From Alba to Albany

By the time this posts, I should be on my way via planes, trains and automobiles (not to mention the bus to the airport in Edinburgh). It’s hard to believe my fantastic year has drawn to a close. Needless to say, I have no wish to leave Scotland and already have my ticket back. My sweetie awaits.

The Fulbright has been a great gift. I have written so much and I have so much more to write. I will be burying myself in the work this fall and hope to have some splendid things to show for it.

I have new friends and new ideas and a whole new outlook. So much has changed and so much more will change.

Classes begin on Monday. It will be quite a shift to be back in teacher mode. Somehow it will happen, but I’m not sure how at this point. I’m sure the mere process of traveling will provide transition as it always does. The “no-time” of airports instantly takes you out of normalcy, so it will doubtless have that effect again.

I’m not looking forward to the jangling roar of constant commerce. I’ve been surrounded by small towns and beautiful countryside much of the time and very few harsh American voices. I’m dreading the political season and the seemingly non-stop vitriol from pig-ignorant zealots that has made people here shake their heads with disbelief (even as their politicians begin to take on the same madness).

It will be a test of my abilities that I have cultivated in the last few years to remain resilient and hopeful, to hold onto that indestructible happiness within me. It cannot be reliant on being in a particular place or with particular people: just me, wherever I am. And I think I will be able to do that. I miss my friends after all, even if I do not miss the country of my birth. Many of my friends have had great difficulties and griefs in the last year while I have been crowing in my happiness. I can do my part to help heal their sorrow. My Kipper has had a difficult year, too. I will be glad to see him once again.

All will be well.

There’s Got to be a Word for It

Here’s a thing: from one of those ongoing discussions, most recently on Facebook, but other places too. There’s a phenomenon that crops up all the time, yet has eluded naming so far. As I mentioned when sharing Peg’s post (right) about director Brenda Chapman on Facebook, the usefulness of the term “gaslighting” has been amply demonstrated in the recent bout of video game misogyny. So it would be terrific to find a word for this:

It’s an experience many women have had repeatedly. I know in my professional life especially it’s been the cause of much teeth gnashing. Less assertive men know the experience, as well.  As Young Louisa noted, too, “It happens with jokes too. You give a witty response; nobody hears it. Two minutes later a man/more glamorous person cracks the same response, gets a big laugh from all present. Should we just talk louder?”

I don’t know if talking louder helps, because of course then we’re dismissed as “shrill” you know, or some other variety of ‘straw feminist’ clichés. The idea that someone like Chapman can be removed from her position while millions continue to be sunk into the completely negligible talent of M. Night Shyamalan boggles the mind.

How’s that Year of the Woman going?

So there’s got to be a word for it — but what? Maura McHugh suggested with a wink, “Manpproval? Manappropriation?” While I like an analogue to mansplaining, I had a thought we needed something more metaphorical that gets at the unfairness we instantly feel at having our thunder stolen as well as instantly recognisable. I’m trying to think of a film that captures this in an instantly recognisable way like Gaslight, but I can’t think of one that has a single word that will work.

I had in the back of my mind the parable of the Prodigal Son (you didn’t expect that, did you? guess what, medievalists have to know a thing or two about the bible). The Boarshead Theatre in my home town did a fantastic version of Godspell years ago, that was a hoot. They reimagined the Prodigal Son parable as an episode of Leave it To Beaver. The lesson is supposed to be about the infinite grace of the lord, but for most people there’s a sense of “Hey! He didn’t deserve to get the fattened calf!” Yet it doesn’t lend itself to catch phrasing: Hey, don’t you take my fattened calf! Hmmm.

More thought needed: what would make a good term for this?

No, I did not have to make this meme.

If you need a unicorn chaser, here’s my poem for Miss Sophie’s favourite toy, the flying seal.

Thursday Tune: Revolution

Because I am fed up with the war against women and this sort of thing, this is my mood.

BitchBuzz: Technology and Temperance + Jane Quiet

My column today springs from my annoyance with paternalistic colleagues who keep giving people the impression that academics are stuffy know-it-alls who pontificate from their position of privilege. I realise I can also be a bit unreasonable about it: on President’s Day a colleague in the midst of his “technology: bad” talk (thank goodness there was also a “technology: good” talk by the fabulous Kim Middleton) made several references to The Matrix which made me want to break something.

