They grow culture in a petri dish.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Man (and Me!) Overboard

In an effort to de-funkify my current mood, I turned to two of my time-tested favorites: weepy movie and the pool.

Yesterday, I was "lucky" enough to run across Message in a Bottle, a 1999 Nicholas Sparks adaptation. In this movie, Robin Wright Penn finds these letters in these bottles and falls in love with the author. She then tries to find this author (she's a reporter, y'see), and it turns out that Kevin Costner has been writing letters to his dead wife who he still loves. Gets you right in the heart, eh? Welllll...not so much. I'm not that big of a Costner fan, and this isn't my favorite genre, either. He and Wright Penn make an ok couple—at least the scenes that they're in are appropriately hot. But something felt "off" about their romance, and I couldn't put my finger on it until he dove into the ocean to save this one woman while she was busy drowning, and he didn't have a lifejacket on. Honey (I'd tell Robin Wright Penn) don't ever fall in love with somebody's not goin' t'wear a lifejacket. So, yeah, he died.

After the movie finished, I wasn't appropriately waterlogged (myself) so I decided to go for a swim. I was about 8 laps into my swim when people started coming to the pool. Why the hell do people come to a pool when someone is already there? And exercising, no less? Since I'm definitely not "10"-worthy, I think I must be some sort of pool messiah ("Come to Violet! Come to the pool!). Anyway, the first two people to get there were these two guys who were conducting the most rambunctious game of catch possible for their early 20s demographic. The next two people (thank God!) were chicks who only came for the sun. But, yeah, I had to swim around the rowdy guys which, I must say, doesn't make the messiah happy. At least I didn't try to flirt with them and then pee in the pool. Ahem.

What about my mood? It got a little better; at least I got to redirect my energy to people who deserve to die (Kevin Costner) and people who just want to play a little catch in my kingdom.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Cure for Pain
(I had a splitting headache all day and haven't been able to think properly. So forgive me if this entry comes off as unfocused or unfunny.)

Today, I read an article in The Week (reprinted from National Geographic Adventure) which discussed an alternative psychological healing process in which Peruvian shamans administer Ayahuasca, a chemical mixture containing the hallucinogen DMT, to address a variety of psychological problems. UCLA professor Chalres Grob is studying the effects of the mixture and has found that Ayahuasca "seems to give users a greater sensitivity to serotonin—one of the mood-regulating chemicals produced by the body—by increasing the number os serotonin receptors on nerve cells" (40). Grob further indicates that this mixture could be more effective than American antidipressants because they "create such high levels of serotonin that cells may actually compensate by losing many of their serotonin receptors" (40). What's more, the shamans give you a whole ceremony with the drug—a real "face your demons" exorcism. Fascinating stuff.

I guess this article sparked my interest because I'm in one of those mental stages that could be described as "cranky" at best and "overwrought" (my mother's old term) at worst. When I hit this stage, as we all invariably do, I try to suss out what has caused it, but this can be tricky. At the point where I'm already pissy, everything that could be at issue gets piled into a mountain of causes so that I'm not sure I can pick a point of origin for a particular bad mood. My usual solutions? Depending on the behavior of others, they usually go in this order:

1. (preferred) Sleep a lot/read something completely unrelated to study.
2. Avoid people, especially people who may have inadvertently contributed to icky mood.
3. Call loved ones; avoid talking about problems but cherish them for being appropriately loving.
4. Try to exercise. At least get into the blessed sanctuary of healing that is any community pool.
5. Watch The Piano; bawl like a baby.
6. Bitch with sympathetic party in attempt to figure out/fix problems at issue.
7. (least preferred) Lash out at one or more parties who have inadvertently contributed to mood. Feel worse.

Fortunately, I don't typically self-medicate, though I may indeed be genetically gifted with certain addictive tendencies. And, at this point, this Peruvian cure is pretty much out of the question (lack of funds). What to do? At this point, I think I'll follow a strict GI Joe policy ("knowing is half the battle") and avoid avoidance. I'm Violet, and I'm freaking out. I don't know if my issue is in my serotonin or in my genes or in my interactions with others, but it's there. And I guess it's up to me to fix it.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

You're (Not) So Smart!

