Archives for December 2012


I am so thankful for my little family this week.  Lucas has been a great gofer and has (mostly) kept himself entertained.  (He has been making Valentine’s Day cards for the extended family and sewing little felt pouches adorned with hearts as gifts.)  And Fang has gone above and beyond the requirements of those in-sickness-and-in-health vows he took a decade ago.

Image source*

He has taken me to urgent care twice, fetched escalating prescriptions of antibiotics, fixed meals for the boy, kept Lucas entertained with reading and guitar lessons and movies, and more–all while meeting the multiple deadlines of a newspaperman (his preferred title).  I am so very fortunate to have such a caring, thoughtful, capable spouse–especially since I suspect he knew the job wouldn’t be easy when he signed up for it.

Thanks so much, Sweetie. Here’s to a healthier new year!

* “Milk Truckers” is one of my fave WPA posters of all time.  Glad I finally found an excuse to use it.

Themes for 2013: Completion, then space

A couple weeks with pneumonia means a lot of time propped up on the couch.  Once the novelty of watching way too much TV wore off, my eyes wandered to the books on the shelves, cobwebs in high places, dust on the baseboards, Christmas tree needles embedded in the living room rug.

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Before I could even stand up confidently, I was mentally Swiffering the ceiling corners and telekinetically weeding books from the shelves, sorting them into donations and those that should be in my campus office.  I ignored my usual work-oriented task list in Dropbox and scrawled a five-page to-do list in one of the far too many blank journals and sketchbooks that have accumulated in my home office.  I color-coded tasks by how sedentary they were, assigning each (perhaps optimistically) to a day of this week.  And then–because I couldn’t bear to stream another episode of 30 Rock from Netflix–I found myself accomplishing the lowest-energy of these tasks.

I have to remind myself to slow down, that if I push myself too hard I could relapse further into the pneumonia, but between the steroids and the antibiotics, I’m feeling much better.  Hell, I even dusted a few shelves today–without descending into a coughing fit–as I carefully lowered extraneous books into boxes.

I’m enjoying having cleared that space, however small it may be.  And I’m realizing that the cramped nature of my life extends beyond my shelves; having too many irons in too many fires can have a real impact on my health.  At the same time, I’m committed to collaborations I enjoy and I’m loath to abandon.

So while I’ve spent the last couple of years here trying to grow professional and personal roots–one of my themes has been groundedness–I now need to focus on bringing projects to completion.  Completion will help me with my case for tenure (I anticipate submitting my tenure portfolio in fall 2014), but perhaps more importantly it also will allow me much-needed space for health and wellness.  Once I complete the various article-length writing projects and launch a couple of digital projects into the community, I expect to finally have the time and space to focus adequately on my well-being and on the book I’ve been brewing.

It’s fitting, then, that I spent the last day of 2012 alternating between rest and completing small tasks I should have crossed off my list long ago.  Here’s to a new year of completion and spaciousness and health.

What are your hopes and plans for the new year?


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Just when I thought I was out of the pneumoniac woods, it ends up it’s antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.

I’m now on a new antibiotic, one that the physician’s assistant assures me will “kill anything inside” me.*  Yay?


*Just looked up the antibiotic–it’s also used to treat meningitis, anthrax, tuberculosis, and plague. Fun times.

Blog, interrupted

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I had the best intentions of exploring gun violence in the U.S. in a series of posts here–and I still will.

However, the day after finals ended, I came down with bacterial pneumonia.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  As soon as I have fully recovered, I’m getting the damn vaccine, as this is case o’ pneumonia #2 since moving to Boise–after never having had it previously, and having had the flu shot religiously, which is supposed to dramatically reduce the changes of contracting the ol’ lung fever.

I’ve come out of this incident with a key bit of knowledge (which you’d think an asthmatic would have absorbed long ago): Normal blood oxygen levels = VERY GOOD.  Blood oxygen levels in the mid-80s = BAD.  (In fact, so bad that, combined with the other symptoms, the doctor said drily, “A chest x-ray is not indicated.”)