The Matrix?! This is your idea of technology: a twelve year old film? Made when almost NONE of the tech things we’re talking about existed as more than an idea? Academics who would never have the chutzpah to offer public opinions on other disciplines have no trouble at all pontificating about things in popular culture that they have at most heard of–they’ve certainly never participated. It irritates me. But enough bile–I have things to do:

Does Tech Actually Distract from Real Life?

By K.A. Laity
We could all use a little time away from technology, right?

Colleagues of mine forwarded a link on Facebook today to a piece by William Major at the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Thoreau’s Cellphone Experiment.” In it Major tells of offering an extra credit project to his students: giving up their cell phones to him for five whole days, the better to reach a more “real” experience of life, unencumbered by the “distractions” of their palm-sized technology.

Setting aside the privileged and paternalistic tone of the piece for a moment and setting aside the dubiousness of Thoreau’s withdrawal to the “wilderness” of Walden Pond (which did not keep him from frequent, almost daily visits to the village of Concord, or from getting female family members to feed him and do his laundry), the whole aim of this article misunderstands the role of technology in our lives…

Read the rest at BBHQ:

In more pleasant news JANE QUIET! Have you been reading the prologue? Do you like Elena’s new style? What amazing color, eh? Tomorrow the big re-launch: Jane Quiet 2.0 — yes, there will be prizes!

Leaving London

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy leaving London, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the way it did happen. It was meant to be simple: tube to Bank, DLR to London City Airport. My cheap flight took me from London to Amsterdam to NYC and then Albany. Not a day I was looking forward to by any means, but prices this summer were horrendous and my hopes to get the trip paid for by leading students didn’t happen.

I’d never been to City Airport; I’ve been to Heathrow many times, Gatwick a few and even Stansted, though I’ve never actually flown out of it. The light rail went direct to the airport terminal, so it ought to have been easy. After waking up at four, afraid I’d miss my alarm at five, I rolled out and got ready. There was plenty of time and hardly anyone about so early. Smooth sailing on the tube and fortunately, steps down to get to the DLR. The train waiting was for Lewiston, but the next one went to the airport.

However, the train that was sitting there suddenly shut down and everybody got out. What? No DLR today, some kind of problem, the man said. So how to get to the airport? Back to London Bridge, change to the Jubilee line, go to Canning Town… and then what?! Argh, time for a taxi. I was fortunate to have help or I never would have got my one bag, full of six weeks of clothes and presents, up the many stairs. Panic setting in, but actually it didn’t take too long for a cab to come along.

The fare ended up being over £20 (ouch) but I suppose it might have been more to Heathrow. City Airport is quite small, so I should be forgiven for thinking it might be easy to get through security quickly. Ha! In the end I had to take everything out of my carry on and my ‘suspicious’ items had to be scanned again — yes, that dangerous tea towel and my jewelry case. Reassembling everything at least killed the time waiting in the lounge. The small jet was packed to capacity, at least a third of which was a Chinese tour group of Chinese almost all women.

We had begun our descent into Amsterdam and of course, the seat belt sign was on, but a few of the tour group decided to get up to use the toilets. Suddenly the plane rolled swiftly to the left and just as swiftly to the right. I’d never felt anything quite like that. The little Chinese women went flying. Fortunately no one got hurt. The pilot explained, once we were on the ground, that we had hit the wake of another flight. We should have cleared it easily, but the wind carried it up. Bizarre.

The Amsterdam airport is huge! If you want tulips, you can get them. I nearly missed my connecting flight because my phone didn’t pick up the local time and I was an hour behind, strolling along thinking I had all the time in the world, until I saw the listing which said it was boarding now. Oops! The flight on the whole was good: KLM treats you a lot better than the American airlines, including the food and drinks. The flight back always seems endless, but we got a little surprise a couple hours before landing. There was turbulence off and on, nothing much, but all of the sudden there was a huge thump that sounded like we had hit something.

