Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Out of Context

A few days ago, I called up my mom to ask what we were supposed to wear for Thanksgiving. Usually my grandma has us wear a particular color, if only to look good in family photos. Almost always is that color red, but we're not exactly sticklers for tradition in my family (some of the time).

"Well," my mom said. "The theme this year is Moroccan, so I guess you could wear something red. Or brown."

"Oh," I said. I began to think about what I could wear. I have a brown sweater, and I guess since it's Thanksgiving, I could wear my TA-ing chinos and look kinda semi-formal.

"Tita Telly is bringing costumes for the girls, so just wear something in the theme," she said.

It took me a whole day to realize that my family what "the theme this year is Moroccan" actually meant: we were taking a holiday -- which by definition already have themes -- and doing something that had absolutely no relationship to what that holiday is about. In other words, my family was about to commit (and I mean that in the "perpetrate" sense) a non-sequitur of the most illogical order. What did it matter if I wore red or brown or chinos or jeans or shorts? We were commemorating a meal between Pilgrims and natives by dressing up like belly dancers.

Oh and yes, there's nothing like Filipinos doing their best impression of "the oriental". My aunt from Vegas made up costumes for other aunts and my girl cousins that involved some sort of jangly waistband thingy and what I can only call a "forehead necklace" and my mom made "turbans" (think Lawrence of Arabia, but in flashy colors) for the guys in the family. Even my grandparents got into this stuff -- my grandma was all color coordinated in blues, jangly waist thingy included. And even my teenage girl cousins went for it (though one wore her jangly thing with pleather pants).

Of course, I was too cool for school and just gave my mom funny looks when she tried to put my "turban" on me. My brothers and my stepdad were wearing theirs all up through dinner, and so eventually I decided to put mine on. "Just for the pictures," I told myself. And since I didn't really figure out how to put it on because I was running away from my mom, I ended up looking like a cross between a pirate, Aladdin, and a Catholic Cardinal. In other words, totally sweet.

Later in the night, my brother commented that "this was the shortest Thanksgiving ever! We spent more time setting up than eating." And it was true: we took the entire day to put up streamers in the living room to make the dinner table look like a "bazaar", an undertaking that involved nearly 200 yards of monofilament fishing line from my uncle's deep-sea fishing pole, endless duct tape, and lots of up and down on short ladders, with the requisite straining to reach up that short ladders entail. To top it off, none of our food was "Moroccan" -- it was just Thanksviging food. Of course, calling my family on any of these discrepencies would elicit some strange justification that, if it were me (I'd assume at least), I'd be told I was being lazy: "oh, do you really want couscous for Thanksgiving?"

So once we sat down to eat and then took our family picture, I realized that I must be genetically-programmed to be random and to be absolutely unapologetic for it. My family might be all observant Catholics, and we might have all the similar oddities that Filipino families share, but I think that every person comes to the realization when they watch a video of their mother dancing with the dancers on a riverboat tour, and hearing your grandpa and uncle sing karaoke just as off-key (and just as dramatically bad), that being cut from the same cloth means that deep down in your bones, you've inherited this stuff in the blood.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Planes Are Made For Sleeping, Not Classes

Good news (for now!) My Summer course was approved, and so pending various approval steps and enrollment, I'll be teaching "Social Change, Democracy, and Dictatorship", meaning (1) I'll have to put together a syllabus (which works out doubly-nice since I need sample syllabi for my teaching portfolio) and (2) I'll be making money, which means I'll be able to eat this Summer. Though, if I end up blowing my savings on just trying to get to Brazil this June, who knows if there'll be enough of me left to feed.

Of course, all of this means I'm going to have to essentially condense a semester's worth of material into two months, spread out over three, 3-hour classes a week (or five, 1-and-a-half hour classes, or whatever bad math you can come up). In any case, it'll be all democracy, all the time for me and at least 10 students. Hopefully there'll be some inspiring and motivating going on.