The last couple of days have been Busy—that's right, busy with a "B." Starting Thursday, I taught, went to a GSC meeting for LC, attended BWWC panels, volunteered for the conference, volunteered for the keynote, colored eggs with Andretta and Marlin, volunteered some more, attended more panels, and went to "Game Night" at Jennica's. I'm tired, yo? I'm guessing that this is what a professorship is like exept that colored eggs and kicking ass at Taboo! are probably not obligatory. Right now, I kind of feel like that massive brain blob from Startship Troopers except for one thing: Mensa.

Attending a conference is generally good for the brain. It helps kick-start one from the sluggishness of one's own scholarly work by showing—hey!—other people have ideas. Really fantastic ones! So I've been excited to see a few panels at the British Women Writers Conference, and I've been riding a little intellectual high from the experience as well. Then, last night, I met this friend of Jennica's from Mensa. During the course of playing Taboo!, we got to talking about Mensa. Apparently, there are a lot of ways to get into Mensa, but all of them include taking tests. Let me just say in Phoebe-from-Friends fashion that tests hate me. I missed being gifted by two points when I was a kid; I took the SATs twice and got a lower score the second time; my first GRE score wasn't high enough for my MA program (they let me in because I brought a fellowship); and the one time I remember taking an IQ test, I was in the double digits ( I can only hope this was an anomaly). But don't cry for me, gentle reader, I'm doing fine in my Ph.D. program.

Still: Mensa—what the hell? Why am I so jealous of people who get the official stamp of nerditude? Maybe because everybody wants to fit in somewhere, and I'm the kind of person who fits in just a little bit but everywhere. Jennica and Bartha the Mensan indicated that Mensa has its privileges among them being that it increases your "hot" factor. Case in point: Jennica said that, by Mensa standards, she's a "10." While I was considering this unexpected benefit, Bartha started a story about his former lover, who he referred to as "my former lover." That's really all I can tell you because I disengaged at "lover," mentally hyperventilating at the rare opportunity to sarcastically gut someone for the use of this term but trying to maintain a sense of decorum with someone I'd just met. At that moment, I realized where I stand mentally and socially, a fact that I don't need a test to confirm: my with the smartasses.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Alternative Employment Opportunities Available
(i.e., Let's Talk about a Federal Sex Program)

Two events coincided the other day which made me think about inventive employment initiatives, just what America needs to strengthen our economy. First, a UPS guy came to deliver a package that I'd ordered, and, second, I wore this cute pair of pink shoes which make my feet bleed.

The UPS delivery made me think fondly back to my one patriotic offering to this country: the Federal Sex Program, and this is where I'll begin. Have you ever had a job which you hated and which made you think, "I could do so much better than this. Or, at least, I could have a less demanding job?" Well, that's where my Federal sex initiative comes in. Why not turn over a new leaf while turning a trick? The beauty of the Federal Sex Program is that a) we, the People, get laid regularly and b) we might get paid for it. It's kind of like an "Ameri- Corps." In bed.

I'll stop here. This isn't the first time I've vetted the Federal Sex Program, and, believe me, I've gotten a lot of negative feedback (oddly, none of it on "moral grounds"). So, I've kept the FSP on the "down low," trying to work out the kinks by addressing previously-voiced drawbacks. Now, I think I've hit on a solution which I call "Sex on the Side." Two of the FSP's biggest concerns were that people might not want to turn tricks all day, and they might not want to sleep with the people they were assigned to. "Sex on the Side" takes care of that. With SOTS, one could offer sex in addition to other services (kind of like a "fries with that?" upsell). That way, when the UPS guy comes to deliver a package, he can really...oh, it's just too easy. For the UPS guy, he gets a kickback from the government and the ability to shag on the job (without bothering his co-workers). As for me, I get some lovin' and a greater sense of patriotism. God Bless America! And the Federal Sex Program!

As for the other inventive economic initiative, I am so happy to see the shoe industry employing the nation's psychopaths as designers! What better way to channel time and energy that would otherwise be used shanking one's cellmate? In addition to my own gorgeous but bloody footwear, here are a few other hot items this season:

What happens when one failed muscian-turned-psycho-cult-leader teams with one of the world's most successful muscians? Shoe nirvana! This open-toed wedge comes courtesy of Charles Manson for CARLOS by Carlos Santana. It boasts a colorful front strap crafted with cut-and-rub technology (sharp-edged unlined nubbed plastic) and an ineffective heel strap lined with satin and vaseline. In addition, leg ribbons made from spaghetti squash attract only the most vicious and hungry doberman pincers.