I hope everyone’s holidays have been excellent.   Here’s to better health in 2013!

Have a celebratory drink for me, eh? I’m on antibiotics.


Not-so-random bullets

Back in my cultural studies grad school days, I heard frequent exhortations by left-leaning professors that the classroom is inherently a political space and we should be open about our own political stances. About half of the faculty I heard this from seemed to be saying that students’ own beliefs need challenging (and broadening), while the other half seemed to suggest that only if we come clean about our own political commitments can we be considered good teachers.  After all, we can’t go about criticizing white male [philosophers, scientists, historians, curators, politicians] for adopting a “view from nowhere” if we ourselves aren’t situating our knowledge or, in the case of teachers, our presentation of allegedly objective knowledge, in the context of our cultural habits, beliefs, and values.

Here in Idaho, many of my students aren’t especially eager to hear my feminist perspective on issues.  (On several occasions, I have had male students name the “worst professors” in my college as the ones I’m guessing are most likely to present an overtly feminist perspective on the past and present.) I deliver this same perspective in my courses, I suspect, but it’s much more moderated than it was when I was standing in the front of California classrooms.  I still present the same ideas, but I’m more likely to counterbalance them with ideas to which my most conservative students will be more sympathetic.

So, for example, in the first “half” of the history survey, I have them read Clarence Walker’s Mongrel Nation and we discuss it for a couple of days, but I also have them look at the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society’s Scholars Commission report on l’affaire Hemings.  I emphasize slavery and gender and a relatively countercultural view of U.S. history throughout the semester, and then we read the Texas state standards for U.S. history.  For me, it’s not a matter of perfect balance–I do usually take a stance at the end of each activity–but of challenging students from both sides of the political spectrum with inconvenient facts. While my students are WTF?ing about why Jefferson isn’t more prominent and asking if the Texas standards aren’t some kind of conspiracy by the extreme right, I ask them why they don’t know more about “Benjamin Rush, John Hancock, John Jay, John Witherspoon, John Peter Muhlenberg, Charles Carroll, and Jonathan Trumbull Sr.”–the founding fathers deemed most significant by the Texas state board.  Could that be some kind of conspiracy?  (Cue sound of minds being blown.)  Such moments open good discussions about how all textbook historiography is political and that history gets practiced by all kinds of people for all kinds of ends.  (Example: Why are so many of the students in my class required to take the wide-ranging survey course instead of courses that would allow them greater space to examine issues in depth?)

My point is this: I make clear to my students that most of them are going to consider me a flaming liberal/crazy Californian/just the type of person who is ruining Idaho.  But then I win their trust, and they usually consider my position.

I owe a good deal of credit to Fang; as I was maturing out of my early-twenties jejeunosity, he modeled the whole walking-a-mile-in-someone-else’s-perspective thing exceptionally well. And he’s still really, really good at it.

I like to think I can be, too.

But there are a couple of issues where I just can’t moderate myself–as anyone who has seen my FB postings the last couple of days can attest.

Gun violence is one of those.

And yet I moved from a state (California) that scored 81 on the Brady Campaign’s scorecard to one that earned–wait for it–a 2.  And not surprisingly (to me, at least), Idaho is also one of the states where people are more likely to kill themselves or others with a gun, accidentally or intentionally.  (Not surprisingly, the map of that data bears a strong resemblance to the 2012 presidential election results.)


People on all sides of the gun control debate (and isn’t that all of us?) let emotion control their beliefs and habits.  (Fear, mostly.)  As we try to figure out how to feel more secure despite this fear, we draw on whatever personal experience we have, whether that be first-hand experience with guns or the cultural context in which we came to know about gun violence.

