Injured, Probably

This isn’t a real blog update, as I seem to have injured my knee somehow and the discomfort is making it hard to focus. I’m a runner, and I’ve been having some pain issues on and off with my knee. I didn’t think much of it, since I am prone to IT Band Syndrome and my running shoes were on their last tread. I’ve replaced my shoes and made a few other changes, taken some rest days, etc.

But on Friday, something must have gone quite wrong, and now I cannot bend my knee without a remarkable amount of pain. Something has pulled or strained in the back of my knee, and walking normally is impossible. I don’t think it’s the posterior cruciate ligament or anything quite that serious, as I didn’t have an acute incident or hear a “popping” sound at any point.

I am going to try to see a doc as soon as possible this week, so stay tuned until the next real blog post. May your week be injury-free, dear readers!

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The Simpsons Enter “The Town”

I realize it’s become pretty de rigueur to dismiss The Simpsons these days. I mean, even I, a die hard fan who remembers watching the very first episode way back in 1989, can admit that it’s not as strong as it used to be. Partially because almost nothing could ever compare to the near-perfection that is Seasons 2-6, or to the extreme greatness that is everything up to, say, Season 20. Now, in its 28th Season (that’s right, TWENTY EIGHT YEARS), The Simpsons, as Lisa once said about Itchy & Scratchy, simply can’t have the same impact it once had. This is especially true given the deaths of key cast members and the labor struggles amongst the core voice actors.

And yet, the show that competes only with The X-Files for 1st place in my personal TV pantheon, just put out what was perhaps its best episode in years, titled “The Town.” And with it came a phrase I hadn’t heard since childhood: “So don’t I!” Continue reading

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Election 2016 in Black & White

A funny thing has happened during this tumultuous dumpster fire of a United States election season: Black poets are getting play from the Republicans. That’s right, the Tump side of the Presidential race has been highlighting the work of a few Black writers, much to the chagrin of, well, most decent folk. The irony is that these writers have not been quoted by the likes of Donald Trump and Scott Baio because they want to share and promote the poetry of Black artists; rather, they are co-opting these words, stripping them of context and authorial identification, and presenting them as promotional speech for their own racist–or to be more charitable, nationalist–purposes.

  •  Trump likes to quote from the song “The Snake” by Oscar Brown, Jr. The Chicago Tribune linked here notes that Brown’s family has asked Trump not to quote his work but Trump hasn’t responded. The song retells a fable of a woman who helped a snake only to be bitten by it later. Candidate Trump likes to use this as a metaphor supporting his anti-refugee stance. Rather than a cautionary tale about being “wise as a serpent,” Trump seems to interpret the song as being applicable to traumatized Syrian children. Given Trump’s racist positions and race-baiting rally speeches, I’m not sure “ironic” is even a strong enough word to describe this situation.
  • At the Republican National Convention, Scott Baio paraphrased part of Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again.” I can’t add much more to Pajiba’s excellent analysis of the irony of Baio using this particular poem, but I’d like to discuss the other portion of the poem that undercuts the entire Republican platform as represented by Trump. Toward the end of the poem, the speaker says:

O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath– America will be!

So, after the speaker has thoroughly interrogated the typical American slogans and found them empty, he swears that though this is how America stands today, he will not be content to see it remain so. He swears that someday America will be America for him, and for others like him. It is a kernel of hope in an otherwise sardonic analysis. And this only adds to the irony of a group of people invoking Hughes’ poem to advocate for a return to a mythic America–the speaker in Hughes’ poem intends for the country itself to change, to move forward from the “America” that Trump and Baio and their ilk wish to see return. Hughes’ poem is not one of stasis, or even merely of complaint, but of possibility–however small.

  • On the more positive side of things, The New York Times celebrated the opening of the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture with a full page reprinting of Hughes’ “I, Too.” Langston Hughes is given his due here, with no paraphrasing, no editorializing, and in support of a project that he, no doubt, would support.

Despite the somewhat gloomy pall cast by this election season, examples such as these at least remind me–and thus, I remind my students–that the study of literature is never just an isolated activity. Texts never remain within the four walls of a classroom or office; they are vibrant, living entities that can crop up when you least expect them to, and they demand an informed response.

