Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Location: United States

Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Despair and Chicken Soup

Lauren's made a post over at Feministe which struck so many chords that I was rooted to my chair until I could finish responding to it. Here goes:

As my ex-husband and I were in the process of separating (but still living together) after he'd told me out of the blue that he didn't want to be married to me anymore, I couldn't eat anything but Campbell's chicken noodle soup for about two months. I lost nearly 50 pounds.

Almost everybody complimented me extravagantly on the weight loss, but very, very few people noticed the pain on my face. And nobody worried that I was dropping too much weight too quickly. The women at work just wanted to know how I was doing it. "Despair and chicken soup," I wanted to say. But I didn't, because I was trying to keep anybody from knowing what was going on. So I just mumbled something about watching what I was eating and got away as quickly as possible, usually to go cry in my car.

Afterward, once I'd moved to Big City and was alone, I was so angry and defiant and depressed and self-loathing all at once that one of the few things that pleased me were these fucked-up "compliments." So I kept starving myself, long after the chicken-soup phase was over. I remember testing myself to see how long I could go between meals, how little I could eat, and nearly passing out for the first time in my life one day when it'd been at least 12 hours between meals.

I was as close to thin as I'd ever get in my life, and I wore the tightest clothing I'd ever put on, though I still wore restraining underwear to control my rebelliously un-flat tummy. And I got lots of attention, though nearly none of it was particularly nice attention. And I ate it up instead of food.

One day, I saw a picture of myself with a friend and a faculty member, and I was horrified by the little bit of abdominal fat that was clearly visible as I leaned over to link my arm through theirs.

I think that was the beginning of the end of that phase, because I started realizing that, even though I was eating so little I'd nearly pass out, I still wasn't ideally thin. The ideally thin body wasn't my body, and it was never gonna be.

At least, when I ran into a psychotic personal trainer named (I shit you not) "Chucki"--who made a living by impersonating Sarah Connors from the Terminator movies and who told me I could never eat butter or cheese again; that if I was ever so tempted, I should just think of both substances as "Death;" and that breasts were "just fat," after all (as she looked appraisingly at my chest)--I knew she was insane.

I'm still plentifully invested in despising my body, though I try not to be. Too many years of past-saturation-point advertising featuring scapula-chested, twiggy, human bobblehead-women as ideal; that boy who told me when I was 12 that he didn't like me because I had "a big butt;" being told at 6 by a dance teacher that I was too chunky to be a ballerina; a kindly pediatrician I adored worrying that I was always just a bit over the ideal BMI; knowing since pretty much forever what a "big baby" I was . . . . I have no idea how long ago this started, but it's too deeply engrained to ever go away entirely.

And as to trying not to wear pants "because my legs are too fat," oh Lordy, do I ever identify with that. The "bohemian look" is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and when I find a pair of knee-high boots that will actually fit around these pillar-sized gams of mine, I hang on to them until they've been re-heeled and repaired until there's nearly nothing original left on them.

I wish to God every day that I hadn't found out about "the pencil test" when I was 28. I used to at least be pleased with my breasts.

Oh, it's sad. Sad the way we dissect ourselves, chop ourselves up into our component parts like some sadistic sonneteer writing a blazon according to the dicta of the Ford agency: "My mistress' eyes are nothing like Angelina Jolie's . . . ."

And it's so hard to stop it and just be grateful for having a body that's strong enough to do what I need from it, healthy enough to get me through life without too much difficulty most of the time, and capable of giving and receiving comfort and pleasure.

I've thought, off and on for years, about getting a tattoo for reasons similar to the ones Lauren noted: as a way of reclaiming at least part of me for myself, as a way of marking the things I've been through and survived. But I can never manage to be satisfied with the right design or--maybe more importantly--the right placement.

It can't be placed, after all, anywhere that will stretch and sag.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Et tu, Target?

Those of us who might've considered Target a "safe" place to spend our money (as opposed to, say, Wal-Mart, whose horrifically anti-labor, misogynistic, anti-environmental, anti-small business, anti-free speech policies are both legion and well-known) might want to think twice. Last month, a Target pharmacist in Missouri refused to fill a woman's prescription for emergency contraception, and the company has apparently failed either to discipline the pharmacist for failing to do dispense legal medication as prescribed by a doctor or to issue a policy against this kind of behavior, despite consumer protests.

Let's make them pay better attention. Planned Parenthood has an online petition you can sign here. You can also call 1-800-440-0680 to make a customer service report on this issue.

Monday, October 24, 2005

On Selfishness in Academe

(Okay, so I'm going back on my earlier declaration that I wouldn't engage with anything serious in a blog post today. I give up: I had to write about this.)

Well, hey, maybe the editors at the Chronicle are finally wising up a bit, because this* is a "First Person" article that actually seems relevant, sensible, clear-eyed, and does not wallow in Pollyannaish "it's okay that I have to pay to do my research, 'cause it's an investment in me"-style delusion. It does, I think, err a bit in the direction of blame-the-victim. (I'm thinking especially of her self-indictment as "lazy" for not having been more aggressive about getting herself on the market, which I suspect is unfair; she doesn't exactly sound like the lazy type to me.) Nonetheless, it's generally an outstanding and revealing piece.

