Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mind-boggling numbers and surviving Christmas

I woke up to this story on the radio the other morning. And in my early morning groginess, I succumbed to a bit of outrage over it. I usually take a more detached, worldly "yes, the system is fucked up" attitude to the existence of such obscenity, but on that morning, my much more raw 18-year-old-ish-"that is just so fucking wrong" self took over.

What can one do with 67.9 million dollars?

And the tidbit in yesterday morning's Freep: Our country spends about $250 million a day on the war in Iraq, putting the grand total on spending somewhere in the $500 billion range. Again, intellectually, I knew this, but something about another pre-coffee confrontation with such outrageous numbers has left me feeling raw.

Some of it may be that it is happening in this moment -- the moment right before and right after the consumer-fest of Christmas. I'm not going to go looking for estimates of how much we spend on tinsel or such silliness, but I did have to take a moment and check in with myself and how I negotiate this "holiday" which is not holy to me.

The boy child wanted, I mean really wanted, the purple Ninja Turtle (Donatello, I think) and I almost got him one -- just to please him, just to see the momentary joy on his little face. Gack. Pull back. Regroup. If even I, a pretty stingey pre-revelation Grinch can fall prey to the hype... eww...

Anyway, I feel decent about where I eventually landed in terms of the holiday craziness. I let two who shall remain nameless (but you know who you are) hold forth on the Anti-Christmas rants and I chose to walk a middle path. This means I did get a tree -- but only after I had a heart-to-heart with E and she told me she was willing to contribute $10, 2 hours, and 98% of her attention to the acquiring, decorating, deconstructing process (I didn't make her pay, but I was impressed with her offer). I also got the kids a few well-chosen presents. These items were a pleasure to buy (because they were bought with a beer in hand at the Shadow Art Fair) and the kids LOVED them -- a bookmark-making kit and plaid tafetta bubble skirt for E, kid-friendly comic books for O. Then I also rounded up a slew of fresh art and literacy supplies (paper, paints, markers, brushes, notebooks) and we spent Christmas morning happily eating pastachios and painting pictures.

The holiday stuff fest really grew once we got to my folks, but I think even they have finally gotten the message and they were fairly restrained in their purchases for the kids. Other family members and family members of family members piled a few more items on the gift pile, but I am as excited as the kids about the new remote control car and the Sorry game!

As in previous years, however, we picked only little things (some handmade, others acquired from local artisans) for those closest to us and then gave an equivalent amount to an organization that would spread it to others. This year we kept the funds closer to home than in the past and chose Forgotten Harvest for our donation. I'm not sure the kids totally "get it" but at least the tradition will be there as the grow older and see more of the world.

Of course, if I'd had $67.9 million to work with....

Beyond all the stuff, I took the opportunity of Christmas being a "special day" (though why it is special is a bit up in the air -- the kids know it is not because it is the birthday of the saviour, but they would be hard pressed to come up with an acceptable explanation) to step back as a parent. I issued few dictums, I made no comment on their choice to eat treats from their stockings for breakfast, and I did not once mention that their rooms are so incredibly cluttered that the new toys will immediately be swallowed by the old. Today it is back to business -- there are chores to be done (tho why do they still look at me like I am insane when I mention this?) and nutritional food to be eaten. But it was FUN...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Word of the Day: Hoydenish

I'm rolling around in the old etiquette books this morning and came across this term:


Not surprisingly, the author of Etiquette for Americans (1909) was recommending that her readers avoid "hoydenish or romping habits" if they wanted to be treated civilly in public. (p. 199)

What I find interesting about this word is that it is (er, was... Encarta labels it as "dated") gender- and age-specific. To speak of a hoyden was to refer only to a young woman who demonstrated self-absorbed or thoughtless behavior. But that the word was synonymous with "tomboy" suggests that one of the ways that women might be perceived as lacking appropriate self-control or being thoughtless was in not properly performing their gender roles.
Since I aspire to be a "high-spirited, boisterous, or saucy girl," I think I'll reclaim this word that used to be considered an insult. And in the meantime, I'm going to cultivate my hoydenishness now by raiding the cookie tin and finishing off the coffee.... Okay, that's a little timid, but it is only 10:00am. Just you wait!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Snow Day

Well, now it looks a bit more like misty rain, but an hour ago it was a fine snow coming down. Just enough had landed to coat the grass and suggest the whiteness of winter without the deep drifts, chilling winds, and painfully low temperatures that will come soon enough.

Taking advantage of the mild temps and fuzzy percipitation, the ancient dog and I went for a slow ramble around the block. What a pleasant wobble.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Not what I expected...

So my hip seems to be healing up rather well -- it is swollen and a bit more sore today, but not approaching the pain level I had during the bad old days of my bum hip acting up on me. What has surprised and, in all honesty, freaked me out is that I am still feeling a bit disoriented and a bit overwhelmed at times. I am not sick. My incisions are scabbed over. The pain is really more like discomfort and a bit of weakness than real "pain." So why do I feel so at odds with the outside world? A trip out to lunch one day and a drug store run today left me feeling like a slow-moving sloth in a cheetah world. It is 9:30pm and I am hunkered down in bed with book, computer, and knitting. In my logical brain, I'm assuming that these are the lingering effects of anesthesia and perhaps the pain meds (though I haven't had any of those in almost 24 hours). Whatever its source, I'd like for it to go away now.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Happy Hipster

The surgery went fine. Obviously no telling if it fixed the problem long term, but I'm pleased with how the procedure and immediate after-effects went.

We got to the hospital at 6:00am. I put on my stunning light blue plaid gown (mmmm.... plaid, my favorite) and then was assimilated by the borg (blood pressure cuff that would automatically check me every ten minutes or so), finger pulse ox thingy, heart rate monitor (which had six sticky patches stuck to my shoulders, chest and ribs), and the oh-so-fun poke in the back of the hand (otherwise known as an IV). The latter being put in was the most painful bit of the whole day -- nurse told me that but I was reserving judgement on that one! She was right, however. The nurse had me mark the hip to be operated on, the intern marked my ankle of the correct leg, and the surgeon's mark is in the picture. They definitely were careful to get the correct hip!

I was very pleased with the "team" in charge of knocking me out. There were three of them and they took my earlier bad experiences seriously and gave me some brilliant medicine before the surgery to keep the woogies/pukies at bay and promised more if that didn't do the trick. But it did. Big kisses to Dr. Woodcock and his crew!

I remember the operating room and getting on the tiny table that was designed to put my leg in traction, but then I drifted off. I awoke in recovery with no pain and my stomach calm. Yay! Decent doses of pain appeared at the incisions when I moved, but if I so much as exhaled sharply, I was given pain meds. Nap, drink, answer questions on pain. Repeat two more times. Somewhere in there I became aware of Dr. Schultz (surgeon) talking to me. Here's what I caught: the tear was long and significant and there was also some significant inflammation (he said, "that was an angry hip"), all of which they addressed -- and with only a need for 3 incisions!

Then I got to move to the next curtained area where W could join me. They prescribed some pain meds (like vicodin but without so much acetaminophen), unhooked me from the mothership and let me get dressed. I got up to do this and realized that, as the surgeon was saying to the nurses, I didn't need crutches! The PA had me thinking I was going to have 1 to 2 weeks of crutches, but that does not seem necessary. I won't be turning on a dime or tackling much in the way of stairs just yet, but I can walk fine on the hip -- the pain meds are a different story :)

W wheeled me out of the hospital to the van and had me home by 2:00pm for soup, crackers, and a good long nap. I got to visit with the kiddos (who were unimpressed with walking abilities, btw -- they probably wanted the crutches) and my folks before they all left me to nap more and do this bit of narco-blogging.

Thanks to all for the expressions of love and support. Those offers of help are also greatly appreciated and have been filed away for future use, if necessary.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Who am I without the pain?

I resisted this question when it was first asked of me, but with surgery looming, it has crept back into my thoughts. The premise is that the pain has gone on long enough, been persistent enough, that it is not just something I live with, but has become a part of who I am. Honestly, I don't know. Here are the bits I do know. The bits that I would hopefully forget if there weren't a blog to read about them in years from now...

I first recognized the pain as something more than a passing thing in June of 2003 -- 4 1/2 years ago. We were camping at Waterloo and the walk to the beach became torturous, so I sat a lot, something I would learn later only made things worse.