I'm in Houston, getting some use out of the $8 I paid for internet access for the day up on Detroit. After not having slept at all Monday night, and hardly sleeping at all last night, I've been sleeping on my flights. As is typical of me and moving vehicles which I'm not driving, as soon as I sit down -- and as soon as I figure out that no one will have to cross over me to get to their seat -- I'm out like a light, or whatever metaphor about falling asleep quickly you'd like to use. I think I might stay awake for this last leg, if only to be able to sleep at a reasonable hour when I get to San Dimas, though I wouldn't bet on it, or take the points.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Oslec is an annoying person, but a good TA" and Other Things People Say to Me

The past few days, I've come across some good leads on a couple things that might keep me off the street next Fall. The first is a visiting assistant professorship at Roger Williams University here in RI in comparative-historical sociology; and the second is a teaching-oriented, two-year postdoc at Grinnell College in Iowa. There's also a longshot (and I mean looooongshot): a tenure-track comp-hist position at Duke, but without pubs and not much to show on my diss, this one looks like it's very much out of my reach.

So, I've been researching a bit about those prospects, working on some cover letters and trying to piece together a teaching portfolio. I looked over my evals from my past few classes, and as usual, some people loved me, some people thought "[I was] an annoying person, but a good TA" and others just didn't like me. I was feeling pretty down yesterday, but our former department chair happened to be around when I was kvetching and calmed me down a bit. He said, "the only things that matter are faculty evaluations anyway," which was kinda helpful, but I did think about a billion ways to improve myself. I e-mailed my friend Brian at U of Florida and he talked me off the ledge, and really, a couple bad reviews do not the scholar break.

Still, I started plunking away at a sample syllabus for a summer course I proposed (probably not gonna get it), and I wanted to take a look at a course I took at Conn many moons ago that Prof. Gay had taught. So I e-mailed him, went to bed, and this morning he wrote back:

What the [expletive deleted] are you doing up at 1am? Get some sleep!

Well, he wrote more, but that was the best part.

Today, I tried to find something to keep me off the streets this Summer, and looked into adjuncting at RISD. I e-mailed a contact my friend Jen had in their History, Philosophy and Social Sciences department, but they're all full for this Summer. They said they'd keep my e-mail "on file", though, so that's sort of all right. Still, without really knowing if I'm going to get that Summer course I proposed, I need to either make money or plan to be in the Philippines or Pacifica this Summer.

After all that, I feel all right. I feel like I'm moving along, despite not having anything truly tangible, and a bit tougher after being rejected a few times -- and in a few different ways. Bob, after telling me I need to go to bed, said that it's par for the course to be a visiting prof for a couple years now before you "really" go on the market, which in a way means that I'd be disadvantaged going on the market now, since I'd be competing with a bunch of people who've incubated as visiting profs somewhere. Of course, it's also par for the course for no one to tell me that it's not always a straight path from PhD to tenure-track position. Ahhhh confidence.

* I eat bad idioms for breakfast, and write them for dinner.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Write MOAR

A few months ago, I happened upon a yard sale around the corner from our place. I got there just as they were closing up, so everything was going for free -- clothes, kitchen shit, board games, etc. Of particular interest to me were a collection of early to mid-90s alt rock (I took both Gin Blossoms cassettes) and a kind of crappy usb keyboard.

As soon as I got home, I put in New Miserable Experience and cleaned and plugged in the keyboard. Part of my excitement was that now I had something to type my dissertation on. Well, I mean something that look more officially "established" than squatting over my laptop over a coffee table in Venezuela or hiding out in my room in Ecuador, hoping that the lightning won't fry anything. I got so excited over the prospect of this new apparatus that I made Andrew drive me to Staples so I could buy a mouse.

Of course, since I've been using a laptop for the past ten years of my life, getting my wrists to remember to use a separate keyboard and finding and using the mouse (it's cordless, so it runs and hides from me) are a task unto themselves. I'm currently debating whether or not I'm going to give myself carpal tunnel from the position of the keyboard and the mouse on the tiny sliding keyboard table in my desk. Then my mind wanders to college and I realize I did have a keyboard, but I used it nearly as much (never).