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What Do You Find Boring? podcast edition

I am an avid podcast listener. I have a number of subscriptions of my phone and separate set of subscriptions on my running iPod. They run the gamut of genres, from true crime (Casefile) to comedy (The Flop House) to sports (Garbage Time with Katie Nolan). But I was thinking this week about the podcasts I don’t listen to that everyone else seems to love–any of the This American Life type podcasts, other podcasts kind that do long form storytelling, or which examine tiny details of popular culture, etc. And I don’t listen to them because I find them boring. Like, really boring. But why? I couldn’t really articulate it, so I’ve been pondering the qualities of “boring.” Continue reading

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Research Grant News

Over the summer, I applied for the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) Grants for Researchers with Heavy Teaching Loads. I was honestly unsure of my chances with this grant, although I absolutely fit the criteria to a T, in my opinion. Well, dear readers, I was notified last week that I WON THE GRANT! This news has reinvigorated my research agenda and given me an academic self-esteem boost that I really needed.

With my book proposal currently under external review with a publisher, I haven’t moved too far forward on any of my planned upcoming research projects. If I were to consider my various plans, they could amount to nearly two or three books scheduled for the next several years! However, as a visiting appointment with a 4-4 load, I have very little support or opportunity to conduct sustained research or to travel for research. Enter the ASTR Grant.

The research proposal I submitted to ASTR is something I’ve wanted to get started on for a while. I came across the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA) during my dissertation research and haven’t had a chance to research them in any real depth. They were an activist organization in the 1970s dedicated to promoting women’s rights and were radical intersectional feminists before we even used that terminology. I know they had a theatre/performance wing, and put on plays, but there is no secondary research available about this. Fortunately, Smith College has their archives!

And so, my plan is to visit the archives at Smith and spend some time exploring the 7 boxes worth of material housed in the Sophia Smith Collection. I don’t know yet what I’ll find–I need to get in touch with the librarians and archivists there, of course–but I am excited about a new research adventure and the ASTR Grant has made this possible.

In the same collection are the archives of the Theatre of Light and Shadow, which was a women’s performance collective that I know nothing about; they just happen to have the entry above the TWWA in the list of finding aids at the Sophia Smith Collection website. There are 10 boxes of material related to this group, so I’m hoping I will have enough time to poke through some of those items, as well.

Given the already tight constraints of the fall semester, I am tentatively setting my research trip for spring break 2017. As it happens, the library with the collections will be closed next June through August for relocation, so a summer trip is right out. Once I have a little more time to plan and have gotten in touch with the library, I’ll have a better idea of what I’ll need to do and how long it will take. Either way, I am so happy to have this opportunity.

Imposter Syndrome is a real thing, hating even those of us who have degrees and employment in the field. I feel quite confident in my pedagogy on any given day, but I often feel shaky in my research. I know I have something to offer my field, and I enjoy the process of research and writing (sometimes, anyway!), but I am often plagued by self doubt and procrastination. Of course, these are intensely normal feelings, or so I am told. But they are still hard to shake. But winning a grant based on your own ideas and plans goes a long way to making you feel at least a bit more confident. And so here’s to the rest of the fall semester, with more confidence and less impostering!

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The Literal Kindness of Strangers

Over the Labor Day weekend, I was the recipient of some kindness from strangers. Unlike Blanche duBois, though, I never rely on the kindness of strangers. In fact, I avoid strangers as much as possible. Whether that’s a holdover from growing up in the “stranger danger” era of the 1980s, or due to my general introverted personality, I’m not sure. It’s probably both. Yet this recent experience is challenging me to rethink my relationship with “strangers” and the various ways I tend to interact with those around me. Continue reading

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Labor Day Break

In honor of Labor Day, there is no post this week. Although I suspect, that like most professors, I will be grading or working in some capacity on this fine day, regardless.

Enjoy whatever form your day takes, readers.

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Towards a Theory of Novelizing

Husband's copy of Star Wars novel, 1976 original edition.

Husband’s copy of Star Wars novel, 1976 original edition.