The pain has three parts that crop up individually and in different combinations. The first pain to appear was in the front, right at the crease between leg and groin. It felt like the tendons in this area would not "hold" when I walked -- like my hip was about to give way -- and this area is almost always tender. The weakness I feel in the hip seems to come from here. The next to appear was in the piriformas muscle -- the big one that goes over the back of my hip. It ties itself up in to a big painful knot that is hard to stretch at all. The third is a pain on the outer hip. This is the least troublesome of the trio, though it has had its moments.

Over the course of the four+ years, I have seen the flexibility and strength on my right side decrease markedly, I have become increasingly unable to walk or stand for long periods of time (esp. on concrete), I cannot sit on overly soft couches or overly hard chairs for more than a few minutes, I cannot sleep on my side (often being on the left with my right hip in the air hurts too), I cannot sleep for more than a few hours, I cannot step up more than about a foot on the right, I cannot drive for more than about two hours without suffering for days after.

I am still active -- I lift, yoga, skate, dance, and bike. These make me strong so that helps keep the hip in check in the big picture, but they also, all except for the bike, cause me pain short-term pain. The bike has, in many ways, saved my sanity of late -- it is what has allowed me to be out in world... moving, active, and without pain. I don't know why I don't hurt on the bike, but I don't. When I can't walk and I can't sit anymore, I've been able to pedal... and a 35 mile ride does a lot to counter the depressing pyschological effects of the limitations noted above.

Some periods have been worse than others. The summer of 2005 was particularly bad after travel had me sitting way too much and off my regular exercise schedule. Somewhere in 2006 I had another bad period that I finally admitted to when I realized that I could not walk to/from E's school (3 1/2 blocks) without bumping the pain level up two notches. Not being one who is always comfortable with her own limitations, I found I could meet E's desire for a mommy escort by riding my bike -- but every time I get on the bike to take her to school, I am aware that I can't walk that far on concrete any more.

I don't sleep well either. If only I could sleep... maybe I could deal. But 3am would often find me wandering the house with a cloud of doom hanging over my head, hurting. I finally learned not to use this time to talk with spouse or send e-mails...

The docs have never been very helpful. During a physical one year, when the doc asked me how my general health was and I told her about the grayness the hip had brought to my life, she told me I could make a separate appointment to talk about that! Needless to say, I have never felt well tended by my primary care physicians who could not even manage to decently medicate for the pain. Specialists did little better -- they would bend and twist me and look puzzled at the disconnect between my flexibility (high) and pain levels (also high). The surgeon was better. He was cautious -- did more x-rays and MRIs which revealed a labral cartilage tear -- ordered extra (painful!) tests to see if that was the cause of my pain and he offered a solution (surgery, not surprisingly) . But even he would not help me manage the pain between seeing me in the Spring of 2007 and now, when I am actually having the surgery.

The real kicker with the pain is not its intensity, per se, but that it is always there. I haven't been below a 2 (out of 1o) on the pain scale for years and I'm often running at a 4 or a 6, but when it goes on at those higher levels for days on end, it can really wear me down. Those who have seen me lose it over the pain are usually seeing the stress of on-going pain more than a momentary pang (though I have those too). Those who live with me can attest that the pain creeps up on me and steals my good humor once I've had a bad run of more than a day or two of elevated pain levels. By this summer, I was taking handfuls of ibuprofen (1000mg) to dull the pain just a bit -- enough to function and sleep.

My greatest fear about Friday is that the surgery won't really fix it. The surgery may go beautifully, but I may still have pain. My close people have been hugely cheery, optimistic, supportive, but I remain unconvinced (but open. Really!). I do not know who I will be without the pain, but this has gone on long enough that I am willing to find out.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Me loves the jargon

In an uncharacteristic moment of follow-thru, E and I went to the Ypsi Recreation Commission meeting on Thursday. I got to see how plans for Riverside and Frog Island parks were shaping up after the design charettes earlier this month and she got to indulge her current love of civics/social studies by seeing local government "in action" (that phrase might be a bit strong for what we actually saw -- they didn't even have a quorum...).

The Riverside plan is further along, with big-ish changes to the North and South ends of the park (such as removal of the northern parking lot that is almost never open anyway), so that the middle remains more natural and festival friendly. Many details remain to be worked out on the Frog Island plan, but for those nervous soccer players who might read this, it seems it will remain the place for organized sports (and possibly even get some lights for night games!).

Missing from the plans, however, were bathrooms. I know, many of you are sick of hearing from me about public space and bathrooms, but really, I can't think of any other structures that these parks could use more. What interested me is that no one on the commission seemed at all concerned about this. The landscape architect's inclusion of a shelter for porta-potties seemed to suit them just fine. I waited until the bitter end to say anything -- thinking someone, anyone on the commission is going to ask about this... but they didn't, so I did. Yes, yes, I know the likely back story here (confirmed in secret e-mails with an Ypsi city planner): bathrooms in such public places are hard to keep clean, safe, and in good repair. Frankly, I don't care. There are lots of examples, from lots of other cities that can guide us in this noble cause. We are bright people. We can figure this out.

The other piece of the plans that bummed me out was the lack of bike racks (yet another topic some of you have grown tired of...). The parks will link up with the Border2Border trail, they are the site of festivals, community gardens and sporting events, they are close to the two major shopping/dining areas in town... one should be able to lock a bike easily near every entrance!

Okay, so what did I love? I loved the (potential) location of the new pavilion (south end of Riverside), ideas for kids' playspace that were more than the primary-colored structures we find in every other park, the new seating to be built into the hill on both sides of Frog Island's field, the sledding hill, the Riverside overlook, and all the lovely jargon that goes along with these kinds of improvements: daylighting storm pipes, bioswales, visual access, drop structures, detention elements.... mmmmm.... I think I need a towel.

Better than my take on any of this, however, are the notes that 8 year old E took:

"There are seven recreation commissioners here at City Hall. My mom and I are the only audience. It is 7:55 and we are discussing what to change in Riverside Park. We still have to discuss Frog Island and the agenda says we have until 8:00. The man who I think is the main commissioner is Murph (Richard Murphy). The man who is talking is Chris Mueller. Oops! It's 8:01 and he hasn't even started on Frog Island! It's 8:02 (two minutes after finishing time) he's just started on Frog Island. The map we have for Frog Island is pretty lame. I thought the other one was very detailed. It's almost like what I think Mrs. Barrett would call excellent writing. It's 8:08 and mom is asking me if I'm TIRED! I usually stay up until 8:45. As I said it's boring. I listened to the first one but this one is tooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo boooooooooooooooooriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing. Ok. I'll try to listen... Toooooooooooooooooooo bbbbbbbbbbbbbboooooooooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggg ttttttttooooooooooooo llllllllllllllllliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiissssssssssssssssstttttttttttttttttttteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnnnnnnnn!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, do not let me die!"

Okay, so maybe I didn't do much to nurture her budding interest in government by taking her after all. BTW, she did not die and was home in bed by 9:00pm.

If'n you want to see what's happening with all this. The Rec Com is meeting again on Dec. 13 at 7pm in City Hall to see the next round of plans. Go. They'd be thrilled to see you. And remember.... don't forget to ask why there are plans to build a stage behind Riverside Arts Center but no plans for building permanent bathrooms!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bang Bang, Good Music

Ah, music season has begun. Yay!

I went out to SHE BANG at TCs last night to hear Tracy Mack and The Shondes. Tracy rocks on a beautiful guitar all by her lonesome and she showed remarkably good humor in the face of technical problems with the sound.

The Shondes were just lovely. The first song was a bit loose but then it came together. Lots of energy -- particularly the engaging vocals. My only complaint is with the short set. Including the encore, they were done by 12:15am! And they were the headliners. But how lovely to stumble down to my local venue and find a new band to love. Hope they come back soon. Good job, B (the energy behind SHE BANG evenings at TCs). We want more.

And on the horizon, Hullabalo, Deep Space, and Jam Samich on TCs on Saturday.... and then many, many bands after that. It isn't quite time for the Blow Out yet, but it is coming soon and all you folks in local bands should consider getting in on it -- deadline for applications is Dec. 28.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lady P

I swear, I wasn't looking for this, but there it was... bathrooms have invaded my life. Meet the Lady P -- a urinal for women.
Piss and go. Yeah, right.