Second, this heeled pump is the first and only design of former inmate, serial killer, and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer for Steve Madden. Sharp inside and out, the black leather pump sports an inverted knife in the footbed which slices away pesky digits with razor precision. Always wanted a more narrow foot? Your solution is here! The clear stilletto heel is likewise carefully crafted...from a single stale gummy worm. Don't let a rainy day catch you in these beauties unless you're looking for the most broken of ankles! Thanks Steve. Thanks Jeff!

Finally, a strappy sandal with a sexy look and the means to keep it in place! Aileen Wurnos for Chinese Laundry gives us a miracle—adhesive lotion made from the same chemical compound as Superglue. Just apply it to the footbed as you pull on this gem. Keep this sandle in place? Try to rip it off my foot! Cloth-covered steel cables combine the allure of scarlet with hundreds of tacklike barred teeth which sink firmly in your flesh. To remove the shoe, simply pour on the patented acidwash which releases the footbed adhesive and "unclogs" your tired, nailheaded flesh making you forget that these shoes ever hurt while they were on. Pure genius!

Take heart alternative jobseeker! You know what they always say: when one door closes, a window from which you can defenestrate opens.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hard Times for Clay Achin'

I was catching up with Andretta the other day and mentioned the whole Clay Aiken to-do which she hadn't yet heard about. The story, reported in the New York Post holds that nine of Clay's (former) fans are suing his record label, alleging that they were misled by his "well-crafted public image" which led them to believe that he was "virginal" or "asexual." Turns out former Green Beret John Paulus alleged that he had sex with Aiken and these allegations have apparently caused RCA to put the release of his upcoming album on hold.

Wow. That's a lot to unpack, and I'm not sure where to start. What the hell, I'll take a stab at the "virginal" or "asexual" portion. Point one: temporality. Not to diss anyone's sexual choices but I'm not sure a) how one can be attracted to a "virginal" or "asexual" icon or b) how one could expect this image to last in perpetuity. Remember "Virgin" Britney? Yeah, me neither. Note to abstinence-only bandwagon riders: abstinence ends someday. Unless, that is, you put bars on the wagon (chastitybelt).

Point two: gaydar. My guess is that these fans don't possess it. Then again, these fans may, indeed, have no gay friends whatsoever, which is probably why they filed a lawsuit. I can't imagine that this debacle arose from a particularly virulent strain of cataloging specificity: "Dammit, I can't put Clay Aiken in with Erasure and the Village People! He belongs in the Charlotte Church section." The lawsuit probably started out something like "Omigod! I like a gay person! Does...not...compute. Uhhh...lawsuit!" For future reference: when Cathy Griffin queers up your fave singer's moniker (i.e., "Gaiken"), it's for a reason.

Point three: history. People have been "misled" by actors' and singers' images for years, mostly because most audiences (and I'm talking to the Aike-traitors here) are homophobic. Rock Hudson and Liberace are only the icing on this tall and glorious multi-tiered entertainment layer cake. And, to the best of my knowledge, nobody sued them.

Point four: truth in advertising. In their objection to Aiken's image, these fans noted that "...much of the promotion behind any product is a well-crafted public image. For the recording industry it is not just about the music or the CD, but creating an image around the artist. They accomplish this through music videos and carefully managed media interviews and appearances." Yes, yes, I agree. Performing is about "performance" and relies on the successful realization of a character. Your point? "We are looking to the Federal Trade Commission to see whether these companies that represent and promote their artists in a false and deceptive manner will be held accountable." Wha-ha!?! Following this reasoning, I'd have to insist that my favorite rappers are actually gangsters and that Madonna keeps her ass out on the dance floor instead of at home with the kids. And that can't be healthy.