And while I'm not a trailing spouse, this section is hitting par-ticularly close to home:

I also said yes to a lot of . . . things that I should have declined. Eager to prove myself a good departmental citizen (and seeking further validation through caretaking?), I volunteered for committees and student-recruitment events. I agreed to teach a time-consuming first-year seminar, because its small stipend paid for an eye exam and a new computer battery. Unpaid, I designed multiple syllabi for a new academic program and cheerfully handed them over to the dean. (She later cut the program, but promised to hold on to my "excellent courses.")

My husband jealously guarded his time, which irritated me to no end. How could he be so selfish?

A better question might have been, "How could I not?" As long as I devalued my own labor, the university would, too. As long as I felt that my own research and writing didn't count as "real" work, I was running in place.

The equal-and-opposite-reaction syndrome happens when only one party in an academic relationship takes himself and his work seriously. That syndrome is not confined to private life. Until I started prioritizing my own research and writing over the labor that I volunteered -- or sold at a negligible price -- to the university, the university and I would have a mighty unequal relationship.

This is such an easy trap to fall into, and I have fallen into it so many times. Students who will have a serious mental meltdown if you don't lead them, step-by-step, through assignments. Faculty members who dupe you into doing their dirty work for years on end by hinting at how great it'll look on your c.v. and how many "connections" it'll make for you. Service committees whose members convince you that there are at least three projects upon which the fate of your fellow graduate students, both now and in the future, depend.

Toss in a pinch of perfectionism, a sense of duty, a desire to prove to the non-academic world that you do something concrete for a living, a few fistfuls of self-doubt, an eagerness to please, and a dash of soft-heartedness, and you've got a bona fide recipe for disaster.

It's a shame that universities (at least many of the more prestigious, research-oriented ones) don't do much more than pay lip-service to truly valuing service and teaching. But they don't. It's a shame that they don't have the ethical will to give young scholars a fairer shot at producing solid research by ensuring that they have time to do it. But they don't. And unless and until they do these things, those of us struggling to make it into the academy had better be damned selfish about claiming our research time.

Tomorrow, I'm spending at least four hours on nothing but my prospectus. Other stuff will have to wait, and I'm just going to have to get more comfortable with pissing people off.


*Discovered via Dr. B.

Dance dance dance

My to-do lists are mad at me, so I will not attempt to be serious, profound, or even reasonably engaged with the world at large in today's post.

Instead, I bring you this dancing cat video, courtesy of Morgan.

I defy you not to laugh.

UPDATE--More cat stuff in the form of an anecdote for the Mouse fans, adapted from a comment I originally posted over at Badger's in response to this post:

I recently started feeding Mouse (who's developed a bit of avoirdupois) canned diet food. Mouse is very sweet tempered, so he put up with it for a while, though he didn't eat much of it. After about a week, though, he picked up some of it, carried it over another small bowl of dry food, and smeared it all over the kitchen floor.

When I saw it, Mouse looked up at me very solemnly. I said "Point taken" and cleaned it up. He purred and rubbed up against my legs while I wiped the linoleum.

I'm mixing the diet food with a little non-diet food now, to make it taste better: he seems to be accepting that as a fair compromise.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Blog Carnivals

Yeah, I'm still up. Got stranded on campus for a bit, but a ride is coming soon.

Meanwhile, courtesy of about half the people on my blogroll, I just thought I'd register the apperance of three really smashing blog carnivals that have appeared lately:

1) Teaching Carnival I (at Thanks for Not Being a Zombie)
2) Teaching Carnival II (at Scribblingwoman)
3) Feminist Carnival I (at Philobiblon)

I'm fascinated both by the contents of these carnivals and by the concept of blog carnivals in general: I just keep getting bowled over by how immensely flexible and innovative the blogging world is.


I step away from my tale of woe to do a bit of political plugging. Don't worry; I'm sure I'll get right back to whinging soon enough.

Grassroots Action Item #1:

This week (and perhaps even tomorrow morning), the House of Representatives will consider a Republican-sponsored amendment to the budget which would make $50 billion in cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, and student loans while offering $70 billion in tax cuts, most of them going to people who're unlikely ever to need Medicaid, food stamps, or student loans. I'd classify this as "business as usual" if it weren't coming in the wake of the NOLA disaster, which so thoroughly demonstrated our country's failure to look after its poorest citizens and should have shamed the legislature into doing some soul-searching. As it is, this qualifies as a particularly callous and unprincipled machination.

If you want to protest, MoveOn's got an online petition you can sign and send to your representative.

Grassroots Action Item #2

Usually, being the recipient of anything handed out on the street is a pain in the rear. Usually, I tend to wait until I turn the corner (so as not to demoralize the distributor of flyers or what-have-you, whose job must already be horrible enough) and then toss it directly into the nearest trash can. But not this time.