Smirk -- another porn post...

Anti-pornography feminists have created some rather extreme language and argued for some rather extreme controls on sexual expression. For them, zoning laws and censorship do not go nearly far enough, because they merely control the outlets for porn and not its very existence.

“If pornography is part of your sexuality, then you have no right to your sexuality,” writes Catharine MacKinnon, the grand dame of feminist anti-pornography crusaders.

This kind of hard-line rhetoric has done no favors to feminism. It feeds stereotypes about feminists’ intellectual rigidity and dour demeanors. And it drove many activists from the movement in the 1980s during the incredibly divisive “sex-wars” when some feminists tried to wrest the issue of pornography out of MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin’s hands. The MacDworkinites prevailed, however. Mainstream American society came to accept their views as the feminist stance on the issue and for the last 20+ years, they have been recognized by the mainstream press and far too many public officials as the “experts” on what pornography does to women.

In some ways, MacKinnon (Dworkin died in 2005, but MacKinnon soldiers on) is the consummate radical. She goes hard to the extreme and stays there, giving no ground. Pornography is always bad for women: it not only objectifies and degrades them, but it perpetrates violence against them. She is doing, as a radical, exactly what she is supposed to be doing. And while feminism has suffered for it (and I am unwilling to let her off the hook there), pornography may have benefited from it. Pro-sex feminists and others who strode out onto the field of battle to challenge the MacDworkinites have done much to redefine sexual expression in our society. Sure, much porn is still “bad” in its production values, lack of character development, script writing, costuming, etc. but there is now, in contrast to the bad ol’ 1980s, much more variety of porn – who makes it, who it is for, and the kinds of situations, relationships, and people it portrays. Changing technology has contributed greatly to this, but it should not be lost that MacKinnon pissed off a lot of people and got them out there making lesbian porn, female-dominated porn, and much, much more just to prove she was wrong. And that has been a good thing.

So this morning, I am pondering what MacKinnon would say about all this. She has conceded nothing on this front. There is no indication that she went for the outrageous on the far end of the spectrum in the hopes of making smaller changes in the middle. Being who she is, I would be surprised and disappointed if she had. But I wonder, if I asked her about all this on her death bed many years from now, would she go out with a little smirk on her face?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Parking II

In the continuing saga of updating Riverside and Frog Island parks, I got these tidbits of information about the status of things from Ypsi-bureaucrat-extraordinaire Murph:

Currently: Landscape Architect Chris and his client, the Depot Town CDC, try to figure out what (a) the community wants, (b) is physically possible, and (c) they think they can afford or find funding for. Chris munges all that into a draft plan.

Next: Chris presents the draft plan to the City’s Recreation Commission for comments (Nov. 29, 7pm, City Hall, open to public), to use, along with further discussion with his clients, to come back Dec. 13 (same time/place) with a final draft.

Following: The Recreation Commission will be releasing a Draft Master Plan for the entire city parks/rec system for public review and comment, likely for the month of January, then hold public hearing, pass it up to Council, who send it on to the State DNR.

Meanwhile: The Depot Town CDC uses their spankin’ new plan to shop for funding and start planning for the summer ’08 event-slash-construction season.

Budget will be determined partially by grant funding, partially by event revenues (the Elvis Fest people have a lot of overlap with the CDC people, and have committed money), partially by expected future revenues from anything built, and they’ll take it a piece at a time.

I'm going to try to hit the meeting on Nov 29th (Thursday!). Wanna come?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hat, Meet Head

Despite having grown up with a mother who carefully photographed all her creations (stained glass, quilts, etc.) before giving them away, I rarely seem to remember to document my own work.

I did have my camera handy when my most recent project met its new person, however. I like to make odd hats (bright colors, odd shapes, weird yarn, lots of boings) but it is tricky to get the right kind of odd matched up with the right person (and then knit up in the right size!).

This one seems to have come off without a hitch. It is knit in that beautiful Andean Silk yarn from Knit Picks and I did a better job with the double pointed needles near the crown than I have in the past so, even for a crazy hat, it is pretty (if I do say so myself).

I even managed to weave in all the ends AND have it done in time for the birthday festivities. Happy knitter, I am.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Drugs and death

Today had an unusual start... I got to sign my name on several documents verifying that I understand that death is a possible, yet unlikely, outcome of the surgery I'm having in a couple of weeks. Umm, yeah. I'm actually not freaked about the death part, I've focused much more of my freaking energy on things like profound nausea from the general anesthetic (which I had with surgery 20 years ago) and the fact that they won't let W into the recovery room with me.

At this morning's appointments I took the opportunity to explain to all who would listen my bad experiences being put under as a teenager and they made appropriate noises about pre-medicating me to keep that from happening again, so I feel somewhat better about that. And I've got two weeks to wrap my brain around the rest of it, including the fact that I will be laid up for a couple of weeks and on crutches for "a while"... Any chance that I might chicken out of the surgery has probably been eliminated by the fact that I'm not allowed to take any ibuprofen for the week leading up to surgery. No pain meds for a week? Yeah, I'll probably be really ready for that hip to get fixed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pedal, lock, run, buy, pedal... repeat

In what I hope will become an annual event (for myself and Ann Arbor), I rode in yesterday's first Cranksgiving alleycat.
I've been watching Andy organize this event for weeks so I was very familiar with the hours and pains that went into it. This made it so much more delicious to see the race come off so well. He did a great job, making it possible for people like me to have a blast zipping around Ann Arbor on a pretty-damn-good-for-November Sunday afternoon and accumulating over 300 pounds of food for Food Gatherers.
I've never done anything even remotely close to a race on a bike, but this race -- one that brought in food for a local community pantry, one that catered to my independent streak by letting me choose my own route, one that comes at the end of a summer/fall of lots of biking, and one that happens right before I go in for hip surgery -- was not to be passed up. I had fun and I rode well: thirteenth out of a field of 42 or so, carrying an extra 6 pounds of food beyond the requisite amount needed to finish the race.
I had no interest in the potential chaos of the mass start (bikes on the grass, riders in the parking lot and then running to mount and ride off when Andy said "go"), so I held back to let folks clear and then head out. I won't bother with this strategy next time since a woman too busy trying to click into her pedals to look up still t-boned me before I'd even gotten on my bike. If'n I'm going to get crashed anyway, I might as well get out of the start faster!
I was with a few folks on the path out of the park -- right behind the fixie crowd on the dam and then behind (ever so briefly) the fast, fast boys on the path. From there I'd plotted a long, slow climb to my first checkpoint -- while others hit the broadway hill. Having lived about 1/3 the way up that hill many years ago, I was too familiar with its lung-searing grade to want to try it. No one else chose my route up, which was actually good... I could focus on finding my own pace. About 1/2 mile from the first checkpoint (the Busch's on Green), I saw a fox in the grass on the side of the road -- kind of a trip, since that is not really "country" out there. Almost stopped to snap a picture, but decided I was feeling good on the bike and I ought to actually focus on getting a decent time.
From the Busch's I expected to blast down Huron Pkwy to Whole Foods, but it was more rolling than it had seemed on the way up. I was in between a gaggle of fixie boys and a woman on tiny Felt which made it hard for me to focus on how fast I wanted to go, but then the guys stuck to the bike path on the east side and the woman took the bike path on the west and I took the road all by my lonesome. Other than a momentary freak over a bit 'o chain suck (like all the cool bike language I'm learning?) on a uphill with no shoulder (would not have been the best place to need to pull over for mechanical problems), I made decent time to the next check point -- the only store on the route I actually knew -- for my 2 pounds of rice.
I was feeling some moxie on Washtenaw and jumped off the sidewalk to take the lane and make the shift on to Stadium. Someone was trying to follow my lead onto the street and across lanes, but they seemed to chicken out and fall back at the Stadium/Washtenaw split -- not sure how they got through, never really saw who it was. At this point in the ride, with the two longest legs behind me and headed into town, I started playing fast and loose with traffic laws. When the light at Packard turned red on me, I made a quick right then left and cut through the back of the party store parking lot... I made generous use of the turn lane to beat traffic into the Kroger on S. Industrial... I blew through a couple of lights that had car sensors and never would have registered me on my bike anyway. I knew there was a shortcut from State over to the Busch's on Main, but I had only done it in the other direction and was not sure where to pick it up on the State side. Seeing some of my Ypsi folks were a bit ahead of me out of Kroger's, I decided to chance it. I found the cut-through, managed to not flat on the giant gravel in the construction area, and actually had a bit of a rest since this was not a dirt road to ride too fast on road tires.
I underbought at this Busch's -- too overwhelmed by the crowded unfamiliar store and jazzed at being more than halfway through the race to remember what my buying strategy was -- but got out fast and was able to game the light at Stadium and Main to head for Arbor Farms. Then I hit jello legs. I knew it would come at some point, but it was still annoying to find that on a fast road (and before Stadium turns north and gets really shitty) my speed was dropping to XX (actual numbers deleted for reasons of PRIDE) and my back end was dragging (bags were decently full of food at this point -- so there was a lot of extra weight back there!). I soldiered through and things got better when I stopped thinking about my legs and started thinking about the poorly executed attempt I had made to hop onto the sidewalk and avoid making a middle of the block left across 4 lanes of traffic. No danger in what I did, but I lost time and a team I'd passed before Busch's did it better and beat me to the store by moments (no worries, I passed them at the coop!)
Hmmm.... so now I'm at checkpoint 5, I'm riding in turn lanes, gaming lights, hopping the odd curb, and feeling a need to get in front other riders... guess it turned into a race for me at some point. Problem is, I need to ride like I was in that last 1/2 during the whole race!
Anyway, from Arbor Farms it was on to the coop where I had planned to fill the remaining space in my bike bags with an armload of pasta... only I couldn't find the frickin' pasta! It is a tiny store! Where the fuck is it? Ah well, a couple bags of pancake mix jumped into my arms and I could make the down hill to the finish at the park. Main St. was its usual ickiness and I had the hybrid Prius laying on the horn while riding on my ass... as if there were anywhere for me to go... there are no shoulders on Main by the river! I should have just taken the whole lane and forced them into the other lane. Anyway, that brought the heart rate up a bit too much and I hopped onto the sidewalk so I could take the turn into the park at a safer speed (flatting 1/4 mile from the finish would suck!) and *ack* there is a very dead deer! I couldn't help but look and my wheel kissed its tail as I went by... ick.
But then it was into the park and up to the northern parking lot for the finish. I was actually a tad disappointed in the amount of food in my bags -- they sure seemed heavy but once the food was out in a pile, it didn't look like much. Ah well, I wasn't going back and all that I had bought was good quality. Hey, I'd already done more grocery shopping in one afternoon than I have done in the last month! I feel good about my ride overall: six check points, 18.25 miles, 1.5 hours, and about a dozen pounds of food.
I lingered for the fire and post fire, drank some cider, and participated in the bike chat until my cold toes and grumbling belly said it was time for beer and pizza. A fine, fine day!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Beer-infused house cleaning