While I'm no fan of Aiken's music—I consider myself the ACLU of sound—I do sympathize with his place in this situation. By playing it straight, and being called out, he's scared the straights. What they don't know, though, is that much of "straightness" itself is indebted to gay culture (as much as, one might argue, "gayness" is indebted to straight culture). I say let the man be. He wasn't trying to rock your world to begin with; he was just trying to be invisible.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

All Sarah, All the Time

Awhile back, Piper was nice enough to buy me Sarah Vowell's Partly Cloudy Patriot, which is a humorous short essay collection in the vein of Davids Sedaris and Rackoff. Then, during her new work training, she passed on the CD reading of Vowell's Assassination Vacation. Since I'm slow to try new things and busy as hell, I put off reading and/or listening to them. Until, that is, I came back from my Atlanta conference.

During that five hour return trip, I had more than enough time to get through most of the Assassination Vacation CDs (released in 2005). In this collection, she traces the assassinations of presidents Lincoln, McKinley, and Garfield through "death tourism." As Vowell tours former houses, inns, prisons, and theaters of note, she gives her own creative rendition of how these assassinations went down with special emphasis of how we remember (or forget) them today. Along the way, we get to learn about the creation of the Lincoln legacy, the Oneida Community that Charles Guiteau belonged to, and the Anarchist movement that Leon Czolgosz so desperately wanted to join. As if her engaging prose and her lineup of guest voices including John Stewart and Catherine Keener weren't enough, Sarah's got a voice that's distinctive—pert, perhaps. If a voice can be pert. After I finished listening to these CDs, I was hooked.

Working backward, I read the 2002 release The Partly Cloudy Patriot. In it, Vowell talks a bit more about her childhood and propensity to question accepted "truths." Even so, as she ranges through different topics, you can visualize her working toward a more cohesive text that will be Assassination Vacation. While she discusses her dad teaching her to shoot a gun, people's propensity to co-opt Rosa Parks's legacy, and the fact that Tom Cruise is creepy (he is, isn't he?), she also includes a good deal of travel narrative as well. Here's the part that made me fall in love with her writing:
I was enjoying a chocolatey caffe mocha when it occurred to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the captialist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle's Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top. No wonder it costs so much.

Finally, Take the Cannoli (2000) presents a much more personal tone than the one she evolves into. This book provides a foundational story for "Sarah" such that she writes her way through self-doubt, underemployment, and the expectations of others. In this respect, her writing here is much closer to David Sedaris's work and less invested in Americana (but completely worthwhile nonetheless).

While I'm still reading backwards (I've Radio On left to read), I can only express my continued enthusiasm for Sara Vowell. All Sarah, I say. All the time!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

They're Spring-Breakdance Fighting (Part II)

Epic battle: Me. Against the Yard. I don't know why I decided to do it, but I started in on some much-needed yardwork for the 'rents while I was visiting for the break. Most of their downed limbs from last year's hurricane season are still sitting where they fell, and massive tree-pollen balls are rolling around snowdrift-style banks of dead leaves. Unacceptable.

I think I actually do look at disarray (be it yard- or home-related) as a personal affront. And cleaning is my martial art. In fact, I had this same giddy pre-cleaning feeling earlier this year when I helped clean out my grandmother's old apartment. I got to take down the "craft room" which boasted literally decades of unfinised crafts. Two days: no prisoners. Because of my unusual housekeeping skillz, I often wonder what I would have been like if I had lived during the '50s. Would I have been perfectly happy in a domestic arena even when other women weren't? Who knows? Then again, I tend to view my cleaning jones as an OCD issue more than a "uterine" one.

Anyway, I'd only been in town about a day when I decided to attack. The thing about the "stealth-clean" is that it has to be stealthy, so I waited for my dad to leave before I got started. Sadly, though, when he left, he took the key to the tool shed with him. Even so, I was lucky enough to find a rake (sans tines), a broom, and dark-hued garbage bags that I can only suspect were woven together out of recycled rice paper by Austrian nuns. Nevertheless, after a bag or two, I got into a good system: I filled the bag halfway with leaves, broke the branches down, and stuck the twigs in vertically to avoid punctures. When the bag was sufficiently full of twigs, I'd fill the rest of the bag with leaves. Yeah, I know what you're thinking—I should probably patent this cherry bag-management system. But I'm altruistic, man; you can have it for free.

