any job you can, a doctoral student really needs to do both of these things to have a shot at a job.

Also discussed at the MLA was shortening the time to graduation, which in the humanities is currently nine years. While it's the kind of thing almost everyone claims to be in favor of, how, exactly, is that compatible with the job market requiring more from candidates?

The kind of PhD students I knew who got out in four-ish years with stellar research were smart, worked very hard, and were the kind of people who didn't mind slotting themselves exactly in to their advisors' ideas. Does that model even work in the humanities, where people work much more independently, and do we want to encourage creating clones? On the other hand, the kind of PhD students I knew who got out in four-ish years with extensive teaching experience … don't exist.

Something is going to have to change in the system of producing and hiring faculty, but what, exactly? Right now, it's not much different than the production of pro football players. There's a larger supply than demand. While we excoriate young people who gamble on an NFL future and laud doctoral candidates, frankly, I don't see much difference between the 18-year-old with no football career or other skills and the 30-year-old with no full-time academic career and $100,000 of debt. They're both stuck, one unlikely to find a job that will put food on the table, and the other to find a job that will enable her to pay off the debt before her own kids are college-age.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Readers and writers

I'm reading A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and it's one of those books that depresses me profoundly. This, I am quite certain, was not Egan's intention; or, at least, the causes of my anxiety are not the ones she was endeavoring to achieve.

In the novel, we get to see the main characters, who have grown up to be successful if troubled adults, as their younger selves. Bennie and his high school friends do things like join punk bands, dye their hair unnatural colors, smoke pot, and have tortured relationships. In other words, they are the kids that I thought were way cool back in my own high school days.

This was the early 1990s. I suppose I had part of the act down - a fine collection of KMFDM, a pair of 18-eye Doc Martens, the requisite black-and-white striped tights, and a copy of the Death Sandman comic. But my hair was its natural blond, I didn't smoke anything at all, and I certainly wasn't in any bands. Sometimes I thought about starting an underground school paper; instead, I edited the literary magazine. I do have, to my credit, a few copies left of the comic book three of us made, which featured a gender-balanced, multiracial cast, starring a pair of alternatively-styled friends on a hospital adventure. I'm sure it's quite the collector's item.

Yeah, I wanted to dye my hair blue, but my parents didn't allow it, so I didn't. Besides, I worked after school at the local newspaper. I had no desire to smoke anything at all. I only skipped class twice, and once was with my parents' permission - they were smart, I'll give them that: Let her skip school to buy Nirvana tickets, and she'll never ask for a nose ring … And the one time I wore my Docs on a hike, I conceded afterwards that they were inappropriate footwear. Real Goths Up Trees would never admit that. My friends were mostly other good students who participated in decidedly uncool activities like quiz bowl and math team. One was a cheerleader. Some of them even prayed together during class breaks.

No, I was never one of those cool kids. Not like Egan's characters, and (I assume by way of "write about what you know" plus jealous projection) presumably she was. Which is probably why she's a writer today, and I'm a management professor. Sure, China Mieville got a PhD, but it was in Marxist economics, and he proceeded to promptly not use it. It's a little-examined tenet of my worldview that writers necessarily have had interesting lives - you know, so-and-so "has worked as an emu wrangler, circus contortionist, food taster, seasonal park ranger, receptionist at a buggy whip factory, and ankle masseuse."

And what about those cool kids, the real ones I actually knew? Some of them grew up to be soccer moms. Some are community activists or professors (in non-applied disciplines). At least one is trying to be Charles Bukowski. A lot of them, I have no idea.

Me, I'm temporarily indisposed because I wasn't rebellious enough in high school but was always fundamentally square, well-liked without being popular, and now I don't have any of the major neuroses that either drive achievement or burn you out. Really, all you need to know about me is that, when it came time to pick a New York apartment, I opted for the Upper West Side over the Lower East. And my barometer of what's cool is still the LES, when today all the writers live in Brooklyn.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

If only, revisited

One of my cousins linked to this article on Facebook, and although I definitely am not a competitive runner, I thought it articulated nicely what it means to be into something.

If only I had a timeturner

People into anything - yoga, ski jumping, competitive stamp collecting - will meet people from time to time who say something like, "Oh, I've always wanted to do that, but I don't have time." When this happens, I try to politely ignore the comment and move on, because I do believe that if you really wanted to do it, you'd find the time for it.