Yesterday was a good day -- I finally made some progress on the Minneapolis article. I knew the article was there, but I was struggling through heaps of eye-wateringly boring zoning commission testimony and that made it hard to see the big picture. Yesterday I was able to focus on the kinds of questions I will be able to address once I've finished accumulating the research. And it is good stuff. Like I said, I knew it was there, I just couldn't see it. Lots more work to do, but I could revel in finally having some idea of where I was headed.

But then today, I stalled. Oh sure, I made it to the gym, I picked up the buying club order, I sat in front of the computer, but no real work would happen. I put in some hours, but little came of it. Sometimes it feels like all I am doing is mapping out the "real" work that I will do "someday." Ugh.

An unsettled afternoon turned me grumpy -- I was cold, tired, and feeling very unproductive. In such a state I often become greatly annoyed at the clutter of my house. I secretly (okay, it isn't really a secret) want someone else to clean it, but the menehune never seem to come. So I finally hoisted myself off the couch, opened a beer, put the earbuds in, and cleaned...

Ah, finally, some productivity... and with the ipod blaring, the rest of the world was gone. Nice.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

So how do you feel about porn?

You see, I'm working on this article (or maybe its a book chapter...) on neighborhood efforts in South Minneapolis to rid their commercial strip of "adult businesses" in the 1970s and 1980s. My interest in this topic comes not out of an interest in pornography, but rather from obsession with public space: how people use it, perceive it, and struggle over power and identity when in it. The neighborhood "claimed" the strip as part of their neighborhood and then used that authority to challenge some of businesses that had cropped up there. The area was vulnerable -- relatively working class area, with light industrial uses on its edges, mixed housing (single and multi-family), close to downtown and then strangled by the addition of a freeway with no exit to the area (35W) -- so it is not surprising that these "fringe" adult businesses (legal but suspect) would locate here.

Anyway, neighborhood groups started lobbying for new criminal statutes (making "obscenity" a crime -- something that was based on "community standards" after the Miller decision in 1973), better zoning laws, civil rights legislation, more zoning, licensing laws, and even buy outs of the businesses in question. Many of their arguments are based on the impact of these businesses on the feel, function, and perception of the neighborhood (stuff I am interested in) but then the arguments slide into territory I am less interested in -- morality, in particular, as more of the churchy folk get involved in the late 1980s and even just "straight ahead" feminist arguments about the exploitation of women and the violence of women encouraged by the materials and performances that these businesses offered. That's where it gets icky to me... my eyes glaze over and I start thinking about dusty the top of the fridge...

As I work on this and talk about it to friends, acquaintances, circulation desk attendees at the library, and grocery store clerks... the question inevitably comes up: so how do you feel about pornography? Unable to draw a firm line between my scholarly interests and my personal ones, I usually fumble the answer, but here is where my brain is today.

On the one hand, I am deeply sympathetic to the neighborhood groups who worked for a decade to (successfully) get rid of the adult businesses in their immediate communities. They were right, businesses that blatantly traded in sex created environments hostile to women -- and because of the geography of the area neighborhood women had to pass the doors of these bookstores and theaters to get to the bus stop, the grocery store, and the laundromat.

But then the members of the gay community that objected to many of these neighborhood efforts had a point -- the legal changes sought meant police and city attorneys now had a new arsenal of laws to use against gays and the physical spaces that they used to find each other. What laws are designed to do means relatively little until you see how they are interpreted and applied. All the good of the neighborhood groups, then, could be negated with the persecution of a politically vulnerable population. (I haven't yet done enough of the research to know if this happened.) Of course changes since the 1980s have made this less of an issue -- gay communities have more, new, and better spaces (real and virtual) than at any time in the past.

While it pains me to say this, because I am all about space, this whole approach seems off to me. It accepts the negatives associated with commercialized sex.

I do remain leery of adult businesses -- I routinely skip blocks where they are, especially the theaters -- but then I am not anti-porn. Really. I've enjoyed a bit of sexual entertainment myself over the years... especially as porn has proliferated and it is not just stuff made for and by str8 guys. That there are places like Toys in Babeland and events like the Dirty Show, that good little feminists like myself can like porn, that cool women such as Chloe can make erotic movies means there is a way to "do porn" in our society. The key to non (okay, how about just less)-exploitative, still-values-human-rights porn (and how about porn with decent production values? that would be good too!), however, is to take it out of the realm of the seedy. Part of doing that would be the minor [snicker] undertaking of making sex in general less shameful in our society. Ultimately the work of the neighborhoods in Minneapolis, then, appears shortsighted. They lobbied for eradication and relocation ("put it in the warehouse district downtown where no one has to see it..."). Maybe it is time to lobby for it to be better instead of being gone.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Saving the World

An overheard backseat conversation:

O: "When we get home, do you want to play Chef?"

E: "Let's play Plans to Make the World a Better Place. I have this great idea I don't want to forget."

O: "Tell me. Tell me now."

E: "No, let's wait til we get home. My idea is nothing bad, but I don't want mom to hear."

O: "Well, I have an idea. My idea is that we should take all the weapons in the world and destroy them. We can throw them all in the garbage."

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Workwise, I've got several balls in the air at the moment... I've been writing an essay on teaching, starting the article on the Minneapolis anti-porn movement, shuffling all the etiquette material I collected in DC, and reading early twentieth century planning journals.