Over the next several days, I’m going to share a lot of links I’ve been collecting about gun violence, gun control, and gun ownership.  There’s going to be a lot of data and logic, and much of it is going to–surprise!–point out that more regulation of guns is a good idea. There will also be a good deal of personal reflection–this is my personal/academic blog, after all, so the posts are all but required to aspire to public intellectualism before devolving into maudlin solipsism.  First, though, I want to don my good-teacher cardigan and position myself vis-à-vis this subject.  Here are a few not-so-random, er, bullets that may not yet seem to all be related to the same theme:

  • The first time I saw a gun in person, it was my grandfather’s service revolver.  He was a retired police officer, and he told me I should never, ever touch a handgun.  (In the same room–my grandparents’ bedroom–many years later, as he lay dying, he would tell me to stay away from alcohol, drugs, and fast women.  He died when I was only 15 years old, but in later years I learned from my grandmother that he was sort of a walking cautionary tale.)
  • My grandmother disposed of the handgun almost immediately after Grandpa died. Very shortly thereafter, a mentally ill man who had gone off his meds tried to punch through the glass on Grandma’s front door.  He wanted to injure the home’s inhabitants, and yes, he had known there was a gun not far from the front door when Grandpa was alive.  The first thing Grandma said to me after the incident was that she was so glad she had gotten rid of that gun.
  • I grew up in a household free of guns.
  • When I was in high school, I regularly heard gunshots in the neighborhood as I was waiting to be picked up from orchestra practice on Wednesday nights.
  • There were many, many gang members in my high school.
  • I was in high school in Long Beach during the Los Angeles riots. I watched the violence unfold on TV at night, then drove to school the next morning to find the occasional building burned down between my house and the school. Never, however, did I feel unsafe.
  • My senior year, I wrote the obituary page in my high school yearbook.
  • When I was a student there, my high school was 20 percent white. There were 50+ languages spoken at home by its students.
  • I feel most white not when I’m the only white person in a crowd, but when I’m in a crowd full of white people.  I’ve never felt more conscious of my whiteness than I have in Idaho.
  • The only time I feared for my safety sufficiently that I went straight to a police station was when I was pursued on a bike by a white man in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  (I was 18.)
  • I have been a vegetarian for more than two decades, and I aspire to be vegan.  When I really commit myself I can be vegan for weeks on end, and I look and feel awesome.
  • I have a history of serious depression, and I’m not the only one in my home who struggles with it.


Pay attention to the number on the right.

And please donate to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence if you are so moved.

A semester full of crises

Not for me.  For my students.

Let’s make an inventory, shall we?

  • PTSD
  • debilitating illness
  • debilitating depression
  • debilitating anxiety
  • at least one jailed spouse
  • crises of single parenting
  • job loss
  • family members at death’s door
  • friends murdered
  • friends committing suicide
  • friends on suicide watch
  • friends injured or killed in horrible accidents
  • debilitating migraines

And I know I’m forgetting something.  It’s been a long semester.

At midsemester, I came out to students as a depressive, as there still seems to be here (especially among veterans) a stigma around mental illness.  I shared, briefly, my struggles with depression, and I emphasized that things got better when I sought help.  Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that I’ve had a series of students in my office since then.

Their challenges are tremendous.  I don’t have to solve their problems; I merely serve as a listening ear–as someone who demonstrates she cares about them when they feel alone–for a few minutes.  Fortunately, Boise State has a program to which I can report students who are distressed, and the response time is great.

I’ve been sharing with these students something I wish had been reinforced for me when I was a student.  It’s a brief list of priorities:

1. Self-care

2. Care of family and friends

. . .and only then. . .

3. Coursework

Perspective! It’s useful.  Pass it on.

Guppies: A Cautionary Tale

The guppies and I had an understanding, and it involved cannibalizing their young.

Let’s rewind a couple of months:

As a reward for earning his yellow belt in Taekwondo, Fang promised Lucas a fish tank.  Not just goldfish, Fang emphasized—real fish.