After about a few bags, I got tired of bending over to pick up the branches, so I sat down. The sun was hot on my back and the front perimeter outside cat, who I've chosen to call "Carmine, the Big Ragu," came over and laid down next to me. What started out as strenuous lawn work quickly devolved into a wonderful and inspiring afternoon of lawn improvement, even if I proved a disconcerting picture of lawnkeeping gone inefficient. Maybe the gods were smiling on me. Or maybe it was just the endorphins. All I know is that I've never seen lawn care professionals lolling around serenely in other people's yards, but I'd recommend it.

Four hours later, my dad made it home and rewarded me with his own unique downbeat brand of "dad surprise"—"Looks like somebody's been doing some yard work. Good job." Good, yes. For now. What he can't know is that my foray into his yard is my version of a "throw down." It's not just work, it's war. And, mark my words, I will emerge victorious!

Friday, March 17, 2006

They're Spring-Breakdance Fighting (Part I)

Well, it's Spring Break time again, and, for those of us who are strapped for cash (and I mean "me" here), a good option was to go to Orlando. I'd missed dinner with my brother Jake by coming a day late, but this lateness also garnered me an invitation to Thursday karaoke with him and his friends. Said karaoke took place at a dive bar called "Big Daddy's," an establishment on Corrine and Old Winter Park Roads that I'd never visited before. Big Daddy's had all a karaoke experience really needs—music, microphones, a DJ, booze. And one hulking flesh-wall of biker.

I arrived about a half-hour after the festivities started and was a little tardy getting in my first request as well. When we karaoke here in G'ville, we usually rent a room, so the prospect of singing in front of people I didn't know was a little scary. See, I wanted to choose an appropriate song. For my first number, I sang Pat Benitar's "We Belong," which wasn't half bad. What I lack in stage presence, I make up for in pipes. That said, I got a good response.

Then came the waiting. Jake said that the karaoke crowd was usually pretty moderate, but, that night, it was large. Trying to make small-talk with Jake and his girlfriend Kinya's friends was a challenge I hadn't anticipated. At first, I thought we had a generation gap issue, but then it occurred to me that I've been in academia too long. My approach to a social situation, especially a new one, finds me trying out my best "material" on a new crowd. Maybe it's my nervousness. At any rate, on this crowd, I fell flat. During a duet in which two ladies exoriate the two-timing man they share, I opined that "that's a lovely song—I'd like to have it sung at my wedding." Nothing. Then, during a rendition of Oasis's "Champage Supernova," I wrote "suicide pact?" on the back of a slip of paper and passed it over to one of the guys. He read it, and gave me a puzzled "I don't know" look. I tried another person. Blank shrug. Then another. Same. No one "got it" (except, of course, Jake).

Finally, it occurred to me that the problem with my joke was one of semantics. It dawned on me that these twentysomethings don't know what the word "pact" means. I...was...horrified. I went from being a relaxed spring-breaker to the neurotic nerd I usually am. Then, I almost started hyperventilating at the thought that this bar, and probably every bar in existance, is probably bereft of dictionary. How do people live!?!

Of course, this brief scenario made me think about my recent readings in Puritan and Indian culture clashes in colonial America. In my own culture clash, I'm certainly the "Puritan" of the Old World, trying to fit in but misreading and misnavigating native rituals. Plus, I'm the one with the outrageous ideas that have no bearing on the rhythms of "natural" life, preferring to clear the conversational "how you doing?" fields to plant the single cash crops of wit and language play. I've got your "pact" right here. You have no idea what it means, but it'll kill us both.

I got to sing again—Janis Joplin's "Take Another Piece of My Heart"—which also went well. But the big show-stopper of the night was a hit song from Rent— "Seasons of Love," maybe. At any rate, the song goes on about how the five hundred twenty-four thousand six hundred minutes of life are measured in love. It's a fine song, don't get me wrong. And the whole bar was into it, as if we were all attending the same kindergarten class reunion. But I was having a problem going "all in" on a song a) with people I'd only spent about 350 of those minutes with and b) based on the idea that life is measured in love. Maybe the song is right; maybe we measure our lives in love. But it's safe to say that different people love different things. Personally, my heart is in my head. You can take another piece of my heart, it's true. But, in order to do so, you're going to have to use some fantastic, beautiful words.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Geeks Get the Prizes, the Hot Guys Get the Girls