The latter is full of discussions of how to improve the "civic good" (as defined by a bunch of middle class white people) through changes to the built environment. Under discussion are things like trash cans, street lighting, rest rooms, playgrounds, and parks. They agonize in great detail over designs for each of these items. What is most sanitary? What will be most aesthetically pleasing? How will the design impact people's behavior? Because I am interested in the reforms pushed by and for women, most of the journals I am reading come from the "City Beautiful" camp of city planning (as opposed to the "City Efficient" movement). These reformers and planners firmly believed that a beautiful environment and one designed to meet the needs of the population (play spaces for children, for example) would convince people to act better toward their city and their fellow residents. "Good" planning as a means of alleviating social tensions was at the foundation of the field of urban planning -- whichever camp the planners were coming from -- and I suspect that basic concept has not changed much even down to today (though ideas on how to do it certainly have).

Today the powers-that-be in Ypsi are trying their hand democratizing the practice of planning. The city has at least one urban planner, has master plans for parks, and conceptual designs for the Huron River Corridor. But today, all of these are coming before the public in an effort generate ideas and suggestions for revamping two of the city's finest parks: Frog Island and Riverside. I've got to wonder how much of today's design charrette is going to be about Murph and other city officials managing the public's expectations. I'm anxious to see what my neighbors bring to the discussion -- if they come at all. Oh, I'm sure some of the usual suspects (Pierce, Maynard, Getto) will be there, but will the stroller-pushers, dog walkers, joggers, and bench loungers also come? I hope so. And then there is the part of me that wonders, for all I know about historical efforts to design, redesign, and use public spaces, particularly parks, will I (that'd be Prof. Smarty Pants to you) have anything of use to offer?

I do love these parks and use both of them regularly. So what is my wish list for these parks? I want them to remain fairly natural -- the biggest draw for my kids is that they can stand on the river's edge and throw sticks in the river and watch the current catch them (and they can do this for hours). I want them to continue to be festival friendly. For a tiny city, we have the best festivals around. Space should also be open for community group events that do not have the funds of a big festival. I want the parks to continue to function as a bike-friendly cut through from downtown to Depot Town and the Corner Brewery (though the upper path around Frog Island should be widened and better maintained). There should be a decent place to pee while one is there. It should be lit, but not in an obnoxious, light-polluting way. Friendly kid space back from the river bank would be swell -- so caregivers for small people can zone out in the sun without worrying that Suzy is going to go from slide to river in a blink of an eye. Signage should be better -- including a map of the park system. Pedestrian/bike entrance should be more inviting -- the end off Cross is all about the cars when it is open and when it is not... well, it still hides the park behind the drive/parking lot and people have to go through the parking lot to get to the tridge. There should be bike racks near every entrance. There should be non-stair ways into the park at every access point for bikes, strollers, and wheelchairs. Boat pull outs would be swell -- I'd love to kayak to the Heritage Festival! I'd like the dog runners to continue to be able to use some part of the parks for that -- it is nice group of folks who regularly turn out with their pups after work. I would also like the parks to be able function as a political space (place of public discourse, a physical location for the public sphere, if you will -- that last bit of language was just to thrill the Habermasians out there). If we can festival in the parks, we should be able to rally in them without having to negotiate a bunch of red tape with the city (I'm concerned that once more infrastructure goes into the park the city will make them harder to use for such purposes). Ooh, and how about some cool public art? All the better if it is useful art (like play structures or bike racks). Okay that is probably enough wants for now...

If'n you want to come out and participate, the charrettes are today (Thursday, Nov 8) from 3-5:30pm (this is the one I'm going to) and from 6-8:30pm at the Senior Center on Congress in Ypsilanti -- next to Rutherford Pool.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My Dear Ypsi

I like where I live. Not necessarily the house, though it is fine, but rather the town. This little city is pretty diverse and has lots of character (and characters). There are at least a couple of decent restaurants, better coffee shops than surrounding towns, lots of festivals, a lovely community pool and, of course, a brewery. The schools have their issues, but they are decent overall and my kids do well in them. The city is pretty liberal overall and a couple of fine social service/justice and environmental community organizations call the place home. I'm feeling very pro-Ypsi these days.

This is why it is strange to yet again witness a somewhat contentious political issue grip the city while I sit 100 yards from being able to participate. Yep, as Ypsi as I am, I actually live just over the line in the township. As was the case for the highly contested mayoral campaign last year, proper-Ypsians struggled to figure out what to do with a city in severe financial straits. The city long ago slashed such "luxuries" such as the recreation department (which is why there is a "community" pool instead of a "city" pool -- local folks raised money and found grants to take over what is so clearly a "public" function). Eastern takes up a huge chunk of city land and pays no taxes. The city is hurting. Not surprisingly, someone came up with the idea of the city income tax.

The issue itself is dead for the moment -- defeated at the polls yesterday by a clear 2/3 majority. Since I couldn't vote on it anyway, I choose to not invest the effort to decide if I am happy or disappointed. What I am reflecting on this morning is how much some of my friends struggled to decide how to vote on both the tax and the mayor, how mixed and numerous the yard signs were in many neighborhoods, how thoughtful some of the blog posts were... I guess it all leaves me with the feeling that even if the budget for the place sucks at the moment (oh, and it does), it is a pretty politically healthy city.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My racing age is 40

Took the kids out to Vet's Park in Ann Arbor on Saturday to watch a bit of the cyclocross races. Some of the climbs on the course were pretty impressive -- esp. considering how skinny many of the racers were. Hard to believe those toothpick thighs would get them up the hills, but then they didn't have much weight to push! E didn't get too into the racing, though she did give it a decent look before retreating to the play structure. O, however, was quite intrigued -- esp. once he realized there was a kid course. I told him I'd be delighted to bring him out to race... as soon as he learns to ride on two wheels! Maybe that will lure him into trying a bit harder on leaving the training wheels behind.

Speaking of training wheels, I was wishing for some training wheels when trying my hand at bike polo on Sunday. Seriously, it wasn't that hard to stay upright, but it was tricky to actually engage other players with any semblance of intentionality/skill. I opted to focus most of my efforts on not hurting myself or others and then count on dumb luck to actually get and move the ball. The first game (3 on 3) was fun and my more experienced teammates were good sports while we all flailed about getting warmed up and used to the court. Noodling around with Andy and Dan(?) in between games was also nice, allowing actual opportunities to attempt goals... but then we re-grouped with 5 on each side and that was just a shit load of bikes. I fell back to focus mainly on defense since finding the ball and then getting oneself in any sort of alignment to get it from an opponent when one only has a mallet in the right hand was making my brain tired. Since my mallet handling sucked, I found I was more useful just getting my bike in between the opposing team and our goal. Somewhere in the middle of the third game (still 5 on 5), the switch in my head clicked and I was done -- a bit cold, a bit tired, and all too aware that I was keeping my kids out a bit too late considering E's homework load. After a graceful loss, I made a quick exit with the kids.

Just to round out my fairly bikey weekend, I should also mention the pleasant Bike Ypsi ride on Sunday afternoon. We were an amusing hodge podge of bikes and riders once again, but it was fun to pedal with new friends and, once we were warmed up, the day proved lovely. It is quite the trip to see some bike culture taking root in town.

So, all in all, I had a very social weekend, several outdoorsy adventures, a bit of bike time, a couple of naps, and a good time with my kids. I also learned -- in hunting for info on when cyclocross races started -- that my racing age is 40 (measured by the age you will be on Dec 31, 2008). Of course, it matters not, but it was still a little jarring to see!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Party, party, party

It has been quite the social week... I missed Punkin Day to be bored in a hotel room in Portland, but I got to enjoy Haloween festivities at Stacey's on Wednesday and then hosted a party on Friday in honor of Stacey's birthday. So really, I guess I only got "party, party" and not "party, party, party" as the title of this entry implies... eh, whatever, I feel well socialized.

Here are more photos from the Halloween festivites and a few from the birthday party, including this little slideshow. Enjoy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Better watch out for the "flying debris of history"

So I am finally and very belatedly reviewing this anthology on radicalism in the south. It has been a chore all the way through and every time I pick it up I curse myself for having agreed to do it. Then I put it down for long stretches and that is how my good name with the AHR is now in danger because this review is so stupidly late!

Anyway, here is, dear readers, just a tiny taste of why this book has been such a chore to review:

" how Kennedy, Kahn, and Salinas both look back into the flying debris of history while turning Benjamin's angel to face the coming sun and gaze with intimacy into the possible."