Guess what? As the pilot told us right away, we had hit the wake of another plane (“if you look out the window behind us you should be able to see…”). What’re the odds? From the relative luxury of KLM I headed next to purgatory: terminal 2 at JFK, the one that’s so run down they don’t have a recording of all the things you need to do at security (yes, I had to go through passport control and customs and back through security), they have a guy repeating over and over and over the requirements. Fun!

Well, it could be worse.

A lot to get caught up on, but it’s hard to keep from wishing I were back in England. Sigh.

BitchBuzz: Hate Facebook?

My latest column at

It’s the end of the world as we know it! Where’s Buffy?! She’s averted several apocalypses (apocalypseé? apocalypso?) already. Cameron’s behind this somehow, or Goldman-Sachs, I bet. Oh, wait — it’s only Zuckerberg?

For a minute there, I was worried.

Yes, as the guys at Wired have warned us, Facebook has you in its sights on the path toward world domination:

“Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination. It’s time the rest of the web ecosystem recognizes this and works to replace it with something open and distributed.”

Yes, it’s true: the forced public option is a bit of a bastard. Settle down, tea-baggers, we’re not talking about that public option. But to hear some tech folk talk about it, you’d think we were. And yes, something “open and distributed” would be wonderful. Hop right on that, will you? On your own time, with your own funds and support, too, okay? Because I’m not paying for it. There’s the rub, as someone once said. And until we do actually get some socialists in charge, we’re stuck with the evils of capitalism…

As always, read the rest at BBHQ. I managed to work in a reference to both Buffy and EL Wisty, so I am pleased with myself. Loads of things to do and I am making my way through the (cough) hundreds of emails in my campus inbox and there are a few things that MUST be done before I go (like laundry, sob!). Yeesh — back to it now.

As long as you’re idling your time on the internet, go check out the video I made for The Women’s League of Ale Drinkers: talking robots!

By the by: thanks Todd, for inadvertently setting me off on this column’s idea by emailing me the Wired link just after I was watching an old Buffy episode and — the rest is history as they say. This is what happens when you know a writer; we use everything! The world is our buffalo.

The Old Boys Club

We had a panel discussion on campus last night about negotiating the Catholic heritage of the institution, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet as a college for women (who still make up the majority of the student body). Most of the audience last night, too, were women. The panel, however, was entirely made up of men. My department chair, Kate, was the first to bring this up at the end, which I applauded. But I was struck by the comment one of the panelists made that, “It’s just part of a conversation we [a fellow panelist] have been having for years.”

I used to think the “old boy’s network” was insidious and deliberate. Some may be, but I learned over the years that largely they’re just like that: friendships. At heart it’s a good thing: you help out your friends, you work with your friends, you share with your friends. It’s a natural enough impulse. That’s the way that this kind of thing gets going, for example on Twitter where people like @Glinner and @serafinowicz and @edgarwright all help publicize each other not as a deliberate marketing ploy, but simply because they’re pals.

The problem, of course, is that few men are friends with women in the same way. I think it’s changing (I hope it is!) and there are always exceptions (I have a lot of male friends), but certainly in the past men were often not comfortable being friends with women because of the potential problem of sex (if he wanted it and she didn’t, or he didn’t and she did, etc.). In the past — and in current films — women existed only as sex and not as people (<– feminism: the radical notion that women are people). I kind of hope that the very boring trend of “father” centered films is a last gasp of that mind set. Maybe we can move beyond the pervasiveness of the old boy network.

But even if they’re not deliberate or insidious, the effects are. I often tell people about my moment at a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Status of Women at the Harvard Medical and Dental Schools, seated at a conference table in Countway Library when our chair asked, “How can we make the atmosphere more welcoming to women?” I looked around the dark paneled room, where we were surrounded by oil paintings of the old patriarchs of the medical school and I just laughed.

What starts as friendship often ends in compromise: as a writer I’m thinking of anthologies filled with stories from drinking buddies even if they’re not particularly good. I also think of Comedy Central, where the old boy network reigns supreme, even with very untalented people — girls are okay if they’re pretty. It’s difficult to dismantle the system, because it springs from a good thing, friendship. But dismantle it, we must.

C’mon — let’s all be friends!