As I was talking with Piper last night, she congratulated me on "my guy's" having won. For a minute, I was stumped. Did she mean "my guy" Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won the Best Actor award at this year's Oscars? Or did she mean "my guy" Josh from Beauty and the Geek who won the $250,000 prize (or, more specifically, split it with his partner)? Turns out she was referring to Josh. I'm equally happy for both of my fake boyfriends, as both of them seem to be at the top of their games. Philip Seymour Hoffman was so good in Capote that I wasn't even attracted to him, which is my way of saying that he's quite an actor. Josh's biggest feats on BATG involved getting into a hot tub with beautiful women and throwing the biggest geek-run party in Vegas. Not too shabby, considering he's got some kind of anxiety disorder and carries a man bag, or, as he refers to it, a "murse." Josh writes museum reviews for a national college magazine, and he graduated from the American Film Institute with a degree in filmmaking. And I'm totally in love with him. He's got that "Woody Allen" continual speaking tic which is so adorable and which I could easily stifle by putting parts of my body into his mouth. Sigh.

And, speaking of fake boyfriends, I finally watched Ryan Reynolds' Just Friends which wasn't too bad. If you've seen the trailers, you pretty much know the plot - Ryan and Amy Smart are "just friends" in high school, apparently because he's too fat for her to date. He comes back to New Jersey by freak coincidence and meets up with his old crush. Let me just say that this movie pisses me off because it really could have been better (unlike his other recent movie, Waiting, which was horrid). Stephen Root plays Ryan's boss to hilarous effect as does Julie Hagerty as his mom. While they set the bar in nuance, the rest of the cast—Anna Faris as the Britney-esque pop-star and Chris Klein as Reynolds' romantic rival—bland it up in comparison. Ryan's fine here; he fleshes out his character a bit, but doesn't really make me believe that 1) he was ever psychologically affected by being fat or 2) that Los Angeles and New Jersey have differences other than climatic ones.

Why's this important? He's actually hot as the "fat" Chris who is sweet and incredibly funny. But, apart from one line in which Chris's friend maintains that Amy Smart's character has "matured," the the movie seems to indicate that Chris and Jamie get together because the hot guy automatically gets the girl. But, for me, the "hot" Chris just isn't compelling, perhaps because he doesn't have to work as hard for attention. So, I guess if it came down to a cage match between "hot guys" and "geeks" (would that it did!), I'd have to root for the geeks.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Fashion Sense/Fashion Nonsense

Because I'm the fashion fan (albeit a lazy one) that I am, I had to watch the Oscar fashion wrap shows. First, I stopped by Entertainment Tonight. They cycled through a good number of red carpet offerings and ended with their "Best Dressed" list, courtesy of resident fashion critic, Steven Cojocaru (aka, "Cojo"). As he ran down his list, Cojocaru's number three happily coincided with my number one, Jada Pinkett Smith. Man, I thought, I sure can pick 'em! But, as it turns out, Cojo labeled Charlize Theron as his "Best Dressed" choice, quickly making me reconsider our newly-found affinity. Though he justified his choice using words like "couture," "daring," and "better in person," I'd have to counter with "scary," "pouffy," and "I saw it while sitting on my couch." I mean, I can't afford extended cable much less a trip across the country to oogle celebrity gowns; I'm reviewing fashion shows on network and basic, yo?

Moving on to Access Hollywood, I matched up with some of their choices as well. On the red carpet Lisa Rinna recognized Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith as "Best Dressed Couple," only to ruin her own judgment integrity by "ditto-ing," Jessica Alba and her date as "BDC." Liar-liars Lisa and Access co-host Nancy O'Dell untimately picked Keira Knightley as their "Best Dressed," a viable choice, in my opinion.