Earlier this week, I listened to this fascinating piece from an April edition of On the Media It discusses media tie in novels, focusing on what we more often refer to as “novelizations” of feature films. You know, the book that’s adapted from the screenplay and sold in every major bookstore. The segment interviewed many of the big names in media tie in authorship, including Alan Dean Foster, considered by many the king of media tie in novels and novelizations. I read a few of these adaptations in my childhood (for some reason, I remember reading the novelization of The Karate Kid), and was a big fan of the tie in novels for Star Trek: The Next Generation (Peter David definitely wrote the best ones). So I was interested to hear that Despite the record sales of these adapted novels, they are not granted much critical respect by literary critics or readership at large. Continue reading

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And So it Begins

Fall 2016, that is. Classes at my university start on Monday, but I don’t have a face to face (F2F) class meeting until Tuesday. As I often do, I am teaching 2 sections of my course load F2F, and 2 sections online. This is actually a really nice schedule for me, since it provides a decent amount of flexibility for me during the week, allowing me to set my workout schedule and research time pretty much however I wish.

Now I realize this sounds positively relaxing, but as a visiting appointment, the 4-4 load can be quite a challenge, and thus the half online/half F2F breakdown is helpful in providing work-life balance for me. Not that I am super great at that balance, but this schedule gives me a chance at it, anyway.

The start of the semester tends to be stressful, of course, and this year I feel somewhat in between stress and calm. I’m ready, and I’m not teaching any new courses, but because of that I haven’t really had the panic and pedal to the metal attitude that indicates true readiness. I am just hoping that, like muscle memory, teaching memory will take over.

I plan to set out some goals for myself on Monday, once I have a chance to face the Semester and see what seems reasonable to accomplish. I’ve been feeling pretty good about my CV, but there are conferences to attend and more to write. So let’s get started, shall we?

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Olympic Feminism

On the heels of my recent piece about intersectionality, I’m thinking a lot about Black feminism this week. African American women have been spectacular at this year’s Olympics in Rio, and their strength has been legendary. I wanted to highlight a few athletes as I think about how their example is not only inspiring me, but certainly inspiring a generation of young Black girls who can now see themselves more often on top of that podium.

Simone Biles – she has (now famously) said that she doesn’t want to be referred to as the “next Michael Phelps”, since instead, she’s “the first Simone Biles.” In a Twitter conversation on Friday, 8/12, Franchesca Ramsey was remarking on Biles’ skills and confidence to be able to even make such a declaration. And, naturally, there was plenty of mansplaining and whitesplaining about why Biles should just be so happy to be compared to Phelps, etc. So I chimed in to observe that we really don’t need another Michael Phelps. We have one already. He’s really good. We do, however, need the first Simone Biles. She and her teammate Gabby Douglas have shown the world Black Girl Magic time and again, and thus stand firmly on their own feet, in their own legacy. We don’t need to filter everyone through a white, male prism in order to make them relevant!

There was also another Simone at theses Games, the swimmer Simone Manuel. She is being hailed as the very first ever African American woman to win an individual Olympic gold medal. The barriers she’s breaking down are also remarkable. Swimming pools were (and frankly, still are) racially contested spaces in the United States. You can read more about that at the link in this paragraph. Manuel’s achievement is nothing short of ground breaking.

The third athlete I’d like to discuss is Michelle Carter, subject of this great profile in The New Yorker. She is the first American woman to win a gold medal in shot put, and she did so while looking fabulous. I noticed her during the shot put qualifiers when I was out at lunch and happened to notice a tv playing Oympics coverage. I admired her red lipstick and awesome hair and when I read later she had won the gold, I was so excited! It turns out that she is a professional makeup artist and believes in challenging society’s notions of what women should look like while competing. She sees herself as built for shot put, and she likes to look her best so that she feels confident when she competes. It clearly works.

(And women in track & field have been stylin’ forever, anyway. Remember Florence Griffith-Joyner’s nails? Or Sanya Richards-Ross’ hair?)

Women have to put up with so much garbage about their appearance on a daily basis, and can never win. You have to wear makeup to be taken seriously, but not too much. You really shouldn’t wear any makeup if you’re in a sporting profession or need to be seen as “one of the guys” in order to be taken seriously. If you’re too thin, you’ll appear weak. If you’re too fat, you’ll look unprofessional. Are you  muscled at all? That’s weird. Are you shorter than average, taller than average? Going gray at a young age? Dealing with a disability that might affect your appearance? Just try to hide all that.

That’s why Carter and these other women are so inspiring to me right now. They offer three different models of Black femininity, and three ways of being a bad ass that anyone can look up to.

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