Not only are Luna Bar reps passing out bitsy samples of their tasty provender, but this little treat comes with a flyer that invites the beholder to join the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which is working to hold corporations and the government accountable for the inclusion of "chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and other serious health consequences" in many products marketed primarily to women and gender-bending men.

I'm convinced that, just because the transformative powers of cosmetics and fashion have traditionally been used as a hegemonic tool doesn't mean they always have to be used for such purposes. But I definitely think we shouldn't to have to pay for a glossy lip or a lined eye with our health, so I like this campaign very much. Another positive aspect: though it's particularly connected with the fight against breast cancer, there's nary a pink ribbon on this website.

File Under "Quelle Surprise"

Bush's new nominee for the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers, has already been outed as a political crony (after the "Brownie" debacle, we might think El Presidente would have the sense to make less questionable nominations, but one apparently can't underestimate the man's arrogance). And now, like the previous nominee, John Roberts, she's also been outed as unsupportive of women's reproductive rights, despite her (probably very convenient for her backers) lack of a paper trail.

Dr. B. has an incisive post on Miers and why we really need to keep her off the Court here.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


I've spent the largest portion of today convinced that I am:

a) a social misfit
b) disgustingly weak and unattractive
c) repulsively over-invested in the idea of being attractive
d) appallingly undisciplined
e) a failure as a self-sustaining adult
f) a failure as an academic
g) a sloppy fool
h) somehow not living up to my "initial promise," whatever the hell that was.

Why? Really, I'm not sure.

Almost certainly because I've failed (again) to be at the stage I'd planned in getting this godforsaken degree finalized. Probably because I felt like I was wearing some huge "potential victim" sign just because I'd walked out my front door on my own. (A large group of high-school boys hooted at me at a bus terminal. I ignored them and felt very little alarm; they were pampered kids who were just showing off. What really exhausted me was the gentlemanly, well-meant reassurance of the middle-aged guy who said "You're okay; I'm keeping an eye on you." That and two male bus drivers warning me to be careful. Seriously, I'm always careful. Having well-meaning men constantly telling me to be careful sometimes feels less like a kindness and more like a categorization, a restraint, or even a veiled threat. I'm tired of looking like the sort of person who "needs" this kind of caretaking, though I suspect I couldn't stop looking that way to some folks even after all the Krav Maga training in the world. After all, I have ovaries.) Probably because I'm feeling tired and vaguely unwell most of the time. Probably because of all the work I have to do and because I always feel as though I really ought to be working or, if I actually am working (and I often am) that I really ought to be working on something other than what I'm working on.

But none of this should have added up to a withering feeling of complete inadequacy and perpetual, predestined failure.

Then again, that's depression for ya. Comes without reason or invitation, sits right down in your psychic living room, props its feet up on your coffee table, and sends you to fetch an imported beer.

I really hate that bastard.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I interrupt this hiatus to report the birth of an Amazon

After suffering through a painful biopsy this week, Twisty will be undergoing an even more painful mastectomy next week. She says she expects the experience to improve her archery skills.

If anyone's deserving of Amazonian laurels, it's surely Twisty, but she's definitely going through hard times. If you read her blog, you already know she's a wonder. Let her know how much we appreciate her patriarchy-blamin', cancer-fightin', all-purpose-ass-kickin' self and lend her some moral support.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Over and out

The first two days of the new term have come and gone. I spent most of them in varying states of denial and was flat-out crabby on Friday for no discernable reason other than being just plain unprepared to start teaching again.

But I am guardedly optimistic: This is an upper-division course, so I will not feel compelled to do so much hand-holding. And, indeed, I have some reason to hope that it might not even be necessary. I also have at least four students I've taught before, two of whom are particular favorites of mine, and there seem to be some bright and eager sparks among the students I don't already know. I also have an anxious Dubliner who's trying to figure out how to negotiate the American university system, and I was able to reassure her by talking her through some of the differences. My inner Mama Hen is glad that student's in my section so I can keep an eye on her. Cluck, cluck.

There is no denying, though, that I'm worn out and not at all up to speed. I have just about zippo ambition and very little stick-to-it-iveness. Given the opportunity, I'd gladly read more novels, watch more movies, eat some more, hang around with friends, dally with Geek Boy, and nuzzle Mouse. Not to mention sleep. I think I could literally sleep for days.

Which is why it's good that I'll head back to the Old Homestead for a week on Wednesday. I need some down-time, I need to get some perspective, and there are some people I really need to see. I'm also relieved to be heading into some real fall weather for a change. Of course, this trip will probably mean I'll loads of work when I come back, but such is the way of the world.

I won't post much--if at all--for the next little while as I get ready for the trip, try to tie up loose ends, pack, and do my traveling. Perhaps, given the high crank-factor of my recent entries, this is a good thing.

When I come back, I will have to get down to business (prospective writing, truck mending, and so on) with a vengeance, and I'll probably be back to blogging with a vengeance, too.

Walk softly, carry a big stick, and may the road rise to meet you. Or something like that. I'll see ya'll in a while.