Now, I'm not going to take that to a ludicrous extreme. You may be undergoing chemotherapy, dealing with a 3-week-old infant, or in the middle of a stakeout. But for the average middle-class adult (i.e., you don't have to work 80 hours a week just to feed your family), there is slippage in your schedule. And if there isn't any this moment (say, during that stakeout), surely in the years up until now there was.

I don't mean you're sitting around twiddling your thumbs. Probably, to do it, you'd have to give up something else. Maybe overtime, maybe your kid's soccer game, maybe watching Family Guy. And you might say, "Seriously, you think I should be a worse parent? It's not worth it." OK, that's a fine decision, but what you're saying is that X rates below other things in your list of priorities. Nothing wrong with that, but it just goes to show that your "I really want to do X" isn't true. You reveal your priorities through your actions.

As an idle passing comment, it really isn't a big deal, though. If hyperbole was a capital offense, we'd all be dead. It's people who go around constantly telling people about how they really, really want to do X someday, but they don't have time now, nor are they working on a plan for how to make it happen in the future, that bother me. I'm sure you know That Guy.

Now, this is where, just as you think I'm being intolerant and superior, that I turn it around and reveal how capable of self-criticism I am. Isn't that an annoying writing technique?* It's like, "Geez, not only is she an impossible, perfectionist critic, she hates herself, too."

But the thing is, I've realized that I've been treating one of my goals in this way. I've been acting as if saying, "I want to do that," will magically git-r-dun. I don't mean, "I should really put 8 instead of 7 hours a week into honing my competitive stamp collecting skills." No, I mean, "Watching season 2 of Burn Notice while thinking, 'Yo, Turducken, you should probably be working on that other thing you haven't touched in two weeks,' is a colossal waste of time and reveals what your priorities are." It means that, apparently, I'd rather go to the grave as someone who watched the entire run of Burn Notice than be a world-class stamp collector.

I know there's plenty of research out there about how the brain and the body undermine the conscious self. This is the season of new year's resolutions, after all. Human beings are terrible at saving money, losing weight, getting in better shape, giving up addictions, or putting in the hours to become a concert-quality cellist. Willpower is pretty crappy. But I'm not a mind-body dualist. What your limbic system or your gonads want is what you want, as much as your conscious intentions are.

There's a quote, and I'm too lazy to Google who said it, that goes something like, "Do you want to be doing x, or do you want to have done x?" Which is basically what I need to ask myself, in about 500 words than I just used to get there.

*Still, it beats doing it in reverse - start out with the self-criticism and move on to saying, "But everybody does it." This just comes across as projection and excuses.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Yoga at LiM, not to be confused with LIM College

I first heard about Life in Motion when I my broker showed me the apartment I ended up renting. The studio is actually closer than the nearest subway station, and she said it was pretty good. However, the Yelp reviews discouraged me from even trying it. It is owned by a traditional gym, and the reviewers complained about exercise bikes and dirty floors. (Unlike other studios owned by gyms, such as Pure Yoga, however, it doesn't require membership.) I dismissed LiM entirely. Then at the holidays I missed my flight home and was stuck in the city an extra day, literally the day after my Dharma Mittra pass expired. I figured I might as well take advantage of their $5 first-class price.

I'll start with the bad, right up front: The floors are dirty. I don't usually feel an urge to mop things, but LiM makes me feel like a housewife in a cleaning product commercial. You know, before she discovers the awesome new product.

Then there's the neutral: The website could use work; it is totally not up to date with profiles of the teachers, for example. The studio itself is focused on running a few types of classes, nothing exotic, with no stars and few workshops. Classes are back-to-back, so there's no lingering or chatting.

And the good? The space is decent, especially the larger of the two studios - lots of windows. (And not carpeted, yay!) The prices are extremely reasonable - $11/class with a class card (there are no monthly rates), which is cheap even for places outside of New York. Finally, the location is obviously swell for me - no 45-minute subway journeys, no hauling yoga clothes and mat to work.

The best part, though, is the teachers. I've only tried their open-level vinyasa classes, but all the teachers I've tried have led vigorous, flowing asana classes with plenty of corrections. I particularly like Magi's Wednesday night class.

In sum? This is a studio I can go to on a regular basis for my everyday yoga needs. There are still a couple of "star" studios in town I want to check out, like Katonah and Laughing Lotus (especially their Friday night class), but not having to spend as much time on the subway as I do in class is a serious enough bonus to make this my "home" studio.