I think Lucas may have had visions of a 50-gallon saltwater tank filled with yellow tangs and angelfish, live coral and maybe a small eel.  Something you’d see in a doctor’s office waiting room.  Maybe Fang did, too, not realizing the cost and maintenance involved in such a set-up.

In the end, it fell to me to set up the fish tank.  My parents kicked in a gift card to a chain pet store as a birthday gift to Lucas so we could get the tank, and they sent along as well some aquarium decorations. Fang and I purchased all the other little things that come with setting up a new tank: dechlorinator, living plants, gravel, pump filters, water test kits, freshwater aquarium salt, siphon, starter bacteria, and more.  I printed out a fish compatibility chart and explained to Lucas that the 10-gallon tank could hold only five or six fish, and that most of the fish for beginners liked to school, so it’s likely we’d be able to get only one or two types of fish.

We set up the tank and let it settle for a few days, knowing that we were going to cycle the tank with fish.  The water’s pH was very high, so we opted for guppies, which apparently can thrive in high-pH water.  I read more than I ever dreamed I might about Poecilia reticulata. At this point  in our adventure I was confident I could write a damn good literature review, entitled “Advice to New Freshwater Home Aquarists, with Special Attention to Rising Ammonia Concentrations.”

Guppy enthusiasts remain divided as to the ideal female: male ratio.  The textbook answer is two females to each male, but vast anecdotal evidence on the interwebs suggests that it really all comes down to the temperaments of the individual guppies.  Still, patterns emerged: If you have only females, one will likely become an alpha and abuse the others. If you go the male route, and one male guppy is a total asshole, then he’s going to harass any guppy, regardless of sex.  My ever-vaster reading made clear to me that guppy tending falls somewhere, though I wasn’t sure exactly where, on the spectrum of “Great Introduction to the Aquarium Hobby” and “Total Crapshoot, Kids.”

Need I point out that I wasn’t interested in getting into the business of fancy guppy breeding?  And that I didn’t want to have to console a seven-year-old when the adult guppies devoured the babies? I explained to Lucas that it would get Darwinian pretty damn quickly in the tank—meaning I enthused, “Guppies make their own food!” Lucas said, with far too much sangfroid for my taste, that he was “okay with blood.”

In the end, we went with the fish store employee’s advice to get two females and one male, though she confessed she herself had three males and one female that apparently never became pregnant.  We brought the fish home and while at home, I did little but fret about guppies.  (Alas, I inherited, through nature and nurture, a visceral aversion to animal suffering, no matter how small-brained or short-lived the creature.)

My Facebook updates quickly descended into guppy management angst. I had committed to twice-daily partial water changes and lots and lots of water testing.

The guppies, meanwhile, had committed to procreation.  I’m pretty sure one of the females was pregnant before we reached home.

Soon it became evident that, promised guppy cannibalism aside, Lucas expected to keep some of the baby fish.  I procured a second, smaller tank.

A few weeks later, Lucas was excited to see the teeny tiny guppy fry in the tank, and encouraged me to scoop them out.  This process has repeated itself several times, so that we now have about 20 tiny fish in the nursery tank–waaaaaaay too many for an aquarium that size.

From my reading, female guppies birth between two and 200 fish at a time.  Wikipedia reports, “Guppies have the ability to store sperm up to a year, so the females can give birth many times without depending on the presence of a male.”  We have two females. You do the math.

We could be talking about a lot of guppies.  Yet we have seen fry swimming around in the tank, then suddenly they were gone. In fact, Lucas has had the pleasure of seeing one of the females eat a newborn guppy.

I figured, then, that once we had found homes for, oh, 18 of the fry in the secondary tank, we would have reached guppy detente: Guppies are born.  Guppies get eaten.

Why, then, did this week the guppies break our social contract?  There are four fry swimming around the tank, and they’ve been there for about 48 hours.

Anyone want some guppies?

UPDATE: I just went into the kitchen and discovered THIRTY guppy fry.