Aack. I'm as PoMo as most folks who came out of Michigan humanities/social sciences in the 1990s, but this triggers even my gag reflex.

BTW, for those who didn't have to suffer through him in order to pass prelims, the reference is to Walter Benjamin and his "Angel of History."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dispatch from Portland #2 -- Touch

Friday was a long day. Breakfast/plenary, sessions, lunch/plenary, sessions, sessions, reception... and then a lovely escape to dinner and local craft brews with only my best grad school buddy. I'm not complaining, my session went well and was far better than the other sessions I attended that day. I kept hearing "presentations" about what people intended to research or think about, rather than actual research and analysis. You can tell me over coffee what you are thinking about, but at a professional panel, I expect to hear well developed and supported interpretations. Argue something and have evidence please! [rant over]

Anyway, when I finally staggered back into my hotel room a bit before 10pm, the exhaustion hit me. Granted all I had been doing was sitting around all day -- but I was sitting in my fancy clothes with my professional face in place and my brain on ready to process insight or run with inspiration. The experience made me realize how surreal it is to spend entire days living only in that part of my brain without the other pieces of my life that I probably take for granted. The one that came to mind was touch. I had not really touched another human being all day. Oh sure, I shook a few hands and there was probably at least one friendly arm grab in there, but nothing real. This makes me appreciate all the touch I usually have in my life from the kids hugging me when they get up most mornings to my huggy hippie buddies to those most excellent spousal footrubs. I think I need a snuggle.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dispatch from Portland #1 -- of flights and friends

Two hours late in arriving in Maine. One hour spent waiting in DTW, one hour of waiting on the runway... Then an hour of turbulence in the air (my Georgina, aren't you looking green...).

Muscle my bags up the steps of the old hotel (with its loud environmental systems and such low ceilings that Matt would need to duck and I can feel my claustrophobia switch being jiggled). Find my grad school friends, plus our adopted buddy, almost immediately and get big hugs. The four of us hold off all the others to escape to dinner with no outsiders. We told them it was a "working" dinner and they all fled. We "worked" on a lovely meal and a bottle of Malbec 'til the restaurant closed.

Surprisingly, in the flurry of talk, we did not get down to the usual all-cards-on-the-table assessment of our lives. R told the most, but then her divorce just went through mediation and her life has changed the most since we all were together last. I told them maybe 1% of what is happening my life and I got only slivers of the rest of theirs. Just so much ground to cover not having seen them since Phoenix last year and this being a professional conference so professional talk takes up lots of our time.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will give my talk and then see a bit of the city and taste many of their brews with V. The two of us will talk about it all.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cold Feet

I've been trying to outfit myself for fall riding on a shoestring budget by pulling together things I already own and picking up this and that from local thrift stores. I've got silk and microfiber underwear, turtlenecks, and wool which will work as baselayers and a biking jacket poached from a friend that, while ridiculously big on me, is proving useful. I picked up a bright yellow slicker, a vest, and some windproof, flannel lined pants at the Salvation Army to fill in some of the gaps in my wardrobe. I won't be a fashion plate on the bike, but at least I'll be warm enough to be on the bike.

This morning's ride was certainly a test of how well I'm doing in this project -- it was bright and crisp at 8:00am and layers were very much in order. I rode E to school and realized the gloves wouldn't cut it... so I looped back home for gloves to pull over bike gloves (check) and a fleece headband to keep ears warm (check). Somewhere after mile 7, however, I realized my feet were getting pretty cold. It didn't get better until mile 10, but I think that was more just me getting used to it. When I got home and took my shoes off, I had unhappy, cold feet. So, the feet are my weak link for cool-weather riding.

I know they make booties to go over bike shoes for just such occasions, but that is not the cheap fix for which I am looking. I do want to work this out, though... Ford Lake was so pretty with a still-low morning sun, colorful trees, and no wind.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bike Ypsi: Your friends do!

I was just a growing bundles of nerves as the ride time got closer. I was no-way in charge, but I'd helped to organize, to publicize, and to refine the route. I definitely felt responsibility for how it would go. And then, 10 minutes before we departed, I got drafted to lead a third group. We hadn't expected needing a third group so those originally supposed to be sweepers (Natalie and myself) became leaders. I'm self-conscious about my erratic speed when riding with others, inexperienced in judging how long it will take a big group to get through a light, and stingy in my hand signals... but I knew the route, I bike plenty, I figured it would be good for me to try something new, and it needed to be done because:

Folks just kept rolling up.... all types of bikes, all types of people. We had young 'uns in trailers and on tag-alongs, we had people on $4000 road bikes and others $20 garage salers. It was beautiful. Group one looked good. Group two was too big, but they went anyway and managed to get everyone around. Our group, group #3, with two rookie ride leaders up front was nicely-sized at 15. The pace was slow, but the ride was pleasant. The folks were swell -- several in our group said they didn't think they could ride that far, most have never been on a group ride (myself included!), all were forgiving of our under-organization on a few minor points (note: stagger start times on the next ride!), and while one bike crapped out near the end, we ALL made it to the Corner Brewery with smiles on our faces.

Wrap up: 62 people (including organizers), 17 miles, 50 new e-mail contacts, heaps of good biking energy, several contacts made and casual rides set up, a threat to ride every Sunday at 2:10 (see Terry's comment on the myspace Bike Ypsi page), and some will to do more. I love Ypsi. I heart bikes. And biker chicks are so sexy...

Thanks to Mark Maynard and Mary for the photos! There are lots more on the Bike Ypsi page.

Feeling good in my skin

Long ago, I was bulimic. I had body "issues," I was in a power struggle with my (I felt) overly-involved mother, and I spent 4+ nights a week engaged in an activity that rewarded excessive thinness (ballet). Growing up, moving out, getting rewards for my smarts, and finding love and acceptance not rooted in my physical being did much to free me from bulimia. As I had more power to control other aspects of my life, I could let the obsessive food control go. I never lost the body issues or control reflexes entirely, however. In all honesty (and considering what I am writing about, why hold back now?), my 17+ year vegetarianism is probably a low-level version of the desire for the control that is bulimia -- just one that also happens to fit with my political leanings, ethics, and personal tastes. I am at peace with this part of my life.

What makes me think of all this and appreciate the rather amazing transition that I just glossed over in that last paragraph is that I have taken to sleeping naked again -- something I haven't done consistently since the bulimia days when being alone and naked in bed was a chance to affirm my wacked out power over myself. As I let go of the bulimia, I think I was afraid to have that kind of reckoning with my body so I started wearing nightshirts. As a chronically cold person, I could tell myself that sleeping naked was not comfortable -- but the reality is that I wasn't feeling good enough in my body to want to do it.

So as I lay in bed (yes, naked) this morning in the minutes before the household would need to awaken I was pondering my rediscovery of naked sleeping. Certainly the addition of a huge down comforter helped -- I'm now actually warm enough -- but it is more than that. I can feel the changes of my body over the last twenty years: weight that has gone up and down, formerly C cup breasts that have settled in now as A's, a body that has grown two big babies, a hip that has gone bad (but hopefully will soon be repaired), a knee torn on an icy ski slope, arthritic toes from all that dancing.... but I don't feel bad about any of those things. When I am naked in the dark in the wee small hours of the morning I feel remarkably accepting of these things because I can also appreciate the softness of my skin, the feel of my ribs and hip bones, the curve of my hips, the wiriness of my fuzz, the definition of my quads from a summer of biking... I actually don't really separate out these things as good or bad -- they are all just sort of there. That is a new kind of feeling of power attached to my body and I feel good in my nearly 40-year old skin.

So then there is that part of me that would love to have 10 minutes with my 16-year old self to try and explain. This kind of peace is something I never imagined when I was young and seized with the idea that my body would only "get worse" or that having kids would "ruin" me or that my worth as a person was intimately bound up with my body. My 16 year old self did not see (and maybe had few good models of) women with real bodies who felt strong and attractive -- I could not fathom it then and, at times, like this morning, I am a still a little stunned to find I feel that way. It is not that I have made my life outside my body (which was the coping strategy of my 20s - work on the big brain and pretend to not have a corporeal existence) but that I have a life that integrates mind and body fairly peacefully.