So fast forward a few months and here I am, half-typing my dissertation on not-so-new keyboard. Admittedly, it's still slightly more "official" and slightly more motivating than typing on my laptop, and I need whatever extra pushes I can get at this point. I'm not yet at the point where I'd welcome a healthy shove off a cliff, but I could use some dangling over the precipice.

Now, the reason why I've somehow convinced myself that writing yet another egotistical blog post is that I need to get the cobwebs out of my writing machine (read: "me"), and since I really don't care too too much about what ya'll think (actually, I care a lot), I'll just write like the middle-class person I am without having to be the middle-class person trying to be some other class in my dissertation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Old Red Shirt

I got rid of all but 8 or so t-shirts before I left for the Philippines two years ago, and over the course of the next few months of fieldwork, I picked up a couple more. T-shirt wear in the field is an art, I submit -- it requires some sensitivity to the state of irony in the country you're in, as well as some attention to important shit, like politics. For example, my "Middle Class" t-shirt worked pretty well in the Philippines, mostly because people speak English and that, after awhile, I wore it out of tiredness of my topic. I wore it again in Ecuador a few times, too, but only when I was out in La Mariscal -- of course with the hope that some gringa would think it was funny. Sadly, no one really found it that funny.

All of this rumination and reminiscing is because I unearthed my one red t-shirt. My cousins gave it to me many years ago as a Christmas present, and it's been a pretty faithful t-shirt -- ya know, covering my torso, exposing my arms, etc. But the reason why I "unearthed" it is because I chose not to wear it while I was in Venezuela. My Venezuelan host family insisted that wearing red would be akin to "talking about politics", which you shouldn't do in public. Though I did meet quite a few people who had no qualms about talking about politics in public, I wasn't going to draw attention to myself for no reason. And of all the things my family told me about Caracas -- don't go out with a watch, don't go out with money, etc. -- the one I really followed was not to wear red in public, lest I be thought of as a Chavista.

But strangely, I hadn't worn it until now. What can I say? I look like a socialist, but I'm a crass middle class intellectual. Oh the troubles of the armchair intellectual.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Filipino Food: Keeping Captives Alive Everywhere

I'm looking for a link, but this morning I was awakened by the dulcet tones of BBC World Service, analyzing the recent capture of a Saudi oil tanker by Somali pirates. While interesting in and of itself, the analyst noted that these pirates employ (in the "use" sense, since I can't clearly remember if they were captured or paid) Filipino cooks to make food for captives. One would assume that they feed them Filipino food, meaning that if anything, if you're a-hankerin' for some adobo, just get yourself on a tanker heading past Eyl.

In other news, while I've caught up with grading, I've also caught the wrath of my diss adviser who pressed me for "actual chapters". And with that, we're really writing the dissertation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

So Slow, So Not Steady

I've reached "that" point in my life where I feel guilty for writing on the ol' blog when I should be writing my dissertation. At least I've got a nifty title for my Philippines chapter, but that should have been done about a month ago. Instead, I've got half an intro and half a theory chapter, which I guess isn't too too bad, but far behind my more optimistic setup for the sem.

Otherwise though, I got through a big hump last week for the class I'm TAing -- had to do up 50 or so research proposals and hand them back. I felt so motivated correcting papers, I just kept correcting through the weekend and realized what it was that grad students should do: not have fun, so they can have peace of mind. But who am I kidding?

But another thing sort of laming out this blog has been facebook's "share a link" thingy, which makes posting shit up for all to see so lazily fast that, well, I just abuse it. But, I abused it only because there was news to abuse it with: the leadup to the election was sweet, with all the Obama news. But now, I'm just posting links to Slate, which is what I did here anyway. I figure that commenting on the blog about the posts makes me "a better writer" -- in quotes, since you can see how stream-of-consciousness all this crudupucularness is.

So, let me make a promise: I'm going to find something worth doing a Video Fix on, and I'll do a Video Fix for ya'll. I figure that lets me be a different kind of awesome.