Last, but not least, the TV Guide Channel featured Fashion Wrap hosted by fashion gadlies Joan and Melissa Rivers. With the help of guest critics Michael Moloney from TV's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and fab comedian Greg Proops, Rivers and Rivers-ier gave us their signature bitchy and pointed fashion criticism. Though I can appreciate their schtik, it's not the most enjoyable show in town. Joan says whatever she wants (which is supposed to be humorous) and Melissa tactfully mops appology behind her. Still, you can't help feeling that, at some point in her younger years, Joan passed a funnier, sassier egg than Melissa, but that that chick couldn't find a dance partner. If you know what I mean. For comic relief? Enter Greg Proops. His gems included "It's very 'Umberto Eco'—The Name of the Rose" and "I like a little more drama; I would have air-lifted Sally Kellerman in." When it came to fashion superlatives, the Rivers family rained kudos onto Will and Jada, dubbing them (again!) "BDC," and they complimented the fashion stylings of Uma Thurman, Ludacris, and George Clooney. In the wrap-up, they passed "Worst Dressed" honors to Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts. Surprisingly, their "Best Dressed" included votes for Jessica Alba (who everybody said looked like a "living Oscar"), Meryl Streep, and...Charlize Theron. Ok, ok, I get it: the dress looked better in person. But I'm not willing to celebrate a gown that photographs like your shoulder is doubling as a headrest and your crotch is on fabric lockdown. That's my fashion report. You stay classy, Hollywood.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Working, after a Fashion

Sigh! It's hard to be a successful career woman, working in your chosen profession while trying to maintain the proper persona, a mixture of competence, intelligence, grace, and—at times—style. But it helps to have a personal beautification staff. If the 2006 Academy Awards teach us anything, they show that 1) sometimes parties are part of your profession and 2) it behooves one to dress appropriately.

When I think of actresses and clothing, I like to think that the logic behind their wardrobe choices isn't that different from my own. Actresses perform and must modify their clothing for the needs of a certain role. I teach, and, though I reprise roughly the same role each semester, I judiciously choose clothing which will, for instance, deter students from offering to loan me their Incubus CD collections. What's more, when actresses aren't acting, they slouch around in ill-fitting (but, I'm guessing, highly expensive) jeans, t-shirts, peasant skirts, and sneakers (hey, I've seen The Enquirer). Similarly, when I'm not teaching, I work around the apartment in fairly inexpensive versions of the same thing—t-shirts, shorts, or, at times, (yes) a nightshirt.

But sometimes, I and my actress friends get dolled-up for the work-related awards show or conference, and here's where our similarities (seemingly) end. At the 2006 Academy Awards, I saw lots of glamour and have also seen the phrase "Old Hollywood" bandied about in the press. And, of course, this description is culled mainly from the clothing choices of actresses, a useful throwback phrase denoting gender. As actors (i.e., men) walk the carpet, we see minute variations on the same suit/tuxedo theme. In fact, unless you're Johnny Depp or Tim Burton, a guy might as well be a fashion-plate-style removable head on bland, interchangeable suit. On the other hand, actresses vary wildly in style and have more to lose, namely, boob integrity. Though part of me bemoans the greater pressure on actresses to impress us with their sartorial savior faire, another part of me relishes the ceremonial showing of the gowns. Bring on the gowns, I say! Show me the gowns! My vote for this year's "best dressed"? I'm going with Jada Pinkett Smith in Roberto Cavalli (though I'd "runner-up" the gorgeous choices worn by Salma Hayek, Jennifer Aniston, and Ziyi Zhang). What cinched this particular dress for me isn't so much the color or the cut but that Jada is wearing this dress, it isn't "wearing" her. Hot. Damn. She looks fantastic! This, my friends, is fashion.

As I dream over the allure of Hollywood clothing, I must confess that my academic realities may never match up. One would never use the words "glamour" or "Old Hollywood" to describe academic conference clothing; indeed, I can't think of one professional journal with a conference "photo" section celebrating academic fashion trendsetters ("Annette Kolodny looks stunning in Vera Wang!"). "But what's 'in' in academic fashion?," you insist. If you're at the 2006 Consortium on the Revolutionary Era, the women academics are wearing red and black. I, myself, paired a red cotton long-sleeved shirt by Mixit with black cotton and spandex trousers by Mossimo for the first day of panels. Though I initially felt silly in this outfit (as we were dangerously close to the University of Georgia whose school colors are red and black), I saw this outfit mirrored in many other academics who opted for red blouses or jackets and black pants or suits. I know, I know: riveting. But it just isn't the same for men. The male academics at the consortium were wearing what they always wear—greyblueblack-ish suits with the random bow tie. And, while some of the younger guys wore a royal blue tie here or a pink checked shirt there, we women were the ones left wading through the professional-fashion catastrophes of yesteryear. Yes, I saw shoulder pads; I saw open towed shoes; gauzy-flounced fabric appeared. Dear reader, these combinations made me sick. What the hell are we poor, fashion-challenged academics thinking?