I guess I have just come around to one of those cliched "if I only knew then" kind of posts, but, ah well, its my party and I can blog if I want to...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Words and Music

I came home to write this afternoon -- I'm on a bit of a roll these days even though I am writing something of a puff piece at the moment -- and there is lovely music coming from my basement. Sometimes it is just a beautiful thing to live with a musician. Right now he is playing/singing a Jay tune from long ago... from a band he was in back in our Atlanta days... from a time when we didn't have real jobs, when we didn't have children, when we rented and drove crappy cars. Now I'm all swirly and nostalgic. I think it will be nice mood from which to write.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

It's Alright

Last night I got the chance to hear, in my very own hometown, one of the creators of the soundtrack of my life: Bob Dylan. I've see him live a couple of times in the past -- once in Boston in the late eighties when, I think, he played with the Indigo Girls in a ginormous outdoor venue akin to Pine Knob, and once in at a music festival in midtown Atlanta in the mid-1990s when he was pretty messed up and couldn't finish the set. Last night was waaaaaaay better than either of those.

It ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don't matter, anyhow
An' it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don't know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I'll be gone
You're the reason I'm trav'lin' on
Don't think twice, it's alright

I've been off the big shows for the last many years -- feeling like I wasn't getting as much out of them as I was paying in time and money to go. That this was Bob Dylan, that Elvis Costello was opening for him, and that I could bike to it, however, prompted me to get a ticket. While I knew many, many people there, I actually wasn't sitting with any of them. I liked that -- I went into zone-y music headspace immediately and had a lovely time not commuicating with anyone.

It ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An' it ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
I'm on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin' you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin' anyway
So don't think twice, it's alright

Dylan was very much the Dylan of his latest album, Modern Times, all gravel-voiced and dapper in his suit and hat, but he started with olde tunes and then punctuated the new music with the old throughout.

It ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
I can't hear you any more
I'm a-thinkin' and a-wond'rin' all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I'm told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don't think twice, it's alright

He charmed me with the choice of his second song, a long-time favorite, Don't Think Twice It's Alright. The first time I heard -- or at least noticed -- this song was around a campfire at the welcome camp of a Rainbow gathering in Quebec. Like so many Dylan tunes, it was probably a couple of years later -- long after I had learned the song (I played a bit o' guitar back then) --that I ever heard Dylan's version. Something about the bittersweet tone of the lyrics and the pithy wording of attempts to reclaim personal power at the end of each verse have always drawn me in -- whoever was singing it.

I'm walkin' down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I'm bound, I can't tell
But goodbye's too good a word, gal
So I'll just say fare thee well
I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right

Last night he changed the phrasing -- rushing the lines ahead of the music -- and the band put a funny little up tempo end on it. I liked it all. Not so much for that particular rendition but more because it felt like he respected the music of his past -- music that is also a part of my past, too. I could hear the other folks around me twitch with excitement over Memphis Blues, Watchtower, and Masters of War, but for me, it was this song that settled me in and made me think, "I'm glad I'm here."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Miles of Bliss

I have just returned from the best mountain biking experience to date, out on the trails of western Michigan, near Freesoil.

A delayed weekend jaunt to the North Country trail and the Big M trail in Manistee National Forest turned out to be just lovely... Beautiful sunny weather. Long, winding, undulating trails. Brightly colored leaves fluttering down as the breeze blew. Wild turkeys roaming across our path. A campsite on public land, away from civilization, but on a two track that met up with the dirt road, that met up with the trail head -- a perfect bikey commute. A river to wash off in and potable water just down the road a mile or two. And an eager, adventurous, and well supplied companion.

The widget registered 21 miles on Sunday and 34 miles on Monday. I've never ridden so much dirt in two days. I'm loving on the new bike, feeling decent about my pedals/shoes, and enjoying my new-found ability to go over log piles. Okay, none of these obstacles (or should I say "features") was very hard/huge -- these are well-tended trails -- but there was still a mental hesitation to be overcome. Cranking up the speed to go through a difficult bit is counterintuitive but necessary. With some well-placed encouragement, I did it and I feel good about it. Unlike the rocky and rooty trails I've been on over the last few weeks, these trails are good for long distances without any need to get off the bike for hazards or extreme hills. I needed that. I had time to settle into the bike. I could look about and enjoy. I could ride fast in some bits. I enjoyed the gentle rises -- both going up and down them. Certainly there were the challenging bits (climbs and sand), but my overall impression was of zipping along pretty trails for miles and miles and miles.

The bike has quite the advantage over hiking. As we rolled along the trail, it was easier to see how the forest changed -- and how small the various sections really were. There might be a quarter mile of pine -- and pines only, a stunning sight -- before the landscape changed to hard woods. A drop into a low spot and trees would give way to brush and the smell would become more peaty. Then the trail would rise and there would be open spots with sun and (unfortunately) sand. At some points, red leaves covered the trail, but then it would be yellow only, then just brown, or pine needles. We rode about as late as we could into the evening, which meant we were treated to lovely shifts in the light in the final hour of the sun. There was one shade of yellow in particular that just popped -- almost glowed -- in the woods with the last bit of sun. Some of the areas with small pine looked hazy as we passed through. The tall pines looked eerie. Very cool.

The inevitable crunchy bits of driving, camping, biking, and sustained physical exertion were few and came and went without spoiling what was a truly damn fine experience. This trip was exactly what I wanted -- I just wanted to be out in the woods.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Swirling brain

The good thing about already having written a book is that I can reassure myself that my current angst is normal. I've been in this place before -- the place where one no longer knows what it is that one was supposed to be doing. But I've also emerged from this place before -- sources were found, chapters got written -- and all was well. So I am taking comfort in knowing that this is "just a phase."

Basically, the first part of my current book project is stuck. I blithely assumed I knew what I was doing in this section (having already written on the early twentieth century and related topics many, many times over the last 15 years), knew what it would look like, and left the piddly little details of which stories I would actually tell to be decided "later." So off I went, researching and writing away on the second half of the book over the last couple of years. But now, well, we have arrived at "later." It is time to move on the early parts of the book and I don't seem to know what the fuck I am doing.

I've pulled lots of sources and they give evidence of people and organizations doing all the things I knew they were doing (building boarding houses and hotels for women, lunchrooms, restrooms, campaigning for street lighting and covered streetcar stops, etc.) but I've got a big ole nothin' in terms of why they are doing what they are doing. Oh, they have their reasons -- lots of references to the civic good and protecting the most vulnerable -- but it is not quite what I wanted. What did I want? I no longer am sure... I just know that it isn't this. I can't make the connections I thought I could. I don't seem to have anything new to say. So I'm shifting... The work of reformers now seems much less significant to me when I consider that commercial institutions looking to profit off a changing economic structure and shifting social patterns of sociability did as much to reshape the social and physical urban geography as those pesky middle-class Progressives -- and that just shoots to hell the parallels I had hoped to draw. And what then, do I actually focus on in this part of the book? Which cities? Which changes?

Aargh. Even as I write this I still can't put my finger on what is not working for me. Guess this dying fish needs to flop on the dock a bit longer.

Time to turn to my current coping mechanism of choice.... the sun is out, I'm going for a ride. I'll let the bits stew while I crank the pedals.

Monday, October 1, 2007


My grandmother died. On Thursday. It was not a lingering illness, but neither was it a surprise. She was 90. It was a peaceful end -- she had been only lightly conscious in days previous and on Thursday afternoon, she just quietly stopped breathing.

My dad was with her when she died, which, if she realized he was there at all, probably pleased her. She was closer -- in a buddy sort of way -- to her daughter and my dad's half-sister, but Dad was her "pride and joy."

I was not there. I pondered and even agonized a bit about going down to Florida as her health deteriorated over the last few weeks, but my dad kept saying "no, you won't want to remember her this way." What I finally figured out is that HE didn't want me to see her that way and once I realized that, it made it easier not to go. From all reports, she wouldn't have known one way or the other if I were there. I wanted to go anyway, but I could respect the somewhat misguided desire in my dad's head that I remember my grandmother listening to Tiger's game with us, taking us to the pool, or decorating that hilarious silver Christmas tree (the kind with the light wheel aimed at it that turned it blue, red, and green). I'm pretty sure that I could hold the hand of a frail and dying woman and still remember those things, but if it made it easier on my dad for me to not be there, I could do that too. He needed to tend her and himself; not me.