In many ways, we're stuck between the multiple fashion paradigms of the liberal feminist 80s "look like a man" variety and the slut-teral "feminist" 00s "look like a hooker" sort. As evidence, I offer the white buttoned-down, black lace applique long-sleeved blouse from Torrid. Fashionista and academic unite in me to demand, "What the fuck?" Where the hell does one wear this item of clothing? Only the most tenure-track hating unemployment wannabe would wear it to the office, and only the most body-temperature-challenged post-menopausal club-hopping grandma would wear it "out." It is simultaneously sexy and prudish, and therein lies the academic's dilemma: what outfits look flattering but professional? The answer, of course, depends on current criteria. To adequately hunt down appropriate clothing, then, I believe that women academics deserve a fashion conference, departmental monies dedicated to fashion research, and/or government grants for wardrobe augmentation. It's cool—we'll share the bounty with our Ben-Matlock-ian counterparts and try to mix up men's fashion as well. I'm not asking that academics start contemplating the uses of double-sided tape or buy clothing that prompts them to ask, "Does this suit go 'see-through' when the light hits it?". Really, I'm just encouraging us to mix aesthetic good sense with our already practical dress...dare I say, challenging us to become fashionable?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Narrative of Harrowing Travels to Atlanta; or Beset by Conveyances on all Sides

Alone as I was on this asphalt pathway, yet had I directions to follow, sustenance, and assurances that I would be well-met at my destination's end. Indeed, my principal concerns were the conveyances girded round me, driven with the insistence that I proceed faster, ever faster. Their presence returned me to the dictates of Matthew, chapter 10, verse 12 "you should keep a cushion around your vehicle at all times so, as you drive defensively, you avoid accidents before they happen. Keep at least two seconds behind the car in front of you..."

Ok, this passage didn't come from the Bible, but, more appropriately, from my high school driving instructor Coach McPherson. But, if my experience serves as testimony, his advice endures through the ages. During the past few days, I drove to Atlanta for a conference and back. And, while this wasn't my first trip there, it was my first trip as driver/navigator of my own car, an achievement of which I'm pretty damn proud.

To my mind, one defining test of adulthood—a skill that sets "adult" apart from "adolescent" or "teen"—is the ability to successfully drive to a destination that you have not already visited. Now, you may deride my theory saying that maps tell us how to reach destinations. On the contrary, maps give us assistance in reaching destinations, but they can, by no means, reach this destination for us. For example, watching a sex scene in a movie does not render one a non-virgin—it only gives clues about sexual experiences. Actually reaching a destination involves effectively interpreting directions, managing traffic, and keeping calm. And here I'm referring to a geographical (not sexual) destination.

For my trip, I got directions from MapQuest, and these instructions indicated that driving time for my trip would be 5 hours, 3 minutes. "Kudos to MapQuest!," I thought initially. "They've got driving down to a science!" What I didn't realize is that "driving" time means just that—time that it takes to drive, not including "eating" or "bathroom break" time. As a result, anyone who views "driving" time as "total trip" time, is going to be sorely disappointed. Don't the folks at MapQuest know that most red-blooded American are going to look at "5 hours, 3 minutes" and say, "Bullshit—I can beat that"? That, for many of us, this estimation reads as a "throw-down"? Apparently not. Barring MapQuest's inclusion of leisurely lunches and bathroom breaks into this calculation, the only two groups who are going to be happy with this "driving time" estimation are anorexic speed freaks with urostomies and engineers.

That said, I was delighted with MapQuest's time/mile breakdown by road. This info let me know when I could "zone out" while driving and when I needed to watch for a road change. The trickiest part, of course, came once I hit Atlanta; I-75 opened up to 6 lanes, giving me almost too many variables to take in at once. At this point, my brain went into "anti-lock brake mode" where it cycled between "too much information" and "calm down—look for exit 248C." I calmed, I looked, and I exited at 248C. From there, I navigated a few turns to the hotel where I did a predictable "Robin Hood's barn" of left turns on one-way streets to reach said hotel's entrance.

Finally as I exited the car, having successfully reached a destination I had only previously envisioned in my mind, my enthusiasm was dampened by two things: physical exhaustion and the knowledge that, because of my eating and potty-breaks, I'd missed the keynote speaker.