My grandmother was a funny woman. She was intensely social (which sort of explains my dad, for those of you that know him). She never learned to drive but even over the last 22 years, since my grandfather died, she never had need of a car because of her huge and close social network. She did not opt to think too deeply about the world around her and she tended to take things at face value but that also translated into a very matter of fact approach to life. She liked what she liked, she told you what that was, and she enjoyed it. She liked Rolling Rock beer and intense shades of red (red lipstick, red sweaters, red pants... and often all together, but never the same shade of red, much to my mother's chagrin). She told me once long ago, after expressing a bit of confusion as to why I lived with W but hadn't gone ahead and married him, "I loved to two men and had the good fortune to marry them both." She far outlived both her husbands, something she also took in stride, as was her practice.

She was not a touchy-feeling, deeply involved kind of grandma but she was probably one of the better members of my family in terms of expressing familial connection. Her cards always arrived in time for every holiday and birthday and while they rarely said much, they always said things like, "I love you" and "I'm proud of you" -- things the rest of my family would probably do well to say more often.

After my dad called me with the news of her death, I started to experience the "stress" (not sure of the right word) of dealing with her death as an intense tiredness. I still made it through my days: kids got to school, grant applications got filed, articles got read, dinner was made, and some guests were even hosted. But my overriding desire was to just sleep. I did make it through a family wedding on Saturday. The groom is my cousin from that side of the family -- so he was facing losing his grandmother days before his wedding. I was not originally going to attend this wedding, but the family -- mostly my dad and his sister -- wanted grandma's family (there aren't that many of us) to gather. So I went. And I made it through that -- though still in my zombie-like state. I talked with both my cousins -- particularly the one closest to my grandma. I hugged my aunt and uncle. I had a glass of wine with my dad.

While I felt fairly removed from the happenings of the wedding -- I am not particularly close to that extended family -- I felt good for having gone. And finally, sometime after midnight, the tiredness lifted. It was beautiful outside and I went for a walk.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dirty Girl

I am a dirty girl again.

My mountain bike of 17 years was stolen in June and I have been off the trails for the whole summer. On Sunday, however, I bought a new-to-me mountain bike and, just for laughs, picked up my first pair of proper cycling shoes. Even though I discovered I have champagne tastes in bike shoes (Sidi), I restrained myself and bought the "just fine" Specialized shoes... the equivalent of a $10 bottle of red (not the cheapest, but nothing fancy).

Spent yesterday figuring out the shoes/cleats/pedals and then took off to try a few trails today. I made the expected number of mistakes -- but it was definitely more giggles than frustration... especially when Adventure Buddy had to help pick the prickers out of my hair and off my back from slow motion crash number two (didn't have enough speed going over a log).
It is easy to see that I will (eventually) be a better rider with my feet attached to the pedals. I'll have to be, you can't just weenie out and put your foot down the way you can with toe clips. I did learn that the best way to not fall over is to PEDAL HARDER... even out of a dead stop. I also learned the oh-so-helpful tree grab as a means of staying upright when you just can't move forward anymore.

The bike... the bike is good. I'm liking the front shocks and the bike in general just feels good. I did manage to bend the chain ring on a log/rock combo, but AB is not only an excellent pricker picker, he is damn handy with all things bikey. A little of this, a little of that and all is well again.
And I'll close with a small bit o' praise for the MMBA folks who built the trails out at Hewen's Creek. There aren't a lot of trails and they cover very flat terrain, but I'm delighted that they are down there in my little corner of Washtenaw County. They are very well built -- some in the woods and some in meadows (lots of wild flowers out now) and fun if you have an hour to blast around or want some beginner trails. Also, Rolling Hills is around the corner and you can tack on a few more miles of fast grass riding over there, if you like.


A group of friends out for a drink after a concert.... It's getting late, folks split off to head for their vehicles... Two women who drove together, leave together. Two men who are parked near each other start down the street with me. But I am parked another block over and turn to head that way. One friend says "We can walk you..." and adds something about not messing with my "feminist cred." My hackles go up -- not because of the feminist crack, per se, but because it is obvious he would walk with me to keep me safe, not so that we would be safe. I blow him off. I go on alone. But as I round the corner onto the the dark street with dark alleys and look up at the parking deck where I have left my car, I am slammed with all the contradictions of being a woman, out alone, at night, in public space.

I regret the cavalier rejection of a companion. I feel stupid for feeling anxious. I feel more stupid for not have acted with appropriate caution. I resent having the offer of accompaniment being tied to feminism -- as if a "real" feminist would never accept an accompaniment -- it's not what he meant (in fact he probably meant just the opposite), but I went all defensive. I despise the uncertainty I have... for all I know about women and public space, for all I have read about what women "should" do and what they "do" do, none of it made that moment on that street any easier. It probably made it more difficult. I am pissed that the reality is that I am an idiot to climb the stairs of the parking structure on my own. I am uncomfortable with my own vulnerability. I am uncomfortable that others around me see it too.

So then I swallow my independence/pride and I call one of the friends... he can't be far away we just parted ways... just a block away, maybe, and on a bike. He could easily swing my way and go with me to my car. But he does not answer... maybe he is already on the bike and doesn't hear the ring... I am annoyed he doesn't pick up but I am relieved he doesn't pick up. I am relieved I don't have to explain. But I still had to climb the stairs and cross the empty floor to my car.

Obviously it turned out fine, but...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The "perfect" food

So I've been searching over the last month or so for the perfect pre-ride food. After an unfortunate choice a while back and a subsequent mild bonk at about mile 26, I decided I needed to pay more attention to what went in my belly before my butt went on the bike.

And here is what I've settled on:

Yep, fancy-schmancy, organic, vegetarian pop tarts -- frosted, of course.

Tested on 50, 40, and 25 milers... yep, they work. Now the only challenge is keeping a ready stash hidden from the kids.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

DC Doings

Well, I am just back from a work week in DC. I drafted several blogs during my travels, but I only once found a free wi-fi connection (and it was in a brew pub!).

Other than the lack of connectivity, I love DC. I love to ride the metro. I love to watch the tourists. I love to wander neighborhoods. I love to eat good ethnic food. And now I can say, after spending 40+ hours there, I love the Library of Congress. The LOC catalogs 7,000 new books a day and has something in excess of 25 million books (and another million "other" items) in the stacks. The setting is gorgeous and the staff leaves you pretty much alone unless you want help. What's not to love?
Okay, the security was a bit intense and the lack of a women's bathroom anywhere near the main reading room was a pain, but still, it is an amazingly place.
I spent most of my time reading etiquette manuals from the mid-19th century up through today. These books were quite the rage in the late 19th c. and early 20th c. and there are probably 10 manuals for every one published post 1950. I was amused to find that some of the oldies were still being published as late as the 1960s.
So how good are you on the etiquette of public space?
1. When ascending and descending stairs, who goes first?
2. If a woman wanted to host a restaurant meal for a man before 1970, how did she actually go about paying the tab without crushing his masculinity?
3. When was a woman in pre-1940s America supposed to wear a hat?
4. Did women need an escort in pre-1960s America in order to feel entitled to traverse urban streets and take advantage of public transportation?
When the etiquette manuals dried up (in the last 40 years), I switched over to reading self-defense manuals directed at women. In terms of advice to women on how to conduct themselves in public space, these seem to be what replaces the etiquette manuals. Not surprisingly, the tone is quite different and they often use the old "do this and never do that" books from earlier generations as the straw man in making their point that women have been conditioned to be helpless in public. The self-defense authors play this out to argue that women have been taught to be victims and they need to "take charge" of their lives by learning karate, carrying mace, and checking the back seats of their cars before driving away from the mall. I'll take the etiquette manuals over these fear mongering rags any day. (oops, did I say that out loud?)
Finally, I checked in on the professional papers published about public comfort stations and rest rooms at the turn of the 20th century. Most major cities started building comfort stations (public toilets) in that period and folks were eager to share their funding strategies and "modern" designs. Not surprisingly, but still markedly counter to the current rage for potty parity, women's facilities were generally significantly smaller (fewer stalls and no urinal-equivalents) than those built for men. They also often included a "rest room" (which was a lounge for women only -- to give them a respite from the "public" of public space) while men's facilities never had such spaces. I'll have lots to say on what all this means later... or certainly by the time I write the book, anyway.